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May 19 2012

You want evidence that religion is bad for the species? OPEN YOUR EYES.

David Sloan Wilson does not like the New Atheists. He’s pushing something he labels Evolutionary Religious Studies, which, by his view, attracts all the serious scholars of religion. His definition of “serious”, though, seems to be simply scholars who agree with him, who do not regard religion as harmful as the New Atheists do, and who are willing to plug his group selectionist theory of religion as a prosocial phenomenon.

In a new piece at the HuffPo (I’d rather not link to that place, so read it through Jerry Coyne, who ably deconstructs Wilson), he lays out three points comparing ERS to the New Atheism, and his third point is this: that the New Atheism ignores the scientific evidence.

Whenever New Atheists make claims about religion as a human phenomenon, their claims should respect the authority of empirical evidence. Insofar as the new discipline of ERS has added to empirical knowledge of religion, the New Atheists should be paying close attention to ERS. This is especially true for Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, whose names are so closely associated with evolution. Step 3 should go without saying and I doubt that anyone would disagree with it in principle. Yet, by my assessment, there is a serious disconnect between the New Atheism and ERS at the level of Step 3.

To back this up, he uses an example from Dawkins who clearly explains the byproduct theory of religion, and shorts him because he doesn’t fluff David Sloan Wilson’s pet idea, that “religions are fundamentally about the creation and organization of prosocial communities”. I note that Dawkins also did not seriously discuss the Catholic church’s theory that the one true religion is the product of divine fiat, either.

What if he had said that religions are fundamentally about the creation and organization of prosocial communities? That all people require a cultural meaning system to organize their experience, receiving environmental information as input and resulting in effective action as output? That all cultural meaning systems confront a complex tradeoff between the factual content of a given belief and its effect upon action? That secular meaning systems often depart from factual reality in their own ways? The effect upon the audience would have been very different than when they were told that religion is like a moth immolating itself or like a child mindlessly being fed useless information.

This is why Dawkins has a reputation as an excellent communicator, and David Sloan Wilson does not. That humans process data using a mental model shaped by cultural influences is simply a given, a kind of common property of the substrate that does not say anything about the special status of religion in poisoning (or more charitably, shaping) our cultures. It does not increase understanding. And most importantly, it does not address the problem of religion, or beliefs that lead entire cultures into benighted dead-ends of onanistic inanity.

The feline fanatic has a succinct summary of the New Atheist agenda. I concur with this:

  1. Testing whether the tenets of religion are true. The New Atheist answer is “no.”

  2. Assessing the effects of ungrounded religious belief on the world. The New Atheist conclusion is that, seen as a whole, religions have inflicted far more harm than good on the world.

  3. Getting rid of the unwarranted authority and privilege that religion, established churches, and religious officials have garnered for themselves over the centuries.

Even David Sloan Wilson would agree with the first point: religions teach false dogma about the origin and nature of the world. He is reduced to making pragmatic arguments that false beliefs can have beneficial effects on society.

But I have one word for David Sloan Wilson’s benign view of religion, for his argument that it is a prosocial phenomenon. It represents a huge pile of evidence for our second agenda item that he seems to ignore. That word is…

WOMEN.

Whenever I hear that tripe about the beneficial effects of religion on human cultural evolution, it’s useful to note that the world’s dominant faiths all hardcode directly into their core beliefs the idea that women are unclean, inferior, weak, and responsible for the failings of mankind…that even their omnipotent, all-loving god regards women as lesser creatures not fit to be intermediaries with him, and that their cosmic fate is to be subservient slaves to men, just as men are to be subservient slaves to capital-H Him.

David Sloan Wilson can argue all he wants that religion helped promote group survival in our evolutionary history, or that his group selectionist models somehow explain its origins, but it doesn’t matter. Here and now, everywhere, those with eyes to see can see for themselves that religion has for thousands of years perpetuated the oppression of half our species. Half of the great minds our peoples have produced have lived and died unknown and forgotten, their educations neglected, their lives spent doing laundry and other menial tasks for men — their merits unrecognized and buried under lies promulgated by religion, in cultures soaked in the destructive myths of faith which codify misogyny and give it a godly blessing.

Isn’t that reason enough to tear down the cathedrals — that with this one far-reaching, difficult change to our cultures, we double human potential?

330 comments

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  1. 1
    nooneinparticular

    Reason enough, indeed.

  2. 2
    nonsense

    It doesn’t make any sense that the reason for religion is to create prosocial communities, since those prosocial communities have to already exist to create religion. It isn’t like people were wandering around alone in the wilderness, occasionally meeting new people and saying, “Hey, you believe in Zeus, too? So do I! Let’s create a community!”

  3. 3
    Rey Fox

    The idea that religion is an emergent property of more fundamental human tendencies (pattern recognition, social cohesion) has always made much more sense to me.

  4. 4
    ManOutOfTime

    I read The WEH post before yours. What a great start to the weekend! This is my favorite Pharyngula post in a while. Very nice.

  5. 5
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Yes.

  6. 6
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    It’s really worse than simple oppression of women, though that is the most apparent harm. It’s really the oppression of The Other. It just happens that women are The Other within their own group.

  7. 7
    brocasbrian

    I think religion was evolutionarily beneficial. Religion promotes greater risk taking, controls reproduction, provides a metaphysical source of social control, and gives an overarching ethos to order society.

    But even if that is true so what. It’s just my opinion. It’s unverifiable.

    You could argue that rape is a viable reproductive strategy from the perspective of the gene. But just arguing that we evolved to be a certain way (even if true) doesn’t mean we have to be that way. We aren’t like other animals. We can decide which aspects of our psychologies to suppress.

    I think Wilson’s basic argument that we evolved to be religious is irrelevant when considering whether we should be.

  8. 8
    Michael Brew

    To be fair, religion isn’t necessarily bad for the species. It’s just when people believe in those religions that problems come about. For instance, studying the Greek, Egyptian, and Norse religion is rather entertaining and even informative as to how those societies thought at the time. Of course, if you actually believe that a gigantic tree holds the planet up then you might have issues.

  9. 9
    consciousness razor

    What if he had said that religions are fundamentally about the creation and organization of prosocial communities?

    What if that is what religions are all about; but they fail miserably at doing it, just like they fail as explanations of reality?

    My assessment of the disconnect between ERS and the New Atheism movement with respect to step 3 is not based on a systematic review of the New Atheism literature — but such a review could be conducted and I strongly encourage someone with the time and interest to do it. No one would be happier than me to discover that the New Atheists are basing their activist agenda on the best current knowledge of religion as a human phenomenon. But if this is not the case — if New Atheists are portraying religion any way they please by selectively quoting scientific hypotheses — then they’re no better than bible thumpers.

    In other words, if he’s not just making this shit up about us, then we’re poopeyheads.

    Question: how can he know he’s wagging his finger at us if his head is stuck so far up his own ass?

  10. 10
    Daz, when the wind's called Mariah I know a hawk from a handsaw

    Of course, if you actually believe that a gigantic tree holds the planet up then you might have issues.

    Damn right.

    It’s held up by four elephants and a turtle. Every fule kno that.

  11. 11
    Drolfe

    How is ERS not just like evo-psych?

  12. 12
    brocasbrian

    Our brain is largely devoted to modeling the thoughts of others. Individuals using this brain to view and understand the world around them inevitably anthropomorphized what they saw.

  13. 13
    Part-Time Insomniac

    While some are wrecking the cathedrals, I’d like to raid the coffers of the RCC and do a little wealth redistribution. Any documents of historical value will be turned over to the proper authorities.

  14. 14
    brocasbrian

    ERS is essentially evolutionary psychology. I find it interesting but unverifiable and filled with just so stories.

  15. 15
    Anthony K

    What if he had said that religions are fundamentally about the creation and organization of prosocial communities? That all people require a cultural meaning system to organize their experience, receiving environmental information as input and resulting in effective action as output? That all cultural meaning systems confront a complex tradeoff between the factual content of a given belief and its effect upon action? That secular meaning systems often depart from factual reality in their own ways?

    Then he would have defined religion so loosely that secularism fits right in with the rest, and so the New Atheists are just pushing another religion, with all the attendant awesome that religions apparently do and have, only requiring less prayer and more lab work.

    So, what’s the problem with the New Atheists again?

    I’m not against the idea that religion may have good qualities. But so far, I haven’t seen anyone demonstrate that religion is unique in having these qualities, whatever they are. (Usually, these qualities are generic social ones, which humans can’t but help participating in, religious or no.)

    What is consistent among these sorts of criticism of the New Atheists are just as religious as everyone else, but unlike everyone else, we’re doing religion wrong somehow.

  16. 16
    petejohn

    @michaelbrew, #8

    Of course, if you actually believe that a gigantic tree holds the planet up then you might have issues.

    It doesn’t?

    Shit….

    YOU’VE TAKEN ALL MEANING FROM MY LIFE AND NOW I’M GOING TO MURDER AND BUTCHER AND RAPE AND PILLAGE!

  17. 17
    abb3w

    2. Assessing the effects of ungrounded religious belief on the world. The New Atheist conclusion is that, seen as a whole, religions have inflicted far more harm than good on the world.

    Huh.

    I guess I’m not a New Atheist. That will shock more than a few of my acquaintances.

    I agree that religion has inflicted a lot of harm on the world. (And, yes, treatment of women in particular.) However, it seems that if religion had done significantly more harm than good, it would require that having religion would be a significantly detrimental trait for societies, which in turn implies there should have been signs of a strong (memetic/social) evolutionary pressure favoring irreligion over religion. This, however, is not evident; with the exception of a historically very few and recent exceptions, religion was the norm. (That there may now be better options, which do more good and less harm, does not contradict the analysis of the historical question.)

    I rather think humans can develop cultural technologies that do a lot better than the increasingly outmoded cultural technology of “religion”.

  18. 18
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    To me the most irritating thing about Wilson is how he makes statements that are completely orthogonal to the interests of the person he’s criticizing. He’s acting as if his personal pet projects are prima facie the most interesting and much-to-be-discussed topics, as if this were simply self-evident.

    What if he had said that religions are fundamentally about the creation and organization of prosocial communities?

    Why in the world would Dawkins say that? He’s not interested in talking about that and it’s not the topic his audience is interested in. This is baffling. It’s like saying, “What if Alton Brown had talked about the ways in which food creates communities and cultures in various and interesting ways [instead of giving you a science lesson that pays off in cooking results].”

    Also, Wilson discusses his pet projects as if they’re a thing, a real, widely known and agreed upon set of topics that need no justification:

    My assessment of the disconnect between ERS and the New Atheism movement with respect to step 3. .

    LOLWUT? Dude, these are not household terms in this conversation and you don’t get to act as if it’s odd that someone doesn’t engage them. They’re just your idiosyncratic hobby.

    Worst sin: What a SHIT writer. Ponderous, bloated, flaccid prose.

  19. 19
    tommykey

    My view of religion is the same as my view of alcohol, both are best when taken in moderation. Personally, I drink alcohol in moderation and abstain completely from religion.

  20. 20
    petejohn

    I’m not against the idea that religion may have good qualities. But so far, I haven’t seen anyone demonstrate that religion is unique in having these qualities, whatever they are.

    Well put Brownian. I would never argue that a theist is incapable of doing good things and saying they did them based on their religious beliefs, but an atheist is perfectly capable of doing the exact same thing. The atheist would probably do that thing to help another person, the theist would do it to earn an eternity of kissing a god’s ass. There’s a major difference.

  21. 21
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Wilson has some good ideas about evolutionary processes in non-biological contexts but this idea is just special pleading.

  22. 22
    jimharrison

    Wilson, who is far more charitable about New Atheists than they are about him, admits “My assessment of the disconnect between ERS and the New Atheism movement … is not based on a systematic review of the New Atheism literature.” I can’t quite claim to have made a systematic review of the New Atheism literature, but I have been reading Pharyngula and its comment threads for some time as well as the works of the usual suspects (Hitchens, Dennett, Dawkins, etc.) and can report that you guys seem to be overwhelmingly more interested in throwing rocks at religion than in understanding it. Well, the instigator of an earlier ideology insisted, “Philosophers have hitherto attempt to understand the world; the point is to change it.” Maybe you simple agree with Marx. Or maybe your real guide in this matter is Jesus, who famously admonished his followers to let their speech be yea, yea and nay, nay. Lets not confuse things by actually looking at any evidence of how religion actually evolves and functions in real societies. Too many ifs, and, and buts. This is why Dawkins has a reputation as an excellent communicator, and David Sloan Wilson does not.

  23. 23
    barbyau

    abb3w – just because religion has been beneficial, very much so, to a portion of our population doesn’t mean it is on net a positive thing. It has tortured and cast out a lot of humanity, and can do so without destroying civilization so long as it doesn’t do that to all people. In groups do fine.

    I have yet to see anyone prove that the positive aspects of religion can only come from people who believe in the supernatural. I see plenty of evidence of very terrible harms that are ONLY inflicted on people in the name of religion.

    Just because religion hasn’t managed to destroy us, yet, doesn’t mean it is a net positive for humanity.

  24. 24
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Jimharrison—why do you not understand that your goal—-”understanding religion”—-doesn’t have to be our goal? Why do you assume your goal is more worthy than ours, which, broadly speaking, is de-throning religion from its place of cultural privilege?

    Seriously, what is it with these guys who can’t grok this? It’s a total category error fail.

  25. 25
    alkaloid

    However, it seems that if religion had done significantly more harm than good, it would require that having religion would be a significantly detrimental trait for societies, which in turn implies there should have been signs of a strong (memetic/social) evolutionary pressure favoring irreligion over religion. This, however, is not evident; with the exception of a historically very few and recent exceptions, religion was the norm.

    Isn’t an alternate and much more likely explanation is that religion was always deleterious, but it provided just enough social cohesion (up until comparatively recently) for the religious to use physical force to eliminate the nonreligious or keep us repressed to the extent we existed at all?

  26. 26
    Aquaria

    Okay, I’m dumb. What’s ERS?

  27. 27
    kosk11348

    jimharrison, we throw rocks at religion because we understand it.

  28. 28
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Okay, I’m dumb. What’s ERS?

    Basically EST for David Sloan Wilson.

  29. 29
    Aquaria

    Evolutionary Religious Studies, I mean. It sounds like pomo wanking.

  30. 30
    Daz, when the wind's called Mariah I know a hawk from a handsaw

    abb3w

    However, it seems that if religion had done significantly more harm than good, it would require that having religion would be a significantly detrimental trait for societies, which in turn implies there should have been signs of a strong (memetic/social) evolutionary pressure favoring irreligion over religion.

    If the priestly class has power that they want to keep, and control over the education (such as it may be) of the masses, said masses can be persuaded that what seems detrimental in the mundane here-and-now, is actually beneficial in the spiritual long run.

  31. 31
    Nick Gotts

    I’ve just quoted PZ’s awesome takedown from “But I have…” to “…godly blessing” on a thread Greta Christina has going on Why Should Religion Get A Free Ride.

  32. 32
    jamesevans

    What if he had said that religions are fundamentally about the creation and organization of prosocial communities? That all people require a cultural meaning system to organize their experience, receiving environmental information as input and resulting in effective action as output?

    Man, is someone in love with himself and his ability to whip up a word salad drenched with blah-blah dressing, or what? What a bunch of crap.

    Thanks, but we all get it. Religion, for countless ages, served as a piss-poor science and philosophy of sorts, attempting (and usually failing) to explain the world around us and make sense of it all, before we adopted a much better system.

    Hhhhhhhheeeeeelllllllloooooooooo, Mr. Wilson!

    Welcome to a modern world with peer-reviewed, testable science, where anyone can repeat experiments and check for nonsense. Sounds more beneficial to “the creation and organization of prosocial communities” than the choice between accepting the word of ignorant authority based on convenient interpretation of backward scripture without question, or facing castigation, excommunication, torture, and death.

  33. 33
    Aquaria

    I agree that religion has inflicted a lot of harm on the world. (And, yes, treatment of women in particular.) However, it seems that if religion had done significantly more harm than good, it would require that having religion would be a significantly detrimental trait for societies,

    It’s been such a net gain to have people murdering each other over passages in a goatherder genocidal manual.

    And don’t forget the homosexuals. Or the slaves.

    Religion has been an affirmative action program for assholes. It does nothing else for society.

  34. 34
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    and [I] can report that you guys seem to be overwhelmingly more interested in throwing rocks at religion than in understanding it.

    No, you are totally and absolutely correct. Every one of the regulars and irregulars who comment on Pharyngula have grown up and existed for our entire lives in a completely religion-free zone and are absofuckinglutely incapable of possibly understanding religion through observation, study and/or experience.

    I call bullshit on your mischaracterization of Pharyngula. Just because you do not agree does not mean that the writers do not understand.

    Or perhaps you are trying the Courtier’s argument? That we are not allowed to disagree with religion until we understand every jot and tittle of every sect of every religion in the world?

    Evolutionary Religious Studies, I mean. It sounds like pomo wanking.

    Now if he were studying how religion evolves, that could be interesting. Christianity mutates fast. So fast, in my opinion, that there are often multiple major evolutionary changes within each generation.

  35. 35
    Matt Penfold

    However, it seems that if religion had done significantly more harm than good, it would require that having religion would be a significantly detrimental trait for societies, which in turn implies there should have been signs of a strong (memetic/social) evolutionary pressure favoring irreligion over religion.

    Maybe this explains why historically religious leaders have been so hostile to those who challenge their authority.

  36. 36
    Anthony K

    I would never argue that a theist is incapable of doing good things and saying they did them based on their religious beliefs, but an atheist is perfectly capable of doing the exact same thing. The atheist would probably do that thing to help another person, the theist would do it to earn an eternity of kissing a god’s ass. There’s a major difference.

    Yes, although strictly speaking, I was referring to the social functions any group can provide, rather than the behaviour of individuals per se. And I actually think atheists and theists do good things for the same reason—we’re members of the most social and cooperative species that’s ever existed, as far as we know—we just have different post priori reasoning for our actions.

    But on the positive group function of religion, as I see the faitheists describing it: years ago, I had occasion to attend a conference by NAACCR, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (I presented a poster, and it was selected as the best poster there!). At this conference, another attendee was presented with an award. He worked with one of the midwest cancer registries, I forget which state, and when Hurricane Katrina hit, he worked for two days straight setting up a special server to back up the Louisiana Cancer Registry’s data so their work wouldn’t be screwed.

    Because he did the same type of work and saw himself as part of the same community as some people in Louisiana, he thought, “How would such a hurricane impact my work? And what can I do specifically to help mitigate that, that other people might not have considered?”

    That’s what people can be like. And I’m sure members of any number of other communities, work associations, LARPs groups, furries, you name it, will have similar stories.

  37. 37
    Aquaria

    more interested in throwing rocks at religion than in understanding it.

    We understand it better than morons like you do, because most of us come from being religious, you fucking moron.

    Fuck off back to stupid land, where you belong.

  38. 38
    Aratina Cage

    Jim,

    I have been reading Pharyngula and its comment threads for some time as well as the works of the usual suspects (Hitchens, Dennett, Dawkins, etc.) and can report that you guys seem to be overwhelmingly more interested in throwing rocks at religion than in understanding it.

    What? Many of us used to be religious or grew up around religious people. It’s not some unknown phenomenon. It’s particularly shameful of you to say that about Dennett who is specifically researching religious leaders who have lost or are losing their religious faith. So wake up, Jim. What you call “throwing rocks” is largely us dissecting religion so that all can see it for what it truly is.

  39. 39
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    [OP]: Isn’t that reason enough to tear down the cathedrals

    Oh Noes! Don’t say that that is necessary. A sordid circumstance might have given rise to cathederals, but they are things of beauty in their own right. And some have been profoundly important to architecture and engineering: eg: Brunelleschi’s Dome. There are things the church created that really have been a boon to humanity. In spite of themselves. (If only because they had all the cash to sponsor such things…)

    The Church is not a building.

  40. 40
    Aquaria

    But Aratina, criticizing religiotardery is so rude and–and–and confrontational! And mean! And ruuuuude!

    Waaaaaaahhhhhhhh!

    Christers. Bunch of snot-nosed privileged crybabies.

  41. 41
    paulburnett

    Wilson mentioned “a child mindlessly being fed useless information.

    I wonder where he came up with that thought? Could it be because religion is so good at it? And does it so deliberately?

