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Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy’

Couldn’t have said it better myself

Posted by JD on December 28, 2008

I was reading some Bertrand Russell on Christmas (doesn’t everybody?).  What can I say, it was a slow day and religion is on everyone’s mind that day.

I found his short essay on The Essence of Religion.  It struck a chord with me.  Many people have said most of what he wrote, but Russell managed to say so much in such a concise manner.  In case you are interested, I got this out of The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, 1961, Touchstone.  I’m sure you can hunt down nearly all of his work online though, if you google him.  He might as well be required reading for everyone because he touched on so many facets of human thought, not just religion.  It is striking how little his works have aged:


The decay of traditional religious beliefs, bitterly bewailed by upholders of the Churches, welcomed with joy by those who regard the old creeds as mere superstition, is an undeniable fact.  Yet when the dogmas have been rejected, the question of the place of religion in life is by no means decided.  The dogmas have been valued, not so much on their own account, as because they were believed to facilitate a certain attitude towards the world, an habitual direction of our thoughts, a life in the whole, free from the finiteness of self and providing an escape from the tyranny of desire and daily cares.  Such a life in the whole is possible without dogma, and ought not to perish through the indifference of those to whom the beliefs of former ages are no longer credible.  Acts inspired by religion have some quality of infinity in them :  they seem done in obedience to a command, and though they may achieve great ends, yet it is no clear knowledge of these ends that makes them seem imperative.  The beliefs which underlie such acts are often so deep and so instinctive as to remain unknown to those whose lives are built upon them.  Indeed, it may be not belief but feeling that makes religion :  a feeling which, when brought into the sphere of belief, may involve the conviction that this or that is good, but may, if it remains untouched by intellect, be only a feeling and yet be dominant in action…

The animal part of man, being filled with the importance of its own desires, finds it intolerable to suppose that the universe is less aware of this importance;  a blank indifference to its hopes and fears is too painful to contemplate, and is therefore not regarded as admissable.  The divine part of man does not demand that the world shall conform to a pattern :  it accepts the world, and finds in wisdom a union which demands nothing of the world.  Its energy is not checked by what seems hostile, but interpenetrates it and becomes one with it.  It is not the strength of our ideals, but their weakness, that makes us dread the admission that they are ours, not the world’s.  We with our ideals must stand alone, and conquer, inwardly, the world’s indifference.  It is instinct, not wisdom, that finds this difficult and shivers at the solitude it seems to entail.  Wisdom does not feel this solitude, because it can achieve union even with what seems most alien.  The insistent demand that our ideals shall be already realized in the world is the last prison from which wisdom must be freed.  Every demand is a prison, and wisdom is only free when it asks nothing.

(The Hibbert Journal, Vol. II, October 1912.)

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Religion | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Odds and Ends

Posted by neuralgourmet on July 26, 2008

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to prepare a proper post this week so in lieu of actually thinking and writing I’d like to instead offer up a pot-pourri of articles elsewhere on the web that have, in one way or the other, caught my interest in the past week or so.

However, before I do that I just want to do a little shameless self-promotion and mention my interview with the Phoenix Mars Lander. No, you didn’t read that wrong. I didn’t interview any of the scientists or technicians involved with the Phoenix project, but went direct to the robot herself. Phoenix and I have been pals on Facebook for a while now and I thought it would only be natural to interview her about her thoughts and experiences as well as the important science she is doing some 170 million miles from home.

So, with that out of the way, let’s move on to some of the more headier and serious stuff. First up, Philosophy professor Priscilla Sakezles writing in eSkeptic claims that “the famous words most often attributed to Socrates, “All I know is that I know nothing,” are in fact a misquote. Today’s skeptical movement likes to trace its roots all the way back to Socrates so it’s perhaps a good idea if we get our quotes right.

Speaking of what we know, most skeptics know that determining whether or not our knowledge accurately reflects the real world is problematic at best. While the scientific method is often considered the best tool we have for understanding how the world works, our brains tend to place more value on anecdotal evidence. Michael Shermer explains How Anecdotal Evidence Can Undermine Scientific Results.

And while the way our brains evolved means we’re not naturally very good scientists, nevertheless science continues to inform our understanding of our minds. Carl Zimmer has a particulary interesting article talking about the three ways our brains affect our perception of the passage of time.

One of the reasons, I think, that it’s important to read and understand science, even if one isn’t a scientist, is because how we understand our world has implications for the kind of society we live in. An article in the May/June 2008 New Humanist talks about how a fundamental ignorance of evolution has led to a rise in creationist beliefs in Europe, including a disturbing new phenomenom — Muslim creationism.

And lastly, it would be remiss of me not to at least mention the case of Barbara Nash. Nash is a quack nutritionist who advised 52 year old Dawn Page to go on a special “detox diet”. Nash’s diet led to Page suffering sodium deficiency so servere that she suffered seizures that left her with permanent brain damage. It is easy to call Nash a quack and wallow in outrage at her advice to Page that the uncontrollable vomiting she was experiencing was simply part of the “detoxification process”. However, Ben Goldacre reminds us that the Barbara Nashes of the world do not exist independently of the society and culture that allows them to thrive.

Posted in Religion, Science, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Four Horsemen are Online

Posted by dystressed on April 19, 2008

Richard Dawkins’ “The Four Horsemen” roundtable discussion video is online in two parts, hosted on Google. This is a very interesting video.

One note is that it’s also available on DVD. The DVD sale proceeds go to the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Security Trust.

Via Richard Dawkins.

Posted in FreeThought | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Truth, The Whole Truth, Etc.

Posted by mikebftw on April 16, 2008

Whenever I try to explain to a believer why I don’t believe in any gods or religions, I find myself facing an often-recycled argument about truth.

“Well, that’s what’s true for you.”

What usually precedes this argument is any number of points I’ve made that rest on empirical evidence. What usually follows is a retreat to the far reaches of the universe of philosophical skepticism. A heretofore logical conversation partner instantly turns into the consummate postmodernist. Suddenly truth is a David Lynch film; confusing and nebulous and ultimately subjective.

While we may not be equipped to discover the capital-T “Truth,” we can all agree on a generally accepted level of confidence in the “amount” of truth we can perceive. It’s fine for someone’s words to question truth itself for philosophy’s sake, but no one acts on this perspective. No one. Imagine if you owed someone $500.00:

You: Here you go.
Lender: What’s this?
You: That $500.00 I owe you.
Lender: This is a stack of Pogs.
You: To you.
Lender: No, to pretty much everyone. And while I’m astonished that these are still in existence, my astonishment is not worth $500.00.
You: It is to me! Or is it… we ultimately have no way of really knowing, so let’s just call it square, OK?
Lender: Not OK. Prepare to be kneecapped.

I guess my imagined scenario is pretty ridiculous. The point I’d like to make is that believers can’t continue to be skeptical of nothing and skeptical of everything at the same time. If you really want to dive into the issue and swim around a little bit, I recommend this page, which I recently StumbledUpon:


Posted in Philosophy, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »