HeroicLife’s photostream on Flickr.
I’ve posted the photos from my trip to Qíyūn Shān on Flickr!
This essay was written on August 13th, 2003 and edited slightly for this post:
Is religion a value to mankind? Some alleged benefits which have been attributed to religion include: scientific and philosophical principles, technologies such as the printing press, the colonization of the new world, great works of art such as Michelangelo’s David and the Sistine Chapel, monasteries that preserved and carried on knowledge during the Middle Ages, social institutions such as charities, schools, and universities. It’s undeniable that all these things have benefited mankind and that religion played a part in them.
On a personal note, I have benefited greatly from the Judaism. A Jewish organization helped my parents come to America, placed me in private school so I could learn English and Hebrew, sent me to summer camp, paid for my trip to Israel, and even helped fund my college tuition. In addition to these material benefits, I learned a lot about history, philosophy, ethics, Hebrew, and social interaction while attending Sunday school and then helping to teach it for three years. Many of my religious teachers were intelligent and inspirational people who taught me many things in the classroom and by example.
So, it is indisputable that religion has done many good things for man. Is this sufficient evidence to conclude that religion is a value to man? The fact that an institution does good is not sufficient evidence that it is good overall. Consider a profession which is not considered desirable despite doing some good for people: medical quackery. A quack who sells a fake remedy for all ailments provides some benefit to people: the placebo effect often makes people feel better, and the alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs contained in remedies were often effective and making their users feel better. However, despite the benefit he provides, the quack also defrauds people, does not fix underlying health problems, and often addicts his patients to his “medicine.” Even though the quack provides a benefit, a real doctor could provide a greater benefit to people without the accompanying harm. Thus, when evaluating religion, we must consider the total effect, not just isolated benefits, and evaluate whether the benefits religion provides are essential to its nature.
This question makes the logical fallacy of the stolen concept. The question of what is “scientifically provable” is derived from our metaphysics and epistemology. We use our basic philosophy to derive the epistemological standard by which to investigate the specific aspects of reality (e.g. physics, chemistry, mathematics, and economics). To demand that philosophical statements be scientifically validated is to demand that a derivative which depends on philosophy be used to prove philosophy. This is like trying to build a house by assembling the roof, walls, and windows before the foundation. It is fine to examine the whole structure of knowledge to verify that it is internal consistent and sound. But we cannot use a higher-level deduction to prove the premise that it depends on. The only way to validate philosophical claims is to use reason: to use logic to validate abstract ideas by reducing them to sensory evidence.
What is the difference between science and philosophy?
Science is distinguished from philosophy by subject matter: science studies the specific nature of the universe, and philosophy (of which religion is a primitive form) studies the fundamental and universal of the universe and man’s relationship to it. Both are concerned with facts, but they differ in subject matter and the standard of evidence. In the field of philosophy, we must be logically rigorous, but we cannot, and need not measure the physical evidence quantitatively as in the subject-specific sciences.
Science is made possible by the acceptance of certain philosophical axioms in metaphysics and epistemology. In metaphysics, science requires recognizing that all entities behave in a causal manner according to their nature. In epistemology, it recognizes that man is capable of perceiving and understanding reality by the use of his senses, and because his consciousness is fallible and not automatic, he needs to actively adhere to reason and logic to reach the right conclusions. Science requires a systematic method to collect evidence and correctly interpret it because knowledge of how nature works is not self-evident.
Science is different in degree from informal empirical methods such as “trial and error” and in kind from non-empirical methods such as revelation, astrology, or emotionalism. But the basic method – of rational investigation based on the evidence of reality must be used in all fields, whether philosophy, law, chemistry, mathematic, or cooking.
Virtually no one in the West takes religion seriously. This is fortunate, because if people did, there could be no such thing as “Western civilization.” With 82% of Americans professing a belief in God, does this sound like a silly statement? Let me explain.
