God is a meme and Dawkins is its prophet!

 

Richard Dawkins has provideded the most convinging explanation for the “existence of God” but he does not seem aware of this. He reiterates the mantra of the non-existence of God but he omits that the statement “God does not exist” is an overgeneralization that contraddicts his own theoretical stances. In fact, Dawkins is the father of the field of Memetics, as it was first presented in his The Selfish Gene. Memetics assumes that memes are ‘ideational’ replicators analogous to genes.

A ‘meme’ is defined as a unit of cultural information that is transmitted between individuals through a process that can broadly be referred to as ‘imitation’ (Dawkins, 1976, p. 192). Furthermore, memetics maintains that “the theory of evolution by natural selection is neutral (…) regarding the differences between memes and genes; these are just different kinds of replicators evolving in different media at different rates” (Dennett, 1995, p. 345).  As Dawkins put it:

… for an understanding of the evolution of modern man, we must begin by throwing out the gene as the sole basis of our ideas on evolution. I am an enthusiastic Darwinian, but I think Darwinism is too big of a theory to be confined to the narrow context of the gene. The gene will enter my thesis as an analogy, nothing more. What, after all, is so special about genes? The answer is that they are replicators … But do we have to go to distant worlds to find other kinds of replication and other, consequent, kinds of evolution? I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate which leaves the old gene painting far behind (Dawkins, 1976, p. 206).

Now, if we assume that  (1) memes exist as ‘ideational’ entities and that (2) ‘God’ fully qualifies as a meme, we have to admit that God exists at least as a concept, an idea that has emerged in the human mind over evolutionary (biological and cultural evolution) time. Thus, when Dawkins says “God does not exist” he means that God does not exist as an ‘external’ entity but nothing is said about the internal mentalistic existence which is rather confirmed by its own Memetic theoretical standards. By the same token of course, fairies, unicorns, centaurs,  exist too, and Dawkins is right in pointing out that there is no difference between fairies and God in this respect! However,  a memetic understanding of ‘God’ opens up a new teological universe of investigation where this concept is understood as a natural phenomenon.

In the next posts I will further explore how God, as a meme, can be fully interpreted in a naturalistic way.

 

 

 

Dialogue 1

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Ф : Hey how’s everything? Any new thoughts on the ultimate religion of humanity?

Ψ: Yeah I write some ideas about it, here and there.

Ф : You are very productive!

Ψ : I definitely think now that it needs to be as inclusive and open as possible, inclusive in a way that if a religious person were to show up to a “gathering?” they may not join but they wouldn’t feel shoved out or immediately offended.Well, only kinda… if there were a motto or tagline for it I would think it’d be something like “Cultivating well-being, purpose, and community through reason”. It seems to me that well-being, purpose or meaning, and community are the basic aims of this sort of thing, things which society fails to accomplish or does so in a religious setting.Thats just my feeling tho.

Ф : What you just said sounds very promising. There should be a way to be inclusive towards the believers. Recently I was reflecting on the fact that very often the opposition between believers and not believers is a false opposition. I reach to the conclusion that there must be a way to make the believer accept some basic rational principles.

Ψ : Well, yes… although I think that while they shouldn’t be rejected outright by our tenants, they shouldn’t really be accepted either… ya know? If you believe in magic and gods and afterlife and such, you’ re not really gonna fit into somewhere that rejects all of that outright but there’ s nothing which explicitly says you cant belong, although I wonder if that too is too lenient..

Ф : That might be a solution. However, sometimes I think that there is a third path that assumes that to hold the belief that God exists or that God does not exist is all together irrelevant. Let me explain. Have you ever thought that believers could still believe in the existence of God but endorse the idea that God’s will is to be forgotten?

Ψ : I hadn’t. I’ve heard of that in Judaism. There’s a story about that, a parable.

Ф : I haven’t read that anywhere. It came to my mind these past days. I assume there is something like that in theology …. My point is that this principle “God wants to be forgotten” it is a belief that allows a smooth transition between atheists and theist’s beliefs. In this way, you could tell to a believer “if you want to join you do not need to subscribe to the nonexistence. However, you should recognize that God wants to be forgotten”.

Ψ : Go into more detail about this concept. Although I think the principle concern would be the irrationality of belief in gods in the first place, as it is irrational. Now, you can’t write that down and say THIS IS IRRATIONAL in stone because thats not how reason works. Also its unneeded, it’d be like writing down, “there are no unicorns”.

