The Fundamentalist's Misanthropy

I suspect that the first fundamentalist preacher railed against the evils of the hand axe. There is an odd running theme for religion, and that is that it seems to be an attempt to cement values that are actively being abandoned. Many religious institutions complain about how we are moving away from god, how society is depraved and descending into anarchy, even if we are improving by all empirical measures such as lower crime and poverty. Our apparent divergence from the law of the great deity is the great harbinger of doom. When we cure diseases or learn about the atom we are "playing god" and that is not okay, just as it is not okay to play with daddy's shotgun. It's going to hurt us in the long term, we'll see! There is a real fear that if we are masters of our own fate, that fate must necessarily be our complete annihilation at our own hands.

What is carried along with this kind of thinking, is a deep misanthropy and pessimism about the ability of humans to solve their own problems and steer their own ship. If we are just a speck of dust in a sunbeam, what the hell do we know about what to do next? We are all vile, corrupt and self serving, The theme of religious fundamentalism seems to always include these feelings about humanity. The only way to overcome our depravity is to surrender to a higher power, or more commonly, the chosen representative of a higher power. You see, when a preacher is saying we should surrender ourselves to the will of god what that preacher is really saying is that we should surrender our will to him. We are hurting the feelings of an almighty benevolent being, and to avoid it turning its back on us, the preacher knows what we should and shouldn't do.

The negative bias against humanity that is characteristic of fundamentalist religion is almost always accompanied by a deep misunderstanding of how to culture the homo sapiens primate. It's almost universally believed under these misanthropes that more laws will make a more moral society, because people are only good if they follow a strictly regimented life with a law to answer every potential moral dilemma. You just don't want them to think, because they are all dumb and depraved and worthless in the eyes of god after all.

The second misunderstanding about humanity is that the way to enforce laws is to make their punishment totally disproportionate to the crime. That is why a fundamentalist does not blink when she-bears tear children asunder for making fun of a bald guy or an entire world is drowned for their earthly transgressions. The belief that these punishments will make an example and prevent people from committing those crimes again out of fear drives the core jurisprudence of these misanthropes. That is why they will point fingers at the sky and claim divine punishment if some awful tragedy strikes, all apparently because laws they deem moral are not being followed.

Will Atheism Or Religion Ultimately Be Dominant?

In an article on The Atheist Republic[1], it is suggested that atheism will never become the dominant position in human societies or that religion will never be fully extinguished. The reasoning goes that religion forms some innate part of human psychology.

The article bases its understanding of irreligiosity on an interesting idea, that religiosity decreases as existential security increases. In other words if you are less likely to suffer in life, religion holds less sway. I can't really speak to this idea very much, because I haven't seen the work that supports it, but I definitely want to highlight a problem with articles like this one in general.

It is extremely difficult to separate religious thinking from real human psychology. A researcher from a seminary (are we surprised) states that "there is evidence that proves religious thought to be the path of least resistance.". That statement hardly seems controversial, but whether that means religion is ingrained in human psychology is a different matter entirely.

There is a rather tempting tendency to take things that are normal in human culture and say that those things are a reflection of our internal make up. Debates in psychology and sociology on this very topic have been raging since the birth of these disciplines. Do women choose different jobs to men because they have different innate psychology or is it because of social indoctrination? How do we find people that have been isolated from society to measure this kind of thing? The same goes for religion. In a world where religion dominates, it may seem tempting to say that it is part of our nature to be religious, but unless we can separate people from their cultural backgrounds it can't be properly justified to draw such a sweeping conclusion. In a society that is atheistic will there be a huge tendency towards conversion to religion if there is no religion that is large enough to give it the appearance of cultural normalcy that religion enjoys at the moment?

We know that some of the mental mistakes we make reflect religious thinking, but whether that means that humans will inevitably flock to religion or always cling to it is a difficult question that I see no immediate answer to.

There is another glaring issue with articles like this one. It's true that atheism is growing at an unprecedented rate. Does that mean the growth will continue indefinitely? What are the factors involved in cultural shifts in religious beliefs? Maybe atheism will boom once it reaches critical mass, or maybe it will find itself increasingly difficult to grow as less receptive people encounter it. Is atheism seeing a growth spurt or an explosion? We don't know, and I think answering these kinds of questions so early on in the process is misguided.

I don't think that long term predictions on the outcome of which philosophical position will be dominant should be made at the moment. We cannot give in to a complacent attitude that religion will persist and we should just accept it, nor should we feel that we can coast over the finish line to finally put superstition and dogma in second place. 

What Did Darwin Do For Me?

Today is the birthday of Charles Darwin, the person who along with Alfred Wallace, devised the theory of evolution and explained the massive diversity of the natural world. I never learned about evolution in school, because I didn't like biology and dropped the subject after the 9th grade. Consequently I wasn't really sure about how evolution worked or why. I was not a creationist but I didn't feel all that confident about evolution. I decided to learn about evolution and the impression it left on me was indelible.

Evolution is not about beating the odds. On a systematic level natural selection is a non-rational process that simply occurs because of mathematical truths. In fact it can be expressed as an algorithm, and such an algorithm can optimise certain designs where the optimal answer may not be known. There are some caveats of course, but it shows that adaptation is inherent to the way our universe works. We can expect to see evolution anywhere where there is mutation, reproduction and changing environments.

What evolution demonstrated to me was that complex, interoperating elements could come about in a way that is quite the reverse of the way I used to understand the world, because I used to see the world as having a divine agency that would dictate the course of events to achieve an end. The purpose preceded the outcome. Evolution changed my thinking so I could invert the perspective to consider a process where there was no purpose and everything was merely contingent. The repercussions of this kind of thinking was sweeping, allowing me to see reality in a new light entirely. Even after I became an atheist, there was still a tendency to think in teleological terms, and thinking in this forward naturalistic way helped me to get through the difficulty of questions like 

"Why is there something instead of nothing?"

I realised that these questions had a real possibility of being totally invalid, because "why" does not apply to a process like natural selection. The only thing that matters is how. So I would like to thank Charles Darwin for contributing so much to my intellectual life.