The Origin of Religion
The definition of “religion” varies between cultures and scholars, but generally speaking, it originated in pre-history as a solution to a problem:
At some point at the dawn of history, men discovered themselves to be in possession of powerful mental abilities able to perceive the events around them and communicate them to others, but they lacked an explanation for most of the cause of these events. These men needed to know how to act in response to these events, both social and natural. Instinct and imitation no longer sufficed in complex social structures and dynamic environments. Men responded to the challenge by inventing religion. Religion provided both an explanation of natural phenomena and a set of rules for social behavior. It was a primitive form of philosophy — a set of beliefs about the fundamental nature of existence and man’s relationship to it. The nature of these beliefs evolved dramatically over time:
1. The Animism of Primitive Man
Primitive pre-literate man dealt with the chaos of nature by creating animistic spirits which he begged to improve his condition. Since his prayers and offerings were no better than chance, he led an unpredictable existence dominated by fear. Nevertheless, a philosophy of existence, crude as it was, was an important survival asset to the first human settlements. Many thousands of years of pre-history passed in this state.
2. Technological Priesthood & Early Civilization
The first civilizations organized spirits in polytheistic anthropomorphic cults, which held centralized political and religious power. The technological priesthood was an elite which was either closely related to or was ruling elite and monopolized the dissemination of both practical knowledge and supernatural doctrines (there was little distinction between the two), and was thus able to control the peasant masses which it taxed and enslaved to remain in power. Their monopoly of technical knowledge was the cause of their eventual downfall: Egypt, Mesopotamia, Minoa, the Indus valley civilization, the cults organized around the Hebrew temple in Palestine, and the native New World empires successfully kept their secrets from the masses, but were all destroyed by innovative external invaders.
3. Classical Civilization and the Discovery of Reason
At some point, around 600 B.C., several classical civilizations developed an innovative intellectual elite which was distinct from religious cults which catered to the masses. The first Greek, Indian, and Chinese philosophers introduced a secular natural philosophy, and broke the monopoly of the theistic cults. In these societies, and especially in classical Greece, the invention of a rational worldview, and the decentralization of knowledge made possible rapid technological progress, a rich cultural tradition, and military and trading empires spanning the globe. Technocratic bureaucracies swept away the old pre-literate world in the Hellenistic world, the Roman Empire, and in imperial China.
Materially, the classical age was a time of great progress. Yet there was no unified philosophical basis for personal freedom, no systematic application of reason to nature, or a moral basis for self-improvement and ambition. Self-sacrificing and self-abnegating philosophies such as Confucianism and Buddhism provided both stability and stagnation in the East, while the West gradually forgot its philosophical traditions under increasingly totalitarian political regimes.
4. Mysticism & Medieval Civilization
The invention of Christianity was an evolutionary yet radical change. Its chief innovation was an individualistic moral theory. Its success is due to two factors:
First, it is non-falsifiable, because it does not need validation by any specific material events or rewards (unlike animatistic and anthropomorphic polytheism and sacrifice cults, and much later, Marxism). A policy of strict informational hygiene (often by the simple expedient of killing all apostates) kept the emphasis on the core ideology of individual reward in the afterlife.
Second, Christianity devolved secular authority from religious authority. “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” implied a distinction between ideas about existence at large and submission to “practical” political authority. Unlike most previous religions, Christianity did not depend on a central political authority, and could persist as a philosophy of existence apart from the current political regime.
5. The Re-discovery of reason and Enlightenment Civilization
The distinction between secular and spiritual subjects was not realized until the thirteenth century, when, due to the re-introduction of Aristotle by St. Thomas Aquinas, the idea of reason-based thinking was distinguished from revelation. This distinction is unique to Western civilization and is the origin of the Western concept of “religion” as a realm of thought distinct from “philosophy.” From this point on, religion was increasingly seen as having a special domain apart from ideas of “practical” matters. This distinction made all rational studies of nature, including what we know as “philosophy” and “science” possible.
The Enlightenment was the product of the recognition of reason as a tool for learning about and manipulating reality, first as a supplement, and later as a replacement for revelation. Gradually, as the power of reason was discovered and applied, the role of religion was delegated to ever-narrower domains. While the word “religion” (from the Latin “religare” meaning “to bind”) originated in 1200 as a reference to monastic life, the modern concept itself dates to the 1530’s, when it became necessary to distinguish rational philosophy from non-rational mysticism. Western philosophers eventually replaced all the functions religion provided with rational (or at least what they claimed to be rational) explanations. Today, every field of knowledge known to man has been transformed by the power of reason.
