I fully support the purpose of this group and think it a worthwhile effort, but I'm beginning to think it is futile to have a rational discussion about these things..because we are talking about a fundamentally non-rational phenomena.  What really brought this to my attention was when I browsed the walls of several Jesus/Christianity groups on Facebook.  Have a look for yourself:






No matter when you look at this page, I can virtually guarantee what you see from people every few minutes is a fountain of emotion.  "I love you Jesus!"  "I can't live without you!"  "You give me strength"  "When everyone else is gone, you still love me!!  "I can't do anything without you, my savior!"   These comments pour in constantly..day in..day out.  These people have a deep psychological need for an imaginary friend in Jesus and/or a surrogate parent in God "the father".   It's not rational.  It's emotional, based on a primal desire for comfort and protection. There are some of us who don't have that constant need, but obviously many more who do.  I hate to sound like a downer and feel bad for having no suggestions..but I just wanted to share this.  By all means, we should attack superstition and apologetics on all fronts..but as long as we are engaging in education and rational discussion, we aren't dealing with the real issue for most people (pure emotion).



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Duh, hello!! What do you think I've been going on and on about in this group and everywhere else? This whole business about "spirit" or "soul" is what religionists really care about, and all the rest can go down the drain so long as they can protect it. Its not just the need for companionship, its the need to belong and to identify and even to make your own identity around a group. People are not so individualistic as we are raised to believe, but you know that. We create ourselves through others, in powerful and deep ways. The need for authority I think is more like a need for expertise, not someone to lead, otherwise we would all be followers and then who would do the leading? This aspect of belief is centered around our deepest sets of motivations - it centers around our sense of self, our very feelings of value, of how we see ourselves relative to the world, and on the metaphysical side, how the world really is. This is why people are so resistant to the ideas of science, because the metaphysical element is more peripheral to them. If you undermine their metaphysics, they are resistant to it because they see it as a personal attack. This is why I have been arguing (and end up arguing in my paper) that rather than appeal to their rationality (which they will resist), we need to appeal to their sense of self. All that remains is figuring out the best means to do this.

Wanderer, you said, "This aspect of belief is centered around our deepest sets of motivations - it centers around our sense of self, our very feelings of value, of how we see ourselves relative to the world, and on the metaphysical side, how the world really is. This is why people are so resistant to the ideas of science, because the metaphysical element is more peripheral to them. If you undermine their metaphysics, they are resistant to it because they see it as a personal attack. This is why I have been arguing (and end up arguing in my paper) that rather than appeal to their rationality (which they will resist), we need to appeal to their sense of self. All that remains is figuring out the best means to do this." It ties in with Alice's point that we're hard wired to hear stories.


In a sense the story of humanity as gene/meme hosts does compete with religious metaphysics. Our story has all the elements of a plot. The failure of evolution to include planning, how that leads inevitably to planetary resource limitations becoming our species limiting factor. And salvation, if you will, necessitating we cast off the narrow perceptions and drives from genetics and memetics, to see the larger picture. By admitting that religions are mind viruses, they can take the first step toward a more sophisticated perception of our crisis. Their need for authority can be transferred to scientific experts, but only if that "conversion" is concretely expressed by some kind of ritual. We need a strong secular celebrant community to compete with the community bonds they'll have to abandon. I think the common ground for this community can be built on our common need to survive, and the challenges of working together to be green. They are not threatened by an imaginary hell but by climate destabilization, here and now as well as for their children. We can all redefine our selves together, we atheists need to do metaphysical work too.

Park – I’d go with story telling – our brains are hard wired to hear stories – they don’t have to make sense or be logical – but obviously we can come up with some sense driven stories that attract passion and emotion that can substitute the drive and need that is religion.  BUT this drive and need is different in everyone and so the story needs to be tailored in each case.  Although we may develop themes.  My mum once said that she thought there were 3 types of people attracted to her religious group – those who loved God, those who loved service and another one that escapes me at the moment – it might have just been ones that we lost and crewed up and needed somewhere to go.