  42. 42
    Nick Gotts

    However, it seems that if religion had done significantly more harm than good, it would require that having religion would be a significantly detrimental trait for societies – abb3w

    Nonsense. The harm of religion is primarily in the effect on individuals. There is no general reason at all to expect that societies in which most individuals have a miserable time will survive for shorter periods or do less well in competition with other societies, than those in which most individuals are happy.

  43. 43
    Nick Gotts

    Lets not confuse things by actually looking at any evidence of how religion actually evolves and functions in real societies. – jimharrison

    Have you read Dennett’s Breaking the Spell? In which he calls for, reports on, and sets out his plans for the systematic study of religion? Becuase if you have, you evidently managed not to understand it; and if you haven’t, you’re a bullshitter.

  44. 44
    raven

    jimharrison, we throw rocks at religion because we understand it.

    QFT.

    Most of us are ex-xians. We know.

    Some of the New Atheist leaders are ex-ministers. They know.

    The average xian knows very little about their religion. They don’t know or care. This has been shown by such things as a recent survey on knowledge about the bible. The atheists scored the highest. LOL at jimharrison.

  45. 45
    Daz, when the wind's called Mariah I know a hawk from a handsaw

    How to understand religion:

    First, look at the shiny castle in the air. Ain’t it pretty?

    Now look for the foundation. Oops…

    You now understand religion.

    Cheques or postal orders, please, to Daz’s Divinity College, cell block three …

  46. 46
    peterh

    “Whenever New Atheists make claims about religion as a human phenomenon, their claims should respect the authority of empirical evidence.”

    Religion exhibits no such evidence, except possibly in regard to attributes which can be found in other human institutions and value systems and are not at all specific to religion.

    Next topic?

  47. 47
    otrame

    Aquaria @33

    Religion has been an affirmative action program for assholes. It does nothing else for society.

    This. This is why I love you, Aquaria.

    I will say that the structure set up to keep a few sociopaths in private jets (or just an earnest person –there are such out there– a free house and a lot of not necessarily earned respect) can be used to benefit society, but Brownian is right–other social structures can function in similar ways without the systematic oppression of women and others and hopefully without the need to support parasitic assholes.

    I say hopefully because the whole “atheist chaplain” idea is out there. It makes my skin crawl.

  48. 48
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ Markita Lynda

    evolutionary processes in non-biological contexts

    Good point. Cathedrals underwent a long process of evolution. The organic designs reaching a sublime crescendo (apotheosis?) with the Gothic Cathedrals. The nature-like organic shapes responding closely to the forms of nature to create the most amazing light and vast structures with the minimum of (inappropriate, but that is all they had) materials. One can read the to-and-fro searching in the interplay between the vaults (which kick out) and the flying buttresses (which push inwards). Bit by bit these opposing tendencies came to find a balance and fitness as the designs evolved.

  49. 49
    Dick the Damned

    nobody #2,

    It doesn’t make any sense that the reason for religion is to create prosocial communities, since those prosocial communities have to already exist to create religion.

    I imagine that the mechanism would be that some tribes randomly evolve genes/memes enabling religious beliefs, & as a result, out-compete tribes that don’t have the benefits of believing their leader is a minor god, or ‘blessed’ by the gods, & that if they, their-selves, die in battle their ‘spirits’ will go to a ‘heaven’, etc, resulting in them fighting more effectively, etc. Survival of the fittest becomes synonymous with survival of the more religious.

  50. 50
    mikmik

    WTF? My comment on Huffpo was moderated; I took DSW to task for this BS:
    Or do they bias their portrayal of religion, selectively emphasizing scientific hypotheses that, if true, would promote their activist objectives (step 2)?

    I replied that most atheists I ever read are always, repeatedly, explaining the difference between fricking ‘hypothesis’(guesses, when religiods use the term) and ‘theory’(guesses, when religiods use it).

    Since when would we use hypotheses when we have several magnitudes of facts to rely on? He bitches about empirical evidence while not using any!!! FFS!!!

    What a maroon: “My assessment of the disconnect between ERS and the New Atheism movement with respect to step 3 is not based on a systematic review of the New Atheism literature — but such a review could be conducted and I strongly encourage someone with the time and interest to do it.”

    I asked why he doesn’t just do it instead of proposing his hypothesis, which is not based on empirical evidence, as a fucking issue which, even if it did exist, is beside the point in the first fucking place.

    He is a fucking hypocrite quisling – it’s ass-sucking sycophants to religion like him that give atheists a bad name, seeing that’s what he seems to be worried about. He’s no true Scotsman, aachhh!

  51. 51
    thewhollynone

    You get a feminist award on this one, PZ. Thank you. I do have to tell you though that I did a whole lot of creative thinking while I was doing laundry and washing dishes; still do; it’s a habit I can’t shut off.

  52. 52
    mikmik

    Aquaria @33

    Religion has been an affirmative action program for assholes. It does nothing else for society.

    It is manufactured consent for sheep, which they outright declare themselves as!

  53. 53
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ mikmik

    bitches

    *COUGH*

  54. 54
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    That all cultural meaning systems confront a complex tradeoff between the factual content of a given belief and its effect upon action?

    …why is this a tradeoff?

  55. 55
    jimharrison

    I’m aware that Dennett has made efforts to understand religion empirically. Listing him with the others was an oversight on my part. The general point, however, stands. Folks in these parts are as hostile to a serious study of religion as climate change denialists are hostile to climatology. The most obvious sign of this anti-intellectual attitude is crude historical narrative endlessly retailed in these parts, the Manichean tale of the warfare of science and theology.

    I’m not trying to tell people who have been personally injured by their religious upbringing that they weren’t injured. And people who were mugged by black guys were mugged by black guys. The question of whether it is reasonable to generalize from these instances to a whole class remains open. You can’t settle the issue by insisting that, after all, all religions are false, even assuming you could back up that blanket assertion. Error just isn’t the same as evil. And why act like there is no such thing as recorded history? At particular times and places, religion, which is pretty much universal in human societies, has worked in favor of the good, the bad, and the ugly, anything you like. It’s not as if there isn’t evidence of the actual role of religion. You can only claim that religion is Great Satan by carefully maintaining your ignorance of the actual complexity of things.

  56. 56
    ryanwilkinson

    It is odd to note that almost as soon as gods are thrown into the picture, women are thrown into the mud.

    Even the Greeks and Romans, with vastly different religions and plenty of female gods, were sexist (even in the poems, wherein Hera/Juno was a naggy whiny bitch) whereas the primary atheists of the time (Epicurus and Lucretius and the other one whose name I’ve forgot) allowed women and slaves into their schools, whereas none else did. Even the ‘enlightened’ of Plato and Aristotle.

    (On a side note, thank fuck for Lucretius, his ‘On the Nature of Things’ really saved the dark ages from going on for too much longer.)

  57. 57
    uncephalized

    It seems to me that religion is a memeplex using human brains as its reproductive medium and exhibits all the characteristics of an organism competing against other organisms for resources. Religions develop reproductive capacities, immune systems, complex signaling schemes to mobilize their resources in response to threats or in search of opportunities, etc., and continually evolve to better suit the memetic milieu they are in at a given location and time. They compete against (and cooperate with, to better compete) other ideologies, religious and otherwise, for brain space. They even alter their environment by encouraging certain technologies and behaviors in their adherents (there’s a very good reason many religions encourage large families–born members are more reliable carriers of the meme than converts). But there’s absolutely no reason to suppose that the superorganism (to borrow from Howard Bloom) is inherently of any value to individual people. In a large group we’re nearly as expendable as skin cells, as long as the bulk of our actions is to propagate the meme. If 1000 people can be convinced to propagate an idea through the death of 100 who can be convinced to sacrifice themselves, all the better from the idea’s perspective. Our self interest and the super interest only intersect by chance, not by principle, because the religion (or the government, to take another example) is out for itself. Of course we should expect that some superorganisms are better than others at serving the needs of people; that’s one survival strategy. The trick, it seems to me, is doing our best to promote a memetic environment that fosters the success of that kind of superorganism at the expense of the kind that likes to start needless wars, torture people, or, say, throw them in cages for growing a certain plant in their yard. And how to do that is a pretty big question.

  58. 58
    stonyground

    There is a post about the bad side of religion here:

    http://theedixieflatline.wordpress.com/

    If you go there, do take the time to check out the second post and watch the video of the guy playing the William Tell Overture on electric guitar.

  59. 59
    Daz, when the wind's called Mariah I know a hawk from a handsaw

    You can only claim that religion is Great Satan by carefully maintaining your ignorance of the actual complexity of things.

    Religion (defined for the purpose of this comment as a belief in the supernatural, with some form of divine intervention and/or instruction) is a belief system with no supporting evidence.

    Making decisions in one’s life based on unevidenced pronouncements from a supernatural being is, at best, an irrational way to deal with reality.

    Running a society based on those pronouncements is highly irrational.

    What else do I need to know?

    ————————————–

    @Stonyground.

    Thanks for the plug. Can I blush now?

  60. 60
    mikmik

    @jimharrison 22

    but I have been reading Pharyngula and its comment threads for some time as well as the works of the usual suspects (Hitchens, Dennett, Dawkins, etc.) and can report

    You can report what? Your opinion, fuckhead. Everyone can report their opinion, asshole.*
    I fucking suggest you take a survey on the reporting of facts to support these opinions and report back to us when you have anything concrete to report.

    *Opinions are like assholes, and evidence is like toilet paper.

    LMAO!

  61. 61
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ Azkyroth

    That all cultural meaning systems confront a complex tradeoff between the factual content of a given belief and its effect upon action?

    …why is this a tradeoff?

    This is a jaded argument from William James. He suggests there are situations where one must stop being rational and just believe. (He didn’t quite get to “therefore jeebus” though. Also, his arguments could apply to any religion – or lack thereof.

    @ jimharrison

    Folks in these parts are as hostile to a serious study of religion

    {sniffs that statement} Yup, pure bullshit. (Do you even believe what you say?)

    You can’t settle the issue by insisting that, after all, all religions are false, even assuming you could back up that blanket assertion.

    We don’t have to prove religions false, we only need to show how they came into being.

  62. 62
    nooneinparticular

    Jimharrison wrote; “Folks in these parts are as hostile to a serious study of religion as climate change denialists are hostile to climatology.”

    *blink* *blink*

    Mr. Harrison, you were willing to admit that your inclusion of Dennett in that list was an oversight. Are you willing to admit that this statement is wrong? If, as you say, you’ve read some of the works of New Atheists and have lurked here at Pharyngula, I am completely dumbfounded that you make this claim.

  63. 63
    Matt Penfold

    You can’t settle the issue by insisting that, after all, all religions are false, even assuming you could back up that blanket assertion.

    It is not for us to prove religions are false, it is for adherents of religion to provide evidence their belief are true. A conspicuous feature of religions is their total inability so to do. Indeed, many make the claim the lack of evidence is part of their faith.

  64. 64
    nooneinparticular

    Also…

    Jimharrison wrote;

    “And why act like there is no such thing as recorded history? At particular times and places, religion, which is pretty much universal in human societies, has worked in favor of the good, the bad, and the ugly, anything you like. It’s not as if there isn’t evidence of the actual role of religion. You can only claim that religion is Great Satan by carefully maintaining your ignorance of the actual complexity of things.”

    Did you not see this quote from Jerry Coyne’s article and posted by PZ right up there at the top of the page?

    “Assessing the effects of ungrounded religious belief on the world. The New Atheist conclusion is that, seen as a whole, religions have inflicted far more harm than good on the world.

    (emphasis added)

    Meaning, of course, that New Atheists HAVE considered history, HAVE understood the impact of religion on human society and have come to the conclusion that “seen as whole, religions have inflicted far more harm than good”. Are you going to stand by your claim in the bit I quoted given this direct refutation of what you said?

  65. 65
    Nick Gotts

    I’m aware that Dennett has made efforts to understand religion empirically. Listing him with the others was an oversight on my part. The general point, however, stands. Folks in these parts are as hostile to a serious study of religion as climate change denialists are hostile to climatology. – jimharrison

    No, the general point does not stand; you have not supported it, and you can’t. Yes, you will find some people with a simplistic historical narrative about science and theology, but it’s most certainly not general. It is, nonetheless, true that the rise of modern science has coincided with a drastic decline in the power of both religious ideas and religious institutions.

    And why act like there is no such thing as recorded history?

    Yes, why do you do that, jimharrison? After all, PZ has pointed out the millennia of oppression religion has imposed upon women throughout recorded history. But then, I guess women don’t actually matter much in your view.

  66. 66
    robro

    Wilson says, “their claims should respect the authority of empirical evidence.” Any “empirical evidence” for ERS seems scanty at best. From what I’ve seen, we have a few scratches on bones and rocks, some marks in caves, a few clay female figurines, various grave goods, and a couple of pre-pottery sites in southern Turkey. These are all interpreted as evidence of religion, but we actually know nothing about what these people thought and felt, and religion is almost completely a mental activity. Without that, we have no evidence of religion per se, just what we think looks like religious artifacts to us.

    And rational discussions are not based on respect for “authority” even of evidence. Rational discussions are based on continuous questioning of the evidence and the assumptions about the evidence.

    And as for jimharrison, speaking for no one but myself, I’ve spent a good part of my life studying religions of various types. I was even an ordained minister. I still study religion, because I find it interesting, even though I no longer need to know more about Christianity to be comfortable not believing that myth, any more than I believe the myths of the Norse or Maya. jimharrison should be more careful with the width of the brush he uses to swipe at people.

  67. 67
    Aratina Cage

    @Aquaria

    But Aratina, criticizing [them] is so rude and–and–and confrontational! And mean! And ruuuuude!

    Waaaaaaahhhhhhhh!

    Hee. I know, right. As if those were good reasons to not do what we do. (They aren’t.)

  68. 68
    Dick the Damned

    I was about to respond to Jim Harrison that he’d probably find that many of the regulars here have studied religion, to a greater extent than the general public or religious believers themselves, & then i saw robro’s post.

    The inevitable conclusion to be drawn from studying religion is summed up here:

    The gods from the Bronze Age up to modern times,
    and from the Arctic down to tropical climes,
    have inspired theology that’s unsubstantiated twaddle,
    on what an invisible and silent god’ll
    devise as its inscrutable, eschatological plan,
    but all the gods were made in the image of man.

  69. 69
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Once again, the main problem with Jim Harrison is his odd inability to understand that (leaving aside his ridiculous assertion that none of us understand religion, for whatever value of “understand” he’s using) people have different goals and that ours are not academic.

    This is diagnostic of people who actually don’t see religion as harmful, or who are so qualified about it that it’s the same thing.

    You would never hear:

    1. An historian of fascism complaining about people protesting against neo-fascist political parties. Said historian would never say, “You just want to throw rocks and not understand.”

    2. A scholar in the history of feminist politics berating Planned Parenthood supporters who speak out stridently against anti-PP funding. Said scholar would never say, “You just want to throw rocks and not understand the history of blah blah blah.”

    Supply your own examples. Not only would my fake scholars not say such things, it wouldn’t even occur to them to take umbrage at the political action taken by the lay public against one of the parties they study. Because that makes no goddamned sense. It takes being held in the hypnotic gaze of religion to see political activism and scholarly research as competing enterprises in a zero sum game.

  70. 70
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    What I just said goes for David Sloan Wilson, too. Primarily, actually.

  71. 71
    Drolfe

    Josh, #69 is so spot on you need to save it for next time this inevitably comes up; it’s a key insight.

  72. 72
    jfigdor

    This, in particular, was extremely well-argued, PZ: “WOMEN. Whenever I hear that tripe about the beneficial effects of religion on human cultural evolution, it’s useful to note that the world’s dominant faiths all hardcode directly into their core beliefs the idea that women are unclean, inferior, weak, and responsible for the failings of mankind…that even their omnipotent, all-loving god regards women as lesser creatures not fit to be intermediaries with him, and that their cosmic fate is to be subservient slaves to men, just as men are to be subservient slaves to capital-H Him.”

    This is one of our strongest arguments to demonstrate the harm religion causes. The only thing one has to be wary of are religious traditions like Christian Science, which were developed by women to give women equal treatment.

  73. 73
    Aratina Cage

    More Jim #55,

    And people who were mugged by black guys were mugged by black guys. The question of whether it is reasonable to generalize from these instances to a whole class remains open.

    So Gnu Atheists are like White supremacists now?

    You can’t settle the issue by insisting that, after all, all religions are false…

    If a religion teaches or commands people to believe something that is true, it is either because religion usurped factual knowledge or because of coincidence. Pretending that there is or could be a religion that incorporates the scientific method into its doctrines or dogma is cheating on your part and stretching the concept of religion far too thin. Besides that, religions being wrong on the facts is only a part of the problem with them. There is much else there for us to be wary of and to criticize, such as the way all major religions currently promote unequal treatment of humans and/or other forms of life on Earth.

    Error just isn’t the same as evil.

    It is when it is taught as an indisputable, unquestionable fact.

    And why act like there is no such thing as recorded history?

    Hrm?

    At particular times and places, religion, which is pretty much universal in human societies, has worked in favor of the good, the bad, and the ugly, anything you like. It’s not as if there isn’t evidence of the actual role of religion.

    Oh. So you are saying to not overlook the good that has come out of religion? Alright–we don’t! Guess what, Jim? Murderers are often loved by other people. Name an act that harms others, and a person doing that act is bound to have also done some good in their life. That extends to other forms of life as well. Old Yeller was a good dog until he got rabies, and so was Cujo. The problem is that religions have “rabies” (devotion to plainly untrue and scientifically false ideas about reality, unequal treatment of different classes of people, worship of the unknown that is often nothing more than ignorance, etc.). Critical thinking, cultivation of curiosity, and education, all of which the Gnu Atheists do, is the innoculation and sometimes cure.

    You can only claim that religion is Great Satan by carefully maintaining your ignorance of the actual complexity of things.

    Bleh. Satan is just as fake as Jesus and all the rest, so of course we wouldn’t claim that religion is the “Great Satan”. Does religion not do great harm to humanity? Only if you stick your hands over your ears and cover your eyes and sing or scream as loudly as you can.

  74. 74
    strange gods before me ॐ

    ryan,

    Even the Greeks and Romans, with vastly different religions and plenty of female gods, were sexist (even in the poems, wherein Hera/Juno was a naggy whiny bitch)

    Please don’t call people bitches, even if they are fictional characters.

    It is a gendered insult, which normalizes further use of gendered insults against real people.

  75. 75
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    @Abb3w #17

    However, it seems that if religion had done significantly more harm than good, it would require that having religion would be a significantly detrimental trait for societies, which in turn implies there should have been signs of a strong (memetic/social) evolutionary pressure favoring irreligion over religion.

    The thing is that cultural evolution, as with biological evolution, stops at ‘good enough.’ As long as a society keeps producing another generation with the same or a directly derivative culture, it is evolutionarily successful. Religion can help with cultural cohesion in the face of competing cultures, and also can get individuals to push that culture directly and provide resources to help others do so. Whether it’s beneficial to any specific member of the species or set of members is irrelevant, evolutionarily speaking. Same as, e.g. poisonous animals. It doesn’t do an individual poison arrow frog any good that whatever killed it will get sick or dead afterwards, but it matters to all the poison arrow frogs that didn’t get eaten because of that. As a humanist, though, I consider ‘good enough to produce another generation’ to be an unacceptably low bar by which to judge the merits of any culture or any specific cultural practice.

  76. 76
    jimharrison

    Especially since I didn’t knock first, I’m probably in the wrong for barging in on a circle jerk. Apologies for that. I do want to make an additional point, however, because PZ’s post has a title that reveals one of the fundamental problems with his ideology: “You want evidence that religion is bad for the species? OPEN YOUR EYES.” After this beginning, he talks about instances where religion was bad for individuals, especially women. Now a biologist should be aware, as Darwin obviously was, that natural selection doesn’t give a damn about individuals even if they make up half a species. I quite agree with PZ that the subjugation of women is a bad thing; but Wilson, who is attempting to come up with an evolutionary account of religion isn’t doing ethics. “Good for the species” in that context simply means that it provides a competitive advantage. For all I know the subjugation of women did promote the survival of our kind so that if religion is the mechanism through which women got subjected it could have been selected for, at least if Wilson is correct about the efficacy of group selection. And if religion conferred a selective advantage it was indeed “good for the species” in the relevant sense.

