Greater faith required to trust in our illogical selves

(120 Posts)
LovingSummer Mon 21-Jul-14 23:46:35

m.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28341562

Belief in human rationality requires a greater leap of faith than any religion, argues John Gray.

An interesting article explores the folly of trusting in mankind being reliably rational; humans who have an inbuilt desire to repeat mistakes and never seem to learn from history.

The author John Gray speaks of 'evangelistic atheists' trying to ridicule belief in a God as being childish, but draws a parallel (despite being atheist himself) with the leap of faith required to trust humans instead of God.

And he is absolutely right. Anyone who has a 'belief' or 'faith' in human rationality is being irrational and foolish. It seems that humans have an urge to pass on control and the attendant responsibility to someone or something else and if you take their god away they tend to blindly worship something else.

Sometimes it's the 'Motherland/Fatherland' they get fixated on which might be a clue as to the origins of the urge.

It's vitally important not to have faith in anything, but to think and examine the facts before making the best decision you can. And to maintain a healthy scepticism even then.

You rarely have enough facts and must act on what you have while waiting for more, but to believe the facts you have are sufficient and complete is a trap that many fall into.

Of course Gray is wrong when he claims that we can't learn from the past and make progress. It's true that the basic human nature remains much the same, but we can, if we make the effort, improve societies with early training and laws.

After all, he lives in a society where he is allowed to say out loud that he is atheist and one in which women may vote and speak in public. Surely that's progress.

niminypiminy Tue 22-Jul-14 17:06:40

"Of course Gray is wrong when he claims that we can't learn from the past and make progress."

That's mis-reading what Gray says. He doesn't say we can't learn from the past and make progress. He says we don't. And what history shows us is that we do not learn from the past -- and thus repeat it, in ever more clever ways, perhaps, but still the same follies and blindness and cruelty recur.

"It's true that the basic human nature remains much the same, but we can, if we make the effort, improve societies with early training and laws."

As Gray goes on to say, thinking that all it takes is the application of effort to become more rational is is itself irrational: "Today's believers in reason are caught in the same contradiction [as Bertrand Russell]. To imagine that we can become much more rational than we have ever been, if only we want to be and try hard enough, is itself thoroughly irrational. It's an example of magical thinking, an expression of the belief in the omnipotence of human will that psychoanalysts identify as the fundamental infantile fantasy."

"After all, he lives in a society where he is allowed to say out loud that he is atheist and one in which women may vote and speak in public. Surely that's progress."

We also live in a society which is more unequal than any since the Victorian period. We live in an age in which images of the abuse and torture of children are freely available on the internet. We live in an age in which one woman dies at the hands of her partner every week. Is that progress?

If that's an accurate figure then that is 52 a year too many, but for comparison (according to the Washington Post) in Pakistan, 1,000 women die a year in ‘honor killings’ alone. (could probably find better examples if we took the time) and don't get me started on the ritual mutilation of children and the god-given right to rape.

So our attempts to behave rationally and not like our primitive nature dictates are having some effect. Otherwise it would be exactly the same in every place and time. Instead of a clear divide between those who have embraced rationality and those who have chosen blind faith instead.

It seems to me that in some respects we are more rational. (Because of upbringing not a fundamental change), but we also work around irrationality by creating laws to limit excesses. Which seems to me to be a rational and thoughtful thing to do. It shows an awareness of our faults which doesn't fit with Gray's claim that atheists have faith in the goodness of people. If we really did we'd be campaigning for no laws at all.

It is difficult though. I am sympathetic to the view that we should just give up and pick fleas off each other, but I still think it's worth the effort and I mean 'think'. I didn't arrive at that position by shaking any beads, killing any chickens or pretending to eat bits of a corpse.

There is a lot of irrationality. Gray's not wrong about that. What he needs is to actually meet some atheists . He might feel there was some hope.

LovingSummer Wed 23-Jul-14 20:40:24

Back - Gray is an atheist!

headinhands Thu 24-Jul-14 09:10:12

When I saw John Gray I immediately thought of that utter drivel 'Men are from Mars' shock but it's not him is it.

niminypiminy Thu 24-Jul-14 10:39:11

John Gray is a well-known philosopher. Who is, as he says in the article, an atheist.

