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).
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.
[More . . .]
I have written numerous posts advocating that because humans are animals they should be recognized as such (for example, see here , here, here , and here). For zoologists and others who study animals, it is obviously true that we are animals. We do hundreds of things that the other mammals do, plus a few extra. You can see it every day when you eat, breathe, emote, poop, become fatigued and fall asleep. Yet millions of Americans are horrified by the thought that human beings are animals.
Consider that we aren’t simply animals. Our species is a carefully defined type of animal. We are apes. Frans de Waal explains:
Darwin wasn’t just provocative in saying that we descend from the apes—he didn’t go far enough . . . We are apes in every way, from our long arms and tailless bodies to our habits and temperament.
If you want even more detail on what type of animal humans are (we are in the ape sub-division of primates), watch this brisk video by Aron-ra.
Again, this sort of information is really disturbing to many people, especially religious conservatives.
So why don’t I simply leave religious conservatives alone? Why do I persist on standing on rooftops and proclaiming this message that humans are animals? Why don’t I just whisper this sort of information only to my closest of friends: “Pssst. Human beings are animals.” Why don’t I just let it be, and keep it all to myself? What could possibly be at stake that I feel compelled to spread the word that human beings are animals? I was in the process of assembling my own list when I just happened to read Chapter 12 of Mark Johnson’s new book, The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding.
Johnson is well known for his work with metaphors and embodied cognition with George Lakoff. Chapter 12 of his new book contains a section that leaped out at me: “The Philosophical Implications of the Embodied Mind.” In that short section, Johnson sets forth nine reasons why it really and truly matters for people to acknowledge that they are animals and to fully accept that their minds are embodied, not free-floating entities independent of physical laws.
Johnson’s biggest target is the “objectivist theory of meaning,” the idea that meaning “gets defined without any connection to the experience of the creature (i.e., the human) for whom the words are meaningful. Johnson points out that those who follow the objectivist theory of meaning believe that words and sentences somehow “carry” meaning without even trying to explain how words and sentences ever come to acquire meaning. It should send up immediate red flags that the predominate theory of meaning relies on floating thoughts, a theory of meaning that is not biologically anchored. Reacting to (and rejecting) this objectivist approach, Mark Johnson premises his analysis “with a mind that is not separate from or out-of-ongoing-contact with its body and its world.” His worldview includes a specific definition of body and his impressive list of why it matters for human beings to take seriously “the embodiment of mind and meaning.” Here are those reasons (I will be borrowing liberally from Johnson’s book with these descriptions, beginning at page 279):
Consider the types of billboards that we most often see along the highway. They encourage us to pollute our bodies with unhealthy food, to pollute our minds with shallow amusements and to pollute our Earth by wasting resources and indulging in luxuries. The two billboards I photographed below are all-too-representative of what I’ve read along highways.
Yes, there are also billboards for public services as well as billboards for useful and reasonable products. What concerns me, though, is that most billboards carry unhealthy messages. There are so many unhealthy billboards out there that unhealthy activities seem to be norm. It’s booze, gambling and conspicuous consumption all the way down the highway. What effect might this have on us? It reminds me of James Q. Wilson’s broken window theory of crime:
Pyschiatrist Randolf Nesse is a gifted writer who I have followed for many years. I first learned of Nesse’s work when I read Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine. Nesse is one of the many respondents to this year’s annual question by Edge.org: “What will change everything?”
Nesse’s answer: RECOGNIZING THAT THE BODY IS NOT A MACHINE
As we improve our knowledge of bodies, they don’t fit very well within our venerable metaphor of the body as a “machine.” One of his points is that we can describe machines, whereas a satisfying description of bodies seems so elusive. The complexity of the body is, indeed, humbling:
We have yet to acknowledge that some evolved systems may be indescribably complex. Indescribable complexity implies nothing supernatural. Bodies and their origins are purely physical. It also has nothing to do with so-called irreducible complexity, that last bastion of creationists desperate to avoid the reality of unintelligent design. Indescribable complexity does, however, confront us with the inadequacy of models built to suit our human preferences for discrete categories, specific functions, and one directional causal arrows. Worse than merely inadequate, attempts to describe the body as a machine foster inaccurate oversimplifications. Some bodily systems cannot be described in terms simple enough to be satisfying; others may not be described adequately even by the most complex models we can imagine.
[Related DI post: The Brain is not a Computer]
I recently went to the doctor because I have had pain in my back and left side. The doctor sent me down to a diagnostic office for X-rays. When those x-rays came back, my doctor thought he saw evidence of a pinched nerve. But that’s not what I saw when I saw the X-ray results. [...]
You are sitting there smugly thinking that you are in charge of your own body, and that you should be, because it is after all your body. Well, you’re wrong. The June 2007 Special Issue of Discover Magazine contains an article called “Your body is a planet.” This article, written by Josie Glausiusz, recognizes that [...]