Indigenous stories that I am aware of from Australian Indigenous groups are about


1.  Creation – how all came to be here

2.  Survival – how to find food and water

3.  Culture – how to fit into society


Other factors in Christianity for example are:


1.  The story book - Bible

2.  The mythical creator – God

3.  The Building – The Church

4.  The Minister – group leader

5.  The community

6.  The actions or service to others giving us fulfilment of some kind.


So we starting with the story and move on from there covering all aspects.


1.  The stories – Evolution / big bang / physics / biology / chemistry

2.  The amazing fact that there is no mythical creator – that things just have evolved and isn’t that just amazing and that humans have a primal need to project human like qualities onto things around them so they imagine that a being must have made everything because they have this identification – but it’s an illusion or trick of the human mind.

3.  The building – well we don’t have a building as such – but it might be the local pub where the local atheist group meets – or it could be online in a virtual building of the nexus.

4.  The minister – again we are lacking this leadership – perhaps we can find such a leader in our lives who has naturalistic beliefs – mentors are important – perhaps though books we can gain this mentorship – Richard Dawkin’s book for example – then we’ve covered the story book, the creator and the minister.

5.  The community is on nexus

6.  The actions or service to others – well we are meeting that need in here too.

Alice, thanks for your input here. Your approach agrees with mine in many ways. But I'd amend #5 "The community is on nexus." While our virtual community is important in its exchange of ideas and worldwide extent, we still need real world congregation-like groups that meet frequently in the flesh to meet our emotional needs. Ethical Culture and Unitarian Universalist groups come closest at the moment. But I envision such groups with a different emphasis and a new story, as in my reply to Wanderer above.

Wanderer – I concur with much of what you’ve said.  I disagree with your last point – that we need to follow only the emotional path.  I think there are as many supernatural believers as ways to entice them away from it.  Although, I can see the value in having a plan and reasoning through that plan so as to perhaps gain a percentage of those supernatural believers with the fixed reasoned plan that you have come up with.


My cousin reckons that if you have enough young people lambasting and reasoning you can turn anyone out of social pressure you sort of break them.  They did this when at uni with a bunch of students with the same intention of converting them, they went to a religious place and converted one of them away from the church.


I like what you say in terms of providing for them what they are lacking if they choice to leave religion.  Therefore taking away their reasons for staying, because you are both providing the reason for leaving – because supernatural is nonsensical and also the resources that will meet their needs if they act of this understanding of nonsense.


I’m going to put the needs list in my group Compassionate / Nonviolent Communication – as a reference to what our shared human needs are – we all share the similar needs and so looking at this will assist us in knowing what they might be gaining by being involved with the church and therefore the list provides us with what needs to be offered outside of the church for them to safely leave.

Perhaps I wasn't being clear, but that's not what I am arguing. I still think there is room for rational arguments, especially depending on who you are talking to. My argument is that rational arguments often don't go far enough, and that if we tried its possible we can do a lot better. The "fixed reasoned plan" I have come up with is only to strike more at the emotional content of their beliefs, rather than the pussyfooting (yeah I said it!) which most arguments end up doing when they argue epistemological or scientific points. The fact is, they have a lot of ways around those arguments. My sister-in-law, for example, studied philosophy, so I was all eager to meet her and discuss philosophy with her. But she is also religious. There are a lot of people out there like this, and this is really the group I am targeting with these kinds of arguments, the intelligent kind who is nonetheless capable of compartmentalizing their religious beliefs. I guess these are arguments intent on cracking open these defenses. Anyways, so I open the subject with her if she has studies epistemology. Of course, having a MA in philosophy, she had. But then she has the gall to ask me why I ask. I responded, "because it's important". We all know the reasons why, and so did she. She even tried the whole "faith is a part of reason" shpiel with me! I responded that it was a circular argument (do the math if you need to catch up). To which she responded by leaving epistemological concerns and practically accusing me of not having a set of ethical beliefs which could be widely accepted! I had won the battle, but lost the war, because I didn't have a good set of arguments in that realm like I did in epistemology. So it all comes back to values. How do we show them that they really do hold naturalistic values without basically telling them to throw out everything they have learned up to that point and start over from scratch (which none of them will ever do)?
Wonderer – interesting story. It’s tough dealing with committed religious folks – especially intelligent one’s as you can guarantee they’ve thought about it and so finding a nook they haven’t yet considered and plugged up is tough.