  77. 77
    Daz, when the wind's called Mariah I know a hawk from a handsaw

    Jim

    After this beginning, he talks about instances where religion was bad for individuals, especially women.

    “Women” is plural: a group. Half the human race in fact. Harming 50% of society could be counted as harming society, don’t you think?

  78. 78
    raven

    You can’t settle the issue by insisting that, after all, all religions are false…

    Why not? They can’t all be true. Most likely they stem from the same source, somebody made stuff up, and are all fiction.

    jimharrison the troll lying:

    You can only claim that religion is Great Satan by carefully maintaining your ignorance of the actual complexity of things.

    Jim is now lying. Predictable. Never takes them long.

    Multiple people have pointed out that most of us are ex-xians.

    Some of the leaders of the New Atheists are ex-ministers, Dan Barker, Avalos, Loftus among others.

    Xians almost never know much about their religion or its history. If they did, they wouldn’t be xians. The churches hide all that very carefully. To take one common example, they all cherry pick a few passages out of the bible, quote them out of context, and devoutly hope the members don’t actually read their kludgy magic book.

  79. 79
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Josh,

    flaccid prose.

    Would you prefer it turgid and purple?

  80. 80
    cag

    It would be interesting to know what the ratio of dementia is between believers and atheists. After all, if the brain is not being used then it will deteriorate.

  81. 81
    Aratina Cage

    I’m probably in the wrong for barging in on a circle jerk.

    Circle jerks are good things and great for the social well-being of a group. And of course none of those responses to you were actually responses to you. We can’t fool anyone anymore.

  82. 82
    Pteryxx

    After this beginning, he talks about instances where religion was bad for individuals, especially women.

    Right, MEN are “society”, women are just individuals. Sheesh. *headdesk*

    Now a biologist should be aware, as Darwin obviously was, that natural selection doesn’t give a damn about individuals even if they make up half a species.

    Yes, half of a species frickin’ well DOES matter in the operation of natural selection. Half the species means 50% of the instances of any given gene or phenotype upon which survival pressures operate. You should lose your permission to expound on natural selection at all for an inference that stupid.

  83. 83
    raven

    jim the troll:

    I’m probably in the wrong for barging in on a circle jerk.

    Classic sign of a crackpot. “You are all so close minded”.

    Meaning, “I’m a ranting and raving lunatic who doesn’t make any sense, and you are making fun of me.”

    I notice that jim just made a bunch of assertions without any reasoning, proof, or data. A sign of a religious kook as well.

  84. 84
    raven

    Now a biologist should be aware, as Darwin obviously was, that natural selection doesn’t give a damn about individuals even if they make up half a species.

    Total biology fail.

    Natural selection acts almost exclusively at the level of the individual.

    What evolves is populations over time, the result.

  85. 85
    feralboy12

    Especially since I didn’t knock first, I’m probably in the wrong for barging in on a circle jerk. Apologies for that.

    Yeah, and I’m sorry I dismissed your stupid, useless opinion without careful consideration. Apologies.

    You can only claim that religion is Great Satan by carefully maintaining your ignorance of the actual complexity of things.

    So how does religion help us understand the “actual complexity of things?” By teaching us to rely on the authority of ancient scripture? Or by insisting that personal revelation is a valid means of acquiring information about the universe?
    As Dawkins pointed out, it is a mistake to assume that religion evolved to benefit humans rather than to benefit itself.

  86. 86
    consciousness razor

    Error just isn’t the same as evil.

    Religions make it a point not to correct their errors when they treat faith as a virtue. Presuppositional bullshitting isn’t a legitimate way of understanding the world or interacting with others. It is bad. If religions had tried to correct their errors for the last few thousand years, rather than assert dominance over their subjects, perhaps it would be fair to regard it as so many innocuous errors which can sometimes be good or useful to societies as a whole (not just those in power), in some abstract way that is unique to religion as a social institution. But none of that is the case.

  87. 87
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    I’m probably in the wrong for barging in on a circle jerk

    Here is a dessicated pineapple attached to two coconuts. I offer it for yourself-fucking.

  88. 88
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Would you prefer it turgid and purple?

    Did you have to? Now I’m gonna have to stop liking peens. :))

  89. 89
    strange gods before me ॐ

    It would be interesting to know what the ratio of dementia is between believers and atheists. After all, if the brain is not being used then it will deteriorate.

    The second sentence indicates this was not a serious inquiry. It is like supposing libertarians are more likely to get dementia; that’s absurd because we know they expend considerable cognitive effort at becoming fractally wrong.

    But if any reader is seriously interested, there is a bit of research. I am not aware of any demonstrated effect of believing in God or not, but attending religious services does have a neuroprotective effect and delays dementia for perhaps a few years.

    http://psychsocgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/61/1/P3.abstract

    http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jar/2010/160294/

    http://psychsocgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/58/1/S21.short

  90. 90
    Aratina Cage

    attending religious services does have a neuroprotective effect and delays dementia for perhaps a few years.

    While they milk you dry.

  91. 91
    consciousness razor

    I am not aware of any demonstrated effect of believing in God or not, but attending religious services does have a neuroprotective effect and delays dementia for perhaps a few years.

    Attending religious services as opposed to what? Sitting at home and not interacting with anyone? Being in other social settings?

  92. 92
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Attending religious services as opposed to what? Sitting at home and not interacting with anyone?

    For sure. And, there are quite enough non-attendees who don’t have other social interactions, that even if all social interactions are equally good, the less-social non-attendees are definitely dragging down the group.

    Being in other social settings?

    There isn’t a whole lot of evidence yet. Van Ness and Kasl propose that religious attendence may be more cognitively demanding than typical social scenes. IMO the jury is out.

  93. 93
    Pteryxx

    Van Ness and Kasl propose that religious attendence may be more cognitively demanding than typical social scenes.

    …Heck, that says to me that typical social scenes need serious cognitive improvement.

  94. 94
    Dick the Damned

    Van Ness and Kasl propose that religious attendence may be more cognitively demanding than typical social scenes.

    Well, yeah……… there’s the religion-induced cognitive dissonance to contend with.

  95. 95
    unclefrogy

    —–>I would never argue that a theist is incapable of
    doing good things and saying they did them based
    on their religious beliefs, but an atheist is perfectly capable of doing the exact same thing. <————–

    OK the argument seems to start from religion what if we start from the social human animal and consider that the good things that humans do, the social cohesion that favor survival and all the negative things that are done in the name of religion are not rooted in any religion (or gods revelation)
    but are rooted in the human beings and would exist regardless of any religion. Making religion a later rationalization of dreams, illusions, desires and resentments that have been adopted and co-opted by those who desire control and power. That would make all the rationalizations and interpretations of those dreams, illusions, desires and resentments religion and are focused on power and control.
    I think that would help explain the reaction to “new atheist” and atheists in general.
    Seeing it as a religion with all the same desires as religion. Mistaking the desire for the freedom to believe or not to believe as a threat to destroy religion. To see reason as the most dangerous creation of devil. It threatens the illusion with reality.
    This defense of religion seems to come out a basic fear of freedom which is seen as isolation and the desire for the security of illusion of religion which I suspect is also rooted in our being a very social animal our desire for connection with our groups.
    There is nothing I know of that prevents us forming groups with all of the positive characteristics for survival with out resorting to the illusions of and delusions religion.

    uncle frogy

  96. 96
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Well, yeah……… there’s the religion-induced cognitive dissonance to contend with.

    Lol! That’s possible.

    So instead of a big expensive Botton temple, maybe we should just have nonsense poetry slams?

  97. 97
    Pteryxx

    So instead of a big expensive Botton temple, maybe we should just have nonsense poetry slams?

    Fanfic! Fanfic! *cheers*

  98. 98
    consciousness razor

    …Heck, that says to me that typical social scenes need serious cognitive improvement.

    I don’t see it that way exactly. A lot of activities like shopping or having tea with friends just aren’t as demanding or interactive as others, like going to a museum or gardening or whatever. People don’t always want to play a game; sometimes they’d rather go to a sporting event and watch other people play. Sometimes they just want to relax and veg out in front of the TV, or just be alone and stew in their own thoughts. And that’s okay. If we tried to make everything maximally demanding, the stress of it all would probably kill us before we’d reap whatever benefits there are along the lines of not developing dementia quite as early.

  99. 99
    peterh

    “…attending religious services does have a neuroprotective effect and delays dementia for perhaps a few years.”

    Or merely cloaks it in a different guise.

  100. 100
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Van Ness and Kasl: http://www.anonstorage.net/PStorage/256.vn.pdf

    Or merely cloaks it in a different guise.

    Uh, no. Dementia is not especially difficult to test for.

    Also dementia kills people, so this neuroprotective effect is consistent with a finding more widely studied: that religious participation lengthens life a bit.

  101. 101
    LykeX

    Of course, if you actually believe that a gigantic tree holds the planet up then you might have issues.

    Typical small-minded atheists. All sophisticated pagans know that Yggdrasil is a metaphor. Nobody takes that literally.

    It’s not really a surprise that atheists only argue against the literal interpretation and never address the sophisticated theological arguments for Norse mythology.
    You know, like… the good arguments. Those ones. Why don’t you address those?

  102. 102
    ryanwilkinson

    @life is like a pitbull with lipstick

    Sorry, force of habit, one which I doubt I’ll break. But if it helps, I don’t distinguish between men and women when I use insults (except I’m much more likely to call a man a cunt, I don’t know why).

  103. 103
    consciousness razor
    “…attending religious services does have a neuroprotective effect and delays dementia for perhaps a few years.”

    Or merely cloaks it in a different guise.

    You apparently don’t know what dementia is. For one thing, it isn’t a joke. For another, religious delusions don’t tend to involve things like memory loss or disorientation.

  104. 104
    strange gods before me ॐ

    ryan,

    You’ll break the habit around here or you’ll end up banned. PZ will probably warn you when he’s fed up, but you might as well know right now that repeat usage of words like that is a banning offense.

    But if it helps, I don’t distinguish between men and women when I use insults

    No, it doesn’t help. It just means that you’re insulting men qua women, by identifying what’s objectionable about the man to be something which warrants a female-gendered insult.

  105. 105
    consciousness razor

    ryanwilkinson: fuck off.

  106. 106
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    ryanwilinson,

    even in the poems, wherein Hera/Juno was a naggy whiny bitch

    But if it helps, I don’t distinguish between men and women when I use insults (except I’m much more likely to call a man a cunt, I don’t know why).

    Fuck you, ryan. Find a way to communicate without contributing to sexism. And fuck you.

  107. 107
    ryanwilkinson

    I’ve just never thought about it like that. I just see it as Bad word -> use on Bad person. I don’t think most people (with ‘cunt’) consider it gender specific. What’s a non-gendered insult I can use around here?

    Juno/Hera is a whiny nagging … (I assume I can no longer use: cunt, dick, cock, bitch, pussy, tit, is wanker okay?)

  108. 108
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    Stupid fuckwits think that calling a guy a “cunt” makes it all ok. So much derp. Disgusting.

  109. 109
    opposablethumbs

    Fanfic! Fanfic! *cheers*

    Yup! :-D @ Pteryxx!

  110. 110
    opposablethumbs

    I just see it as Bad word -> use on Bad person. I don’t think most people (with ‘cunt’) consider it gender specific.

    Yeah, female genitalia – so not gender specific.

  111. 111
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    I’ve just never thought about it like that.

    Privileged jackass.

    I just see it as Bad word -> use on Bad person.

    Naive and stupid, privileged jackass.

    I don’t think most people (with ‘cunt’) consider it gender specific.

    Stop digging, shit-for-brains, regardless of what you think “most people” believe, “cunt” is pretty gender specific. Go fuck yourself. Stop doubling down.

    What’s a non-gendered insult I can use around here?

    Use your fucking imagination you ass-pimple. Do you resort to racial slurs every time a black person pisses you off? It isn’t really that hard to not use oppressive slurs. It really isn’t.

  112. 112
    ryanwilkinson

    I’m aware of the etymology, I just don’t think most people when calling other people a cunt are thinking anything sexist; they’re probably just thinking ‘I don’t like you and this is the strongest word that expresses that’. I sincerely doubt *most* people link it to being like a vagina.

    But I’m sorry, I will endeavour not to use them.

  113. 113
    brucegee1962

    Saying that religion “seen as a whole” is bad for humans leaves a gaping hole that abb3w addressed: for most of human history, every single “successful” (that is, long-lived) culture exhibited strong religious traits, while cultures that didn’t got subsumed by other cultures that did. I would say that religion is almost certainly a beneficial trait FOR CULTURES WHOSE PRIMARY COMPETITION WITH OTHER CULTURES IS MILITARY. Having an institution that provides social cohesion that transcends tribal affiliations, and which gives soldiers motivation to act suicidally, more than overcame religion’s negative aspects.

    I’ll bet that, throughout history, there have always been smart people who have said, “of course it’s all nonsense, but without it our government/military/bureaucracy would fall apart and my family and I would get killed or enslaved by those awful people over the border, so I won’t say anything to oppose it” — AND THEY’D BE RIGHT.

    That’s probably also true of religion’s control over women, too. If centralized control over agriculture and economics is advantageous to a society, why not centralized control over peoples’ sexuality and childrearing strategies as well? And religion gives you a handy lever for doing that. Again, the point that PZ makes, that EVERY religion does this, seems to be a good indication that it gives an evolutionary benefit to the ones that have it.

    Again, I’m talking about what makes a society successful, not what makes it moral. Would I be against slavery if I was an Egyptian and our slaves gave us an agricultural advantage over the Babylonians? Probably not. But what is moral can change over time, and an argument that might have worked in 500 BC doesn’t necessarily translate to the much different world of 1850.

    Religion’s cost/benefit ratio began to change around the Renaissance, when technological advances began to influence conflicts far more than societal ones, and religion’s drag on technological advancement began to be more pronounced.

    So the question that atheists should be asking today isn’t whether religion’s good has outweighed the bad over all of history, because that’s a much tougher question. What we need to focus on is whether it is a good thing TODAY, when cultures compete, flourish, and wither due to technology, economics, morality, and the quality of the lives they can offer their citizens. We can argue about exactly when the scale began to tip the other way, but we don’t need to argue that it’s ALWAYS been a bad thing.

  114. 114
    Dick the Damned

    uncle frogy #95,

    There is nothing I know of that prevents us forming groups with all of the positive characteristics for survival with out resorting to the illusions of and delusions religion.

    How about the fact that the religious are abasing themselves before their god? They’re all so small & helpless before the omnis… you get the idea, eh? I’d guess that brings them together in a way that Humanist meetings can never match.

  115. 115
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I’ve just never thought about it like that.

    Well then!

    I guess you’re one of today’s lucky ten thousand.

  116. 116
    brucegee1962

    Whoops, should have said 500 BCE. Old habits are hard to break.

  117. 117
    Aratina Cage

    I don’t think most people (with ‘cunt’) consider it gender specific.

    Ryan, that is probably only a valid observation of yours for people you have interacted with, not to mention a huge assumption on your part even for the people you have interacted with. Anyway, the point is to stop equating women and womanly body parts with things that are bad. So be creative with your insults! :)

  118. 118
    Tethys

    From SGBM’s second link.
    (Thanks for the links,*spock voice* fascinating /spock voice*)

    A significant negative association between religious participation and cognitive impairment was found among the oldest-old and much of the association was mediated by positive psychological feelings and leisure activities.

    I would like a more precise quantity than “much”, but I’m still reading.

    Women reported higher proportion of religious participation, but the cognitive benefits of religious participation were stronger for men. Findings indicate that (a) religious participation is significantly correlated with cognitive functioning in part because the religious oldest-old are more likely to be optimistic and happy and engage in more cognitively stimulating activities; (b) there might be gender differences in religious participation such that the oldest-old men may engage in religious activities that are particularly relevant to cognitive functioning.

    So it seems that a significant proportion of the effect is due to staying active, happy, and engaged with life.

    *dives back into paper to finish reading

  119. 119
    ryanwilkinson

    I’d just like to remind people I’m coming at this from an English perspective where nothing is anywhere near as bad as it is in America, which may be why I underestimate some of the problems, but again, I’ll try not to do that.

    Juno/Hera is a whiny nagging shit-stirring fuck.

  120. 120
    consciousness razor

    What’s a non-gendered insult I can use around here?

    There are none, because you should fuck off.

  121. 121
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I’m aware of the etymology, I just don’t think most people when calling other people a cunt are thinking anything sexist

    Setting aside your naivity, let’s just go ahead and pretend this, for the sake of argument.

    It’s also important whether all the women in the vicinity get to nod along and think “yes, the subject of these insults is a total asshole”, or whether some of them are suddenly reminded of the fact that if they act like assholes, they will be referred to not only as bad people, but as bad women.

    Your careless use of language can probably have the effect of priming bystanders for stereotype threat.

  122. 122
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I’d just like to remind people I’m coming at this from an English perspective

    This is also a banning offense.

  123. 123
    aziraphale

    “the world’s dominant faiths all hardcode directly into their core beliefs the idea that women are unclean, inferior, weak, and responsible for the failings of mankind”

    I think that’s overstated. That attitude to women has surely existed in very many churches. Not surprising as they grew up within, and got their recruits from, patriarchal societies. If we are talking about the core beliefs of Christianity, though, we should look at the creeds (Nicene, Athanasian etc). I can find in them no hint that women are inferior to men.

  124. 124
    brucegee1962

    If you haven’t been to England, don’t automatically dismiss Ryan — he’s right that the word is used VERY differently in England than it is here. I’m not saying people don’t do right to call him on it here on an international blog — just to point out that, for some people, it’s as customary a part of language as “the,” and a much bigger challenge to eradicate.

  125. 125
    otrame

    ryan, I don’t think you are getting the point. Using bitch and cunt as insults implies that there is something bad about being female and having a cunt. Using male gendered insults are also implying that being male is bad. What’s wrong with the people you wanted to insult has nothing to do with their gender, and even if it did, using bitch and cunt paints all women with the insult, which I think you don’t want to do.

    There are plenty of other insults around. As others have said, get creative.

  126. 126
    Pierce R. Butler

    IANAS[ociologist], but I gather that within that tribe the term “pro-social” is defined as something like “anything that supports the status quo”.

    In that context, one can even speak of “pro-social violence” in context of a shivaree, lynching, or state execution. The question of whether a “pro-social” phenomenon is actually beneficial for the society in consideration, or its members, need not factor into the discussion at all.

  127. 127
    ryanwilkinson

    I’ve said I won’t use it here, and I’ve apologised, but in most contexts I use it it’s fully acceptable and used by both men and women and has no sexist connotations. I don’t even always use it badly, but I’ll bear in mind that among some people it’s seen as sexist and I won’t use it around people that do.

    I’ll probably get moaned at for thinking it’s acceptable in some contexts, but I can assure you that around the people I use it around, there is no sexism.

    I don’t use it around new people because I understand some people can take it offensively, I didn’t predict it with bitch, I’m sorry.

    But I also think that words only have power if you let them have power, and the best response to any severe word is to not let it have power, like the gay community did with the word ‘queer’.

  128. 128
    strange gods before me ॐ

    brucegee1962,

    you and ryan are of course the first British people to ever say that here.

  129. 129
    strange gods before me ॐ

    ryan, I swear to God, if you ever call me queer I will break your fucking nose.

  130. 130
    Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters

    Anyone who doesn’t think religion is bad for women needs to watch Wafa Sultan’s speech at Women in Secularism as soon as it goes up on the web. It’s horrifying.

  131. 131
    Dick the Damned

    brucegee1962, i was going to make the same argument – religion has probably benefited societies, up until the time the rise of science tipped the balance against irrational belief systems, because science became able to provide the answers.

  132. 132
    Tethys

    I can find in them no hint that women are inferior to men.

    Wut!?

    Adam, Eve, snake, origin of all sin. Is this ringing any bells for you?

  133. 133
    consciousness razor

    I can assure you that around the people I use it around, there is no sexism.

    Assurances from a bigoted liar don’t mean shit to me. Fuck off.

  134. 134
    ryanwilkinson

    I wouldn’t ever call somebody queer as I know that not by a long-shot does every gay person (even out of the gay people I know) like that term.

  135. 135
    Aratina Cage

    I’d just like to remind people I’m coming at this from an English perspective

    I know you don’t know this, Ryan, but that is the free space in CUNTO, a game of bingo adapted specifically for people defending their usage of that word. You might try playing it with your own posts on this thread–you could have already won!

