PZ Myers has offered eight fairly solid reasons for not believing in god. Here is number 8:
There are always better explanations for unexplained phenomena than god: fraud and faulty sensory perception cover most of the bases, but mostly, if I see a Madonna appear in a field to bless me, the first thing I’d suspect is brain damage. We have clumsy, sputtering, inefficient brains that are better designed for spotting rutabagas and triggering rutting behavior at the sight of a curvy buttock than they are for doing math or interpreting the abstract nature of the universe. It is a struggle to be rational and objective, and failures are not evidence for an alternative reality. Heck, we can be fooled rather easily by mere stage magicians; we don’t need to invent something as elaborate as a god to explain apparent anomalies.
I would tweak this eighth response. I don’t think most believers have a generally malfunctioning ability to perceive, and I wouldn’t attribute their willingness to believe to fraud, at least not fraud in any traditional use of that word (where intent to deceive is key).
Rather, I suspect that the elaborate hyper-sensitive cognitive machinery that allows us to detect potential allies and facilitates the formation of social bonds with them is rigged to dim the perceptual abilities of 90% of us, based on perceived threats to social relationships we value. Thus, as I see it, the perceptual machinery isn’t completely broken. Rather, it dims only when competing social cravings slap the “toxic” label on evidence that seems to be inconvenient to the formation or maintenance of a social group. This cognitive function dims our abilities to see and hear based on whether the things we might see or hear could damage treasured social relationships. It seems as though some sort of rough and ready mini-brain screens the world for our bigger better brain (at least in 90% of us). That mini rough and ready brain functions as a paranoid secretary who won’t let calls come through to the boss because the secretary is over-protective.
I discuss the connections between social cravings and inability to appreciate evidence, as well as some of the science that guides me in my views, in a series of posts I titled “Mending Fences.”
Michael Balter reports that scientists are honing in on the real-life mechanism that allows two minds to meld during conversation:
Scientists have traditionally considered talking and listening to be two independent processes. The idea is that speech is produced in some parts of the brain, including a region known as Broca’s area, and understood in others, including a region known as Wernicke’s area. But recent studies suggest that there’s actually much more overlap. For example, partners in a conversation will unconsciously begin imitating each other, adopting similar grammatical structures, speaking rates, and even bodily postures.
This overlap helps people establish a “common ground” during conversation and may even help them predict what the other is going to say next . . . Some researchers think that so-called mirror neurons, which fire when one individual observes the actions of another, might be involved in these interactions.
The scientists conducting the study argue that the experiments they’ve conducted demonstrate that listeners are active participants to successful conversations.
At Daylight Atheism, Ebonmuse points out how odd it is that the God of the Bible allegedly desires certain things (e.g., he likes sacrifices). But, as Ebonmuse explains, it should strike us as odd that the creator of the universe would have desires:
The belief that God wants and desires certain things is a common thread in monotheism. But when you think about it, this is a profoundly strange belief. Most theists don’t recognize this, but that’s because the analogy between God and human beings masks the strangeness of it.
After all, we all understand how, and why, human beings come to hold certain desires. We have instinctual physiological drives, installed in us by evolution, for basic things like food, sex and companionship. We have more complex desires as a result of culture, upbringing and past experience for things that we think will add to our happiness or help fulfill the more basic desires. Every one of us has gone through a long, complex and contingent process of development that shaped our likes and dislikes.
But God, so we’re told, is eternal and unchanging. He is pure reason, pure mind, pure spirit – no physical needs to fulfill, no past history, none of the contingent events that make human nature what it is. So how is it that he has, just like us, a complex nature with specific likes and dislikes?
The post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek , but Ebonmuse makes a serious point that theists really should confront, but they never actually do confront it. Instead, they concoct “souls” and “spirits.”
I would spin the issue this way. All desires, many of which stem from emotions, are associated with bodies. Without a body, there cannot be any emotion and thus there cannot be any form of craving or desire. There isn’t a jot of evidence that there has ever been any thought in the absence of a body. Further, there is no such thing as free-standing self-sufficient meaning; there is no such thing as meaning independent of a physical body; all meaning is embodied. I know that many believers would find my conclusions to be disturbing, but this is the direction I am turned when I rely upon the (expansive) scientific view of what it means to be a human animal (and see this entire category).
I recently came out of an emotional bad spell – emerging from it felt a lot like hitting the surface after you’ve been underwater just a little too long. This spell of anxiety/fear/depression/whatever it was taught me more than usual because it happened smack dab after I had a really awesome year business wise. I was on a high. Things were so good I had to go buy a suit so I could go to Las Vegas and get an award for being so awesome. That is important to note not because getting an award is important (but it is kind of cool, right?) but because of what happened after the award.