In terms of morals or values – who gives a crap about morals and values – there is no ultimate meaning in life – there are no such ultimate notions of right and wrong – it all simply “is” – BUT humans have culture – and society – we have society because we have communication and relationships and we have learnt to survive in large groups – therefore we have also evolved ways of being with each other – that include our ability to empathise with others. Any values or morals that we do have – are natural from our evolution and do not need a fictitious God to exists – considering that god doesn’t exists – then where have these morals and values come from? They have come from us – humans – because god hasn’t taught us them – humans have come up with the notion of god and of values or morals – based on our nature and experience of what works and what doesn’t. Values and morals and natural and inherent in human nature.

I grew up an atheist and I have a great and compassionate nature. You might read my posts and offer some more objective insight to me : ) - conclusion – you don’t need religion to have values or morals.

Loving this discussion Wanderer - : )
Thanks, me too! There are two problems with your answer. First of all the atheist response that we have evolved to be moral wouldn't fly if they are already skeptical of evolution. Usually I make it a point not to even bother with people who question evolution, because they haven't bothered to do the research on science OR religion, so educating these people from the ground up would be a monumental task. Unfortunately, the guy I thought I was dealing with didn't openly question evolution to me, only I found a post of hiw where he totally went into denial about the whole thing. And he's a PhD in physics! Maddening! Secondly, when it comes to the intelligent believer, responding to them "who gives a crap about morals and values" is likely to be met with a very poor response. And it gets one from me as well. I happen to care a great deal about them, and I know many atheists do as well (and I'm sure you are one of them or you wouldn't have thought about it enough to have come up with the response you did). The problem with atheist ethics as you give it is that it doesn't strike at the heart of morality. Why shouldn't I kill or rape or steal? Because of evolution. That's as practically unsatisfactory as the answer Because of god. Obviously I am an atheist and don't believe you need god to be good, but then what does it mean to be good? This is not a simple question, and it turns out to be a very deep and complicated philosophical one. We need to have deep, sophisticated answers to these questions for deep sophisticated believers.

Just goes to show – a university education isn’t that meaningful doesn’t it! LOL


Yes, sorry re the who gives a crap statement; that was more my own response – I get het up about people going on about valuing morals and values because I’ve not met a person yet who isn’t a complete hypocrite about them.


I’ve been educating my 9 year old on the Bible – in case he should have some one try to use it on him in later life and get sucked in – so I read him some bible stories and we are looking at how they came to be what they are about and what in them doesn’t make sense and why.


One really obvious one was – the story of the block on the hill with the ten commandments from god – one of which says don’t steal – followed by another story about one of his grand sons who goes into a city and steals a whole lot of treasures, because god is looking after him!  What the!  What complete crap!


I’ve also got the bible on CD – suggested by someone here in nexus – a great idea – as it’s more easy to listen to than read – I’ve never read it before so it’s been interesting if not totally boring, repetitive, fanciful and ignorant crapping on about righteous I’m pretty good and this is how you should do things, and look I’m magic I can make bread and fish spread real thin.  So interesting learning’s there.


I’m piecing it all together, and working out just how Christianity came to be, and the basis I thought it had is much different.  The old testament just seems more like a history of a family going way back.  Basically a story about a wealthy and privileged family – who were able to at some point not only remember it all, but write it down also.  More reflects their own pretentions to self importance than some amazing meaningful important knowledge about survival.


