The Relevance of the Concept of God

Discussion in 'Religion' started by Syne, Oct 15, 2013.

  1. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

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    I will begin by assuming god does not exist and that we are merely examining the concept of god. As such, the concept must have been selected for in the evolutionary process, and if so, it must possess some survival value. Now people will be fairly justified to point out that its survival value may have initially been one of promoting group cooperation but that we now have other institutions that serve that purpose. So why does religion persist? The selection of the evolutionary process is ongoing, so it would not be consistent to assume it persists for any other reason than ongoing survival value. But what value beyond that provided by other institutions of group cooperation?

    There is one fairly glaring lack in all other such institutions. None offer a means to exercise (work to strengthen) the faculty of conscience. Only the concept of god provides a postulated observer whereby individuals can further develop an objective view of themselves. A postulated view that does not have the shortcoming inherent in all other human institutions that lead people to believe that something is only wrong if you get caught. Now we could imagine that 100% surveillance could serve the same purpose (someone watching you when you think no one else is looking), but we would also consider that an abhorrent breach of personal privacy. We could also be tempted to at least tell children fairy tales about such surveillance, but children tend to see through lies earlier that expected. Just like a doctor's delivery of a placebo can alter its efficacy, it would seem that belief in the concept of god (or an equivalent ever-watching observer) might effect its ability to strengthen conscience.

    Now I am open to any alternate suggestions of means to cultivating conscience. There may well be others, and I would be very interested if anyone can describe some. Obviously, our empathy for others can curtail behavior when in the presence of those others (knowing they will be aware of our misdeeds), but in perceived isolation only conscience suffices.

    So even if god does not exist but the concept of god may have a survival value selected for through evolution in the form of the faculty for conscience, this is very relevant, even to atheists. Atheists often complain about feeling isolated, ostracized, etc.. Others are evolutionarily justified in maintaining a mistrust of those who do not have any readily apparent means of developing their own conscience. So while developed social behaviors may well curtail behavior in public, others may have no reason to trust atheists to remain upstanding when unobserved.
     
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  3. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    In response to mainly your last paragraph:

    I'm on my phone but will post a link or two tomorrow, whereby studies have shown that atheists donate more frequently (and higher amounts) to charities than religious people. Studies and stats don't lie. What do you make of that?

    Atheists don't care about a "concept of a god," yet still out-donated those who serve a god.

    Just one of those inconvenient truths. Not speculative discussions like we're having here, but truth. So, even if a god exists, goes to show that one can still choose to do morally good deeds even if one disbelieves in his/its existence.

    It is the belief in a god that brings him to life in someone's life. Atheists manage to still live moral lives without such a belief in a "higher power."
     
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  5. Seattle Valued Senior Member

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    Early on it was an answer for the many unknowns. It was also a reason for living when times otherwise might have seemed very hard.

    Later it was about control (by the state). It has been perpetuated largely out of the self-interest of the churches involved.

    I don't think people really believe that man needs to invent a God for moral reasons. There are no absolutes regarding morals in that they are largely cultural in nature. Sure people know not to kill and steal but most of the rest are largely cultural in nature.

    Religion is growing in places where life is hard and losing ground elsewhere. So, God is relevant for some and not for others. There may or may not be a evolutionary component. It doesn't explain why the concept continues on today.

    It continues, in my opinion, due to culture and the self-perpetuated nature of itself.
     
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  7. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    A morality that relied on having to always be watched so that you do the right thing is the morality of a trained dog or a child. There is no inner sense of right and wrong and no reasoned choice to adhere to principle no matter what. If that's all we can expect from religion--an imaginative boogeyman to keep the the ethically-challenged well-behaved--I'd say that's a sorry excuse for it. Indeed, such a conceptual construct would only enable a kind of morally inferior person to survive and thrive. People who have to be motivated by fear of punishment or hope of reward in order to do the right thing. Maybe that's why religious people populate the planet now. An overabundance of egocentric opportunists intent only to advance their own interests over actually caring about others.
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2013
  8. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    Not all people are psychopaths.
     