We know there aren’t because of reason, but go on…

Ф : I got your point. My idea was inspired by a talk of Ramachandran, the indian neuroscientist. Talking about the brain’s complexity and referring to of his own self reflective experience Ramachandran said that he finds often himself believing that god exists and do not exists at the same time. Different areas of the brain might held opposite beliefs at the same time. We like to think ourselves as unitary Selfs but the truth is that our brain is so complex that can host contradictory beliefs.

Ψ : Yeah, He said he asked a split brain person if god exists and his hand wrote no while he said yes. I agree completely. This is true!

Ф : So here we go. We seem to have a neuroscientific base for what I’m saying… the “god exists vs god do not exists” is just a superficial position. We should not base a spiritual community on a false dichotomy. On the contrary, if the alternative is between “ (A) God wants to be forgotten and (B) God does not exists ” we provide a way to transition from one belief to the other without judging the believers as “irrational”. A path to them is offered with the acceptance of the postulate (A). Ramachandran’s suggestions help us to understand that there is a gradient between the two beliefs not a binary condition, thus, this position is also psychologically more plausible.

Ψ : Yes, I think there is something to the spirit of what you are saying. I’m okay with it by all means. However, I think it would apply to only a small percent of people.

The New Regula. Re-editing of The Rule of Benedict according to the present state of the world.

PROLOGUE

L I S T E N  carefully, my child, and incline the ear of your heart, to the principles here exposed. Receive them willingly and carry them out effectively just if the tribunal of Reason, which is present in each one of us, recognizes them the status of Truth. To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are willing to strengthen your own will
to do battle under Reason, the true Queen, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of logical and rational argumentation.

And first of all, whatever good work you begin to do, consciously reflect on the fact that Reason perfects it, that Reason, who has now deigned to count us among its children may not at any time be grieved by our illogicalness, our biased thinking, or any other type of unreasonableness.  For we must always so serve Reason with the good things it has given us and avoid the everlasting punishment that awaits those that reject it: being accounted in this very only life as irrational people.

Let us arise, then, at last, for Reason stirs us up saying that “The sleep of Reason produces monsters” (Francisco Goya)
Let us open our eyes to Truth, through the insights that wise people have brought to us . Remind that ,“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” (Christopher Hitchens).

What can be sweeter to us, dear ones, than this voice of Reason inviting us? Behold, in its irrefutable cogency Reason shows us the way of life.

Having our reasoning crowned, therefore, with evidence and the performance of good experiments, let us walk the paths of Reason by the guidance of Science. That we may deserve to see the kingdom of Reason established through the works of Science.

For if we wish to dwell in that kingdom, we must run to it by rational deeds or we shall never reach it. But let us ask “who shall dwell in Your kingdom or who shall  climb Your highest mountain”? After this question, brothers and sisters, let us listen to Reason as it answers and shows us the way to that Kingdom, saying,
“The one Who thinks without falsity and looks for justification;
who speaks truth from facts;
who has not used his tongue for deceit;
who has done no evil to other human beings;
who has given no place to slander against other human beings.”

This is the one who,
under any misguidance from fallacy,
has brought irrationality to naught
by casting it and its misguidance from his/her own mechanisms of thought;
and who has laid hold of irrational thoughts
while they were still young
and dashed them against Reason.

… to be continued…

Steps towards an atheist religion: on Comte’s shoulders.