Also it turns out that Mary lied about having sex and Joseph was too dumb to work it out and accepted that god made her pregnant – and that therefore Jesus isn’t really the 14th son of the 14th son of the 14th son at all – he was the milk mans boy! 


And that really Jesus was just finding ways to try and become the king in a nonviolent way by way of nonviolent resistance to the powers that be – the Romans – I’ve only gone half way through Mathew and then half way through Mark so far.  I wonder if he could be copied in his style to start a new ‘religion’ going.  Just go around persuading people that I’m special and can do special stuff – the reason that people weren’t sure about believing that Jesus was special is because none of it was true – the healing the sick and stuff – amazing scam though – in fact I think it would be called marketing these days.


OK finished my bible rant now…


The reason I shouldn’t rape?  Well to say “shouldn’t” implies extrinsic motivation, where going against demands attract punishment of some kind.  I don’t like extrinsic motivation – and neither did Jesus – so I’m told by Walter Wink – via Marshall Rosenberg – bit of Chinese whispers going on there – bit like the “begetting” that goes on at the start of Matthew!


I prefer intrinsic motivation.  Why I don’t want to rape – I don’t want to rape – because I don’t like the idea of harming another person or forcing them to do anything against their preference.


Why I don’t want to steal – because I’ve done it before and it’s really easy sometimes, but I really don’t want to get caught and pay any penalty for doing it and because I find it is really stressful to do whilst I’m worried about getting caught.


Why I don’t kill – I’ve never done that – and I’ve never thought it was a good idea – although I did have to come to killing fly’s and mosquitoes – I justified killing them – first mosquitoes because they hurt me and so I will stop them and fly’s – I feel concerned about the health implications of having a small animal throw up on my food.  Although in both cases I do my best to keep them out of my area with fly screens and shut doors and windows – to protect their lives.


I don’t need god or religion to work this out – and neither did the guy on the mountain either – because clearly he worked it out on the mountain on his own seeing as how there was no-one up there with him and god doesn’t exists.


By the way there is no such thing as good and evil – so thinking about being good is redundant.  There is preferable from my perspective – and that’s what gives us morals and values.  I prefer to gain acceptance by others and so conform to culturally appropriate patterns of behaviour because gaining acceptance by others in my social group meets many of my needs such as:


Greater autonomy to choose ones dreams, goals and values, celebration, integrity, meaning, self-worth, fun, play, acceptance, appreciation, closeness, community, consideration, contribution to the enrichment of life, emotional safety, empathy, honest that empowers me to learn from my limitations, love, reassurance, respect, support, trust, understanding, warmth, inspiration, peace, food, protection from bacteria or predators, rest, sexual expression, shelter, touch and perhaps water.

Well hopefully now that you've met me and some of the other members of this group you will not feel that we are all hypocrites about morality...


I agree that intrinsic motivation is a central element of a good theory of ethics or values in general. And obviously I don't believe that you need a god to get to a good working understanding of values. But where you really lost me was here:


By the way there is no such thing as good and evil – so thinking about being good is redundant.  There is preferable from my perspective – and that’s what gives us morals and values.  I prefer to gain acceptance by others and so conform to culturally appropriate patterns of behaviour because gaining acceptance by others in my social group meets many of my needs...


While all of these individual experiences are part of what we generally understand to be part of the good life or living well, giving a laundry list of virtues does not tell us what the root of values is. And gaining acceptance from others and conforming to "culturally appropriate patterns of behavior" is precisely the opposite of intrinsic motivation. I suppose you are trying to say that you value others because they are useful for experiencing pleasure/reward by helping you satisfy your intrinsic desires? Well this is a decent step in the right direction. The question on people's minds, religious or not, is: what is it that makes my experiences or the fulfillment of my desires worthwhile? We obviously answer that question thusly: it is the experience of life itself which makes anything of any value. There is nothing else. This simple truth is the basis for an atheist morality. And I think just the two of us together have shown how easy it is to get from point A to point B when it comes to values. But of course now we have to go to work convincing others and filling in all the holes. What is justice, what is morality, what is the difference between right and wrong? Is it, for example, simply the case that my experiences matter more to me than anyone else's? Am I supposed to infer from this that I am to be a selfish prick? How do you convince a person who is a selfish prick that he is simply not experiencing life as fully as he possibly can by creating the misery around him which he is incapable of perceiving? And so on.