  9. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

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    I'm having trouble with the evolutionary aspect of this. I think the concept of the modern omniscient god is less than 3000 years old, so it wouldn't have had time be selected-for. Societies with powerful armies have been able to impose their gods onto societies with less powerful armies, but I doubt that influences their conscience very much.

    Consider the recent history of the Americas. Judeo-Christian Big Omni was foisted onto native populations who had perfectly adequate ethical systems of their own - which were destroyed by the invaders, along with the communities and lifestyles - causing moral, as well as physical devastation. The Judeo-Christian religion was foisted onto an imported slave population made up of diverse African captives, each with its own moral system - with the opposite effect: it helped turn the broken remnants of many tribes into a coherent social entity.

    Humans have entertained the concept of unseen, even disembodied, supervising intelligences for a long time, but it was always societal, not biological. Nobody is born with the idea of a god, but people do have imagination and the capacity to connect with aspects of the world outside and beyond our practical need. Social hierarchies harness that capacity to spiritual images of their own devising, then attribute rule-making and enforcing powers to those entities. Immersed in such lore from infancy, people are quite capable of displacing their own conscience onto an outside overseer. Unfortunately, that conscience is not equally persuasive in all of us all the time, despite the very strong imagery of an Omni-present deity.
     
  10. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    I was.

    Note 1. It is only of late that I have learned to value the significance of fancies and unconscious thoughts about life in the womb. They contain the explanation of the curious fear felt by so many people of being buried alive, as well as the profoundest unconscious reason for the belief in a life after death which represents nothing but a projection into the future of this mysterious life before birth. The act of birth, moreover, is the first experience with fear, and is thus the source and model of the emotion of fear.

    http://www.bartleby.com/288/5.html

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  11. arauca Banned Banned

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    Remember one thing atheist have been growing up in a christian world for their early life , charity is a teaching of Christianity So as you have grown up and you did not find God . so you have become a atheist , but the seed of charity is in you. Atheism is contrary to God . So if you would have grown up in a atheist world were the teaching is self , you would not be charitable because is not implanted in you .
     
  12. Balerion Banned Banned

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    I disagree with the notion that religion has a survival value. Promoting cooperation alone isn't enough. There are plenty of examples today of religious people working together in highly-coordinated efforts to do things that are counterproductive to survival, such as keeping women ignorant and promoting warfare. And prior to the advent of modern science, the efforts of religious institutions--let alone religious individuals--to aid humanity in any way are few and far between. Consider how many religions featured human sacrifice. Consider how many stunted or attempted the stunt (and continue to do so) the advancement of medicine, or any of the sciences.

    Cohabitation seems to be a far more effective drive for cooperation than religion, and that one has at least one reliable principle: Survive. In other words, religion isn't required for groups of people to work together, and the very idea that religion is a collective endeavor is relatively new anyway, and circumvented at every possible step once it adopts a hierarchy. It's aimless besides--what a particular god wants from its followers isn't necessarily what's best for its followers. Consider Jesus' reckless end-times teachings. They can be taken out of context and made into pretty little bites of empty philosophy today, but at the time that option wasn't available, and following Jesus was a dangerous proposition.

    Your notion of empathy seems off, as well. The idea that it relies on your involvement being known to the victim or the sufferer, specifically. That's not the case, at least in any notion of the concept I've ever heard. Empathy simply is the ability to feel for others. There are no qualifiers that I'm aware of, aside from perhaps having a properly sized prefrontal lobe.

    I see the concept of God as being a primitive answer for how the world works, and a primitive comfort for our fear of death. In neither case is God required or at all evolutionarily functional. Should humanity span the ages, I suspect it will be looked at as such, and in the past-tense.
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2013
  13. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Woah, nelly! Whatta spin zone!

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  14. gmilam Valued Senior Member

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    People like that (arauca) scare me. Seriously. What I am hearing is that if they didn't believe, they would be jerks...
     
  15. Balerion Banned Banned

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    The irony is that if arauca really were capable of doing the things he talks about doing if not for religion, no amount of faith would be able to stop him from doing them.
     
