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World Association of International Studies

Post Religion, Stories, Truth
Created by John Eipper on 12/29/17 4:18 PM

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Religion, Stories, Truth (Henry Levin, USA, 12/29/17 4:18 pm)

I did not wish to get into this cauldron of bubbles, vapors, and fumes, but I want to give a simple response.

Religion is a bunch of stories or speculations not subject to the principle of falsification. There simply is no criterion for choosing among them or rejecting all of them. The only criterion that I perceive in religious debates is the existence of an accuracy of prophesies.  But religious prophesies are exercises in alchemy, given the human differences in the judgments on the lack of precision of language, meaning, and definition of time span. There is not even a mutually acceptable epistemology that can be used to test the validity and predictive accuracy of each of the prophesies, though such claims of accurate prediction are abundant.

So, in my view there are many stories, some primitive and some more sophisticated, that point to a god or universal being and purpose, but no way to choose among them or to reject all. Some of the stories encourage kindness to others, but others offer harsh criticism and even death to those who do not believe in the "favorite" story. Note that I do not use the term "faith" since that is hardly the term to refer to in evaluating the truth of a story. Rather, truth is illusory and often deeply held for one reason alone, upbringing and indoctrination. This does not mean that all religion is bad, although I believe that any religion that recommends killing of infidels is bad.

Each is a story that lacks any vestige of validity beyond the phenomenon of belief. At best, these stories are speculative and inspiring. At worst, and through much of human history, they are murderous and destructive.

I realize that these remarks make me agnostic, and bordering on atheism. But, isn't it best to be tolerant of different versions of the story and simply tolerate all of them until those who claim that the only true religion is theirs can use some reasonable and persuasive epistemological basis for the claim. We need stories and myths, as if they were true, to give meaning to life and to provide glue from generation to generation, a psychological need. Some stories are kind and inspire us to better treatment of our neighbors. Others inspire us to punish or even kill our neighbors.

We must demolish once and for all that belief in a story makes it true.

JE comments:  I like this quote very much:   "We need stories and myths, as if they were true, to give meaning to life and to provide glue from generation to generation, a psychological need."

Can we all agree on this?

A very happy 2018 to Hank Levin and Pilar Soler!  I hope our paths cross in the new year, Hank.

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  • Religion and Science: Some Quotes (Paul Levine, Denmark 12/30/17 4:18 AM)

    Here are perhaps relevant observations for our discussion on religion.

    Happy New Year!

    A world that be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. --Albert Camus

    God did not create humans. Humans created God.
    --Nikos Kazantzakis

    God is an underachiever. --Woody Allen

    JE comments:  All the best to you in 2018, Paul!

    I haven't heard the word "underachiever" in years, but we did see this Woody quote once before, back in 2013:


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  • Science, Religion, and the Republic of Letters (A. J. Cave, USA 12/31/17 7:36 AM)
    The backstory to whatever I write on religion and science is in my book An Idol-worshiper's Guide to God-stan. The challenge in discussing one, the other or both is losing context.

    One of the most influential periods in the Western history is a period wedged between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, loosely referred to as "The Republic of Letters." It is typically bundled with the end of the Renaissance and the beginning the Enlightenment. I think it is impossible to discuss religion and science without knowing a little or a lot about the citizens of the Republic of Letters which provides the proper context for the discussions.

    Here is a little I pulled from the book:

    Between the 1500s and late 1600s, astronomy become the father of the Scientific Revolution, along with the mathematics and physics needed to interpret astronomical data. The credit goes to the likes of the brilliant Polish Nicolaus Copernicus [Mikołaj Kopernik, 1473-1543], the Florentine Galileo Galilei [1564-1642], the German Johannes Kepler [1571-1630] and the English Sir Isaac Newton [1642-1727].

    On the heels of the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther that had split the Christian Church, Copernicus, a Christian and a mathematician, arrived at the simple but radical solution to fix calendric problems that were throwing the old Roman calendar out of alignment with the planets: helio-centricity. It was the earth that circled the sun. His idea was contradictory to the biblical texts, so he had waited until 1543 when he was a breath away from death to publish his revolutionary book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) that was dedicated to Pope Paul III and presented as an abstraction. All the same, his book was banned and forbidden from 1616 to 1835.

    Kepler tweaked the circular orbits of Copernicus with elliptical orbits and had come up with the laws of planetary motion. To popularize science and explain the rotation of the earth, Kepler wrote the first science-fiction story called the Somnium, meaning "the Dream." His travelers journeyed to the moon and stood on her face, watching the earth slowly move.

    Galileo, armed with Copernicus, a sharp wit and a newly invented telescope, watched the skies and the movement of the planets and wrote about them in The Starry Messenger in 1610. He combined abstract mathematics with actual observations of planet Venus and seconded the Copernican sun-centered model of the universe, which put him on a collision course with the Catholic Church.

    In a letter to Christina di Medici, the dowager Duchess of Tuscany in 1615, Galileo defended himself:

    "It is necessary for the Bible, in order to be understood by the ignorant, to speak many things which appear to differ from the absolute truth... but nature, on the other hand, is inevitable and immutable; she never transgresses the laws imposed upon her, or cares a whit whether her abstruse reasons and methods of operation are understandable to men."