"What is it that makes my experience or the fulfilment of my desires worthwhile?"
It seems here that you are talking about meaning.  Another none event.  There is no ultimate meaning to why we are here - there is only the meaning we weave out of our own lives.  Our lives are ultimately meaningless - but because we like to feel that we matter and are significant in some way - our living in the illusion of meaning gives us feelings of security and pleasure - and so we manufacture meaning.
I do things because I believe they will make me feel better in the short or longer term when compared with some other possibility that I might consider.  This is a complex processes of reasoning that is unique in all of us, and doesn't always appear to be logically - because we are given false information or are caused to behave in ways that seem contrary to some needs, whereas they are patterns that met other important needs on creation.  Very few of us are enlightened enough to simply act in the moment on our pure need to gain more enjoyment of life.  We have lots of baggage that gets in our way and causes us to do any number of odd behaviours that interfere with our pure ability to respond to our desires.  We also have a pretty crap system of getting our needs met in terms of natural instincts and our cultural practices attempt to address this.
Our natural instincts cause us to scream and cry when we don't have our needs met as we would like - this sort of behaviour is really very annoying and can lead to someone else expressing that annoyance violently to end it.
I've screwed up my children with my own parenting expectations that has lead them away from pure responding to their desires.  Some of it useful, some of it I regret.
We are currently caught up in a culture that promotes extrinsic motivations over intrinsic and teaches us not to trust our own desires and self motivation or opinions.
Jesus has been read in modern times recently as wanting us to follow our own hearts against oppression - which is true - but my hearing of the bible also pushes Jesus as the new oppressor - telling us what to do and how to do it.  I think it might be human nature to want to control and dominate and gain positions of power within the group.  Jesus was just another ape with tickets on himself trying to get to the top of the pile.
Being the 14th son of the 14th son of the 14th son was enough for his community to have some expectation on him - as they wove meaning into this story and caused something to occur.  Jesus was in a way a victim to his birth position and the poor bastard died on the cross at a young age for it.
I think gaining fulfilment from meeting my desire stands alone as enough reward.  I don't need any additional motivation.  I have desire for fulfilment, I get my need met - I feel happy.  It is worthwhile in itself - it doesn't need any further qualification.
Intellectualisation takes us away from the simple enjoyment of life. Life is very simple - and yet many of us are enculturated to believe that there is something more, some more meaning to be had, some more significance in our actions, some greater mystery or story to be a part of.  We weave what we do - I prefer to enjoy as much as I can and reflect and weave my story in retrospect.  It's only a fantasy story anyhow - as there is no real meaning in our lives - only what we find ourselves weaving to our own convenience and pleasure.
My story includes loving my family and loving and supportive my friends.  It involves feeling free to be expressive and being spontaneous about expressing my thoughts.  It involves me aiming to meet my own needs and to the extent I am able to meet the needs of those I love and care for - I love and care for them because I feel that love and care inside me, when I feel it for them - and it feels good.  It is my natural instinct as a human being.
What makes meeting my needs and desires for fulfilment and enjoyment and pleasure is my values - that stem from my instinct and circumstance I find myself living.
I wonder if in talking about values and morality to christains we can basically tear down the hypocracy of christian values and morals - and be left with what we talk of here - something we all share.
As soon as we fight for justice and make value judgements on others, we are moved away from meeting our needs or others needs.  We need to be needs based in our thinking - not acting out our outside of time space God persepctive on the world.  Isn't that what god is for anyhow???  Isn't it for god to make value judgements and dish out punishment and fight for justice?  It is for us to submit to god and pray quietly alone.
There is no such think as right and wrong from a god place - there is only subjective preferences for us all individually.  To a christian you can take any bible comandment and turn it around to finding a person who needed to follow that caurse of action.  Shit even the bible has those stories inbuilt.  EG the whole do not steal story followed by the we've now got god on our side to go and steal all the treasure for this city in the primised land - it's all a matter of perspective.  Like the bible says - the rain falls on every one equally - meaning that god doesn't preference some from others - he treats us all the same dispite faith.
If someone wants to behave like a selfish prick - then let them - do it on their own.  They obviously think that this is the best way to live their live.  If one of my kids is reading a book - then another comes and wants to look at the book too, because they see the enjoyment the other is having, and want to feel that too, then the first shouts and pulls the book away, because they percieve that the other is going to somehow take their enjoyment away, by getting in the way of their sole enjoyment of reading the book, so then the second hits the first because they feel angry that the first has refused them access to this perceived enjoyment, then a fight arises, who started it?  What should a parent do?  Isn't the second child coverting the first child's enjoyment?  The second child is usually younger - they are actually looking to copy, so they too can learn how to enjoy such an activity.  If i have time i take the book and read to them both.  Or i give the second child a comfy seat a book and blanket to feel secure and direct them to enjoy this book on their own like the other child.  I haven't judgeed either as right or wrong, the situation simply is - making value judgements such as you are bad, wrong, evil or selfish prick, doesn't get me much further along the way to getting that enjoyment for all - it disconnects us from our connection with need and the love we have inside.