"So our attempts to behave rationally and not like our primitive nature dictates are having some effect. Otherwise it would be exactly the same in every place and time. Instead of a clear divide between those who have embraced rationality and those who have chosen blind faith instead."

If I understand this correctly, you are saying that the people of Pakistan are less rational and have made less progress than we in Europe. Is that the case? That's rather inflammatory -- some might even say racist.

In any case, I don't think this proves the point you are trying to make -- which, I assume, is that Western post-Enlightenment rationality leads to a reduction in violence against women, whilst religion allows it to flourish, and that the spread of Enlightenment rationality throughout the globe will inevitably lead to a reduction in depravity. On the contrary, new forms of depravity are arising in secular Western societies -- cannibalism for sexual pleasure, for example. The widespread use of torture by secular states is another example of how cruelty and violence are not eradicated by rationality (indeed, the use of scientific research to devise methods of torture is a feature of such states.) There isn't a clear divide between those who have embraced rationality and those who have 'chosen blind faith': the most we can say is that there are different kinds of cruelty and violence endemic in different societies.

"It seems to me that in some respects we are more rational. (Because of upbringing not a fundamental change), but we also work around irrationality by creating laws to limit excesses."

This is not an argument in favour of progress and rationality, because all societies have laws to limit excesses. It's a fundamental principle of all known human societies that they have laws which curb the individual's freedom to act on his or her impulses in order to safeguard the life of the community. And to say that faith in progress means that atheists would be campaigning for no laws at all is hyperbole. It's confusing the idea of progress with utopianism.

"I am sympathetic to the view that we should just give up and pick fleas off each other, but I still think it's worth the effort and I mean 'think'. I didn't arrive at that position by shaking any beads, killing any chickens or pretending to eat bits of a corpse."

What is "it" standing for in the first sentence here? What is it that is worth this effort? This sentence is not grammatical. A pronoun such as 'it' stands in for a noun, but should always refer back to the noun to which it refers. Otherwise it is what is called a 'dangling modifier'. You can only write clearly if you are thinking clearly. I understand that you wish to imply that you are doing real thinking, as opposed to religious types who imbibe their thoughts with their faith. In this case, rhetoric prevailed over clear thinking.

headinhands Thu 24-Jul-14 16:57:13

the most we can say is that there are different kinds of cruelty and violence endemic in different societies.

There are considerable differences between the homicide rates around the world: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate

niminypiminy Thu 24-Jul-14 18:14:40

Interesting link. It seems to suggest that the 'intentional killing' rate is highest in those states that are engaged in armed conflicts, either with one another or with their own citizens. But I do not see evidence here for the rationality of the secular west here, given that so many of these conflicts are products of imperialism and globalisation - themselves, of course, phenomena that were directly produced by the Enlightenment.

headinhands Thu 24-Jul-14 18:38:02

I was merely countering your statement that appeared to suggest that the globe is universally violent to the same degree, an opinion you've provided no evidence for. Pinker's research also suggests we are much less violent as a species than at any other time in our history.

niminypiminy Thu 24-Jul-14 19:44:25

I don't think I was suggesting that "the globe is universally violent to the same degree", but rather that different forms of violence, cruelty and depravity are endemic in different societies. I continue to find the implication some people have made more progress than others-- if you take the rate of intentional killing as an index of progress -- disturbing.

Pinker's book makes a provocative argument but it is by no means universally accepted. A critique by John Gray is here, one from the International Socialist Review, both of which echo my point about the export of violence from the 'first and second' to the 'third' world.

But perhaps you would like to comment on the article under discussion?

headinhands Thu 24-Jul-14 20:42:38

How would you define progress?

niminypiminy Thu 24-Jul-14 21:42:12

I'm sorry, headinhands, while I'd like to talk about the article linked to in the OP and the issues it raises, I'm not willing to do so in a series of one-liners. Particularly if, as you have done in the post above, you ignore the substantive point and pick up on a single, tangential detail. There are people who like to debate like that, and that's fine, but I'm not one of them.

headinhands Thu 24-Jul-14 23:24:22

Sorry, it was a genuine question and a discussion I have had in RL not so long ago.

Back - Gray is an atheist!

