Class Warfare Blog

November 14, 2018

Marks and Con Men in the Religion Con

I just started reading The Evolution of God by Robert Wright and, as is common with accommodationists, he is very kind in his interpretations. For example:

However diverse the forces that shape religion, its early impetus indeed seems to have come largely from people who, like us, were trying to make sense of the world. … But they didn’t have the heritage of modern science to give them a head start, so they reached prescientific conclusions. Then, as understanding of the world grew—especially as it grew via science—religion evolved in reaction.

With regard to “religion evolved in reaction,” I do not think it evolved so much as changed so as to not be subject to ridicule. But that aside, I want to address this part: “… religion, its early impetus indeed seems to have come largely from people who, like us, were trying to make sense of the world.” This seems like quite a benign motivation. And it brings those ancient people and “us” into the same room, but is this a valid supposition? I do not think so.

Allow me to finish quoting from the book, specifically, a couple of descriptions of the relations hunter-gather people have been documented to have with their “gods.”

By Klamath reckoning, the west wind was emitted by a flatulent dwarf woman, about thirty inches tall, who wore a buckskin dress and a basket hat (and who could be seen in the form of a rock on a nearby mountain). The Klamath sometimes asked her to blow mosquitoes away from Pelican Bay.

For example, Karei, thunder god of the Semang hunter-gatherers of Southeast Asia, would get irate if he saw people combing their hair during a storm or watching dogs mate.”

Think about this: what person trying to make “sense of the world” would come up with such bullshit? These sound more like the work of a bullshitter than a contemplative proto-philosopher.

I think a more likely scenario is that these stories were crafted by sly members of a tribe in an effort to acquire status they could not otherwise acquire. Imagine a gamma or even delta male who has been getting the leavings of the stronger males: poorer food, less access to the tribe’s women, what our President would regard as a “loser.” If he tried to grab a women by the pussy, he would find himself roundly cuffed into better manners by a higher status male.

But one day, a solar eclipse occurs (or any other natural phenomenon that you think they would think was rare and threatening). It gets darker and darker and it seems that the sun is being eaten. The tribe is terrified, cowering on the ground. In a moment of inspiration, our delta male jumps up and starts to belittle the spirit that was eating the sun (they were animists, remember) and sure enough, he scares away the eater and the sun comes back. Our bullshit artist becomes a hero, becomes a valued member of the tribe, earns a new title (shaman) and gets better selections of the tribe’s resources from then on.

But the shaman needs more answers. When queried after that point, he can’t just shrug his shoulders, so he has to come up with more stories, and when you read the stories that hunter-gatherer peoples have (the book has quite a few examples) see if they don’t sound to you like they were made up by a drunken frat boy.

Stories are good. They educate and they entertain, and obviously just from the couple of examples provided, they do not have to make much sense (Watch dogs fornicating and the thunder god becomes angry!).

So, while the author of this book addresses the foundations of religion (the hunter-gatherers did not have religions, they had spirits and ghosts as part of their environment) as an intellectual effort to “make sense of the world,” “as we do,” I think that is a sop thrown to the religious. It is far more likely that religion began as part of a con, in instances as described above. My argument is based upon the motivation of the bullshit creators. I think that the sly members of a tribe were far more likely to come up with such stories than any one else.

A con game is short for “confidence game” and is a effort on the part of a con man (or con men) to acquire the confidence of his marks. That confidence enables them to extract wealth from the marks willingly. As far as I am concerned, religion is a Big Con still. The con artists are still spinning stories (I can’t wait for the big Vatican conclave on the sexual predation of its priests; I expect to see big stories created.) and the marks are still believing those stories.

I note that religious apologists pull stories out of their asses in great quantities (e.g. Ever notice how a banana seems designed to fit our hands?), that is they just make things up, often with no support in doctrine or scripture or even reality. They didn’t start the Big Con, but they are going to benefit mightily by keeping it running.

 

 

November 13, 2018

No, I Don’t Think So, Nope

I started reading the book The Evolution of God by Robert Wright last night and right from the start he declared himself to be an accommodationist.

There have been many such unsettling (from religion’s point of view) discoveries since then, but always some notion of the divine has survived the encounter with science. The notion has had to change, but that’s no indictment of religion. After all, science has changed relentlessly, revising if not discarding old theories, and none of us think of that as an indictment of science. On the contrary, we think this ongoing adaptation is carrying science closer to the truth. Maybe the same thing is happening to religion.

He is even more explicit shortly thereafter:

“These two big “clash” questions can be put into one sentence: Can religions in the modern world reconcile themselves to one another, and can they reconcile themselves to science? I think their history points to affirmative answers.

I am interested to see how he pulls this off. He is hinted that the religious will need to modify their beliefs in the process, so I wish him luck with that.

Here I want to address the first quote above, specifically the part “After all, science has changed relentlessly, revising if not discarding old theories, and none of us think of that as an indictment of science. On the contrary, we think this ongoing adaptation is carrying science closer to the truth. Maybe the same thing is happening to religion.”

Uh, no. In this he is overlooking a few small aspects of science that are completely missing from religion. First, scientists are looking for what works and allow that nature gets to decide. A good scientist follows wherever the evidence leads. If one’s thoughts are refuted, one changes one’s mind … period. (Some struggle at this more than others but a scientist hanging on to disproved ideas can expect only ridicule and pity at best from other scientists.)

Scientists arrive at their truths through criticism of their own ideas (it is required not just encouraged).

Religionists, on the other hand, claim to already know the truth, some claim that they are in possession of all of the truths and that there are no more. They do not systematically examine what they believe to weed out error and mistakes; they do not even encourage that. And they only change their minds when they absolutely have to, often never reaching this state. After all, who is going to change their mind for them. Even in the Catholic Church, whose leaders have accepted parts of evolution theory, there are some Catholics who accept no part of that theory. (In addition the Church’s leadership on artificial birth control has been ignored by 90+% of American women.)

So, the idea that “Maybe the same thing is happening to religion.” is impossible. Any change occurring in religions will not be based upon changing “relentlessly, revising if not discarding old theories” so, while religion does change (the gaps that gods used to hide in have gotten smaller and smaller) it will not be due to the “same thing” as happens in science when it changes. Scientists want science to change, want it to get better, want it to work better. Religionists claim that there is nothing to change, nothing to get better, nothing to work better. It is all correct as is. Why would it want to get closer to the truth? They believe there is no “closer” possible.

 

 

 

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