Alice, you said, "There is no ultimate meaning to why we are here - there is only the meaning we weave out of our own lives.  Our lives are ultimately meaningless - but because we like to feel that we matter and are significant in some way - our living in the illusion of meaning gives us feelings of security and pleasure - and so we manufacture meaning."


I agree that "there is only the meaning we weave out of our own lives." But disagree that "Our lives are ultimately meaningless..." Take a step back and look at what we are doing, in our conversation here. We are creating meaning. We are using human-made language (even though memes have independent reproduction). Without speakers and hearers, this event would not exist. Every day human beings create meaning, in art, music, poetry, dance, architecture, commerce, agriculture, all of our activities.


Think about the experimenter effect in physics. The particle/wave takes a definite location because a scientist measured it. We are not separable from "reality as we know it." With our language we created this idea of "reality." That concept functions, for our needs, in the context of our language using community. Were all of us to die from a supernova event, "reality" as in "reality as we know it" would cease. Yes there may be alien intelligences who also know reality in their own way. It's not all or nothing. Every complex adaptive system, like a paramecium, knows its environment and therefore participates in the experimenter effect. Whenever a macroscopic coherently moving mass responds to a photon from a distant galaxy, the photon takes a definite location. It's stops being in several places simultaneously. I disagree with the Schrodinger cat in a box idea because I think the cat can by itself collapse a wave function. In sum, "Our lives are ultimately meaningless." is misleading if not self-contradictory. We do not need an external source of meaning, only to respect ourselves as the creators of meaning even in everyday gestures such as stroking the cheek of a child.


"We like to feel we matter and are significant in some way." Here I see every action, even trivial choices, as significant. Remember extreme sensitivity to initial conditions. I'm a many-worlds person in that I think there are an infinite number of possible futures. Every action changes the direction our experienced universe takes into the future, selecting it from among alternative possibilities. In other words that action participates in the collapse of those infinite superposed possibilities. While an action now might seem small, such as your smile to a passing stranger, over time it could have significant effect. Imagine that the recipient was a grad student who just had her idea casually trashed by an insensitive professor. She was feeling so unworthy. That little smile could make the difference as to whether she abandons her thoughts or publishes them a year later. The paper could revolutionize some field thirty years after. We never know which actions have long tails and which will be overwhelmed by some catastrophic chaotic event that seems unrelated. Did you do the dishes before the prospective home buyers showed up at your door? Did you do the dishes before the 9.0 earthquake? You never know what will connect meaningfully.




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