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Login Form. Secret Key. Remember Me. Log in. If you have at home a teenage son who likes computer games, you can conduct your own experiment. Provide him with a minimum subsidy of Coke and pizza, and then remove all demands for work and all parental supervision. The likely outcome is that he will remain in his room for days, glued to the screen. Yet he is unlikely to suffer from boredom or a sense of purposelessness. At least not in the short term.

Hence virtual realities are likely to be key to providing meaning to the useless class of the post-work world. Maybe these virtual realities will be generated inside computers. Maybe they will be generated outside computers, in the shape of new religions and ideologies. Maybe it will be a combination of the two. The possibilities are endless, and nobody knows for sure what kind of deep plays will engage us in In any case, the end of work will not necessarily mean the end of meaning, because meaning is generated by imagining rather than by working.

Work is essential for meaning only according to some ideologies and lifestyles. Eighteenth-century English country squires, present-day ultra-orthodox Jews, and children in all cultures and eras have found a lot of interest and meaning in life even without working. People in will probably be able to play deeper games and to construct more complex virtual worlds than in any previous time in history.

But what about truth? What about reality? Do we really want to live in a world in which billions of people are immersed in fantasies, pursuing make-believe goals and obeying imaginary laws? Facebook Twitter Pinterest. Topics Technology. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded. Instead, it was sad to see what happened to him. Scientists have been hounding me to talk about how evolution is real. Well, you guys have to stand up, too, and say that a lot of this stuff is just …. Let's be more sensible about the terms of our discussion.

I'm not saying that you have to walk around insulting people, but lay out what we think is likely, what sort of probability you would expect for the Resurrection, virgin birth, and all of that. Don't just condemn spoon bending and telekinesis. Include all this other stuff that no one talks about. Why not put it together in one big basket and say, "Come on. Let's be reasonable people, and here's why we don't think this is so. We need a strong scientific culture that understands the world the way it is, and then we need to interpret these facts with good values. It's interesting to go back to the founding fathers of this country.

What did they think about religion, and why was the separation of church and state so important? It was important because most of these guys were irreverent. They were nothing like the religious zealots of today. They thought that religions were good on an intermediate scale, in providing services for their own members, but religions were a problem when you thought about the larger social unit.

That's why the separation of church and state was so important. Yes, the world is full of intolerance, and atheists are despised in our culture, but when it comes to doing something about it, this is where it helps to think like an ecologist. An ecologist and evolutionist tries to explain human diversity in the same way that he explains biological diversity. What does that mean? In biological communities there are many species because there are many niches, and every niche calls for a different strategy for survival and reproduction.

If you ask, what is the environment that favors the kind of society that we would like—a society grounded in good facts, informing a good value system—the only environment in which such a society can survive is a wealthy, stable environment. That's what you find in Europe. I won't talk about America for the moment. In Europe, you're born into a safe environment; you have lots of resources; you can pack your individuals with education; and you can expect to live until you're in your late seventies. You can figure stuff out. You can experiment. The consequences of failing aren't so bad. This is where liberalism thrives.

A lot of what you're talking about isn't religion versus non-religion.

How To Know Whether You’re Trusting God…or Just Being Stupid

It's conservatism versus liberalism, just as there are liberal religions and conservative religions. I like to quote someone who converted from a conservative religion to a liberal religion. Now, where do conservatism and authoritarianism thrive? They thrive in dangerous, chaotic environments, where people don't have the resources to educate themselves.

This is where you have a society in which people are told what to do. Other parts of the world, such as Europe, are becoming more secular, because the environment is favoring that.

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But the world as a whole is becoming more religious, more fundamentalist. Why is this? It's because it's becoming more dangerous and chaotic. Governments aren't providing the services that people need, and religions are. Again and again you hear about these so-called terrorist organizations providing services for their people. When I hear my respected colleagues, such as Dan Dennett and Richard Dawkins, talk about religion, I think they are smart people doing something which is not so smart. They ask, "How can people believe such dumb stuff?

If you think of these systems as successful in some environments, but not others, then you can isolate the environmental factors. If you want liberalism to thrive, religious or non-religious, then provide the proper environment, and it will grow spontaneously. Audience Member : You said you weren't going to refer to the United States just now.

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Can you put the United States back in your equation? The idea that it's a free religious economy doesn't work out very well, because if this were the case, then Australia and New Zealand should be like the United States, and they're not. Another possibility is that the income inequality and inequality in general are so great in the United States that we combine an affluent nation like Europe, with a third world nation. There are many people who are not getting the fundamental ingredients of life, financial, psychological, or sociological, and who then turn to religion.

I'm a veteran of the group selection wars. There are a lot of heresies in science, a lot of stuff that's taboo. Science is often taught by rote, and one could use religious terminology to describe the process: heresy, taboo, priests. Dan Dennett makes this point himself. Much of what we know we take on faith. We take the theory of relativity on faith; we can't derive all the equations from scratch. But at the end of the day, no matter how complicated it is, and how filled with paradigms and incommensurability, there is something about the scientific method that makes our representation of the world converge on what's actually out there.

This is a magnificent thing, and, unless it was the goal of science, it wouldn't happen. Individuals won't do it by themselves. The mind is full of all sorts of distortions. Unless you have a culture that says, "It's our goal to have beliefs that accurately represent reality, and then a procedure—a set of procedures—which converge to reach that goal," there is no way you will achieve scientific knowledge. They try to disprove their own pet theories. This is what the controls are all about.