This is a controversial claim, because the majority of Westerners, at least in the United States, claims to derive ideas in certain fields from religion. But the evidence is easily seen if we compared a medieval man from the tenth century to a modern man. The modern man’s metaphysics, epistemology ethics, politics and even aesthetics have been all radically transformed by secular philosophy. This was not always an improvement, as in terms of their validity and morality, some secular modern philosophies have been worse and more destructive than the worst of the mystical ones: such as, Kant’s subjectivism, Marxist materialism, and all the varieties of Socialism, Communism, and Fascism which derived from them. But in its essence, the Enlightenment was based on sound premises and vastly improved the fortune of mankind.
Conclusion: What does it mean to “take religion seriously?”
The concept of “religion” as it is known in the West is a modern invention made necessary by Western civilization, due to the need to distinguish between rational philosophy (I mean its archaic meaning – the examination of the natural world) and the remnants of pre-rational philosophy.
While Western ideas have spread rapidly across the world, we can still witness the state of philosophy as it was prior to the split: For example, in many Muslim countries the idea of a separation of church and state is absurd – what other source could there possibly be for law other than revelation? In some African countries, albinos are hunted and eaten as a cure for disease – not as a “religious” practice, but as “practical” medicine, because what’s so impractical about casting out evil spirits? The unity of “practical” matters and “spiritual” matters is the default historical state for man – it is the classical Western world, and specifically the Greek philosophers which are responsible for recognizing reason as the proper means of discovering reality and discrediting mysticism and revelation as serious guides to existence.
So what would it mean to “take religion seriously”? It means reversing 2500 years of Western philosophy and discarding the separation between rationality and mysticism as sources of knowledge and guides to action. Whatever a priest, rabbi, imam, shaman, or holy book says would be just as valid a source of knowledge in any field as any rational consideration. This means re-introducing, witch-hunts, astrology, tea-leaf reading, and flagellation to ethics, alchemy to chemistry, and the Inquisition and Crusades to politics. No criticism could be made of these practices if no systematic distinction between supernatural and natural explanations were recognized.
And this is why I am glad that Americans don’t take religion seriously. The near-universal acceptance of the concept of “religion” itself represents the progress of reason over pre-rational mysticism. It is a largely unheralded and unrecognized victory, which leaves room for uncertainty, but is nonetheless a victory which is sweeping every field of human study and every part of the world, and I hope will never be extinguished entirely.
(This is the second part of selections from a Facebook debate. Part 1 is here.)
The key to my disagreement with the theist hinges on the question of “Can we know God?” or “Can have knowledge of the supernatural?” The theist says yes, we use both experience and the “sensus divinitatus” to acquire knowledge of God. I disagree – I believe that knowledge of reality can only be obtained through reason, and the supernatural is by its very definition opposed to reason. Furthermore, the “divine sense” the theist refers to is just emotionalism. In this post, I will focus on the essence of our disagreement by examining in detail the nature of this supposed divine sense and reveal it to be pure emotionalism.
To recap three key points from my last note:
- I reviewed valid and invalid means of acquiring knowledge and concluded that truth can only be reached by perceiving it and integrating sensory data – e.g. reason.
- Emotions are a kind of thinking that tells us about our mental state.
- We can learn from others, but ultimately new knowledge is formed by integrating new evidence into our own experience of reality.
Introduction: Faith is emotionalism
My key criticism of the theistic argument for faith is: it is emotionalism. But emotions are not evidence of reality, only of one’s mental state. Neither revelation nor any other evidence for the supernatural is possible. I believe this argument is sufficient to disprove all religious convictions, as all other (i.e. “historical”) arguments for the supernatural are revealed to be absurd once a proper epistemology (e.g. reliance on the senses) is assumed.
The Nature of the Senses
Let’s begin with the senses we agree on: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. This much has been known since Aristotle. What is the exact nature and method of these senses?
The process is the same for all the senses in all species:
- Some entity in reality interacts causally with a sense organ.
- The interaction is either direct (touch) or indirect, through some intermediary particle (sight, smell, hearing)
- The interaction is physical. Some force of nature must influence the sensory organs, changing their chemical composition sufficiently to stimulate the nervous system.
- The nervous system transmits a signal electro-chemically to the brain as chunks of raw data.
- The brain parses the raw data according to the rules it has developed since birth, and searches for similarities and patterns.