  136. 136
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    But I also think that words only have power if you let them have power, and the best response to any severe word is to not let it have power

    Yeah, it is not that you are an offensive sexist jackass, it is those pesky women who are at fault for letting your misogynistic slurs have power over them.

    Haven’t you already been told to fuck off?

  137. 137
    ryanwilkinson

    Oh my god I don’t hate women or in any way try to oppress them, I’ve apologised for using the word ‘cunt’ in this context and underestimating its meaning!

  138. 138
    Dick the Damned

    aziraphale

    “the world’s dominant faiths all hardcode directly into their core beliefs the idea that women are unclean, inferior, weak, and responsible for the failings of mankind”

    I think that’s overstated. That attitude to women has surely existed in very many churches. Not surprising as they grew up within, and got their recruits from, patriarchal societies. If we are talking about the core beliefs of Christianity, though, we should look at the creeds (Nicene, Athanasian etc). I can find in them no hint that women are inferior to men.

    Belief in Adam & Eve is required for being a true Christer. The story is that Eve was created out of one of Adam’s ribs.

    So, there you go.

  139. 139
    A. R

    Aha! RyRy is back! I knew I had detected a disturbance in Teh Stoopid.

    I can find in them no hint that women are inferior to men.

    [headfloor] (because when a head hits a desk hard enough, it breaks through and hits the floor.)

    Ever heard of the Old Testament? The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible has an entire section on sexism in the Babble.

  140. 140
    raven

    Another thread derailed by a 4 letter word and a troll.

    ryanwilkonson is just a troll with an empty life and nothing better to do than derail threads. It’s not worth anyone’s time.

  141. 141
    ryanwilkinson

    How many times can I apologise!

    I am sorry for saying that I find the word ‘cunt’ acceptable on a board wherein the context does not allow it to be so! I’m very, very, very sorry!

  142. 142
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I know you don’t know this, Ryan, but that is the free space in CUNTO, a game of bingo adapted specifically for people defending their usage of that word.

    Ha! Awesome.

    I scroll down to the bottom and what do I see?

    “Like almost all English people, I use the word more to describe men than women.”

    Bizarrely, they claim it’s totally not sexist.

    While implicitly recognizing that it’s so obviously sexist that it shouldn’t be applied to women.

  143. 143
    strange gods before me ॐ

    How many times can I apologise!

    Once would probably have been enough if you hadn’t simultaneously tried to justify it.

    Now shut the fuck up. Don’t post in this thread again.

  144. 144
    Jadehawk

    I just don’t think most people when calling other people a cunt are thinking anything sexist;

    irrelevant since intent isn’t magic.

    also “but I’m English” is not a valid counterargument; there are English/British posters here and they have confirmed on numerous occasions that this argument is bullshit, and that cunt absolutely is a gendered slur in Britain.

  145. 145
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    Oh my god I don’t hate women or in any way try to oppress them, I’ve apologised for using the word ‘cunt’ in this context and underestimating its meaning!

    Awww, Ryan loves women. He doesn’t intend to be a sexist dolt. That means that he can do no harm. Continue to use whatever slurs you want, ryan, your heart is pure as the snow, therefore whatever you say cannot hurt anyone.

    Fuck off now?

  146. 146
    Aratina Cage

    Another thing, Ryan,

    But I also think that words only have power if you let them have power

    Of course you could do that with any and every word, but then everything said or read would be unintelligible. As individuals, we don’t really have much say in what words mean. Which is why it is better for the responsibility of conveying meaning (giving words power) to fall on the shoulders of the speaker or writer.

  147. 147
    consciousness razor

    If we are talking about the core beliefs of Christianity, though, we should look at the creeds (Nicene, Athanasian etc). I can find in them no hint that women are inferior to men.

    Sure, there’s clearly nothing in those about gender. No mention of a “father” or a “son” who are almighty, or about how “man” can be saved. And the reason we need to be saved in the first place isn’t literally about women being responsible for original sin, of course. That’s all just a metaphor, which very few have ever taken seriously. That’s why, for example, the Catholic Church has always been at war with Eastasia had so many women priests.

  148. 148
    Jadehawk

    but in most contexts I use it it’s fully acceptable and used by both men and women and has no sexist connotations

    the use as an insult of a word that’s known to be a word for female genitalia cannot be not-sexist; and the fact that women use it also doesn’t mean it’s not sexist. why would you think women don’t participate in sexism and misogyny?

  149. 149
    Jadehawk

    oh yeah; and being “acceptable” also doesn’t make it non-sexist; quite the opposite more likely, since most mainstream culture is sexist (yes, even English culture; shocking, I know), and thus sexism would be acceptable, while pushing against it would not.

  150. 150
    Jadehawk

    But I also think that words only have power if you let them have power

    libertarian bullshit. brains don’t work like that, social dynamics don’t work like that.

  151. 151
    ryanwilkinson

    Sigh. I’m not sexist. Nobody’s going to believe me but I definitely am not sexist. I’m not even one of the types that gets angry at the word feminist (great *sarcastic praise* invariably). But I sincerely doubt you can call anyone who uses the word ‘cunt’ a sexist dolt; I am confident that even proper feminists use it.

    ‘Which is why it is better for the responsibility of conveying meaning (giving words power) to fall on the shoulders of the speaker or writer.’ Then surely intent matters? I don’t think anyone considers it racist when a black person calls another black person a ‘nigger’. Because they don’t mean ‘You’re black, and I don’t like that.’. Or is that not allowed either?

  152. 152
    Jadehawk

    Oh my god I don’t hate women or in any way try to oppress them,

    point of interest: you don’t have to try to oppress someone to oppress someone; participation in kierarchical culture means that you’re automatically and inadvertently oppresing someone. The thing that needs trying is the minimization of the oppressing that each of us does. and it’s fucking hard work.

  153. 153
    Aratina Cage

    That’s why, for example, the Catholic Church has always… had so many women priests

    B-b-b-but, what about the nuns?! And Mother Teresa? And the Virgin Mary?

  154. 154
    Jadehawk

    kierarchical kyriarchical

    FIFM

  155. 155
    Jadehawk

    Sigh. I’m not sexist.

    everyone who hasn’t been raised by wolves is more or less sexist. growing up in a sexist culture will do that to you.

    we’re quite aware that you “didn’t mean it”, and that you’re being all sorts of naive; that’s why you’re getting this shit explained to you, and why your excuses for sexism are being deconstructed and shown for the stupid crap that they are: so that you can learn and become just a tiny bit less the sexist your culture made you.

  156. 156
    A. R

    ryanwilkonson: Yeah, not everyone who uses that word is an overt sexist. But the word itself is horribly sexist, and it is almost invariably used to demean women, whether directly or indirectly, consciously, or unconsciously. The use of that word is never acceptable here, and shouldn’t be acceptable anywhere, and you need to accept that.

  157. 157
    ryanwilkinson

    There are lots of examples of ‘mild’ (if I can call it that) sexism that do bother me a lot, I can’t stand any of the ‘women in the kitchen’ jokes or ‘women make sandwiches’ jokes, I don’t like it when, if a girl fails at something, the response is ‘women can’t do X’ (as pointed out in another XKCD comment), I don’t like it when someone makes a joke about how a girl did well in some area because of her looks, I don’t and I am vocal about it.

    Sure, I could be doing more, but I don’t think using the word ‘cunt’ casually makes me a sexist.

  158. 158
    Jadehawk

    But I sincerely doubt you can call anyone who uses the word ‘cunt’ a sexist dolt; I am confident that even proper feminists use it.

    again: everyone who’s been raised in a sexist culture (at the moment, that’s literally everyone) is sexist. feminists just work hard on becoming less so. but they still are sexist, just on average less than the non-feminist part of the population.getting rid of all your sexist acculturation is more than a lifetime’s work, so most people who are feminist won’t manage to get rid of all their sexist acculturation. they, too, will remain a little bit sexist.
    meaning, the use of “cunt” doesn’t become non-sexist just because some feminists still use it as an insult

  159. 159
    ryanwilkinson

    What about the word ‘hysterical’?

  160. 160
    A. R

    What about the word ‘hysterical’?

    Stop fucking trolling like that, it shows us just how stupid you are.

  161. 161
    Jadehawk

    Sure, I could be doing more, but I don’t think using the word ‘cunt’ casually makes me a sexist.

    being raised in a sexist culture makes you a sexist; using the word “cunt” is just a symptom of that, and a means of perpetuating that sexist culture.

    also, don’t essentialize. having done/said one sexist thing doesn’t make you “a sexist” (in the sense of being actively against women); it just means you’ve done a sexist thing. those are different. think of it this way: painting one picture doesn’t make you “a painter”; that requires a bit more sustained output.

  162. 162
    ryanwilkinson

    Genuinely, it means a madness of the uterus and was for a very long time applied only to women, and even now women are much more often described as ‘hysterical’ than men, it’s quite a common archetype!

  163. 163
    ryanwilkinson

    I said all my comments before yours came up, Jade, so I understand and I will try not to use the word cunt in any context.

  164. 164
    Jadehawk

    What about the word ‘hysterical’?

    since you’re asking, you likely already know the answer, or else you wouldn’t know to ask about whether that word connected with female anatomy is ok to use as an insult.

  165. 165
    Jadehawk

    I said all my comments before yours came up, Jade, so I understand and I will try not to use the word cunt in any context.

    thank you

  166. 166
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I don’t think anyone considers it racist when a black person calls another black person a ‘nigger’.

    Julian Curry does.

    Leonard Pitts does also. He explains this probably once a year at least.

    Because they don’t mean ‘You’re black, and I don’t like that.’.

    That’s not as obvious as you seem to think.

    https://encrypted.google.com/search?q=doll+test+site%3Ayoutube.com

    https://encrypted.google.com/search?q=internalized+oppression

    By the way, stop commenting in this thread now.

  167. 167
    ryanwilkinson

    But I think you’ll have a much harder time convincing people not to use the word hysterical…

  168. 168
    Tethys

    Ryan, do shut-up and go read this.

    The Red Pill thread.

  169. 169
    Aratina Cage

    @Ryan

    Then surely intent matters?

    My answer is that of course it does in the sense that a person who misuses a problematic word can restate what they meant without using the problematic word and/or make it clear they didn’t mean it that way, and also in the sense of most words having numerous meanings (context seems more important than intent in that case). I suppose it comes down to whether or not you care about the people you are intentionally or unintentionally hurting directly and/or indirectly by using a problematic word.

    I don’t think anyone considers it racist when a black person calls another black person a ‘nigger’. Because they don’t mean ‘You’re black, and I don’t like that.’. Or is that not allowed either?

    That is more like the kind of teasing one would do with one’s friends. It’s giving the people around you shit. In a way, it’s a form of real life friendly trolling that some people do with each other. I’m not sure that word can be disassociated from racism at all, however. Probably the only reason one would use it in that circumstance is because it is one of the worst things that one can call others. It hasn’t even become academic terminology AFAIK unlike the word queer.

  170. 170
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    Sigh. I’m not sexist.

    Your actions bely your claim. Intent isn’t fucking magic. If you do/say sexist shit, that has a real result, regardless of what is going on in your head. If you use the word “cunt” as an insult (I don’t care if you also use it in a non-insulting way), then you are being sexist, Even people who consider themselves non-sexist (like you) can do/say sexist shit (like you), and are being sexist when they do (like you).

    Nobody’s going to believe me but I definitely am not sexist.

    Doesn’t it concern you that nobody will believe you are nor sexist? Hint: when many people are telling you that what you are doing is sexist, this should tell you something about your actions. If many people were telling me that a statement I made is bigoted, I would try to understand why. I wouldn’t just insist that I am not a bigot, and therefore I couldn’t use bigoted language. That would be idiotic. That would be ryan-like.

    I’m not even one of the types that gets angry at the word feminist (great *sarcastic praise* invariably)

    If you realize that what you are about to say is so radically stupid that you know that sarcasm will inevitably follow, you probably should just keep your rot shut.

    But I sincerely doubt you can call anyone who uses the word ‘cunt’ a sexist dolt

    I can and will. If you are using a gendered insult, you are being sexist. It is really simple. It is possible to use the words and not be contributing to sexism, but not if you are using it as an insult. People who fail to understand this are dolts. People who contribute to sexism by using misogynistic insults are sexist dolts.

    Sure, I could be doing more, but I don’t think using the word ‘cunt’ casually makes me a sexist.

    You are wrong.

    What about the word ‘hysterical’?

    Stop trolling, shit-head.

    But I think you’ll have a much harder time convincing people not to use the word hysterical…

    Oh, it will be hard alright. Just look at how difficult it is to make someone understand that the most obviously sexist slur, “cunt”, is sexist. If you can be so dense about “cunt”, it will certainly be tough to reduce the usage of the word “hysterical”.

  171. 171
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    I’d just like to remind people I’m coming at this from an English perspective

    Oh RyRy, I thought that just the other day you were trying to tell us that you didn’t come from a majority Christian country.

    I’m sooooo disappointed.

    But I think you’ll have a much harder time convincing people not to use the word hysterical…

    And with that, fuck off. You’ve aptly demonstrated that it is impossible for you to be correct about anything you comment on.

  172. 172
    Jadehawk

    But I think you’ll have a much harder time convincing people not to use the word hysterical…

    of course. that doesn’t mean it isn’t sexist, it just means it’s an act of sexism even deeper embedded in culture.

    and I’m also going to say that you shouldn’t, for the moment, post here. A lot of people will be coming in to dissect your comments in their own way, because people here have an allergic reaction to slurs and those who defend them. if you’ve got the point about these words, then that’s good, and just let people take a bite out of your previous comments without trying to defend them.

    please.

    otherwise, this thread will go critical, and we’ll have a pointless runaway derail.

  173. 173
    ryanwilkinson

    Quite clearly, when I said ‘majority Christian’, meant ‘majority believers’.

    If by chance any of you are wondering why most, otherwise sane and rational, men do get all angry and annoyed when they hear the word ‘feminist’ (and I’m not including myself in this, but you all probably will anyway) I think this is your answer.

    And with that, I am off.

  174. 174
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I am confident that even proper feminists use it.

    Yes, I too am confident that even some of the most awesome feminists sometimes say and do sexist things.

    One of them here noted that she “think[s] six sexist thoughts before breakfast” (paraphrase is approximate but very close to verbatim).

  175. 175
    Jadehawk

    ryan honey, we already know that poking at the status quo gets people “angry and annoyed”. that swipe was neither useful nor necessary. you should have left without that petulant “but you’re stoopid anyway”.

  176. 176
    strange gods before me ॐ

    As those sort of men been getting angry about feminists since the 1800s, when the major feminist argument was “please don’t beat your wives so much”, I see no evidence that male anger has anything to do with the specific content of feminist requests, over and above the mere fact that feminists exist.

  177. 177
    ChasCPeterson

    Poopyheads!

    And with that, I am off!

  178. 178
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Quite clearly, when I said ‘majority Christian’, meant ‘majority believers’.

    And England isn’t? Fuck me, no one told me the CoE had dissolved.

    If by chance any of you are wondering why most, otherwise sane and rational, men do get all angry and annoyed when they hear the word ‘feminist’ (and I’m not including myself in this, but you all probably will anyway) I think this is your answer.

    *yawn*

    People get offended because: 1) they don’t want to examine their own privilege (the point of the “Cheat Code” thread which you spectacularly derailed) &/or 2) they see feminism as a threat to whatever power they have &/or 3) they’re uncomfortable with anything outside of the status quo.

    Go on, stick that flounce now.

  179. 179
    Jadehawk

    oh, hey, chas made a funny that’s actually funny.

    *marks day on calender*

  180. 180
    A. R

    Clearly ryan needs more than the standard red pill to get him out of his privilege-zone. I think I have a red syringe around here somewhere I can hand to him.

  181. 181
    ryanwilkinson

    http://www.johndclare.net/Women2_DidSuffragettesHelp.htm

    It’s widely accepted by historians that suffragists were far more successful than suffragettes, but there’s a nice balanced overview.

  182. 182
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    oh, hey, chas made a funny that’s actually funny.

    Debatable

  183. 183
    Jadehawk

    And England isn’t? Fuck me, no one told me the CoE had dissolved.

    even if England/the UK were majority non-christian (culturally or religiously), christianity would remain dominant as long as it remained woven right into the governing structure of the UK. you’d actually have to thoroughly separate church and state for christianity to lose its dominant status in such European countries.

    *glares at both her homecountries*

  184. 184
    A. R

    Audley: If you listen to the RDF’s Ipsos MORI polling, there aren’t that many actual xtians in the UK, though a majority do identify as xtian. (Source.)

  185. 185
    Jadehawk

    It’s widely accepted by historians that suffragists were far more successful than suffragettes, but there’s a nice balanced overview.

    what’s “widely accepted” among political scientists is that every social movement that’s been successful had the obnoxious assholes who pushed the Overton Window, made the cause visible, and who made the “moderates” look moderate to begin with.

    also, did you just compare having people criticize you on the internet to throwing stones through windows?

    why are you still commenting in this thread, anyway? if you’re going to flounce, try to stick the flounce at least for a little while.

  186. 186
    Jadehawk

    basically, it’s the GNU atheist vs accommodationist argument; the accommodationists whine that our “extreme” position turns theists off, but without us, they would be the extreme end of this debate.

  187. 187
    ryanwilkinson

    I’m not advocating accomodationism! Certainly never! Just perhaps a bit less anger at everything. Perhaps accepting that there are very many thousands of very good people who do very good things and don’t agree with eheverything you do.

    Also it’s a bit unfair to keep telling someone to fuck off/otherwise leave then when they do leave to call it a flounce! But fine I’ll flounce.

  188. 188
    Jadehawk

    Just perhaps a bit less anger at everything.

    if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention. and really, what good ever came of “civilizing” our justified anger at injustice? (it should be noted though that very likely, your outburst of slur-defending probably didn’t elicit any genuine anger; annoyance at most, and more likely just that exhausting feeling of “oh ffs, not again”)

    Perhaps accepting that there are very many thousands of very good people who do very good things and don’t agree with eheverything you do.

    and that’s a strawman.

    Also it’s a bit unfair to keep telling someone to fuck off/otherwise leave then when they do leave to call it a flounce!

    are you incapable of remembering what you said? I’m describing your “snipe and run” in #173 as a flounce. you could have left quietly, or refused to leave at all, but that comment was absolutely a flounce.

  189. 189
    AJ Milne

    My pet conjecture about the historical ‘utility’ of religion of late has tended to go back to that ole’ bon mot ‘what the powerful find useful’, and leaves me thinking, eternally, I don’t even know how there could be any great mystery remaining about this…

    I mean, especially in a monarchy, you’d expect it’d just naturally be useful to have a priesthood around telling people weekly that the king is the god’s elect and the god is everywhere and watching you.

    … it’s sorta like having the ubiquitous surveillance of 1984. Or at least convincing the proles you do. Which is awfully useful when it hasn’t actually been invented yet.

    Sorta more seriously (tho’ I’m only half unserious about this–it doth rather sketch out state religions rather well, methinks), I think Wilson’s full of shit, and he probably mostly knows it. As it’s perfectly evident you don’t need religions around which to form social groups…

    … but when you look at it t’other way around, it’s also perfectly evident that religion needs social groups to propagate itself.

    … which means, again, this is the standard mistaking of effect for cause. And this is part of a larger fundamental problem I think folk too frequently make with religion: assuming ubiquity somehow implies utility, and then going looking for that utility*.

    … and forgetting the obvious observation: polio was rather ubiquitous, once, too. But this doesn’t at all imply its being around is in anyone’s interest but polio’s.

    (*/Or, of course, looking for it just figuring you can sell one, whether or not you actually buy said just-so story yourself, since, hell, the institutions are still powerful, and they’ll be happy to hear whatever you come up with, anyway.)

  190. 190
    consciousness razor

    ryanwilkinson, stick the fucking flounce. Forever. I suggest you go to foxnews.com. While they might be a bit too sophisticated and nuanced for you, there’s a least a chance someone might appreciate your bullshit. But there’s no chance of that here, so whatever you do, make sure you fuck off.

  191. 191
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    A R.

    Audley: If you listen to the RDF’s Ipsos MORI polling, there aren’t that many actual xtians in the UK, though a majority do identify as xtian.