    He was swiftly summoned to Rome to do some explaining. The trial of the elderly Galileo by the Holy Inquisition had shocked Europe. In a romanticized story, he had willfully defied the Church and stomped his foot insisting:  "Eppur si muove." But it does move! The globe certainly did but Galileo had recanted in order to continue his astral work under house arrest. His last book, Dialogo dei due massimi sistemi del mondo (Dialogue on the Two Main World Systems) was smuggled out of Catholic Italy and was published in Protestant Holland in 1638. His soul was consigned to hell and his Dialogue was banned from bookstores.

    We don't know what happened to the soul of Galileo, but his scientific work was saved from loss thanks to a Frenchman whose name is all but forgotten: Nicholas Claude Fabri de Peiresc [1580-1637]. He was among the formidable Men of the Republic of Letters who were building a bridge to the future through massive corresponding and networking.

    As it turned out, the earth actually does revolve around the sun, so in 1979 Pope John Paul II finally proposed to reverse the 346-year old condemnation of Galileo by the Holy Inquisition.

    The Englishman Sir Francis Bacon [1561-1626], called the father of the scientific method, proposed that knowledge should proceed by orderly and systematic experimentation, and by deductions based on data. But science had to remain compatible and complementary to the Bible. It was a high-wire balancing act between faith & reason, convention & conviction, and tradition & innovation.

    Newton was supposedly obsessive, secretive, vindictive, a virgin and one of the most brilliant minds of all times. He was amazingly modest about his own achievements. According to his memoir:

    "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

    JE comments:  Newton's seashell analogy is priceless, especially (for me) because just one week ago Aldona and I spent hours on Varadero Beach looking for the prettiest shells.  Scientific research at its most visceral level.  Unsurprisingly, in this two-person contest I came in second.

    A great essay, A. J.  I'm intrigued by the international character of the Copernican scientific revolution, with contributions from Poland, Italy, German, France, and England.

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  • Religion and Sexual Taboos: Reflections from a Visit to Athens (Istvan Simon, USA 01/02/18 4:52 AM)
    I just would like to respond to Hank Levin (29 December 2017) that I am in 100% agreement with all that he said in his post.

    I try to respect everyone's beliefs in religious matters, because I think that it is perfectly OK with me that we may have completely different views on these matters. To me it is obvious that Hank is completely right that the faith of people tends to be completely determined by their indocrination and brain-washing as children in the beliefs of their parents. I am very grateful to my parents, that they did not ever try to brainwash me, and gave complete freedom for me to find my own thoughts on these matters.

    In a future WAIS post I might address of what those thoughts are, as I thought a great deal about the existence or not of God and I think that my ideas are somewhat original in this subject.

    I just spent 3 days in Athens and I was struck by the art on tombs dating back to many thousands of years. The Ancient Greeks, whom I admire perhaps more than any people on Earth, were extraordinarily talented in almost every human activity. They were polytheists, and Greek mythology offers a guidance into their thoughts on the supernatural. The Museum of Archaeology in Athens is an extraordinary museum, a real eye-opener on the amazing accomplishments of the extraordinarily gifted Ancient Greeks.

    As far as I know, no other people ever accomplished as much in as little time as the Ancient Greeks. Yet their beliefs in the supernatural may strike us today as "primitive," because they believed in multiple gods. Perhaps this is more of a warning and a reflection on our judgmental arrogance in believing that ours is the best way, the more so considering what the Greeks accomplished. We must give them further recognition and honors when we reflect on the fact that there were so few of them, and yet their contributions to mankind were nothing less than monumental.

    Back to the art on tombs. Maybe the religious feelings of humans come in part from our feelings of missing our loved ones when they die. Often the art on the tombs of the Greeks were statues of the deceased. Was this not a desire to preserve their visage for posterity, giving a kind of immortality to all? Is this the origin of the belief in many religions of life after death in a "better world"? And if the deceased are in a "better world," why do we mourn them rather than celebrate their deaths? This strikes me as completely contradictory.

    Personally, I do not believe in afterlife, so at least my mourning makes at least to me logical sense, and seems rational.

    Some further random thoughts. I bought a little book on Eros at the museum of the Acropolis. I already knew most of what's in it, but reading some passages in this book gave me further reflections and thoughts. It is clear that the Ancient Greeks were much more liberal about sex than we are. Clearly, there was no shame attached to sex of any kind, so much so that they decorated their vases with graphic depictions of all kinds of sex, including sex that our culture abhors today. The Greeks, at least some of them, practiced pederasty, homosexuality, sex with prostitutes was normal and common, and in fact they had a hierarchy of prostitutes, harlots, courtesans, etc., from the lowest to increasingly higher forms of prostitution, some of which were very highly rewarded by the Greeks in society with material riches showered on these women.

    So all this raised some questions in my mind, which seem relevant to our discussions on God. For if our culture is right, and pederasty is bad and immoral, and in fact in the case of minors it is against the law, so let us suppose for the sake of argument, that God exists and condemns these acts as immoral. If so, why were the Greeks so accomplished? The Bible story of Sodom and Gomorrah is supposed to teach us about what sex is not tolerated by God. Yet God not only tolerated this with the Greeks, but rewarded them with all these exceptional accomplishments in many many fields.

    JE comments:  I can't add much to a discussion on sexual taboos, although all societies have them.  Sex between siblings is another example:  the practice was encouraged in places like Hawaii and Ancient Peru, and legend has it that our insatiable ancestor Charlemagne had sex with his sister and possibly his daughters.  I'll add an unintellectual comment about Chuck the Great:  eww.

    Happy New Year, Istvan, and please:  tell us more about your travels!

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