I know he claims to be and maybe he thinks he is, But if he actually met some he might better understand what an atheist is.

He talks as though atheists are just another religion. At the same time he seems to be expressing a contempt for atheism that he doesn't seem to feel for religion.

You know, we're had lots of threads on here like that.

Someone comes on and says something like "I really like.... single mums/benefit claimants/black people/gay people (delete as needed) and I am one myself, but.... they are scum aren't they".

I don't know if there's a special term invented yet for posters who do that, but you must have seen it before.

That's rather inflammatory -- some might even say racist.

Oh gosh! Really?

If anyone ever says it sincerely and not as an attempt to score points I might even care.

If you can read then whether you admit it or not you have to know that most of the world is not the same as the sheltered corner you occupy. You may leap to the assumption that it's because of the race of the people who live there, but it's one of the many things I don't believe in because there's no evidence for it.

It's confusing the idea of progress with utopianism.

I think I confused you then. I was laughing at the suggestion that atheists are a soppy 'all humans are good' movement. We are simply those people who don't believe in fairy tales. Generally speaking the last people to assume that all people are good.

Now I see you are unhappy about my grammar. Well so was granddad, so you are not alone there. I hope it wasn't too distressing.

Gosh you must be getting desperate.

You can only write clearly if you are thinking clearly.

That is true, but the reserve isn't necessary true. I believe there's a technical term for people who make that logical mistake, but it escapes me for the moment. With your superior education I'm sure you know what it is.

Anyway, you spotted it. I have been suggesting that people who make at least some effort to think instead of hoping god will put the answers in their head are in a practical sense superior.

Not objectively superior since we're have to agree on a yardstick before we measured that, but in the sense that you want your plane flown by a pilot not a priest or philosopher.

DioneTheDiabolist Fri 25-Jul-14 00:45:56

Do you think that John Gray hasn't met any other Atheists Back? Really?

DioneTheDiabolist Fri 25-Jul-14 00:50:03

Do you really believe that John Gray has met no other atheists Back?

John Grey is an academic and author who writes for the Guardian, New Statesman and TLS according to the wikki page en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_N._Gray

So the idea that he doesn't know any atheists is a bit far fetched.

headinhands Fri 25-Jul-14 08:56:05

The thing about it making more sense to trust god is that you have to assume that a believer, at some point, chose that religion rationally and that god knew they would have to use their human reasoning skills to work out his religion was the right one or to examine the case for him existing at all.

For example, it's been said to me 'I can't trust my own reasoning so I'm trusting god instead', well, they've used their own reasoning to make the decision that god 'a' is real as opposed to god 'b' or god 'c' and so on whereas I just don't think there's enough/any evidence to make a decisions either way. It seems more rationally satisfying to not making any choice and just go about my RL trying to make things better.

LovingSummer Sat 26-Jul-14 15:31:18

Head - you make an interesting point here.

you have to assume that a believer, at some point, chose that religion rationally

There is a difference between making a rational decision to trust in God, and making a rational decision to trust in yourself only.

What it amounts to is looking at the difference between a God who is consistent and perfect, and a human who is, by contrast, imperfect and inconsistent.

Of course that doesn't mean we can't use the rational part of us to make our everyday decisions, wisdom is, after all, God-given and there is wisdom is exercising as much rational, logical decision making as possible. The problem that Gray points out exists with our trusting humanity over God, is that we all make the same mistakes over and over, so it is illogical to trust a mistake-driven person over a God that makes no mistake.

they've used their own reasoning to make the decision that god 'a' is real as opposed to god 'b' or god 'c' and so on

All of the information is available to those who seek it out with an open heart and mind. God knows our thoughts, often better than we know them ourselves, and He is never deceived by our pretence. He knows if you're reading His word with questioning, from an open viewpoint or a closed one, determined to twist every word out of the context it is in, if you would but search properly. If you seek Me you shall find Me" is a promise that God keeps to everyone.

It seems more rationally satisfying to not making any choice
God will not leave anyone on the fence. Every single person has to decide to either trust themselves, or trust in God. If you decide not to search diligently, but to oppose God with all of the other man-made religions out there, then that is a choice you're making, whether you like it or not.