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The idea of an atheist religion is not new. The most influential attempt in this direction has been the August Comte’s “Religion of Humanity”. Comte’s vision was very advanced and we should definitely go back to his pages to find inspiration. He also coined the word “altruism”. He said that the motto of the new Positivist religion will be “vivre pour altrui” (“live for others”). This was a very noble attempt but probably it lacked some attractiveness since it has not prove to be successful. Some temptatives were made to establish a positivist church in south america and the great influence of August Comte can still be seen in the Brazilian flag which has another Comtian motto “ordem et progresso”, however, we don’t see any positivist religion in place today. No doubt, Comte was a very remarkable person. We have also to remember that he is considered the father of sociology. In politics, he was both against the conservatives and the extreme left. He agreed with the socialist movements (socialist is a broad term that encompasses a great number of different positions including communism, and anarchism) that the old society based on aristocratic privileges was over and a reform was urgent but he was at the same time against any recourse to  violent action to reach even this noble result. Moreover he looked at the radical socialist movements of his time as a ‘negative” ( in the sense that they represent a negation of the previous order) necessity but which is constitutively unable to provide a “positive” synthesis. This conception was very close do the Hegelian dialectical process (there are no significant historical links between this two contemporary philosophers) which divided every process (historic included) in three main stages: thesis , antithesis and synthesis.   The old aristocratic system could be the thesis, the socialist are the negation of if so they are the antithesis,  the final synthesis between the two is its Positive solution. However the same dialectical principle would be taken by Marx and Engels in a different way. They considered the communist society to come the final synthetic stage. For Comte this was a mere illusion. Socialist ideas had a great value and they had addressed a very important critique of the ideologies of the dominant classes but they just had a negative role and they were not able to reach a synthetic phase. They character was to dismantle  the old but they were not able to rebuild. With Comte, Positivism became something much bigger than a political agenda. Positivism, in Comte’s view, is a methodology, an epistemology, a vision of the world and also a religious final synthesis. Many scholars, starting from Stuart Mill, tried to separate a first Comte from a second Comte. The former, they said, was mainly interested in building an encyclopedic synthesis of knowledge, fighting the last metaphysical survivals of the past, and presenting a new purged scientific method for all sciences in a scale of different complexity. Conversely, the second Comte was gone nuts with  his religious phantasies which nothing had to do with his previous scientific achievements. This lecture of Comte’s thought his historically wrong. Historians of philosophy know today that the two Comte cannot be divided, they are one and the same since the origin. Comte had a global vision of society and recognized the role of religion as a means of stability. For him, the role of religion was considered completely outdated just because the “negative” philosophies of the enlightenment and those of the progressive thinkers of his time,  had done a good job demolishing is false claims but they were not able to build a synthesis. They went too far with they negative critique , throwing out the baby with the bath water. Comte said… wait a minute… Yes, the religion of the past it’s total bullshit… but this doesn’t mean that religion has not a valuable role to play today and this doesn’t mean that we can’t take the good stuff out of it  and throw the bullshit. This is very reasonable. This vision is in total agreement with what we know today about human nature from advancements in psychology and anthropology. I will expand a bit more on this in the next post.

The danger of symbolism

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What is a symbol? It is difficult to say in few words. I would define it as something that has the capacity to affect our brain and to produce an emotional response. Many different disciplines have studied the topic. Cultural anthropologists have extensively illustrated the many aspects of the human symbolic attitude but, in my opinion, what they have missed is a dialogue with the biological and evolutionary side of the matter.

When the anthropologist Clifford Geertz defines culture such as “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and their attitudes toward life” he is pointing out a very fundamental aspect of our life but still he is saying anything on why we came up (as a species) to have a symbolic mind in the first place. If we look to the animal kingdom we can notice many traits that can be defined “symbolic” across different species of birds, fish and mammals. A fish, for example, can communicate many things with his flamboyant color: that is not edible, that it is ready for mating, that he is ready to defend its territory. Bowerbirds build complex nests decorated in a eccentric manner like the one in the picture above. In my opinion this (and many other behaviors) testify the ability for other animals to use  complex symbols as much as we humans do. However, the problem comes  when we assume that the symbol resides in the special livery of a fish or in a particular form of the nest. At the contrary would be better  to look at what is happening inside the brains of the recipients not just to focus on the external features of a symbol.  In the example of the bowebird we have an external symbol, the nest,  which triggers a neuronal activation in the female’s brain . In a nutshell what matter most for us is Symbolism  as the mental capability to be affected from symbols. This distinction as we will see,  is fundamental to understand the danger that Symbols represent in our intellectual and moral life.

Let’s design it!

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It was a long time since I wrote here. Now I’m back! I want to keep this blog more active. I searched “atheist monk” on google and my blog was one of the first results. That’s a sufficient reason to keep writing here! Moreover my ideas has not changed… I still want live in a monastic atheist community. I should start to plan how to build it more seriously but I need help… Curiously I don’t seem the only one that has this desire. Searching “atheist monk” on google beside my blog there is a question made on yahoo answers that sounds like “Can one become an atheist monk?”. The best answer chosen is this one:

“While I know of no such organization, I see no reason that a group of atheists couldn’t get together, agree to a monastic style of living, and fill their days with secular study, meaningful communal work, and communal living. It sounds like an excellent idea to be honest. I would certainly enjoy such a thing. Okay, I know of no such group besides the Buddhists. *chuckles*.  But yeah, a non-religious but otherwise Monastic sort of life style would certainly be an intriguing possibility. Be sure to look me up if you take some action on this”.