    The specific argument I was talking about was about identity, so I think my point still stands.

    Also, there is no such thing as church and state separation in the UK and therefore Christianity is the dominant religion. It’s the ruling religion. Jadehawk hit my point right on the money.

    RyRy,

    Just perhaps a bit less anger at everything. Perhaps accepting that there are very many thousands of very good people who do very good things and don’t agree with eheverything you do.

    You have no right, fuckface, to tell me or anything else what we should be angry about or how we should express our anger.

    But that’s you’re entire deal, isn’t it? Telling people how they should feel about oppression. Charming, especially coming from a privileged asshole like you.

    Also it’s a bit unfair to keep telling someone to fuck off/otherwise leave then when they do leave to call it a flounce!

    Who cares what you consider unfair?

    Every time you post, you sound like a whiny child.

    But fine I’ll flounce.

    Thank goodness. Think you can actually manage to do it this time?

  192. 192
    Aratina Cage

    I’m not advocating accomodationism!

    It was an analogy, Ryan. It takes people getting vocal and confrontational and principled to make the label “moderate” apply to the people we now consider moderates on whatever position. Moderates of all stripes, and especially accommodationist atheists, accommodate hurtful crap that activists do not. Moderates don’t like confrontation. They will share their opinion when it is considered polite to do so, but not usually otherwise. And they easily compromise on their principles.

  193. 193
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Perhaps accepting that there are very many thousands of very good people who do very good things and don’t agree with eheverything you do.

    And if they would stop calling people cunts and bitches then they’d be even better.

    The meaning of “good enough” depends on the judge’s values, and here’s the thing: everybody gets to be a judge.

    If a Haitian citizen thinks I’m greedy because I have extra money I could donate to rebuilding Haiti, I am sure as fuck not going to try to tell them they should consider me a good person because I donated some other money to the ACLU. My realistic options are to either donate some money to Haiti or be considered greedy — that’s it, those are my only options — I don’t get to dictate what others should think of me in spite of my actions.

  194. 194
    Jadehawk

    I suggest you go to foxnews.com

    eh, no. ryan is simply being a fucking kid. being here means he’s got a chance at growing out of that debiliating naivete and cluelessness he’s suffering from, if he can get past his defensiveness.

    he’s no walton, but he learns far more quickly than most the fuckweasels we get here.

  195. 195
    Daz, when the wind's called Mariah I know a hawk from a handsaw

    Re England*

    I forget the exact figures, and it was a fairly rough, back of an envelope bit of figuring based on a few surveys and polls found online**, but I worked out a couple of years back that devout Christian worshippers are something between 10 and 15% of the population. Devout being defined as attending church one per week. Maybe 25 to 30% if figured on fortnightly church attendance.

    *Meaning actual England, not Britain or the UK.

    **Very rough figuring: all the polls covered slightly different aspects, and were taken in different years.

    </OT>

  196. 196
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    I’m not advocating accomodationism! Certainly never! Just perhaps a bit less anger at everything.

    Anger at everything? What the hell are you talking about?

    Perhaps accepting that there are very many thousands of very good people who do very good things and don’t agree with eheverything you do.

    Again, what are you talking about? There are good people of all sorts who hold myriad beliefs that I reject. This all sounds like a passive aggressive attempt to chide people for criticizing his use of sexists language.

    Also it’s a bit unfair to keep telling someone to fuck off/otherwise leave then when they do leave to call it a flounce!

    I don’t see what is unfair about it. You hit like 7 squares on CUNTO. You were being an unaware, naive, idiot. For that you were told to fuck off. Stop defending sexist language if you want people who give a fuck about such things to accept you.
    After you made your stupid comments, you flounced. Some noted that. What is unfair?

  197. 197
    joed

    @39 theophontes 777
    Yes!
    Most cathedrals and mosques are monuments to the greatness of human endeavor,ingenuity and beauty. Let’s not tear them down. Let’s make museums and monuments of them. Like the Ayasofya/Hagia Sophia at Istanbul.
    Save the cathedrals.

  198. 198
    consciousness razor

    eh, no. ryan is simply being a fucking kid. being here means he’s got a chance at growing out of that debiliating naivete and cluelessness he’s suffering from, if he can get past his defensiveness.

    Okay, there’s a chance, but I’m betting against it. How many threads are going to degenerate into dragging him out of his clueless fuckwittery while we wait to see who wins the bet? If he didn’t constantly derail threads, that would be one thing, but this shit is just fucking exhausting. I don’t give a fuck about him, so I’m not going to waste my time trying to teach him how to act like a decent person. If you want to, don’t let me stop you, but I’d prefer it if he would fuck off permanently.

  199. 199
    aziraphale

    I wrote that I could find no hint that women are inferior to men in the Christian Creeds. Several people replied by pointing to sexist attitudes in churches – which I had admitted. One pointed to the story that Eve was made from Adam’s rib. That is certainly a sexist idea, but it’s not part of what Christians have to believe.

    I’ll spare you the Athanasian creed, but here is the Nicene:

    I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    and of all things, visible and invisible.

    I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
    the only begotten Son of God,
    begotten of the Father before all ages,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    of one being with the Father.
    Through him all things were made.
    For us and for our salvation
    he came down from heaven.
    He became incarnate by the Holy Spirit
    of the virgin Mary, and was made man.
    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
    He suffered death and was buried.
    On the third day he rose again
    according to the Scriptures.
    He ascended into heaven
    and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    He shall come again in glory
    to judge the living and the dead,
    and his kingdom will have no end.

    I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the Lord, the giver of life,
    who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
    With the Father and the Son
    he is worshipped and glorified.
    He spoke through the prophets.
    I acknowledge one holy, catholic and apostolic church,
    and one baptism for the remission of sins.
    I look for the resurrection of the dead,
    and the life of the world to come. Amen.

    Where in that are women said to be inferior to men?

  200. 200
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    aziraphale:
    You mean besides the fact that the only role for a woman was to give birth to god?

    Oh yeah, that just screams equality.

  201. 201
    Daz, when the wind's called Mariah I know a hawk from a handsaw

    aziraphale

    Please show me the part in the Bible where “Eve did place a gun to Adam’s Head, forcing him to partake of the fruit.” Nope, Adam voluntarily partook, but who gets the lion(ess)’s share of the blame?

    Shall we work through the whole book, now?

  202. 202
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I’m sympathetic to your argument, aziraphale, but I have a few questions.

    As you know, there are some non-creedal Christianities. How would you delineate their “core beliefs”?

    Similarly, but perhaps with a different answer: since all early Christianities prior to the first creeds were necessarily non-creedal, how would you delineate their “core beliefs”?

  203. 203
    Kevin

    20 references to he, him, father son in that creed.

    1 reference to a virgin.

    Yeah right. Women are co-equal. Sure.

    Two MALE gods against 1 virgin.

    Are all Christians this dense?

  204. 204
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Kevin:

    Two MALE gods against 1 virgin.

    Exactly.

    Isn’t the Holy Spirit also considered to be male?

  205. 205
    aziraphale

    Audley:

    The only purely human individuals named in that creed are Mary and Pontius Pilate. I’d say that puts the women ahead on points.

    Daz: How often do I have to say it? I’m not denying that women have often been thought to be inferior by churches. I’m saying that’s not inherent in what you have to believe to be a Christian. A Christian does not have to believe that every word in the Bible is true. Some sects choose to believe that, most don’t.

  206. 206
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    Where in that are women said to be inferior to men?

    Well, the piece of shit god who demands that people worship his son, who is also him, in order to benefit from vicarious redemption through human sacrifice seems to think women are inferior. As Audley points out, women’s only role is to birth the real protagonist of the fiction (who of course must be male). Not to mention the tyrannical skydaddy presumably impregnated “the virgin mary” without her consent.

  207. 207
    Daz, when the wind's called Mariah I know a hawk from a handsaw

    sn’t the Holy Spirit also considered to be male?

    Drambuie is asexual, as far as I know.

  208. 208
    consciousness razor

    I wrote that I could find no hint that women are inferior to men in the Christian Creeds.

    So you don’t see all that shit about the “Father,” the “Son” and the “virgin Mary”? You’re not very good at noticing hints. Besides, why are we only supposed to look at these creeds, rather than all the religious beliefs people have?

  209. 209
    Daz, when the wind's called Mariah I know a hawk from a handsaw

    I’m saying that’s not inherent in what you have to believe to be a Christian.

    Without the major sin in Eden, which is mostly blamed, for no good reason, on Eve, the concept of original sin flies out the window.

    No original sin, no need for Jebus to offer us a way to cleanse ourselves of that sin.

  210. 210
    Aratina Cage

    “virgin Mary”
    Nothing sexist about that at all!

  211. 211
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    “virgin Mary”
    Nothing sexist about that at all!

    Exactly.

  212. 212
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    aziraphale:

    The only purely human individuals named in that creed are Mary and Pontius Pilate. I’d say that puts the women ahead on points.

    What the hell does this have to do with anything? There was a passing reference to Mary, everything else was about dudes. How in the hell does it matter that three of them were gods (or the same god or whatever. I hate that trinity shit)? They’re the important figures in the religion! You’re pledging yourself to males, not Mary.

  213. 213
    consciousness razor

    The only purely human individuals named in that creed are Mary and Pontius Pilate. I’d say that puts the women ahead on points.

    “Purely human,” eh? Aren’t you supposed to believe Jesus is fully human and fully divine? And are you going to tell us you don’t attribute some extra value to divinity than you do to humanity?

  214. 214
    Daz, when the wind's called Mariah I know a hawk from a handsaw

    And, hey, let’s forget all about the Roman church discrediting Mary Magdalene by painting her as a prostitute.

  215. 215
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    cr:

    Besides, why are we only supposed to look at these creeds, rather than all the religious beliefs people have?

    It’s like the opposite of the Courtier’s Reply! Either we don’t know enough detail about religious practices/beliefs or we’re focusing too much on the details of religious practices/beliefs. We can’t win.

    Make up your minds, religion defenders!

    (By the way, what was Lot’s wife’s name again?)

  216. 216
    aziraphale

    life is like a pitbull with lipstick:

    I don’t really know the answer to either of your questions. I’m not a serious student of religion. My initial post was prompted by the fact that I was a regular churchgoer until the age of about 16 and never thought I was being fed any derogatory view of women. I have several Christian friends and acquaintances and none have expressed anti-women views to me. So my experience is that Christian doesn’t have to mean anti-women.

    Kevin:

    in a patriarchal society, God is naturally described as Father. Jesus as the son (or daughter!) of a Mother Goddess would have been a totally different religion, and probably would never have gotten started among Jews.

    “Are all Christians this dense?”

    I don’t know, I’m an atheist.

  217. 217
    unclefrogy

    Dick-”How about the fact that the religious are abasing themselves before their god? They’re all so small & helpless before the omnis… you get the idea, eh? I’d guess that brings them together in a way that Humanist meetings can never match.”

    Well when you look and see the vastness of time and space that we know anything about we are pretty small and insignificant so I for one can stand in awe before it and realize that I appear to be here now. So Religion has nothing but fear to hold the believers that I think stems in part from our social animal nature. No need to grovel before great death and plead to be spared.

    These discussions got me to thinking what purpose would it serve this subjugation of women? If one of the main functions of religion is to enforce order and control by greatly reducing the freedom of part of the members? Would it also help to explain slavery? Reducing the competition for sexual partners and limiting the numbers of competitors within the society as a whole thus fostering stability and “improving” order. just thinking out loud.

    dam there have always been those who are so dense as to make almost no sense and have to talk in circles. I’m sorry but there is an englishman on this thread that reminds me of Moe Szyslak.

    uncle frogy

  218. 218
    aziraphale

    I see I am in a minority. I have said my piece and shall now observe from the sidelines.

  219. 219
    Pteryxx

    The only purely human individuals named in that creed are Mary and Pontius Pilate. I’d say that puts the women ahead on points.

    So, one woman character in a piece = totally equal treatment, or even women (suddenly plural) being AHEAD. Why won’t those greedy women shut up already? What do they WANT anyway?? /menzfaintingcouch

    Sorry for linking TVTropes but that embarrassing argument deserves it:

    The Smurfette Principle

  220. 220
    Tethys

    Isn’t the Holy Spirit also considered to be male?

    Isn’t the entire concept of a Holy Spirit a perversion of the Gnostic Sophia tradition?

  221. 221
    aziraphale

    Pteryxx: perhaps I was too subtle for you. Mary is a heroine of this story. Pilate is a villain.

  222. 222
    consciousness razor

    There’s also this:

    He spoke through the prophets.

    Since this presumably fits the irrelevant criterion of referring to “purely human individuals,” how many prophets were women? Since there are so many, you could just give a rough estimate if you like. For example, maybe about 0% of them were women, just to toss out a wild guess.

  223. 223
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Tethys:

    Isn’t the entire concept of a Holy Spirit a perversion of the Gnostic Sophia tradition?

    I have no idea.

    BRB, Googling.

  224. 224
    Aratina Cage

    By the way, what was Lot’s wife’s name again?

    I’ll take a wild guess: Mary?

  225. 225
    Amphiox

    Where in that are women said to be inferior to men?

    In the very first line. Here, I’ll quote it back to you.

    I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,

    That’s about as clear as it gets.

  226. 226
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    aziraphael:

    I’m not denying that women have often been thought to be inferior by churches. I’m saying that’s not inherent in what you have to believe to be a Christian.

    Sentence 1: massive understatement, but OK.
    Sentence 2: technically true, but irrelevant to 99.9% of the real world, and thus annoying.

    Sure, tiny splinter groups here and there are not so sexist. Yes, they do exist – I think of my ultra-liberal reform Jewish and Anglican friends here. But the overwhelming majority of all religions in all history and all geography have been and still are deeply sexist. It doesn’t matter which religion – Hindu, Catholic, Islam, Buddhist, Baptist, pagan, ALL of them. You can do the same verbal trick about looking in official creeds for most of the non-Xian ones, too. But the actual on-the-ground evidence of how it is practiced gives it away every time.

  227. 227
    Pteryxx

    aziraphale: how subtle do you have to be to count to one?

  228. 228
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    BTW, worry for nym misspelling, aziraphale. I shhould have noticed that Pratchett spelling variant!

  229. 229
    Amphiox

    Also, the veneration of Mary in Christian faith is a prime example of putting women on pedestals.

    And no matter how favorably you do that, you’re still accepting the premise that women are inferior to men, because you put objects on pedestals.

  230. 230
    ryanwilkinson

    Someone said there were no female prophets: Judges 4: 4.

    Though it’s not many and I’m not defending it, and the Bible is extremely sexist; but there are several female prophets, besides the one in that verse.

  231. 231
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    perhaps I was too subtle for you. Mary is a heroine of this story. Pilate is a villain.

    Mary is “heroic” because she gave birth to the Man-god jeebus. Pilate is a villain because he ordered the human sacrifice that redeems the entire world. The Bible is misogynistic and idiotic.

  232. 232
    Amphiox

    It should not be overlooked that early in its history, one of the things that made Christianity subversively popular and helped it grow was that it did, indeed, treat women as less inferior, relatively, to men than the major faiths it was competing against for adherents, and in the process won over a lot of female converts.

    But that all changed quickly enough once Christianity (or Christian men, as it were) started getting a taste of political power.

  233. 233
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Isn’t the Holy Spirit also considered to be male?

    Yes and no.

    The Gnostic Acts of Thomas, ~225 CE, clearly refers Holy Spirit as either female, or both male and female, depending on how you read it. One way or the other, it’s definitely God the Mother.

    Views common enough today that I have run into them in meatspace, ordered by my vague recollection of occurrence: it’s neither male nor female, it’s male, it’s male and female.

    The view that it’s just female exists, but I don’t think it’s existed non-stop throughout the history of Christianity, so it’s a modern feminist revival. And I don’t remember knowing anyone who believes it. (Although I do have a friend I should ask, who’s as likely as not to believe it.)

    +++++

    I don’t really know the answer to either of your questions. I’m not a serious student of religion.

    Fair enough. I think you’ve got a pretty good argument at least for the creedal Christianities. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there’s “no hint” of women’s inferiority; it’s hinted by relative omission, as others have pointed out. Certainly I agree with you that the reader needn’t necessarily understand it that way, and

    Christian doesn’t have to mean anti-women

    although I think it’s going to be another century at least, before “doesn’t have to” is generally replaced by “doesn’t”.

  234. 234
    consciousness razor

    Mary is a heroine of this story. Pilate is a villain.

    What the fuck? God wouldn’t rape just any woman with his big, cosmic penis. No, she’s got to be a virgin, because otherwise she’d be dirty. It’s never an issue whether the male apostles are virgins, because how they do “God’s work” doesn’t depend on their sexuality, unlike Mary or the vast majority of the female characters in the Bible. None of this is pro-woman, no matter how you twist it.

  235. 235
  236. 236
    John Morales

    joed:

    Most cathedrals and mosques are monuments to the greatness of human endeavor,ingenuity and beauty.

    Bah.

    More like monuments to the power of religion and the propensity of humans to indulge in pointless waste of resources for vanity.

    (In short: the religious version of conspicuous consumption)

  237. 237
    Amphiox

    The other thing to remember of course, is that Mary is NOT purely human. Not at all.

    Christian views on Mary vary from “merely” inhumanly holy, to superhuman (giving birth while a virgin, perpetual virginity, etc), to frankly a demigod (immaculate conception, assumption into heaven).

    But absolutely nowhere can anyone argue with a straight face that Mary was “purely” human.

  238. 238
    Amphiox

    Most cathedrals and mosques are monuments to the greatness of human endeavor,ingenuity and beauty.

    Only so designated after the fact.

    The people who designed and built them certainly did not intend them to be so.

  239. 239
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    life:

    Yes and no.

    So, the holy spirit male/female question depends on the sect, right? Can’t say I’m terribly surprised.

  240. 240
    joed

    @236 John Morales
    get over your fear and hate and you may find something worthwhile on the planet.

  241. 241
    Jadehawk

    The only purely human individuals named in that creed are Mary and Pontius Pilate. I’d say that puts the women ahead on points.

    and of course the part you leave out is that the divine critters in that text are all male.

    but that’s not sexist at all, huh?

    My initial post was prompted by the fact that I was a regular churchgoer until the age of about 16 and never thought I was being fed any derogatory view of women. I have several Christian friends and acquaintances and none have expressed anti-women views to me.

    it would serve you well to read my comments to ryan.

    Kevin:

    in a patriarchal society, God is naturally described as Father.

    and of course perpetuating god-as-dude is not at all perpetuating that patriarchy. nuh-uh. can’t be. because your christian friends aren’t raging bigots, which is all the evidence necessary, apparently.

  242. 242
    strange gods before me ॐ

    So, the holy spirit male/female question depends on the sect, right?

    Yes, although it’s less interesting today.

    Long ago there were at least some Gnostic sects which taught it was definitely either female or male/female, and anybody who thought it was just male was a goddamned heretic.

    I’m not aware of any sect today which says that.

  243. 243
    John Morales

    [semi-OT]

    otrame,

    I say hopefully because the whole “atheist chaplain” idea is out there. It makes my skin crawl.

    I note James Croft indicates at least one organisation is aware of and working on that perception: As for the pushback over the term “chaplain”, it is wrong to say we aren’t fully aware at the Humanist Community Project how that word is perceived – we have been well aware of that for quite a while. But, as I’ve explained to you numerous times before, it’s not easy to change the name of an established Harvard institution. Nonetheless, we are making progress on that front – an announcement is due shortly.

  244. 244
    John Morales

    joed:

    @236 John Morales
    get over your fear and hate and you may find something worthwhile on the planet.

    I see you do not dispute my claim, and resort to speculative bluster.

    (Your psychological projection is no surprise)

  245. 245
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I know that for some sects today it’s theologically mainstream to say it’s neither, or maybe male+female.

    And I know that feminist theologians within some sects get away with saying it’s only female, and they don’t get excommunicated for it, but it’s not mainstream.

    +++++
    In Judaism, by the time Kabbalah catches on in medieval times, there’s a doctrine about a feminine aspect of God — see Binah and Malkuth — but I’ve always gotten the impression that it’s, uh, let’s say “seperate but equal” ya know. Its equality is disputed, at least.

    Raphael Patai thinks it’s much older than Kabbalah; I haven’t looked.