You know that you do have a lot of pre-conceived notions, and you have to fight against them all the time. Really good scientists will do that. It's an ideal; obviously hard to reach. It's an enterprise that's being performed by people in all different cultures, all over the world, and they're sharing their results. This circle has been widening, so that scientists are working in all sorts of countries that we otherwise would have little contact with.

These scientists are working together. There's something very powerful about this; it's really kind of amazing. I also have a Master's degree in religious studies from a Methodist seminary. I can see both scientific and theoretical approaches to religion. Part of the problem with this debate is the fact that there is no universally agreed upon set of terms for defining religion.

Many societies don't even have a term for religion, because what we, from a scientific perspective, consider to be a religion is so embedded in their worldview and social behavior that it can't be separated from the rest of their culture. Evolutionary models for explaining the origins of religion have been around since the end of the 19th century, but many of these have been criticized for their ethnocentrism.

Part of the problem with this whole "religion versus science" debate is that it seems to preclude other forms of religiosity that do not depend on empirical thought—such as Buddhism. I think there's a problem with Christi-centric and dogmatic views of religion. We're evolving toward this supreme form of rational thought, and Western rationalism determines what this highest form is. It's akin to scientists arguing that evolution is progressing toward what we have already attained. It reflects a lot of background and knowledge in anthropology. I think that salvaging an old idea that's been rejected is much more difficult than coming up with a new idea.

I know this is true in biology, because I have spent quite a few years trying to salvage the concept of group selection, which was a heresy for much of the 20th century. The same is true for theories of religion in anthropology. Most enduring cultures are impressively organized to manage the affairs of their people. I think this can explain some of the things you're pointing out—the great diversity of religions, for example. This is exactly what you would expect from the postulates of evolutionary theory. There can be many different ways to organize groups of people, a huge diversity of ways.

So we don't expect uniformity at that level. Without plunging into an academic discussion, I think that what's so exciting now is that we can revive some of these old ideas and return to a concept in which society means something. In an age of fundamentalism and excess, such as our own, this leads to lots of people killing other people in the name of religion. Is this inevitable or avoidable? I think it is not inevitable; it is avoidable.

Do we have to get beyond religion to get to that point? Well, probably not. If what David is saying is true, that if we have stability, which tends, naturally, to give rise to a more secular perspective, then we have a chicken and egg question. How do you attain this stability if you still have religious fundamentalists? At which point in the system do you intervene? Do you do it through political will? How do we get to this great stabilizer that will prevent people from damaging society? I'm amazed at how many suicide bombers appear everyday.

I thought there might be a limit. But persecution seems to be attracting more people. This is a scary development. Sam Harris talks about this, how terrifying it is to have super powerful weapons in the hands of people with ancient beliefs. How do we stabilize things? Does anybody know this? Can anybody in this audience tell me how?


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One of the pleasures of studying a subject scientifically, including religion, is to find answers to these kinds of questions. I've studied a random sample of religions. I went to an encyclopedia of world religions, the sixteen-volume set compiled by Mircea Eliade, and I wrote a little computer program that picked volume numbers at random and page numbers at random within volumes. In this fashion I more or less grabbed a sample of religions, thirty-six religions, totally at random from this encyclopedia, without reference to any particular hypothesis.

So I can answer the question, how many religions in this sample were spread by violent conquest? How many do you think? It turns out that the minority were spread by violent conquest. Think of Mormonism. It didn't spread by violent conquest. Think of early Christianity. You don't want to lay this at the doorstep of religion do you? Were Mormons different from anyone else? Do you think that the atheists among the pioneers weren't displacing Native Americans like everyone else?

A lot of the people who came over were businessmen …entrepreneurs. The religiosity within the pioneers was much less than we think. By no means were there only pious puritans who came over. Or, when you look closely at religious conflict, do you see sociopolitical conflict lying behind it? Religion might only be framing the debate. To pick suicide bombing as an example, this is a strategic move. There is good literature on how this tactic is employed by Marxist groups, such as the Tamil tigers, as well as by religious groups.

So the idea that you get infected by this religious fervor which causes you to strap a bomb on yourself is not true. In the beginning, you took scientists to task, saying that they should make a bigger deal out of all of the untruths in religion. Could you explain what you have in mind? How can they do this in a way that won't exacerbate the "us versus them" phenomenon that draws the ranks of the religious even tighter and seems to be so counter-productive?

Is the scientific enterprise at stake? Is our future as scientific leaders in the world at stake? It might be. If we allow this kind of irrational thinking to spread into all areas of academic research, then the integrity of the scientific enterprise is going to be compromised, along with our economic future, which is built on it—and I believe this.

We're concerned that a spreading irrationality is affecting scientific progress. Scientists are willing to speak out against part of it. They criticize people who do Ouija boards and horoscopes. They say, "That's ridiculous," but for some reason they think they shouldn't speak out against creation science and other religious beliefs that are even more commonly believed by Americans. If this is the approach that scientists are going to take, then it seems to me that they're not going to accomplish what they set out to accomplish, which is to encourage people to think scientifically.

The scientific way of thinking and of understanding the world has an economic, rational, and perhaps even a pacifying aspect to it. I recognize that scientists have done terrible things. We have the nuclear bomb because of Oppenheimer. Scientists are speaking out now and asking, "You guys in the media, why don't you help us here? So when it comes to criticizing superstition, do we carve out an exception for religion?


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  • Is it bad to have creationism taught in school, or isn't it? Scientists seem to think it is. Is it bad that there are horoscopes in almost every newspaper in the United States, while at the same time they're closing down their science sections? I think these are decisions that we have to make as a society. I think the reason that social units became larger in Europe is because of the widespread print media …newspapers and so on.