  16. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    There's nothing charitable about believing nonchristians all deserve to be tortured in hell. There's nothing charitable in viewing nonchristians as evil amoral sinners who need to have religion forced upon them. Being kind has existed long before and beyond the context of religion. It is something we learn naturally from experience. Thru reason and empathy. There's not a thing about it that requires belief in a magical being. You just have to believe in others. And yourself.
     
  17. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    It's telling that arauca uses religion to justify his own racism and homophobia. This is a clear demonstration of the immoral effect religion can have on minds. Cuz if someone has to tell you what to believe and do, clearly you aren't a responsible being anymore. You are an automaton-- a mere tool of the ideology that you have been brainwashed into accepting.
     
  18. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Ah! No spin zone.

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    True that, gentlemen.
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2013
  19. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

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    @ wegs

    Do those studies include donations to churches? That is probably the only "inconvenient truth" you are likely to find in those studies.

    And I already said, "Obviously, our empathy for others can curtail behavior when in the presence of those others (knowing they will be aware of our misdeeds), but in perceived isolation only conscience suffices." Conscience is best exercised in those actions which no one else will be aware of (which you and others seem to have completely missed in my OP). You have only mentioned actions which could have merely social pressure as a motivator.


    @ Seattle

    No, religion never supplied any "answer for the many unknowns", but I am not talking about religion in general, only the concept of god specifically. I would argue that your relative morality is a direct result of not having a mechanism whereby to exercise your conscience just as you would any other ability. Would you generally agree that, maybe just for minor, victimless crimes, it is only wrong if you get caught?


    @ Magical Realist

    As usually, you have completely missed the crux of my post. I even specifically assumed a god does not actually exist in order to show that the concept's benefit to morality is not in "always be watched" but in providing a mechanism whereby conscience can be fully developed.

    But your statement that "There is no inner sense of right and wrong and no reasoned choice to adhere to principle no matter what" is a far more scathing indictment of your conscience than anything I could add.

    Nothing in the concept of god requires any punitive threat to function as a mechanism to exercise conscience.


    @ Beer w/Straw

    Coincidentally:

    "Sociopathy commonly refers to conditions similar to or synonymous with the following:

    Psychopathy"
    - wiki​

    "Psychologist Martha Stout – who – clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School for 25 years – estimates in her book The Sociopath Next Door that as many as 4% of the population are conscienceless sociopaths who have no empathy or affectionate feelings for humans or animals." - http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/08/as-many-as-12-million-americans-are-sociopaths.html

    "...less than 2% of the U.S. population describes itself as atheist." - wiki​


    @ Jeeves

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_evolution


    @ Balerion

    You completely missed the crux of the OP. Not surprising, as I really do not expect any atheists to "get it". But do re-read it and see if you can manage to comprehend what you missed.

    Empathy is not synonymous with conscience, and empathy does require some social interaction to fully develop.
     
  20. Seattle Valued Senior Member

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    Sure. If it's more convenient for me to "jaywalk" across the street if no one is around I might do it. If I believe in God I might do it as well.

    If there is a lost wallet on the road and no one is around I will attempt to return it, God or no God.

    The morality you speak of among those who believe in God would be there without God and is in fact there without God.
     
  21. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Fair enough. My point was just that there are kind hearted and not so kind hearted people, who fall into either category. (atheist/agnostic or religious/spiritual)
    Labels aside, at the end of the day, it is a choice as to how we conduct ourselves.
     
  22. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

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    Jaywalking is a law you may or may not feel is morally obligatory. Returning a lost wallet has a social reward. Neither of these exemplify conscience isolated from other factors.

    It is. But people have differing facility of conscience, and most the atheists who have posted here have already shown theirs to be lacking (in comprehension of the basic concept, if nothing else). Like I asked in the OP, do you have an alternative mechanism whereby people can further develop/exercise conscience?
     
  23. arauca Banned Banned

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    Could you explain , what scare you . ? Your upbringing was in a Christian society and you are a product of it , but rebelled and found your own way,
     

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