- Once a pattern is found, conscious awareness is possible. As adults, we are not aware of raw sensory data – we perceive distinct entities are integrated by our minds.
- If the entity interacts with more than one sense (for example, we touch, smell, see, taste, and hear the food we eat), the brain automatically attempts to correlate the sensory streams and presents it as an integrated unit to the conscious mind.
- Once an entity is recognized, our brain automatically attempts to relate it to an existing concept, trying to bring it within the context of knowledge we have of that entity. This is where conscious awareness normally begins.
- If the entity is not recognized, the brain begins the process of associations, trying to ascertain the relationship of that entity to known entities and sets. This happens on both subconscious and conscious levels.
- Only after we are conscious of a unit as an instance of a concept, do we begin the process of using that information cognitively – such as learning about and interacting with it.
Note some important aspects of this process:
- For us to be aware of an entity, it must have a physical presence and a causal interaction with our sense-organs.
- The same interaction is possible to anyone with similar sense organs, even though they may interpret the identity of the entity differently.
- We are not physically aware of entities, only or raw sensory data, which our minds interpret. Our adult minds however, are consciously only of entities because the process of integrating sense-data is learned in infancy.
- Our senses are infallible – they merely transmit raw data. It is up to the fallible brain to correctly interpret the sense-data.
- We perceive the world as a coherent, integrated whole. We use all our senses to perceive an entity, and integrate them into awareness of a single existent. There is not a separate sight-table and a touch-table, but only a table which we both see and touch.
- Existence is primary – it provides the source for the content of consciousness. No thought process is possible without existents first interacting with the mind.
- The mind is not capable of interacting or affecting existence directly. It is only an object of perception and integration, not creation.
- Entities in reality have identity, but no meaning, relationships, or mental content. It is the mind which identifies, relates, and gives meaning to the world.
Note how emotions differ from the senses:
- Emotions are a kind of thought. We are aware of thoughts only by introspection.
- With thoughts, there is no existent outside of our minds to be aware of, but only of internal mental processes.
- Emotions can be formed in reaction to memories or new perceptions.
- Either way however, entities in reality do not contain any emotional content – it is our ideas which analyze the entities we are aware and which emotional reactions in response to that.
- Sensation requires some existent in reality for us to be aware of (though we may misinterpret its identity), but our emotions can respond to both real and imaginary entities.
What is the exact nature of the “sensus divinatus?”
Imagine that you are an objective observer and feel the “sensus divinatus” (henceforth referenced to as the “phenomenon”) for the first time. You know that you experienced something, but you need to identify the nature of your experience. You know that you are aware of two kinds of mental entities: thoughts (which include emotions) and sensations. With that context in mind, does the “sensus divinatus” match the nature of perception or emotion?
You make the following observations:
- The “phenomenon” is dependent on your mental state. Skeptics do not sense it. If you are bored, distracted, pre-occupied you do not sense it either. You only experience it when your mind contains certain ideas or emotional states which are receptive to the “phenomenon”.
- This is not true for all the other existents that you are aware of. You see and feel a table whether or not you believe in tables and regardless of whether you are having a bad day or not.
- There is no inter-sensory integration between the perceptions of the “phenomenon”. We touch, smell, see, taste, and hear an apple, but we only feel the “phenomenon”. It is dis-integrated from our sensory organs.
- No objective definition in terms of sensory data of the phenomena is possible. We can describe in relative terms the specific nature (i.e. the “raw data”) of our perception of a table. We cannot describe the phenomena in such terms.
- By contrast, we can describe the phenomena in conceptual terms. We can describe (with some introspection and self-examination) the ideas that the experience conveys. We cannot do this with any entity we perceive. We might not like tables, and become enraged upon seeing one, but the perception of the table as such does not convey any conceptual or emotional content.
- Your perception of the phenomena changes with your ideas. You might switch from atheism to theism and experience it and then switch back and lose the experience. Your perception of a table does not depend on mood or your ideas.
- No objective internal-personal correlation of the phenomena is possible. Two people in a church service might both claim to experience it, but their particular observations will all differ according to the existing ideas about the nature of the supernatural. One will think of a bearded man and the other will see a ghostly blur. This can’t be said about a table. It has the same properties for all observers.
- There exists no causal process which we can investigate. We can observe, measure, and record light rays and sound waves, weight masses, observe monomolecular odorants and chemoreceptors in the tongue, but we have no way to detect the “phenomenon”.
- There is no causal entity in reality to be aware of. We are aware of causal entities because there is a causal interaction that goes on between the entity and the mental process. In the case of the “phenomenon”, there is only the mental process. How do you know this?
- The “phenomenon” is only available to the person aware of it. Two people in a church will not both see a supernatural presence if one believes in it and the other does not.
- In short, unlike all the other senses, no physical interaction or observation with the phenomena is possible outside of direct experience.
Therefore you conclude:
All awareness must be through some sense – some causal interaction between reality and a sensory organ, as interpreted by the consciousness which parses the sensory data. But the essence of the “phenomenon” is its non-causality. There is a mental cause, but no physical cause. Any physical cause must be specific- it must have a certain defined nature, which is something and therefore not something else. A non-causal entity is a contradiction. An entity, any entity, must have a specific nature, which is revealed through its causal interaction with other entities. There can be no such thing as a non-causal interaction, and therefore, no awareness is possible of a non-causal entity. If “phenomenon” does not have a material cause, it must be a mental cause e.g. – it is a creation of your imagination and emotion without a referent in reality.
Anticipation of criticism: the true believer
To anticipate a common criticism, some claim that the reason that skeptics do not feel the divine consciousness is because it is only able and/or willing to reveal itself to someone if they have certain brain structures (i.e. you must be open to it). This response has two flaws: it is a logical fallacy and it not answer any of the criticisms of revelation.
The fallacy is that of begging the question. (i.e. “no true Scotsman”) The skeptic must be open to the “phenomenon” to be aware of it, and since he is never aware of it, he must not be open to it. But this evading the nature of the “openness” since no specific procedure of openness is ever sufficient until the skeptic is actually aware of the “phenomenon”. In other words, the theist is claiming “you must already believe in the phenomena to experience the phenomena.” But it is a contradiction to make the proof of a claim conditional on first accepting the claim as true.
Furthermore, this critique fails to address any of the criticism of revelation because it fails to provide the means by which revelation occurs. It is true that if one believes in the supernatural, one will experience the emotions connected with that belief, but that emotion does not prove the existence of anything other than the belief. None of my critiques of an extra-sensory perception are answered.
Conclusion: Existence has primacy over consciousness
At this point, I suggest first re-reading my argument for sensory data as the basis of knowledge, which I have isolated here.
I hope that my position is clear by now. To know reality, we must first be aware of reality. Our awareness comes from our sensory organs, which provide raw data that our mind integrates into a conceptual awareness. Consciousness is therefore a tool of perception, not a tool of creation. Extra-sensory perception is a contradiction in terms. To form a true understanding of reality, we must give existence primacy over consciousness. To do otherwise, to treat the mind as creating reality, is to live in a delusional fantasy-world which cripples our ability to deal with the facts.
This is true for any consciousness, including a supposed divine consciousness. A consciousness cannot create reality – it is an organ of perception, not of direct manipulation. Quoting Ayn Rand: “If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness.”
Faith – the acceptance of the supernatural as fact — places consciousness above reality by giving consciousness – whether human or divine – the role of creating reality. But reality cannot be shaped by our thoughts.
Reversing the relationship of the mind and reality is the root of the evil of religion. To live in reality, we must confirm our minds to it, not vice versa. Expecting reality to conform to our minds cripples our ability to survive in it. To concretize this, imagine a doctor who tells you “I will pray for you” rather than “I will treat you.” Would you feel safe in his hands? That is the attitude you assume whenever you place an “I wish” above an “It is.”
(In the next few posts, I’m going to re-post selections from a Facebook debate which I was asked to keep private:)
Many apologetics claim that their faith is based on reason and evidence. In fact faith is just a kind of emotionalism.
Suppose you decided to base your knowledge of reality on the result of dart throws. Whenever you have some doubts about something, you write four possible answers on a dart board. You would aim the dart in the general direction of the board, turn off the lights, and throw. Whichever answer is closest to the dart becomes your conclusion.
What is wrong with this methodology? If you adhere to the correspondence theory of truth (that for a belief to be true, it must correspond to reality) then you should realize that answer “chosen” by the dart has no correspondence to reality. Why not? Because there is no causal connection between your ideas and the random path taken by the dart. The dart’s path is not a valid proof of your conclusion because it is not derived from observation or logical consideration of the ideas in question.
Frustrated, you try another methodology:
You will write down the four answers as before, and then take a large dose of hallucinogenic and amnesia-inducing drugs. You will pick the answer in your drugged state but have no memory of how you selected it when you are sober again. Is this conclusion valid? Now, you are not depending on random chance, but on a distorted version of your own mental processes. Is your method any more valid? No – there is still not causal connection between the idea and your drugged ravings. The answers are you most likely to choose will probably correspond to your existing conclusions. But it will still not be any kind of proof or evidence.
Reason means a valid epistemology:
In order for evidence to be valid, there must be a valid epistemological process. To prove that a claim is true, we must verify it by deriving a conclusion step by step from the evidence of our own senses in accordance with the laws of logic. This process is known as reason. If we fail to rely on our senses and logic, we might as well be throwing the allegorical darts in the dark. Doing so willingly is irrationality.
What is the “evidence” given for supernatural claims?
There are two possible kinds: empirical claims and non-empirical claims. Empirical claims are based on observation, such as “the universe exists, so God must have created it” or “I saw Jesus on a piece of toast I ate last week.” These claims are wrong, but they do not involve faith, since they can be proven or disproven. No one would take such arguments seriously however if it were not for claims based on non-empirical evidence – faith. This takes many forms in different religions, but generally it is a kind of “revelation.” Ultimately, all revelation can be reduced to emotionalism. How so? This requires an understanding of the nature of emotion:
The nature of emotions:
An emotion is an automatic response to an external or internal stimulus based upon your subconscious premises and values. It tells you something about the state of your consciousness. By examining the premises that led to a certain emotional evaluation, we can find the causes for our emotions. By changing our ideas, we can (gradually and automatically) change our emotional responses to the same stimulus. Two people can have two totally different emotional responses to the same stimulus if their values are different.
For example, suppose four men see an experimental new sports car engine. To a race driver, the engine elicits feelings of excitement desire, to an automotive engineer, curiosity and wonder, to a hippie environmentalist, revulsion and anger, and to a primitive man, perhaps no emotion at all, since he does not recognize the object. Clearly, our emotions derive from our ideas and values. They are formed as our subconscious mind has automatizes our premises and assumptions about the nature of the world. If you consciously and honestly examine the ideas you are exposed you and integrate them systematically into a coherent whole, your emotions will be consistent and understandable. If you default on this task, your emotions will be contradictory and mysterious, and you will be unable to identify whether your emotions are contradictory or consistent with your consciously held ideas. This is how most men come to accept religiously-inspired emotions as evidence.
The need for a purpose-driven life:
All men realize on some level that a sense of purpose is vitally important to their life. A life without purpose is a fate worse than death, since death removes the option of achieving future values, while lack of purpose destroys values as such. (See my essay for more.) All religions present man with a basic alternative: accept the supernatural as your source of purpose in life, or face the possibility of having no purpose to your existence. It’s a false alternative, but because believers are unable to identify it as such, it generates very powerful emotions which most people treat as evidence of the supernatural.
Religion is a psycho-epistemological dependency:
Religion offers answers to all the crucial philosophical questions, such as “What is the basic nature of existence?” “How can man obtain knowledge of the “true” nature of reality?” “What is the purpose of my life?” and “How should men related to each other?”
Even the most non-philosophical person recognizes on some (subconscious) level that the answers to these questions are essential to human action (we literally would be paralyzed without them.) Those who identify the answers to these questions with the supernatural are intellectually dependent on their religion beliefs and therefore identify the intense emotions they feel as a validation and as a direct interaction with the supernatural. The forfeit their values and their ability for independent thought for the sake of the values and emotional validation they believe only religion can provide. The primary purpose of regular religious practice is to therefore to continually remind people of their psycho-epistemological dependency on the supernatural to validate their worldview. (This is why music, song, chant, and repetition are used in religious ceremony – they facilitate an emotional feedback mechanism which bypasses the conscious part of the brain and feeds a chemical dependency.)
Overcoming the false alternative of religion:
By contrast, someone who was exposed to a non-religious basis for their basic philosophy is entirely immune to religious argument, as he feels no need to develop an emotional dependency to a pre-rational, pre-scientific philosophical worldview. A reality-based view of existence makes religion unnecessary and exposes its evil self-sacrificial nature. (Of course some non-religious philosophies are so incoherent and irrational that they drive people back to religion.) This is why religious people cannot be “converted” to atheism merely by arguments against the supernatural – they must be presented with a viable rational alternative to the crucial questions provided by religion, and given time to shift emotional responses to this new understanding.
Emotions are not a means of cognition; they are only an indication of our own mental state. They play a vital role in human life – but they are not an organ of perception. Only our senses can perform that role. If we do not understand the nature of our emotions, we are likely to treat them as a mysterious influence apart from our conscious self. But this is not due to any otherworldly, but only an incoherent, dis-integrated consciousness. A man with an integrated consciousness has no need for supernatural explanations of his soul and no reason to sacrifice his mind and values to mystics.
It is a serious mistake to use the term “free speech” as a noun – as if it were an entity distinct from “non-free” speech.
This error comes from the premise that certain (politically-correct) ideological speech should not be regulated, but other kinds of speech may. The origin of idea is the collectivist premise that the sole freedom guaranteed to all individuals is to participate in the democratic process. No other rights exist, as the actions allowable to individuals (including non-political speech) are to be decided by the democratic process.
According to this ideology, everyone should have the freedom to “have a say” in which politician should be elected, but no one is to be granted any other rights, including the freedom to engage in commercial speech and non-mainstream ideological speech. Furthermore, this philosophy of “letting everyone have a say” leads to the violation of legitimate rights, via such things as campaign-finance laws and the use of government funds for political campaigns.
This political philosophy is a reversal of reality, as there is no inherent right to participate in the political process. The existence of a free society depends on the existence of limitations that ensure that only qualified citizens decide on the future of their civilization. For example, this is why (as a minimum) people convicted of serious crimes should not be able to vote.
In conclusion, the right to communicate with others is derived from the individual’s right to life, and the need to cooperate with others to successfully co-exist in society, not the need to participate in a democratic dictatorship.
There is no such thing as “free speech.” All forms of communication should be free of coercion. If you want to refer to the right to communicate, say “freedom of speech.”
I have jury duty tomorrow morning, so I thought I would share some thoughts on the moral and contractual obligations of a juror:
A trial is, or ought to be, a fact-finding process, conducted in order to determine whether pre-existing legal principles are applicable to a specific case. It should not be a religious, philosophical, or political discourse – that is, the rules by which guilt or responsibility is determined must be known beforehand. It is not up to the judge or jury to determine what the law ought to be, only to apply it to the established facts. If the law was determined rather than applied at trial, it would be impossible for anyone to obey it. Furthermore, a just legal system should be uniform – people must have assurance that outcomes will not depend on the particular judge and juror they stand before.
However, while it is not the job of the juror to determine whether the law is just, it is his moral responsibility to treat other men justly. Someone who is hired to be a repo agent may not have a contractual obligation to determine whether the collateral he collects is for debts which are legitimately are in default, but he has a moral obligation to refuse his assignments if he suspects that he’s seizing legitimate property. If he refuses assignments based on tenuous grounds, he may justly be fired, but if he has some certainty that he’s seizing legitimate property, he becomes as much a thief as his employer. Likewise with the juror.
One criticism of jury nullification is that a jury is not neither qualified to judge the law nor does it have any legitimacy in doing so. And this is certainly true as a matter of law. A juror who disagrees with the practical implementation of the moral principles behind a law ought to defer to the established process. He can always exercise his disagreement and try to effect change in his role as a private citizen.
But, the situation is different when a juror disagrees with the moral principles behind a law. A law based on incorrect moral principles is inherently unjust, regardless of the facts of the case. The conviction of anyone based on such as law is necessarily an act of aggression. Any participation in the process, even solely in the function of determining the facts, is an immoral act. No judge can honestly ask a juror to breach his integrity, or blame him for refusing to do so. Everyone, regardless of his role, has a personal moral obligation to treat others justly and refrain from willingly participating in injustice.
What is a moral juror to do then? He should refuse to serve if he believes that the principles of a law are inherently unjust. By doing so, he does not undermine the legal process, since another juror can be substituted, nor does he violate his own integrity. For example, a juror exceeds his role if he refuses to convict because he thinks that the punishment for an action is too harsh, but he acts properly if he refuses to serve because he does not believe the act being prosecuted to constitute an act of coercion at all.
In the special case that the judge is unable to find enough jurors who accept the morality of the law, has two choices: he may either require the charges to be dropped, or he may offer the dissenting jurors to serve anyway. If they do so, they cannot be blamed for acquitting the defendant based on their judgment of the law, in addition to their judgment of the facts. However, the possibility of them changing their minds after hearing the evidence remains. Presumably, as long as the law is consistent with the basic moral principles of citizens qualified to serve on the jury, it should not be difficulty to find sufficient jurors.
A 12 year old girl in Saudi Arabia is seeking a divorce from her 80 year old husband. (Girls as young as 8 are regularly sold to and raped all over the Middle East and North Africa- 77 percent in Niger.)
Saudi clerics and judges are defending the marriage on the basis that the Prophet Muhammad married (and had sex with) a nine year old girl.
Apologists in the Islamic and Western world will inevitably argue that selling young girls into sexual bondage may be something that was acceptable 1,400 years ago, but not today.
That this response is offered as a defense of the Quran/Bible/Torah reveals the fatal flaw in their logic:
By what standard is something not morally acceptable today that was acceptable earlier? If a superior standard of morality exists by which we can judge human action, what is the point of “holy books?” If the holy books sanction slavery, rape, murder, genocide (as they all do), then why would anyone claim that they are a source of moral authority?
Even if you disagree with a single instruction of the Bible (such as the command to kill any bride who is not a virgin, or any child who disrespects his parents) then you acknowledge that there exists a superior standard by which to judge moral action, and there is no need to rely on a bunch of primitive, ancient, barbaric fairy tales.
Following this week’s Supreme Court ruling, there is much confusion about what legal rights a corporation has and how it is different from other groups:
In a free society, any person has the right to associate with any other person by mutual consent. As long as both parties consent to their transaction, no third party (be it a government or anyone else) has the moral right to prevent or punish their interaction. This is as true for friendships, romantic relationships, and political advocacy as financial transactions. The only difference is that financial transactions exchange material values whereas social interactions exchange non material values.
A business – be it a sole proprietorship or a multinational corporation is just a group of people who share a common purpose. Their motive may be profit, but it may be something entirely different (such as changing the world with a new product, or just getting paid to do something cool, such as fly planes or invent new things).
The primary difference between a corporation and any other type of business is limited liability. Anyone who does business with a corporation (be it another business or a consumer) agrees that any liability incurred by the corporation covers the assets of the corporation, but not the individual assets of its employees. For example, just because you own Wal-Mart stock, Wal-Mart’s debtors cannot demand all your personal assets as collateral.
It’s important to understand that limited liability does not apply to criminal law. That is, if an employee of a corporation commits a crime, he is still personally liable for his actions. In no way does acting on behalf a corporation shield people from breaking the law. (Of course that is not universally true, but that is a corruption of the law, not an aspect of limited liability.)
Furthermore, individuals acting on behalf of a corporation have the same rights as individuals acting on behalf of any other group because people do not lose their rights by the nature of the voluntary associations they enter into. It should make no difference whether you act on behalf of yourself, a political pressure group, a union, a sole proprietorship, or a corporation – you do not lose your rights as a human being because you represent a particular association of other human beings acting toward a common purpose. Silencing the speech of an individual because he represents a particular group is censorship – no matter what the purpose of that group is.
If you really want to get business out of politics, get the government out of business. As long as governments try to control corporations with regulations that go beyond the protection of people’s property rights, corporations will have an incentive to control governments. Interventionism creates a vicious downward cycle hardly unique to corporations – first a lobby tries to extract special privileges from some politically neutral group, the group hires lobbyists to defend itself, and ends up using the influence it has gained to extract privileges at the expense of another neutral group, which must defend itself in turn. Campaign finance regulations just hide that process from the public and make it more difficult for non-elites to get elected or have a say in government. The only real solution to the problems caused by interventionism is to end interventionism – to separate government and economy.