  246. 246
    John Morales

    [meta]

    brucegee1962:

    If you haven’t been to England, don’t automatically dismiss Ryan — he’s right that the word is used VERY differently in England than it is here.

    You apparently are someone who is unaware that (I here quote PZ) “Pharyngula has Standards & Practices; violating them can get you banned”.

    – begin extract –
    This is a liberal blog. We believe in social justice and equality for all. We are sex-positive: gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered, heterosexuals, and asexuals all hang out here and are welcome. We are pro-woman and pro-feminist, and we also think men are just peachy (I am one, after all). You don’t get to criticize people for what they are, so don’t bother with your gendered, racist, classist, or ableist insults, but please do tear into bad ideas. Leave your jingoism behind, this blog has an international readership and if you assume your nationality is favored, you are going to get an unpleasant surprise. Wars solve nothing, violence is deplored, and if you’re a right-wing crank, fuck off already.

    – end extract –

  247. 247
    consciousness razor

    I see you do not dispute my claim, and resort to speculative bluster.

    Given our past conversations, I’m going to speculate that you would’ve said pretty much the same thing about any kind of art (leaving aside the contemptuous bits about religion).

    If you ask me, cathedrals are somewhere in between best thing ever and pointless waste of resources for vanity. So I guess you can mark me down for settling with the golden mean. I think that would suffice for this conversation.

  248. 248
    Jadehawk

    cathedrals might have been pointless wastes of resources for vanity, but so would be demolishing them instead of repurposing them. c’mon: reduce, reuse, recycle!

  249. 249
    strange gods before me ॐ

    And nothing’s too good for the working class, so let’s move families into them. I figure the average cathedral could be comfortably be split into duplex apartments?

  250. 250
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    I’d never heard of David Sloan Wilson until the deranged name-dropping Leica-lover, John Kw*k, quoted him as having described atheism as a ‘stealth religion’; I decided at that point that he wasn’t someone worth listening to when it came to the topic of belief.

    Sure, it was a knee-jerk response – but, given this drivel, it turns out to have been the right one.

  251. 251
    Jadehawk

    . I figure the average cathedral could be comfortably be split into duplex apartments?

    those would be some of the most high-ceilingiest high-ceiling duplexes EVAR :-D

  252. 252
  253. 253
    Lyn M: G.R.O.S.T. (ADM) -- Membership pending

    @ Audley Darkheart #215

    (By the way, what was Lot’s wife’s name again?)

    Nacle, pronounced Nah-SEL.

  254. 254
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    And nothing’s too good for the working class, so let’s move families into them. I figure the average cathedral could be comfortably be split into duplex apartments?

    You say that jokingly.

    But I did read a story a year or two ago about London churches being turned into mixed-use retail and residential (i.e.: flats above shops) developments. I just can’t find a link.

  255. 255
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Lyn,

    Nacle, pronounced Nah-SEL.

    :D :D :D

  256. 256
  257. 257
    Jadehawk

    Nacle, pronounced Nah-SEL.

    I am not going to admit how long it took me to get this one

    :-p

  258. 258
    Jessa

    Nacle, pronounced Nah-SEL.

    This chemistry geek thanks you for the laugh. :)

  259. 259
    Lyn M: G.R.O.S.T. (ADM) -- Membership pending

    I have to credit “Chemistry Cat” for that idea. blushes

    I mean someone TOLD me about Chemistry Cat, of course.

  260. 260
    eddyline

    Nacle, pronounced Nah-SEL.

    Thanks for that; wasn’t looking in that direction… :D

  261. 261
    kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith

    Mary is a heroine of this story.

    Meh.

    Her only superpower is to pump out a baby while staying “pure”.

    I don’t even remember her actually saying anything worthwhile in the whole damn boring book.

    If that’s the only thing women can do to be “heroic”, might as well replace them with magic eraser pads.

  262. 262
    lcaution

    Re the evolutionary value of religion:

    That all human societies we know of have some kind of religion does not mean it has evolutionary value. The earliest known religions are animist in nature, and it is easy to conjecture how and why they developed, at least for anybody who has raised a child. “Why” is one of the earliest words a child learns and one can imagine back in the dawn of time that in every tribe some parent came up with a story to explain why there is fire and why it burns. The stories that made sense, or were proposed by members of the tribe who already held a position of power or respect, got picked up and passed on and developed. It goes without saying that the threshold for credibility in the average human being is rather low even today.

    So, the only way one could possibly argue that religion confers an evolutionary value to the species might be to prove that every tribe that did not have a religion, i.e. animism, died out because it lacked a religion and, even then, it seems to me that all one could then argue is that a group held together by a faith is stronger than a group not held together by a faith. And since we don’t know of any group of human beings that lacks a religious description of the world, we are pretty much left with the argument that “my god is better than your god”, or more reasonably, that some religions are better at ensuring their evolutionary survival than other religions. On top of which, of course, is the problem that evolution works at the individual level not the group level. So, is the argument then that a person who believes in something supernatural (if only a spirit that animates a rock) is biologically and reproductively superior to somebody who doesn’t believe?

    The human race has survived in spite of a wide range of disasters, natural and man-made. 30-60% of Europe’s population died in just a few years in the 1300s from the Plague. (And maybe a lot fewer would have died had it not been for a Catholic church with such a horror of the human body, to say nothing of sex, that cleanliness was pretty much unheard of.) Smallpox? About 500 million in just the 20th century. Malaria? About 2 million/year throughout history. AIDS? 25 million in the past 20-odd years. Cholera and typhus? Who can count?

    Then there are the wars. In the 20th century, let’s see: about 70% of Europe’s Jews died in the Holocaust. Stalin is estimated to have been responsible directly or indirectly (e.g., famine) for the deaths of 3-60 million Russians. 20-40 million died from the 1918 flu pandemic. WWI and WWII together killed about 80 million people. Pol Pot is estimated to have killed ¼ of Cambodia’s population. And then there was Rwanda and the Balkans and, well, need I go on?

    In short, if humanity has managed to survive all the above, there is no reason it could not have managed to survive the existence and persistence of religions that have done more evil than good. We simply have no objective way to assess how large the human population might be today if there had been no religion ever, anywhere, at any time.

  263. 263
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ joed

    Ayasofya/Hagia Sophia

    Squaring the circle! That is something right there.

    @ cr

    How many threads are going to degenerate into dragging him out of his clueless fuckwittery while we wait to see who wins the bet?

    I am willing to adopt ryan.

    @ ryan

    Rather than derailing the thread here, we have created a special thread to allow you to express yourself and come to grips with how the world works in your own sweet time. Link to TZT.

    @ aziraphale

    Where in that are women said to be inferior to men?

    Er… the apex of all creation is two white guys and a spook (with complementary glow-in-th-dark penis)…

    You would do better looking at early “mother goddess” religions. Ancient Crete had The Mother, The Child and a dowdy male hanger on (the father). Do you see the difference in priorities there?

    @ life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ

    I figure the average cathedral could be comfortably be split into duplex apartments?

    In the Netherlands (inter alia) there are many churches that have lost their religious uses and been repurposed. The uses vary from libraries, through housing/offices to the worship of Mamon.

    One of my alltime favourites, the library-church in Maastricht by Merkx& Girod. Pics: 1, 2

  264. 264
    lcaution

    The most important part of PZ’s argument and the one worth more attention is the last section on women and religion.

    Because PZ is absolutely right: every* religion in the world, from the animism of the smallest tribe to the major, global religions is misogynist. I can think of several explanations for this universal religious subjugation of women, but how does one argue that the loss of half of our species’ potential to create (art, literature, science, technology, etc.) has been good for the cultural development and survival of the species?

    If there had been a female alternative to Aristotle, sexism alert here, a woman who was educated and had power but who had also cooked and knew that the only way to make a better soup was to try different ingredients, we might not have lost some 2000 years of scientific advances because of a man who decided that the world could be explained simply by thinking about it.

    *OK, I’ve not studied every religion in the world, and none in depth, but I have read parts of the religious texts of all of the major religions and learned a bit about various tribal religions from the odd anthro course or two as well as assorted readings over the years. I have not run across one that did not consider women to be inferior to men, that did not control or try to control a woman’s education, her sexuality, or what she could do with her life.

  265. 265
    cowalker

    I very much suspect that every old religion denigrates women because in early civilization a religious narrative that asserted women were inferior was the one that appealed to community leaders, ie. men, and it boosted their authority.

    The extreme backlash from atheists to Wilson’s article puzzles me. True, he is being thick about the extremely important role people like Dawkins play in the effort to break religion’s grip on humanity. For most people it isn’t necessary to start at the beginning and learn Aramaic, Greek and Latin to refute Aquinas before they can see the nonsense of Christianity.

    But I think many atheists are being thick about Wilson’s role. There is also a place for people who explain the development of religion in terms of totally non-supernatural human evolution. Don’t you think that showing how a religion survived and adapted by responding to human needs (benign or malign) proves that it does not have supernatural origins? Don’t you think that’s useful?

    A preacher who must concede that religion is a human construction but tells us to believe it’s supernatural anyway because it’s good for us is not a convincing preacher.

  266. 266
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Ryan.

    Do not argue with these people.

    Ever.

  267. 267
    John Morales

    cowalker:

    But I think many atheists are being thick about Wilson’s role. There is also a place for people who explain the development of religion in terms of totally non-supernatural human evolution. Don’t you think that showing how a religion survived and adapted by responding to human needs (benign or malign) proves that it does not have supernatural origins? Don’t you think that’s useful?

    Leaving aside the merits of Wilson’s purported explanation (and the inferences he draws therefrom, and its supposed novelty), no it ain’t useful except in the most insignificant way.

    Such as will be convinced by evidence and naturalistic explanations already have multiple lines to make the determination that the supernatural is an otiose concept, and those who won’t, still won’t.

    A preacher who must concede that religion is a human construction but tells us to believe it’s supernatural anyway because it’s good for us is not a convincing preacher.

    Tell that to the faitheists, not to us.

    (BTW, you’ve never heard about people insisting stage magicians are the real thing, though the magicians themselves explain they’re using trickery?)

  268. 268
    strange gods before me ॐ

    cowalker,

    But I think many atheists are being thick about Wilson’s role. There is also a place for people who explain the development of religion in terms of totally non-supernatural human evolution. Don’t you think that showing how a religion survived and adapted by responding to human needs (benign or malign) proves that it does not have supernatural origins? Don’t you think that’s useful?

    I don’t think that’s the objection to Wilson, since folks here don’t object when I cite Boyer or Atran.

    Wilson’s schtick is biological group selection (to be distinguished from cultural group selection), which is contentious even when he’s not getting all adaptationist about religion.

    Of interest might be this review by Boyer of books by Atran and Wilson, but I can only see the first page where he’s mostly covering Atran’s.

  269. 269
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ lcaution, cowalker

    It is certainly not true that throughout history women where denigrated through religion. There were still matriarchal societies in Europe (and North Africa) as late as the time of the ancient Greeks.

    In China today: In modern times we can find Jino matriarchal cultures as late as 300 years ago. (For a long time they where a mixture of matriarchal villages and patriarchal villages. The final death knell being the dying out of their goddesses last century. The rise of militarism (favouring the menZ) in Yunnan also played a role.)

    In fact the Mosuo society of today is still very much matriarchal. Their Daba religion worships a mother goddess.

    The Dai (related to the Thais) are a large minority nation (1,1m) in China that still have very strong matriarchal elements in their society.

  270. 270
    consciousness razor

    Don’t you think that showing how a religion survived and adapted by responding to human needs (benign or malign) proves that it does not have supernatural origins?

    No, it doesn’t prove that. One could claim that all happened according to a divine plan or the occasional miracle, just like theistic evolutionists are apt to do with biological evolution.

    There are also lots of people who are perfectly comfortable with the idea that religions are man-made. Gods are generally held to be supernatural, not religions themselves, so they could claim religions are just one more example of humankind’s fallen nature (or similar bullshit). Turning the question on religion itself doesn’t change much. I’d say that whole line of thought was destroyed along with the ontological argument a long time ago. You don’t need some god giving you the idea of itself just to have the idea, no matter how stupidly perfect and unimaginable you claim the idea is. That doesn’t prove there is no such god, but that the ability to form a concept of a thing doesn’t tell you whether or not the thing exists, even if you try to shove necessity or existence or perfection (etc.) into the concept itself.

    Don’t you think that’s useful?

    Notwithstanding the above, I do think it’s useful to understand how religion survives and adapts.

  271. 271
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Such as will be convinced by evidence and naturalistic explanations already have multiple lines to make the determination that the supernatural is an otiose concept, and those who won’t, still won’t.

    This is all simplistic and the last bit seems essentialist.

    Simply having access to “the evidence out there” isn’t what convinces people of anything. It depends on just which arguments they stumble across. (It also depends on what they’re going through in their life at the time; unlike the prevalence of certain arguments, this factor is effectively beyond influence, but it’s still contra this “such [types of people] as will” nonsense, you FAEer you.)

    Anyway, some of the spandrel explanations of religion are real headfucks; the component parts of supernatural thought turn out to be more novel and interesting but even less impressive than their function as a tool for some apes’ dominance. I think it’s likely that these explanations would be uniquely effective at degrading religion in the reader’s mind; Wilson’s isn’t this sort of explanation, however.

  272. 272
    cicely

    Late to the party; pre-Game planning ran long. I only have time to skim, so please don’t nail me to anything if/when I repeat points somebody/s already have covered.

    -
    The whole point of evolution is that…things change. This millenium’s super-specialised hyper-efficient ability to eke every last nutrient out of food source X (to wildly exaggerate an example) ceases to be an advantage when all the X, for whatever reason, is gone, and becomes a disadvantage to the extent to which the specialisation interferes with the ability to use other food sources.

    Even if religion was evolutionarily beneficial in the past, it does not follow that it is now, or that it always will be beneficial. And just as we are changing the hell out of our physical environment, we are also changing our social environment. The social “world” is smaller than it has ever been.
    -

    It’s been such a net gain to have people murdering each other over passages in a goatherder genocidal manual.

    But you forgot about the “and take their stuff!” part! That’s where the gain part comes in. One of religion’s many functions has been to provide justification for getting rid of the rivals for all the “stuff”. The lack of gain to the murdered rivals doesn’t matter, because they’re all dead.
    <singing>
    “This land is mine!
    God gave this land to me!”
    </singing>
    -

    Or perhaps you are trying the Courtier’s argument? That we are not allowed to disagree with religion until we understand every jot and tittle of every sect of every religion in the world?

    Then “they” aren’t allowed to disagree with any other religion until they understand every etc. Fair is fair.
    *leaves, whistling innocently*
    -

  273. 273
    John Morales

    ॐ:

    Simply having access to “the evidence out there” isn’t what convinces people of anything.

    I didn’t claim it was; it was cowalker’s contention to which I was replying on its own merits.

    But if you want to play advocatus for them, fine, I’ll bite.

    To rephrase: one more datum in a sea of data all pointing to the same thing is hardly going to be particularly significant, at best, in convincing the still-unconvinced by that thing’s existence.

    I think it’s likely that these explanations would be uniquely effective at degrading religion in the reader’s mind; Wilson’s isn’t this sort of explanation, however.

    Those thoughts of yours are independent of (and irrelevant to) my point in that response to cowalker.

    (I note the phrasing of your claim of degree of meritoriousness as uniqueness of effectiveness with mild amusement.

    (We are all unique, no?))

  274. 274
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I didn’t claim it was; it was cowalker’s contention to which I was replying on its own merits.

    And your response is wrong; it implies that all arguments are equally effective, such that another argument is only “one more datum”.

    To rephrase: one more datum in a sea of data all pointing to the same thing is hardly going to be particularly significant, at best, in convincing the still-unconvinced by that thing’s existence.

    You have just given an argument for not writing The God Delusion.

    Those thoughts of yours are independent of (and irrelevant to) my point in that response to cowalker.

    Wrong, since your response implies that all arguments are equally effective.

    (I’m not terribly interested in playing games while you pretend to be a dumbass, though. I’ve shown how you’re wrong; if you don’t intend to try to show how you’re right then I’m done.)

  275. 275
    The Swordfish, Ambulatory Memory Leak

    Whinin’ Wilkinson:

    even in the poems, wherein Hera/Juno was a naggy whiny bitch

    But if it helps, I don’t distinguish between men and women when I use insults (except I’m much more likely to call a man a cunt, I don’t know why).

    Christ on a bike. Your first inclination after being told not to use sexist language is… to immediately use more of it? Mature. And then trying to be cute with the “I don’t know why” line? Why don’t you just come out and say “I don’t know why I’m such a cool person!”, because that’s clearly what you’re thinking. Using misogynistic insults against males does not make you cool or countercultural. Cthulhu’s dread tentacles, why do so many people do this?

    (Sorry for beating a dead troll, but it fucking irks me when people try to excuse their use of misogynistic language by proudly proclaiming “Hey, it’s totes cool, y’all, I totally say that about teh menz too! ;DD” and it didn’t look like anyone else had pointed that out yet.)

  276. 276
    John Morales

    ॐ:

    And your response is wrong; it implies that all arguments are equally effective, such that another argument is only “one more datum”.

    What part of “Leaving aside the merits of Wilson’s purported explanation (and the inferences he draws therefrom, and its supposed novelty), no it ain’t useful except in the most insignificant way” was unclear to you?

    You have just given an argument for not writing The God Delusion.

    No, I gave an argument why it would have little utility in terms of actual facts not swaying the true believers.

    Nor was The God Delusion (a polemic) comparable to an academic treatise explaining something thought supernatural in natural terms.

    (Darwin’s work would have been comparable)

    Wrong, since your response implies that all arguments are equally effective.

    Arguments are effective relative to their readership, but fine:
    Not all arguments are equally effective.

    Which takes us outside the scope of my original response to a third party, as noted earlier in this very comment.

  277. 277
    consciousness razor

    You have just given an argument for not writing The God Delusion.

    It’s irrelevant, but I’ll take the heat for offering two more arguments: 1) it has already been written, and 2) it almost certainly could’ve been written much better than it was, so we should not repeat it.

  278. 278
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ

    spandrel explanations

    0_o

    {applies advanced googlefu to problem}

    Aaaah!

    {surreptitiously sneaks term into a bag marked “Loot”}

    re: Positive uses for religion.

    Getting back to the Dai. They were (sadly a lot is changing… for the worst) worshippers of the Long forests, and treated water and vegetation with divine reverence. Their relationship to nature is (was) very profound and complicated. Were they not to have deified the forests and water cycle in the manner that they did, I have no doubt that the environmental systems that their societies rely on would have collapsed a long time ago. This is very much borne out by modern attempts to bring conventional farming and irrigation techniques into the region. The results have for the most part been unmitigated disasters. This in spite of the very good intentions and careful scientific methodologies of those trying to bring about the changes (leaving aside the gung-ho “development” ethos of Mao).

    So yes, there is an example of a religion that, in adoring nature, helped to protect it and allowed for a sustainable approach to agriculture. By maintaining a religious regard, they could maintain their societies. Even if they did not understand all the ins and outs of their interaction with the environment. We, as the scientifically educated, are only now coming to grips with how effective and sustainable their world view allowed their societies to become. This in the absence of any real scientific knowledge.

    (I only discuss the positive aspects here. There are also numerous examples how the feudal aspects of their society proved to be very iniquitous.)

  279. 279
    DLC

    One of the things that it seems to me Wilson is badly missing — Evolution is not necessarily progress toward a goal and does not always mean improvement. Why should religion be a positive evolutionary trait at all ? How can we know that society wouldn’t have evolved further without religion getting in the way?
    Personally, I think a case can be made for society evolving further without the malignant influence of religion. To a necessarily beneficial state, or more beneficial? I don’t know. I think it likely. Consider all the things we either wouldn’t have or would have less of without religion.

  280. 280
    Nick Gotts

    The stories that made sense, or were proposed by members of the tribe who already held a position of power or respect, got picked up and passed on and developed. – lcaution

    There’s an interesting article in Science for 27 April (336:408-411) reviewing experimental work on the origins of language. One of the lines of research is into how artificial pseudo-language fragments evolve when they are passed through several “generations” of learners. The “words” to go with a set of images (each having a unique combination of shape, colour and pattern) were originally randomly generated sequences of nonsense syllabes, but participants were asked both to learn them, and to generate new words for new images of the same type. Over successive generations of learners, the “language” evolved compositional structure, and became easier and easier to learn.

    It’s a nice empirical demonstration of memetic evolution, and one would expect stories, myths and religions to evolve in the same way. Of course, it’s features of human psychology and societies they would be adapting to, but this makes it clear religion does not have to benefit either individuals or societies in order to persist. In the last few centuries, of course, we have developed new ways of generating new “stories” that actually have practical benefit because they approximate truths about the world, and moreover, are much more satisfying to many people than the old myths. That there is direct competition between the old religious stories and the new scientific ones is quite evident, and it’s also quite evident that the former are losing ground to the latter. We can’t be certain they will replace them completely, but nor is the long persistence of religion a reason to think they won’t.

  281. 281
    Nick Gotts

    I figure the average cathedral could be comfortably be split into duplex apartments? – LILAPWL

    I think an actual majority of churches in Aberdeen, where I live, may have been converted into offices or flats (I haven’t counted). The town does still have three cathedrals (Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian). There are some churches of real esthetic or historical value, which I think should be maintained with their current interiors at taxpayers’ expense when the denominations wither too far to need or maintain them, but otherwise, repurposing seems better than demolition.

  282. 282
    Cosmic Snark

    Raven @44

    The average xian knows very little about their religion. They don’t know or care. This has been shown by such things as a recent survey on knowledge about the bible. The atheists scored the highest. LOL at jimharrison.

    Case in point.

  283. 283
    strange gods before me ॐ

    What part of “Leaving aside the merits of Wilson’s purported explanation (and the inferences he draws therefrom, and its supposed novelty), no it ain’t useful except in the most insignificant way” was unclear to you?

    Huh. I took it to be a way of saying “just for the sake of argument let’s pretend Wilson’s written something novel which isn’t wrong.”

    But what you were really saying was “aside from its utility, it’s not useful.”

    A deepity, John. I are disappoint.

    No, I gave an argument why it would have little utility in terms of actual facts not swaying the true believers.

    “The true believers” is where you’re doing the essentializing again. Same as you did with “Such as will … and those who won’t”. It’s simplistic in ignoring situational influences.

    You also need to account for those people who aren’t “true believers” but who haven’t turned into atheists yet; we know they exist in large numbers since they are a constant source of fresh atheists, but it’s almost certain that we could be turning over more of them, faster, such that plenty of non-true-believers are going to their graves having still believed in God.

    Some people who still believe in God believe because they haven’t become hooked on the thrill of finding alternate explanations. This is where effects of novelty and flooding the market will matter.

    Nor was The God Delusion (a polemic) comparable to an academic treatise explaining something thought supernatural in natural terms.

    Wilson’s Darwin’s Cathedral is written for a popular audience.

    (Darwin’s work would have been comparable)

    Darwin’s work is a fine example of how some good explanations are more psychologically appealing than others. His work on sexual selection was long ignored because it couldn’t easily be made to serve certain political interests. Had he later written some books just about sexual selection, he might have been able to force the issue.

  284. 284
    opposablethumbs

    Churches within a couple of miles or so of where I live: 2 arts centres (one mainly visual arts, one mainly theatre), 3 conversions to flats, 1 pub. Not bad going, really!

    Cathedrals would make great museums or libraries, all without destroying any fine architecture or the accompanying statues, stained glass, tapestries, paintings, goldsmithing etc. (with some examples simply preserved as relics for their beauty and historical significance, much as we regard the temples of ancient civilisations).

  285. 285
    strange gods before me ॐ

    DLC,

    One of the things that it seems to me Wilson is badly missing — Evolution is not necessarily progress toward a goal and does not always mean improvement. Why should religion be a positive evolutionary trait at all ?

    The hard question, which biological group selection purports to solve, is how humans evolved an ability to function in groups much larger than the other apes do. Kin selection only goes so far; those other already have the benefits of kin selection.

    It remains a very hard question for those who don’t take the biological group selection route. I don’t know exactly what Wilson’s saying, but with or without group selection, there’s a common proposition that conspicuous and costly displays of commitment to sacred things and rituals allows large groups to overcome the problem of free riders.

    Even for researchers who don’t necessarily share Wilson’s opinion about the “overall good” of religion, or don’t think it’s straightforward to calculate, religion is nevertheless pro-social in the sense that it brings us together to kill those people, and take their land and stuff. This much is basically uncontroversial; I don’t know of anyone who disagrees that this pro-social effect exists, though of course its magnitude is not settled.

    If I understand Wilson, he thinks religion’s pro-social effect is so powerful and irreplaceable that it’s necessary for overcoming the most fundamental hurdles that large groups (maybe 1000 apes) face. So humans simply never would have evolved more sociality than the other apes, if we hadn’t developed religion.

    Without this explanation, these free rider problems are still hard questions.

  286. 286
    John Morales

    [meta]

    ॐ:

    Huh. I took it to be a way of saying “just for the sake of argument let’s pretend Wilson’s written something novel which isn’t wrong.”

    You misread it, probably because you read it as if it had been addressed to you. It wasn’t.

    But what you were really saying was “aside from its utility, it’s not useful.”

    You think so?

    If the entire utility of an argument is contingent only on those factors which I’ve set aside, I suppose so. But I can offhand think of other aspects, and I’m pretty sure you can, too*.

    Wilson’s Darwin’s Cathedral is written for a popular audience.

    So it’s a polemic, then?

    Darwin’s work is a fine example of how some good explanations are more psychologically appealing than others.

    I agree. Which brings me to:

    “The true believers” is where you’re doing the essentializing again. Same as you did with “Such as will … and those who won’t”. It’s simplistic in ignoring situational influences.

    It establishes a set of people known to have (so far) resisted every naturalistic explanation that conflicts with their faith.

    And yes, I was speaking in generalities, and I did grant some marginal utility.

    (But this purported explanation (when it gets into the public domain) is very likely to blow their minds, even though it’s… um… not exactly quite as well documented on quite as many lines of empirical evidence as, say, evolutionary theory.

    Right?)

    * Like, I dunno, situational influences. ;)

  287. 287
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    theophontes, I am a little skeptical about claims of matriarchy.

    My anthropologist friend tells me that some people like to think of matrilineal societies (which are quite common) as matriarchal, but in general they aren’t really. What it usually means is that the man who is the boss of you is your mother’s brother, not your mother’s husband. But generally the men still have the power (as wikipedia says is the case for political power among the Mosuo). Tibetan fraternal polyandry likewise does not imply female power; in my reading, the eldest brother was considered the head of the family.

    In some tribal cultures there’s less sexism than in western Xian ones, but that’s faint praise. They seem to tend towards a “separate but equal” approach to things, with women having their own gods and sacred sites and rites. But somehow the elders in charge seem to be mostly men. Possibly that’s western corruption, but it’s hard to determine. But I do question just how equal any society can be if they have strict gender roles.

  288. 288
    John Morales

    ॐ:

    Even for researchers who don’t necessarily share Wilson’s opinion about the “overall good” of religion, or don’t think it’s straightforward to calculate, religion is nevertheless pro-social in the sense that it brings us together to kill those people, and take their land and stuff.

    And, since you’re speaking relatively, the converse applies: it brings them together to kill us, and take our land and stuff.

    Seems like what you were really saying was “it encourages and enables wars*”.

    (Very pro-social, that)

    * The bigger the groupings in a conflict, the more like war, no?

  289. 289
    Drolfe

    Oh, I know! Maybe all that warring was the necessary good for our evolution that ERS is going to uncover!

  290. 290
    karamea

    Church conversions have been very popular in in the UK. The CoE and Methodists are the two main groups who are selling off, mostly because they both overbuilt in the Victorian era and now can’t afford the upkeep. Search for “chapel conversion” or “church conversion” in any property site.

    One of the currently closed churches the CoE have available for ‘alternative use’ is Foulness St Mary the Virgin, which amuses me more than it probably should. If only I had more money/any desire at all to live in Essex.

  291. 291
    strange gods before me ॐ

    You misread it,

    As I just said.

    probably because you read it as if it had been addressed to you. It wasn’t.

    I doubt that, since I don’t identify with what cowalker wrote. I’ve never gotten the impression that people here don’t find evolutionary accounts of religion useful, so I never would have written that.

    It establishes a set of people known to have (so far) resisted every naturalistic explanation that conflicts with their faith.

    And leaves out those who haven’t “resisted” much of anything because they haven’t encountered much of anything.

    (But this purported explanation (when it gets into the public domain) is very likely to blow their minds, even though it’s… um… not exactly quite as well documented on quite as many lines of empirical evidence as, say, evolutionary theory. Right?)

    Uh, no. I’m speaking broadly of certain explanations which are not yet well-known to the public. If you’d paid attention you’d know I figure “Wilson’s isn’t this sort of explanation”.

    (Very pro-social, that)

    The jargon refers to the way we say chimps and lions are social. Humans are moreso.

  292. 292
    consciousness razor

    Even for researchers who don’t necessarily share Wilson’s opinion about the “overall good” of religion, or don’t think it’s straightforward to calculate, religion is nevertheless pro-social in the sense that it brings us together to kill those people, and take their land and stuff. This much is basically uncontroversial; I don’t know of anyone who disagrees that this pro-social effect exists, though of course its magnitude is not settled.

    I realize you’re not trying to rigorously define it here, but frankly “pro-social” doesn’t sound like anything too specific. If it’s supposed to get us cooperation and raping/pillaging, are there any social phenomena it doesn’t explain?

    ———
    General: We won again! This is good, but what is best in life?
    Warrior: The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair.
    General: Wrong! Conan, what is best in life?
    Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.
    All: gahrrrrr!!!!1!!
    General: That is good. That is good.
    ———

    If I understand Wilson, he thinks religion’s pro-social effect is so powerful and irreplaceable that it’s necessary for overcoming the most fundamental hurdles that large groups (maybe 1000 apes) face.

    I haven’t read any of his work, but to be honest, I’m not inclined to believe such a strong claim. According to him, what about religion specifically is supposed to make it that powerful? Or would he perhaps say that (despite being irreplaceable, etc.) it’s one of many social factors which share certain attributes and which all contribute to this sort of effect?

  293. 293
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    Cohen the Barbarian: “Hot water, good dentishtry, and soft lavatory paper.”

    Someone was gonna say it, might as well be me. ;)

  294. 294
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I realize you’re not trying to rigorously define it here, but frankly “pro-social” doesn’t sound like anything too specific. If it’s supposed to get us cooperation and raping/pillaging, are there any social phenomena it doesn’t explain?

    Hmm. Rituals about the death of a group member (why these exist almost everywhere and why rituals about, say, storing food for the winter are comparatively rare). The observance of sacred spaces (even if sacred rituals are necessary it’s not perfectly obvious why sacred spaces also exist). Why religious services are typically available only from specialized guilds rather than just any member of the group.

    That’s from a quick skim of Boyer’s book, which does attempt to explain those things.

    According to him, what about religion specifically is supposed to make it that powerful?

    I can’t say. I haven’t read his book, and in any case I don’t know how to do the maths that let people argue over whether biological group selection can have an effect and how much.

  295. 295
    Ing

    If I understand Wilson, he thinks religion’s pro-social effect is so powerful and irreplaceable that it’s necessary for overcoming the most fundamental hurdles that large groups (maybe 1000 apes) face. So humans simply never would have evolved more sociality than the other apes, if we hadn’t developed religion.

    Without this explanation, these free rider problems are still hard questions.

    Possibly true but it still feels like an ethnocentric/anthrocentric POV of evolution. “it got us to this goal and this current state is the end” Even if what he said was true I think Gnu’s would argue “yes, and now if we want to continue to live in even larger groups than what religion allowed, and with higher stakes due to our society and technology, we’ll need to move beyond that primitive adaptation” It’s the naturalistic fallacy

  296. 296
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ Alethea

    Possibly that’s western corruption, but it’s hard to determine.

    With the Jino I mentioned upthread, there is an awareness and acknowledgement of the corruption that set in, not by western but by other Chinese influences. These related very much to the rise in militarism. Might makes right. And pushes the balance to teh menZ.

    Perhaps such things are inevitable. Successful societies grow until they run out of their resources. The necessary expansionism that this entails makes them militaristic and hence favours the rise of patriarchal ways of doing.

    The early Greeks spoke of communities that were truly matriarchal in that there were no men in their communities at all. (Male children would be sent out. They would use strangers and men from neighbouring villages to father their children.) Sadly all we have is second hand information.

    But I do question just how equal any society can be if they have strict gender roles.

    I very much agree.

    My praise of matriarchy is more a romantic notion than a practical one. Societies should certainly not be split along gender lines as they are today. Though I do think that matriarchal societies will be far better than patriarchal, I still feel that they both would fall far short of the potential that our common humanity calls for.

    @ John Morales

    Seems like what you were really saying was “it encourages and enables wars*”.

    (Very pro-social, that)

    Well we were discussing the importance of cathedral construction to architecture and engineering. If anything the positive effects on technology due to warfare have been enormous for these disciplines (if not their practitioners). Our ancestors fights have been really good for us. (Again, what might be truly horrific for us as human individuals – and even whole societies – might be great for our institutions and our technology.)

  297. 297
    Ing

    My praise of matriarchy is more a romantic notion than a practical one.

    Walton, is that you!?

  298. 298
    strange gods before me ॐ

    According to him, what about religion specifically is supposed to make it that powerful?

    But, hmm, it might just be the cost of buy-in. You’ve probably encountered this argument before. The notion is that religious is a exceptionally costly to the individual, because if you really believe in our bullshit then you no longer have much chance to defect to the neighboring group; even if these two groups are of the same ethnicity they just won’t accept you because you believe in the wrong bullshit.

  299. 299
    consciousness razor

    Hmm. Rituals about the death of a group member (why these exist almost everywhere and why rituals about, say, storing food for the winter are comparatively rare). The observance of sacred spaces (even if sacred rituals are necessary it’s not perfectly obvious why sacred spaces also exist). Why religious services are typically available only from specialized guilds rather than just any member of the group.

    That was mainly a rhetorical question, but thank you.

    Death is quite a bit more significant to an individual (or a group), compared to something like seasonal food storage activities. I don’t think that’s surprising at all, but I don’t have an explanation that would also help to explain some less-than-obvious stuff.

    I also don’t think it’s surprising that, as religions gain power or significance, they secure resources for themselves (including real estate) and try to restrict that power to a subset of the population. That’s not to say it’s just an authoritarian power-grab; maybe the general population could agree in a sense if they think it’s in their interests. The point is just that it’s useful to do so, like in music it’s useful to have dedicated spaces and guilds. Any ethnomusicologist will tell you it’s not all concert halls and virtuoso professional musicians; but it seems like that sort of distinction tends to involve valuing aspects inherent to the activity like how “well” it’s done, more than qualities which are seemingly external or extraneous like being participatory or community-oriented.

    I’m not sure how clear that is, but it’s early. I need much more coffee.

  300. 300
    consciousness razor

    It’s the naturalistic fallacy

    It’s an especially odd version of the fallacy if “pro-social” means kill and loot from your enemies.

    There’s also a whiff of teleology, but to be fair, I get more of that from the likes of Robert Wright.

    And as I rather obscurely alluded to in the Conan quote above (which is admittedly completely fictionalized), I very much doubt vast hordes of nomads were raiding enemy lands for centuries because of some religious notion or another. Granted, that’s much later in history than the origins of religion, but I still don’t know what is supposed to make us think religion itself is necessary to get large groups of people “cooperating” like that.

    The early Greeks spoke of communities that were truly matriarchal in that there were no men in their communities at all.

    The early Greeks spoke of a lot of things that never happened, about their own society’s history as well as others.

  301. 301
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ Ing

    Walton, is that you!?

    Walton is a tardigrade?

  302. 302
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    {note to self: refresh damnit!}

    @ cr

    The early Greeks spoke of a lot of things that never happened, about their own society’s history as well as others.

    Yes,yes… but we get similar stories from completely disparate sources and cultures.

    Don’t make me run all the way home, in the pouring rain, late at night, after a few beers, while I’m supposed to be working, not having drunk any coffee in 12 hours, having eaten all the cookies,tired, in need of a holiday,remembering I forgot my washing on the line, realising the supermarket is shut and if I walk to the 7-Eleven I’ll get wet and have to settle for Tsingtao in those little cans that cost less for two than for one (really!), to dig up sources! :’(

    (ps: not amazons)

  303. 303
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Death is quite a bit more significant to an individual (or a group), compared to something like seasonal food storage activities. I don’t think that’s surprising at all, but I don’t have an explanation that would also help to explain some less-than-obvious stuff.

    Mere significance doesn’t explain “why rituals?” though.

    Storing food for the winter is (or seems to me to plausibly be) at least as important as deflecting witchcraft attacks, yet ritual for the latter is nearly as widespread as ritual to mark deaths.

    Nor does mere significance explain why there is a sense of urgency that the ritual should be performed in precisely this way, this order of events, or else something bad will happen. That is, it doesn’t explain “why are rituals generally the way they are?” Other very important things, like how to attack the neighboring village, can obviously be performed in a multitude of ways, and the decision can be made on the spot.

    I also don’t think it’s surprising that, as religions gain power or significance, they secure resources for themselves (including real estate) and try to restrict that power to a subset of the population.

    Right, I don’t think it’s surprising either. I only offered this because it’s a social aspect of religion that Wilson’s arguments — assuming they are more or less all about costly signaling of in-group loyalty — don’t address.

  304. 304
    Drolfe

    If anything the positive effects on technology due to warfare have been enormous for these disciplines (if not their practitioners). Our ancestors fights have been really good for us. (Again, what might be truly horrific for us as human individuals – and even whole societies – might be great for our institutions and our technology.)

    This is the idea I was trying to touch on. I don’t think it’s really where Wilson is going with ERS though, in the long run, right? Religion makes us (many thousands of years ago) have more wars -> wars apply selection pressure -> The better religion-population complex survives and takes their stuff. Both profit?

  305. 305
    Drolfe

    Oh, oops. Should have refreshed. :-\

  306. 306
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Mere significance doesn’t explain “why rituals?” though.

    To elaborate for possible clarity, the question is why death is typically marked by elaborately scripted events. (In some places, two events.)

    If it’s just that this person was very important to us, then it’s sufficient to let everyone see the body get buried and then hang out together for the rest of the night, talking about the person, and maybe getting good and intoxicated.

    Indeed that’s approximately what modern secular deaths have become, but since this is sufficient, why has observing death ever been more carefully scripted in other cultures?

  307. 307
    consciousness razor

    Mere significance doesn’t explain “why rituals?” though.

    I don’t know. Maybe there’s a terror-management sort of argument one can make that such rituals make death more salient and strengthen individual or group identities.

    Nor does mere significance explain why there is a sense of urgency that the ritual should be performed in precisely this way, this order of events, or else something bad will happen. That is, it doesn’t explain “why are rituals generally the way they are?”

    I don’t know that either. People can’t see cause-and-effect out there in the world like it’s an object, so they’re free to invent it however they want and assume any kind of effect follows from an event. If a certain cause happens often enough (and their explanation is shitty) they’ll find many effects are counterexamples, which they can rationalize away by making it highly-specific. That’s much easier than coming up with a new and better explanation based on actually understanding how the world works. Thus they can develop superstitions and the rituals are there (and correspondingly highly-specific) to avoid the kind of bad things they think will happen without it.

    Right, I don’t think it’s surprising either. I only offered this because it’s a social aspect of religion that Wilson’s arguments — assuming they are more or less all about costly signaling of in-group loyalty — don’t address.

    Yeah, I understand. I just felt like addressing them anyway, cursorily. But my question was about which phenomena aren’t pro-social, not which parts of religion aren’t explained by Wilson’s theory. Which ones are anti-social or neutral?

  308. 308
    Pteryxx

    Death is quite a bit more significant to an individual (or a group), compared to something like seasonal food storage activities.

    Going on from this… don’t, or didn’t, most religions actually have gods of weather, harvest, fertility of fields and such, and sometimes require portions of food or parts of hunted animals to be dedicated to them? I get the feeling food production USED to be far more religiously associated than now. Also, that it might not have been more *significant* than individuals’ deaths, just less acute. Starving tends to cause deaths, after all.

  309. 309
    Nick Gotts

    Indeed that’s approximately what modern secular deaths have become, but since this is sufficient, why has observing death ever been more carefully scripted in other cultures? – LILAPWL

    I think a lot of the ritual in many societies stems from the fear of ghosts – it’s about policing the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead. Since real belief in ghosts (as opposed to saying you believe in ghosts) has greatly declined, this aspect of the rituals has disappeared.