I would reiterate though, that God sees our hearts and understands our thoughts, and knows the difference between a headinhands who appropriately questions with an openness and willingness to search, or a headinhands who questions with a closed mind, seeking only to argue for personal entertainment. Only God knows which headinhands is the real one, and perhaps you do too, but sometimes I have been in a position myself of arguing against God when the honest truth is I've been desperately seeking the truth about Him and felt quite angry that there are so many diversions out there getting in the way and have wanted to be spoon-fed instead, spoon-fed with the likes of miracles and what not.

I just don't think there's enough/any evidence to make a decisions either way
Remember the story of Lazarus? He was the one who died and begged God to return and warn His brothers that the bible was, after all, real. If he couldn't change his own decisions, he wanted to change that of his brothers to spare them. However God reminded Him that even if Lazarus returned they would still not believe. You will also remember that, of all the people who encountered Jesus personally, only some chose to trust Him - others witnessed His miracles and tried to silence those sharing their miracle, rather than respond by believing in Him.

Even with that knowledge, God says no one is with excuse, we all have a responsibility to find our own way with Him. That sometimes includes some hard graft studying out the bible to see that; there are no contradictions, that each book compliments the other despite being written many hundreds of years apart from each other, that God's plan is consistent, as is His nature, and all prophesies made in the book, that should have yet come to pass, were fulfilled.

One way to read with understanding is to look at who is talking, what they're talking about, and who they're talking to. A expository dictionary of the old and new testament words helps gain correct understanding and helps to iron out any misunderstanding, but of course this all takes time and study, and most people can't be bothered to give of their time that way.

The bible is clear. To study it out properly you are asked to:

"examine everything carefully" (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

"do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1)

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves" (Matthew 7:15)

"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15)

headinhands Sun 27-Jul-14 08:49:38

There is a difference between making a rational decision to trust in God, and making a rational decision to trust in yourself only

That's called a false dichotomy and that's without addressing the fact, as mentioned below, that we haven't established that god exists. I don't only trust myself, I seek lots of advice when necessary.

headinhands Sun 27-Jul-14 09:14:06

but to oppose God with all of the other man-made religions out there, then that is a choice you're making, whether you like it or not.

And adherents to the other religions say exactly the same as you, with the same conviction, because they think they've got the right god just as much as you think you have. And you know what, they have just as much evidence for theirs as you do yours. So what is someone like me to do? Logically the only reasonable position is to say 'look, you all think you're really right but you all have no proof, I'm just going to have to leave off making a decision until I can see some evidence'. You honestly can't say fairer than that can you. And a reasonable god would know that I'm in this position. If he wanted me to believe in him he would make himself obvious, but he hasn't, the only proof I have is the same proof for all the gods.

Imagine I told you that you had the wrong god, and that even though you thought you did, really thought you did, you were mistaken and that god, my god, the real god, was going to be mightily upset with you for choosing the wrong god, your god. What evidence do you want to see before you jump ship and choose the new god?

headinhands Sun 27-Jul-14 09:15:11

To put it bluntly, think about how you know the man made religions are man made. That's how I know yours is man made.

jessplussomeonenew Sun 27-Jul-14 11:15:43

I think Gray is mixing atheism and humanism - I am an atheist because I see no evidence for a god that we can know anything about. That's about it as far as my atheism goes and I don't think it's a terribly interesting belief or a matter of faith.

However I am also a humanist and I think this is a much more interesting and complex thing. I do recognise that there is an element of faith in my choosing to believe that people are, despite all their defects, worthwhile and fascinating and deserving of respect and care. Partly I believe this because the alternative is depressing, partly because I feel believing it helps me work to make it true, and also because despite the horrors we see on the news every day, there is progress in that we are horrified by it rather than seeing it as normal. I also think that Steven Pinker is correct that overall the rate of violent deaths are decreasing, even if far too slowly. So there is evidence for progress even if it's painfully slow!

LovingSummer Sun 27-Jul-14 13:14:05

"I don't only trust myself, I seek lots of advice when necessary." yourself - or other people. Humans proven to be illogical, irrational and mistaken at times. Seeking advice of other people has a place but as you well know, other people will offer a variety of differing opinions, often conflicting with each other, so Gray's point is that trusting in flawed humanity over a supreme and unflawed being (God) is fruitless.

