Friday, 17 June 2011

Trapped in a religious box

Our lives are all influenced by the boxes, both mental and physical, we find ourselves in, and everyone lives their life in a belief system box – which many people will relate to religion. One can find many cases where different people who have logically incompatible belief system boxes disagree violently – to the point where there have been many wars about, or supported by, people with different religious or political belief systems. At the other extreme you can find people who are tolerant of people with (some) other belief systems – and some who are unhappy with the system they were taught about as a child and decide to change.

My personal approach is simply to accept that people I meet socially (including my wife) have different belief systems to my own. I regularly meet a fair number of Christians socially and we usually agree on moral issues (even if we differ on more fundamental beliefs) and today my wife and I attended a local church hall where a very reasonable lunch is served at a very reasonable price. We have attended these lunches for years and of course many of the people who attend are worshippers at the church, and there will be religious posters on the wall. I suspect that most of those who were interested already knew that I only attend church services for hatches, matches and dispatches when it is respectful to my friends to attend. Despite being an atheist I have had many interesting discussions over the dining table in that hall, including some potentially “interesting” ones about evolution, but I have never been drawn into conversations on religious fundamentals.

Until today, that is. A pleasant lady with a fine old testament name stopped at the table, looked in my directions, and asked “Do you pray?” There was not simple way out of giving a straight answer “No.” She was taken aback by the firmness of my reply – and she was clearly worried about the future of my (non-existent) soul. I made it clear that I accepted that she was sincere in her beliefs – but there were people now and in the past who proselytised for gods such as Allah, Odin, Ra, etc, who were just as convinced they were right as she was – it is quite clear that they can't all be right and I treated all religions as equally wrong. She also went on about the spirit without saying anything more substantial than it was something she believed in – reminding me of todays Calamities of Nature cartoon.

I could go on about the arguments she used but as an atheist who is interested in the evolution of human intelligence, I can see not reason for any adult version of Santa Clause – or any other kind of supernatural being. The important thing to realise is that any models of human intelligence and its evolution must take account of the fact that different people can end up with very different views of the world and what makes a valid argument.

There is a problem is carrying out this research in that the researcher is a human being who will have his own belief system, and is thus there is automatically a conflict of interest, . If you visit a militant atheist web site such as Pharyngula it is clear that if you are not with them you are against them – and religious people often being describes as if they were stupid or dishonest. The same will apply to many evangelical web sites, who disparage both Christians and Atheists who do not agree with them. In later posts, where I am looking at aspects of how human thought processes evolved I will be taking a neutral view – assuming that at the biological evolutionary level there is no significance difference in innate intelligence between people with such extreme views, and that such differences relate to the mental box containing the logical rules (which may have little relation to formal mathematical logic) that they learnt as a child.  

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