  310. 310
    consciousness razor

    Going on from this… don’t, or didn’t, most religions actually have gods of weather, harvest, fertility of fields and such, and sometimes require portions of food or parts of hunted animals to be dedicated to them?

    Yes, lots of them.

    Starving tends to cause deaths, after all.

    But the connection between death and death is about as direct as it gets. Starvation is of course a problem, but the act of storing food implies a relative lack of starvation. A person’s survival (and what they can do to guarantee it for themselves or their loved ones) isn’t so salient in that scenario, whereas it is when they experience the death of another person in their tribe. If a lot of the deaths were related to warfare or disease, it may give a reason to rally the tribe around an enemy (real or imagined) or celebrate their heroic or sacrificial actions.

  311. 311
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ Pterryx

    I get the feeling food production USED to be far more religiously associated than now.

    .

    “If Christ does not rise tomorrow we shall have no harvest this year”

    Free book: Gilbert Murray “The Five Stages of Greek Religion.”
    (A good place to start.)

  312. 312
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ KG

    I think a lot of the ritual in many societies stems from the fear of ghosts

    And respect. It is incredible how many mini-shrines there are near doorways in Hong Kong. (Far more than in Shenzhen for some reason.) Literally tons of fake money and goods get burned every day here to ensure the ancestors have enough in the afterlife. Every doorway in the building of our old office had a little shrine outside, with sacrifices of oranges (though often other fruit and even fatty bits of roast pork) and joss sticks.

    The most money tends to get burned outside “girly-bars” and “massage parlours”. Some kind of assuaging for the activities they undertake?

  313. 313
    Nick Gotts

    The most money tends to get burned outside “girly-bars” and “massage parlours”. Some kind of assuaging for the activities they undertake?

    Or maybe that’s where the donors think the (male) ancestors are likely to be hanging out?

  314. 314
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ KG

    Or maybe that’s where the donors think the (male) ancestors are likely to be hanging out?

    Sorry, not clear enough. It is the people who work there that burn the money. It is paid for by the people who work there.

  315. 315
    SteveV

    The people who designed and built them certainly did not intend them to be so.

    Citation?

    I ask because, AFAIK, much of the design and construction of European cathederals was carried out by people who left almost no records of their methods let alone their intentions or even their beleifs.

  316. 316
    SteveV

    Bollocks.
    When will I learn to refresh?

  317. 317
    Jadehawk

    It’s an especially odd version of the fallacy if “pro-social” means kill and loot from your enemies.

    I’m not sure I understand this objection to “pro-social” also meaning killing and looting of the enemy. if something gets humans from in-groups of max. 150 people to in-groups of, say, 1000 people, then it’s pro-social even if it rains even more death and destruction on the out-group.

    whether religion can be credited wholly or even uniquely for such a development is of course a separate question; so is whether religion would be at all able to get us through the current cultural transition (nation-sized in-groups to a single global in-group, possibly even one that includes members of other species)

  318. 318
    uncephalized

    Re: the question “why ritual?”, I have a thought. Many religious rituals deal with trying to influence events that are, from the primitive human perspective, actually impossible to explain, predict or influence (weather patterns, disease, natural disasters, etc.). It’s a staple of Psych 101 that animals, from pigeons to humans, will engage in some pretty bizarre behavior when faced with random rewards or punishments but given an illusion of influence. So for instance a pigeon, trained to push a button to get a pellet, will start doing weird stuff when you switch to dropping the pellet randomly but leave the button in place. Basically it will start associating whatever it was doing before the pellet dropped with “causing” the pellet to appear in conjunction with pressing the button. It might start spinning in place, hopping in a circle, pecking a certain number of times punctuated by some other unusual behavior, whatever. The point is that it becomes ritualized–and every time the pellet drops after it has done its ritual, it gets reinforced and sometimes added to if the animal has happened to do something different that time.

    I don’t see any reason to suppose this isn’t the origin of most religious rituals. Say someone dies, and a simple burial is performed. The next day a disease starts spreading. Someone remembers “hey, didn’t we bury the dead guy in that unusual greenish dirt instead of the regular brown kind?” and someone else replies “oh crap man you’re right, dead people must hate green dirt, and the dead guy’s spirit is making us sick to take revenge!” Since this kind of belief in the need to appease spirits is common to most animist societies, it’s easy to believe the idea would “stick” since it is consonant with preexisting ideas. So the tribe starts making sure they always bury people in “pure” brown dirt to avoid angering their ancestors. Of course the color of the dirt has no actual effect, and sometimes disease or other mishap still happens to follow a burial. Someone comes up with some other plausible explanation, and a new element is added to the burial ritual. Continue for centuries or millennnia and the rituals could get pretty damn complicated. And of course, since everyone is afraid to deviate from them under threat of punishment by spirits, it’s impossible to test them. When something doesn’t turn out right after performing a ritual, it gets easier to blame it on doing the ritual wrong the more complicated it has become, because there are more opportunities for mistakes. This provides a scapegoat explanation that makes it unappealing to investigate more closely.

    It explains neatly why modern secular people, who understand many more of the real reasons for unfortunate happenings like disease, heart attacks and volcanoes, don’t tend to buy into rituals *quite* as much–because they don’t believe in the spirits they are designed to appease, and they understand the idea that some things actually just happen because of bad luck. Of course, plenty of secular folks still have their little superstitions, many of which become their own new little rituals, because no one is really immune to this tendency. But for things like funerals and whatnot, they’re more likely to just have a gathering and say a few words, because that’s what makes them feel better, rather than go through an elaborate rigmarole to avoid retribution.

  319. 319
    consciousness razor

    I’m not sure I understand this objection to “pro-social” also meaning killing and looting of the enemy.

    I meant it’s odd as a naturalistic fallacy, because a lot of people wouldn’t even imagine claiming it’s a kind of ethical behavior without that sort of basis in (alleged) fact. But that’s just what a lot of people will do all too easily, even if they’re trying to think about it strictly as a possible adaptation rather than a normative claim. This whole project of trying to explain religion as an adaptation is bound to be riddled with that kind of thing, considering how many are sympathetic to religion.

    whether religion can be credited wholly or even uniquely for such a development is of course a separate question; so is whether religion would be at all able to get us through the current cultural transition (nation-sized in-groups to a single global in-group, possibly even one that includes members of other species)

    I agree, and Ing seemed to be thinking along the same lines. Maybe religion was useful but has run its course. And you know, there’s very little sense in thinking a global in-group would have anyone to kill and loot. Maybe if aliens attack or there’s a robot uprising or some shit, sure, then I guess that would be useful. In that case, I honestly don’t see how religion(s?) could be the thing to unite us, but maybe that’s just me.

  320. 320
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Short on time! :(

    I don’t know. Maybe there’s a terror-management sort of argument one can make that such rituals make death more salient and strengthen individual or group identities.

    This is plausible, and might partly account for the ubiquity of death rituals. For that, I like it because it fits with no rough edges; this is exactly what mortality salience is good at.

    But it wouldn’t account for the origin of these rituals, since they couldn’t strengthen group bonds until they’ve already originated. KG’s spandrel of ghosts could be an origin, or part of an origin.

    Hey, I just found a PDF. Now I don’t have to transcribe it myself.

    Boyer thinks ghosts may be part of it but in addition there’s another pressing fear:

    «Although modern ways of life somehow shield us from the ghastly facts, dead bodies are biological objects in a process of decomposition; hence the widespread notion that corpses are intrinsically impure or polluting. As an ancient Zoroastrian text stipulates, anyone who touches a corpse is polluted “to the end of his nails, and unclean for ever and ever.” This notion of being “polluted” by contact with corpses is of course variable in its intensity, but it is fairly general. Corpses are even said to contaminate the air around them. Among Cantonese Chinese, “white affairs” specialists (a euphemism for undertakers) are said to be so polluted by their work that most other people will not even talk to them, for fear of receiving some of that pollution back. A dead body contaminates the environment by releasing “killing air.” When there is a death in the village people promptly take home their young children and even their domestic animals, thought to be particularly sensitive to such pollution. This is of course not confined to China. Describing the death rituals of the Merina in Madagascar, Maurice Bloch notes that “as long as the corpse is still wet and decomposition is therefore still taking place it is supremely polluting and any contact however indirect requires ritual cleansing.”

    In some places the disgust and danger of dead bodies is seen in a way that requires the intervention of specialists, who are supposed to wallow into the pollution and absorb it. In the old kingdom of Nepal, upon the death of the king a priest would be summoned whose duty it was to sleep in the king’s bed, smoke his cigarettes and use his possessions. He could also order his way around the royal household, order any food he liked and expect his orders to be obeyed. However, the royal cooks would contaminate all his food with a paste made from the bones of the deceased king’s head. The point of all this was that the priest would (quite literally in this case) incorporate the corpse and absorb all the pollution. Only a high-caste Brahman was considered pure enough to collect that much pollution. After this period of bizarre intimacy with the king’s Body Natural, the Brahman was promptly expelled from the kingdom, indeed frog-marched to its borders and often beaten up, probably to make sure he would not stop on his way or consider coming back.

    The pollution of the dead is also the reason why, in so many places in the world, grave-digging and the handling of corpses are carried out by a specialized, ritually avoided and generally despised caste. This is the case in West Africa, where these specialists are generally considered unclean, must marry within the caste and avoid direct contact with regular folk. These specialists also forge iron and make pots (both are considered undignified occupations) but the contact with corpses really is what makes them impure and dangerous. In central Africa where blacksmiths were not in charge of burials, they were high-status craftsmen with no pollution. There is evidence for similar norms in the Mediterranean. For instance Artemidorus of Daldis wrote that dreaming that you are a tanner is a bad omen because tanners are also undertakers. In many places in the world undertakers are confined in special neighborhoods outside the walls of the city lest they pollute the rest of the community.

    People find all these concepts, however vague, intuitively adequate because they already have the intuition that there is something to avoid in a decomposing corpse. Notions of pollution seem a direct expression of intuitions delivered by the contagion system described a few chapters back. That system is mainly concerned with the fear of contact with unseen contaminants. It obeys special principles that are not found in other mental systems. It specifies that the source of danger is there even if it cannot be detected; that all types of contact with the source may transmit the contaminant; that the “dose” of contaminant is irrelevant. Now these are very much the implicit inferences people use when dealing with corpses. What makes undertakers impure or revolting is that they handle corpses. It does not matter that no one has a precise idea why corpses would be polluting. In the same way, it does not really matter whether these specialists touch the corpses or breathe fumes from the decaying bodies, or have any other kind of contact with the corpses. It does not really matter either how much actual contact takes place or how often. All these assumptions are completely self-evident to most human minds, and I think this may be explained simply by the fact that contact with the body is immediately perceived as similar to contact with any obvious source of pathogens.

    This is why it may be misguided to see too much symbolism or magical thinking in the quasi-universal avoidance of corpses. People’s mental system for contagion is not activated because the dead are polluting for some metaphysical reason but more directly because they actually are a dangerous source of pathogens. What makes the avoid- ance sound symbolic or mystical are the explicit notions (“bad air,” “impurity”) people invoke to explain intuitions they had to start with. The concepts are notoriously vague and that is not too surprising, because we often have very vague explicit concepts in situations where our mental basement systems produce very precise intuitions. For evolutionary reasons humans may be rather good at detecting definite sources of contamination yet remain very vague in their explicit reasons for avoiding them.

    Activation of the contagion system may well be one major reason why we find these special attitudes toward dead bodies the world over, why special handling of corpses is present from the earliest stages of modern human cultures, and why it takes on this overtone of urgency and great though undefined danger. But this is not the whole explanation. People do not perform elaborate rituals to dispose of all sources of biological pollution. Another, obviously important component of people’s emotional reaction is that a corpse is not just a mass of polluting agents but also a living thing that is not alive any longer, a conspecific, and very often a previously known person.»

  321. 321
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Yeah, I understand. I just felt like addressing them anyway, cursorily. But my question was about which phenomena aren’t pro-social, not which parts of religion aren’t explained by Wilson’s theory. Which ones are anti-social or neutral?

    I guess I conflated the two because I get the impression that Wilson’s so adaptationist that he’s only interested in talking about pro-social stuff.

    But okay, anti-witchcraft is a huge part of most religions on Earth, and as far as I can tell it’s neutral at best. Sometimes it start feuds within the group, which I imagine would make it anti-social.

  322. 322
    consciousness razor

    But it wouldn’t account for the origin of these rituals, since they couldn’t strengthen group bonds until they’ve already originated.

    First, I don’t think it would need to be about group bonds. Like I was saying before, some of them could be about strengthening individual identity, in the sense of individuals developing a fairly comprehensive awareness of what they think matters to their own survival or welfare, along with the ability to deliberate about that. That seems to fit with what rituals are pretty well (what they’re for is another matter).

    I mean, what would we consider a “ritual,” if they’re not specific, predetermined and rigid ways of doing things rather than acting a bit more haphazardly and spontaneously? If you’ve got all that, what else is there to say? Do you really need to involve ghosts or whatever just to explain that, when it looks like all the necessary pieces for that kind of behavior were present?

    And if those sorts of abilities were available (and were probably adaptive for a lot of other reasons), there was nothing stopping people from coming up with ways to “standardize” their behaviors into different rituals, especially when it came to “important” things — perhaps they did it to make their results more predictable, or like I said before, to prevent negative effects (or obtain good ones) which they had superstitions about.

  323. 323
    John Morales

    Jadehawk,

    I’m not sure I understand this objection to “pro-social” also meaning killing and looting of the enemy. if something gets humans from in-groups of max. 150 people to in-groups of, say, 1000 people, then it’s pro-social even if it rains even more death and destruction on the out-group.

    As I see it, it’s dependent on the scale at which one examines sociality (family, tribe/clan, nation, all people).

  324. 324
    unclefrogy

    ceremonies and rituals like many things people do have more than one reason. The same thing that makes theater and theatrical performance interesting makes ritual and ceremony interesting they have the same roots and can be traced back. There is no idea that theater does “magic stuff” or controls unseen forces but it still has a powerful effect on people and has adapted many form or styles across many cultures. To understand how religious ceremonies and rituals work in people it would be wise not to overlook the theatrical arts, both involve the suspension of disbelief and varying degrees of abstraction. We know that the superstitious beliefs and metaphysical explanations are untrue and there are no gods to make the offering to. there is only the human mind and its imagination that is being talked to.
    If I were to draw a tree to show all of this like you would for the contents of hard-drive say I would put religion under theatrical arts as a particular kind of theater along with other forms of theater. All of that would be under stories (fiction). The big reason we even think of religion as something other than :stories/fiction/religion is the political power it has traditionally exercised. It claims to be sacrosanct from any objective assessment or analysis. You do not need a cadaver dog to find the dead from religion.
    uncle frogy

  325. 325
    Nick Gotts

    LILAPWL,

    Actually I think Boyer is wrong, in that corpses are not, in general, significant sources of actually dangerous contagion. Most pathogens die pretty quickly after their host.

  326. 326
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ KG

    corpses are not, in general, significant sources of actually dangerous contagion.

    The smell of putrification of a loved one must be one very unpleasant thing to experience in its own right. The smell is associated with death. Then consider also that gangrene, cholera, abscesses etc may be associated with both death and dying and similar unnatural (at least for a healthy/live person) smells. The association does not have to be right in absolute terms.

  327. 327
    unclefrogy

    I would use caution with predicting what people who do not live in modern clean cities would react to smells or other things that we would find unpleasant.

    uncle frogy

  328. 328
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ unclefrogy

    I would use caution with predicting what people who do not live in modern clean cities would react to smells or other things that we would find unpleasant.

    There have of course been times where people have had to endure all manner of stink and poor hygiene. But in terms of creating an aversion to such smells (death is quite particular) would not necessarily take very long. The meme could quickly take hold and get passed on. (PS: I live in a very smelly city.)

  329. 329
    jorethinnkeeper

    I quoted the last & 3rd to last paragraph on my FB page, and tagged it just for those in my “skeptics” group, mainly because I didn’t actually want to get into a debate, I just wanted to share an awesome quote with people I figured were most likely to also think it was awesome. Or, if not awesome, at least not be offended enough by it to get into a debate with me.

    Sure enough, someone tried to debate it with me.

    First was my quote:

    “it’s useful to note that the world’s dominant faiths all hardcode directly into their core beliefs the idea that women are unclean, inferior, weak, and responsible for the failings of mankind …

    Half of the great minds our peoples have produced have lived and died unknown and forgotten, their educations neglected, their lives spent doing laundry and other menial tasks for men — their merits unrecognized and buried under lies promulgated by religion, in cultures soaked in the destructive myths of faith which codify misogyny and give it a godly blessing.

    Isn’t that reason enough to tear down the cathedrals — that with this one far-reaching, difficult change to our cultures, we double human potential?” ~PZ Myers

    - just to show how much of the context was present or missing when I repeated it on FB.

    Then came the response:

    I get what he’s saying, but I disagree. I’m more of the opinion that the dominant religions came about after the agricultural revolution, and so that’s where the misogyny started. I think change in society and cultural values can happen and so long as your religion is flexible enough to embrace those changes, religion can stay in place. People are always very good at selecting their ‘religious’ beliefs based on what the current secular cultural values are. Therefore, yes, attacking misogynistic beliefs is a great thing, whether religious or not. But tearing down religion will not in itself make the misogyny go away. …

    Do you really believe institutionalised acceptance, reverence and support for misogyny doesn’t exist outside of religion? It exists within religion, religion is even a major contributing factor, but it is not the only source of it. Also, plenty of religious people are able to overcome that and have very inclusive, accepting and embracing beliefs about women. I don’t think they aren’t interrelated, but I just don’t think it follows that ‘tearing down religion’ is going to solve anything.

    So I pointed out “The harm that religion does to society, and specifically to women, has been written about prolifically by others, including PZ Myers, Greta Christina, Matt Dillahunty and others,” and that I had neither the time nor patience for attempting to recreate arguments already made by better writers than I, and if she wanted a debate on the subject, she could go look up one of them. I even linked back to this blog posts specifically and suggested that if she had a problem with the quote, she could take it up with the author himself.

    She said that, since she found PZ’s “totalitarian anti-religion stance to be just as destructive to the dialogue as religious totalitarians.” (to which I said that has *also* been addressed by those same writers) she wouldn’t even bother to click on the link to read the whole post where the quote came from, nor debate the point with him.

    It’s a lot easier to argue with some unknown on the internet of questionable debate skills than risk being shown up by someone like PZ Myers. I thought ya’ll would find that story amusing.

  330. 330
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I need to dump this here before I reboot. Hopefully I’ll come back to it.

    +++++
    Here’s from the first instance in the book where Boyer talks about contagion:

    Contact with rotting corpses or with wounded or diseased people, ingestion of feces or dirt: these are avoided for good evolutionary reasons.

    Indeed, the human mind seems to include a specific inference system that deals with such situations and triggers strong emotional reactions to even to the mere suggestion of such situations. Psychologist Paul Rozin, who has studied the psychology of disgust, its connections to evolved food preferences and its relation to the risk of contamination, showed that this contagion system obeys specific inferential principles. First, it assumes that the source of danger is not necessarily visible; what makes a rotting carcass a bad source of food was not detectable before microscopes and microbiology. Second, the contagion system assumes that even limited contact, however brief, with a source of danger transmits the whole of the risk. In other words, there is no “dose-effect” here. Contagious substances do not lose their harmful powers with dilution. Third, the system specifies that any contact with sources of pollution transmits it, although the aversive reactions are especially strong with ingestion. These principles are specific to the domain considered. The contagion inference system may in some circumstances seem overly cautious, as when subjects in Paul Rozin’s experiments refused to drink from a glass that once sheltered a cockroach and that was then thoroughly disinfected. But the system was tuned to ancestral conditions, under which there was no such thing as thorough disinfecting.

    His citations are in the back of that PDF mentioned earlier, but they don’t refer to anything trivially available for free on the web. Luckily there’s some other work by Rozin that may be sufficiently explanatory:

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=contagion+OR+pollution+rozin

    If concerns about pollution/contagion are not a source of fear regarding corpses, then all those various examples cited in #320, from the Zoroastrians to Artemidorus, require some other explanation. Fear of contagion looks parsimonious to me.

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