Unfortunately  we still don’t have a real historical example of what a atheist monastery could look like. It is worth noting, however, that the very idea is pretty intriguing. The opposite idea that there are no reasons why a group of atheists will join to create a monastic community is easily refuted. There are clearly many reasons: 1) the desire to escape from the preconceived economic and social system  2) the dedication to the study of art and science 3) a simpler lifestyle away from the worries of the daily “struggle for life” of our society …  and many more!

So let’s build it … let’s design it!

A microcosm of human relations

Toronto, h: 11:40 pm, just came back from work. I’m working in a restaurant as assistant cook; I don’t feel confident enough with the language to try a Phd here in North America but I’d really like to do it. It would be something similar to my dreamed secular monastery. My interests in my final years of studies were focused on some topics of the philosophy of biology. Specifically, I’m very concerned with the interrelations between culture and biology. Questions like “How our culture is shaping our genome” and “Is culture a Darwian process” are arguments that have attracted me because of their social and political implications. Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, in their book entitled The 10,000 Year Explosion, have recently argued that the neolithic revolution, which has take place about 8000 years ago, is responsible for a positive natural selection ( that means basically a fitness advantage) for some types of traits. Can you imagine the implication of such hypothesis? But most importantly, how is this linked to my situation, now that I’m working in a kitchen of a restaurant ? Well, I discovered that a kitchen is a very juicy place to study human nature. First, there is a rigid hierarchy, but at the same time, it is plastic and changeable. Second there are many human emotions and passions astir. There are friendships and alliances, and a lot of envy too, as well as possible enemies or competitors. Anger, frustration, humiliation can easily shake the sense of justice and dignity that everybody has. I’ve been working there just for three months and I’ve already seen a fight, one boy and a girl fall in love, people fired and a lot of psychological subtleties that would take too long to describe. I can testify that to be suspicious and shrewd is not an option in a kitchen! But coming back to my argument, “Why do these things happen in working groups?”, ” Is hierarchy inherent to our biological nature?” Well, the answer is yes and no at the same time. Evolutionary psichologists L.Cosmides and J. Tooby have proposed a theory that can help us to clarify this matter. They, in few words, think that our nature has been shaped by evolution for hundred thousand years when we were hunter-gatherers. Since Homo Sapiens came into the world, about 200 thousand years ago has lived in small groups of people, as the hunter-gatherers still live today. It is with the discovery of agriculture, just 8000 years ago, that the population thanks to the agricultural surplus of food can grow so rapidly bringing a radical change in the demography of humankind, something which has never happen before. But, and this is the Cosmides and Tooby’s point, this period of only 8000 years has been too short for changing our psyicho-social nature.Rather, we are like hunter-gatherers who live in a society not shaped  at all for our set of instincts and psychological attitudes. The society has changed so fast in the last 8 thousand years that our genetic change, which has occured much more slowly, can’t match the step of cultural mutation. Here is the linking point of my argument. My claim is that if we look at the ethnographic records of the hunter-gatherers collected in the last century, we discover that their societies were generally egalitarian. For example in some bushmen groups there was a sophisticated system of moral justice. If someone brought prey to the camp, something hunted alone without the help of the other members, the other group members would look down on it, complaining about the size, the quality and the taste. This is obviously a sophisticated dissimulation of real feelings, given the fact that each member eat that food with a big appetite. Why then would this complaining happen? The answer is clear: with the concealment of real feelings, the egalitarian sense of honour of the entire group triumphs over the personal success of the hunting and the hunter himself  is prevented from feeling superior to the others. The bushmen disliked the feeling of being in debt. Personally I believe that human nature, even today, is generally of this type: egalitarian. We tend to find and search desperately for equality but we can’t find it because the population has grown so much that the relations between the people have become impersonal and distant. That’s the point!  It was different in the  small groups of relatives where our nature was shaped for so long. Our mind,  still stuck in the Paleolithic period, pretends to find equality in a world that day by day is becoming more and more hierarchical and impersonal. Here are all of our frustrations, anger, conflicts, humiliations that a kitchen, as a microcosm of human relations are shown at best.