"adherents to the other religions say exactly the same as you"
Actually, I am not so sure that they do. Of the main other 4 religions, none of them make the exact same claims that I have explained the bible makes.

For example, Hinduism began in India about 1500 BC although it's literature can be traced back to before 1000 BC, and according to Encyclopaedia Britannia, "Hinduism is both a civilisation and a congregation of religions; it has neither a beginning or founder, nor a central authority, hierarchy or organisation." Hinduism can include pantheism (belief which identifies the universe with God), polytheism (belief in many gods) monotheism (belief in only one God), agnosticism (belief that the nature of things are unknowable), atheism (disbelief in the existence of God or any gods), dualism (belief that there are two independent eternal principles - one good and one evil), monism (belief in one ultimate principle, such as mind over matter).

Buddha was born about 560 BC - a prince of India who had a growing interest in religions. He entered into a process of mediation at the foot of a tree (known as the Bo-tree) and experienced enlightenment, resulting in him calling himself the Enlightened One. He went on the discuss this with 5 of his former colleagues who converted and so the first Buddhist monastic order came into being.
Buddhism was more about psychology and the spirit realm where ideas such as karma came into being.

Islam was founded AD 570 by Mohammad in Southern Arabia, where Jews and Christians were also present Interestingly the bible has a recurring theme of people worshipping other gods and many accounts of ways in which God warned, rebuked, and exercised patience and mercy through these times. The majority of Arabs worshipped gods and goddesses, and believed in fairies, angels and the demonic jinn. Muhammad became disturbed by the quarrelling over matters of honour and religion so took himself off alone and claimed to have a vision. He looked upon himself as the true prophet of God after this, tus marks the beginning of the Koran, much of which is based on the existing documents that we know as the holy bible today. However, the bible quite clearly warns against either adding to or taking away rom the original text, which Muhammad clearly has done with the Koran.

"think about how you know the man made religions are man made" What really determines the credibility of any one belief system is the underlying foundation upon which it is built. Just as a house's stability can only be as dependable as the foundations upon which it is built, so a belief system may only be as reliable as the foundation upon which it is based.

The bible is clear, reliable, consistent and correct. It is a very unique book in that the basic sanitation rules and medical practices were very advanced for that time period. Compared to the knowledge possessed by ancient Egyptians of the mid-East region around 3,500 years ago, the Ebers Papyrus compilation of medical text date to about 1500 BC. Despite their advanced knowledge of astronomy and engineering, as evidence by the world famous pyramids, much of the Egyptians medical understanding was primitive and quite honestly dangerous. For example, to heal an infected splinter wound, the remedy involved the application of an ointment consisting of the blood or worms mixed with donkey dung! Other prescriptions included lizard's blood, swine teeth, putrid meat, excreta from various animals and even flies.
In contrast to this, the old testament gave cooking instructions to prevent the spread of germs from animal carcasses. This is surprising because it was not until the 19th century that medical researches established diseases could be transmitted by microscopic germs. Leviticus 7:14 says "the fat of the beast that dies naturally and the fat of what is torn by wild animals may be used in any way, but you shall by no means eat it. It is now known that animals in this state would be dangerous to eat because it would likely contain infectious germs within hours of the animals death.

Numbers 19 discusses purification solutions combined with cedar and hyssop. Cedar wood is an astringent and hyssop is antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic.

Scientific knowledge was also advanced. Job 26:7 says clearly God hangs the earth on nothing - the first reference to gravity long before Newton proved it. Up until the last few centuries scientists believed the earth and stars were supported by some kind of medium.

Reference is made to the earth's weather patterns in Job 36: 27. Though simply stated, this biblical passage written thousands of years ago, reveals the complexities of the complete hydrological cycle of evaporation, cloud formation, and precipitation. These hydrological cycles have not been scientifically determined until much more recently.

Many are familiar with the Genesis account of how God formed man of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). For years many laughed at the apparently simplified idea, until a late discovery by researchers at NASA's AMES Research Center proved every single element found within the human body exists also in the earth of the ground.

The bible is also, as I said before, unique insofar as being 100% accurate with it's prophesies. Not to mention the numerous geographical and archeological accuracies.

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