Intellectually I knew that all the activity I had in the funnel would end, and I’d be back in building mode. I knew it and even tried to prepare myself for the letdown. My business is cyclical – I know that. And I like building mode. Building mode is how one gets to closing mode. I just had a run of especially good fortune and my building mode was a distant memory, which I knew was not such a great thing for me. In the midst of my crazy happy frenetic good luck mode, I tried to prepare for what would come after the constant activity of balancing all the stuff in the hopper died down. I know how I can be – I get squirrley sometimes, so I tried to prepare.
There is a saying: “Trying lets us fail with honor.” I failed. I’m not sure I had any honor, either.
“I woke up one morning and I was scared. Not just a little scared, either. I was in full-on panic mode. I remember thinking, “Dammit, Lisa, this is exactly what you worked to prevent.” Yep it sure was. In my defense, I had a crazy end of September/October. We had family in from out of town (stressful), my Mom had spine surgery (surprisingly stressful), the foster greyhound we rescued need to be carried up and down our stairs in order to go outside (it takes both of us – constantly coordinating schedules is stressful), I bought a car (consumerism is, for me, fraught with drama, tension and guilt – stressful, but I sure like the car) and Ginger decided to feng shui our bedroom. Not only was I going through something hard, I had to do it with our bed facing a new and opposite wall. Things like that do bad things to me. I spent an entire sleepless night focused on whether the bed facing the other direction was symbolic of me never closing another deal. During that mental wrestling match I started doubting my employ-ability (I only have one suit!!) and by morning I had tearfully decided my only option was to make this thing work or I’d end up living in a paper box. I went to bed scared, I woke up panicked and I think Ginger wanted to throttle me (I wanted to throttle me).
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Have you ever wondered why so many Americans wear clothing when it’s warm outside? Are they really covering up for sexual propriety—because of shame? Or could it be that they are wearing clothes to cover up their animal-ness– their mortality? I’m intrigued by this issue, as you can tell from my previous writings, including my posts about “terror management theory,” and nipples.
This issue came to mind again recently when I found a website that allows you to completely undress people. The site has nothing to do with sex, I can assure you, but it has a powerful set of images that raise interesting questions about human nakedness. To get the full experience, go to the website and select an image of a fully clothed person. These are absolutely ordinary looking people, as you will see. Then click on the images of any of these men or women and watch their clothes disappear.
If you are like me, when their clothing disappears, this will not cause you to any think sexual thoughts. If you are like me, you will find yourself thinking that these people looked more “attractive” with their clothes on. For me, the effect is dramatic and immediate, and it reminded me of a comment by Sigmund Freud (I wasn’t able to dig out the quote), something to the effect that we are constantly and intensely attracted to the idea of sex (duh!), but that sex organs themselves often look rather strange to our eyes–sex organs are not necessarily sexy. I think the same thing can be said for our entire bodies. Nakedness isn’t the same thing as sexuality or else nudist colonies would tend to be orgies (which, from what I’ve read, they are not). Rather, sexual feelings are triggered by the way we use our bodies. We do many things that are sexual, and most of these things take some effort. Simply being naked is not an effective way to be sexy.
In America, people constantly confound nudity with sexuality. I admit that the media presents us with many ravishing image of sexy naked people, but the sexiness of such images is not due to the mere nakedness. There’s always a lot more going on than mere nakedness. Consider also, that when people actually mate, they often bring the lights down low, further hiding their bodies.
Then why do Westerners cover up with clothing to be “proper”? I suspect that anxiety about death (not so much anxiety about sex) contributes to our widespread practice of hiding those naturally furry parts of our bodies—those parts associated with critically “animal” functions relating to reproduction and excretion of body wastes.
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According to the latest edition of Scientific American Mind, new research suggests that depression is not necessarily a a disease or aberration. In many cases, having a depression might increase your chances of survival.
[D]epression should not be thought of as a disorder at all. In an article recently published in Psychological Review, we argue that depression is in fact an adaptation, a state of mind which brings real costs, but also brings real benefits.
The researchers go out of their way to acknowledge that depression is a terrible problem for many people who should seek out help. Nonetheless, they also suggest that the mode of thinking characteristic of many bouts of depression is focused, highly analytical and systematic:
Analysis requires a lot of uninterrupted thought, and depression coordinates many changes in the body to help people analyze their problems without getting distracted . . . [D]epression is nature’s way of telling you that you’ve got complex social problems that the mind is intent on solving. Therapies should try to encourage depressive rumination rather than try to stop it, and they should focus on trying to help people solve the problems that trigger their bouts of depression . . . [D]epression . . . seems . . . like the vertebrate eye—an intricate, highly organized piece of machinery that performs a specific function.