Pharyngula

Religion: adaptation or by-product?

For years, whenever someone asks me about the evolution of religion, I explain that there are two broad categories of explanation: that religion has conferred a selective advantage to people who possessed it, or that it was a byproduct of other cognitive processes that were advantageous. I’m a proponent of the byproduct explanation, myself; I tend to go a little further, too, and suggest that religion is a deleterious virus that is piggy-backing on some very useful elements of our minds.

Now look at this: there is a wonderful paper by Pyysläinen and Hauser, The origins of religion : evolved adaptation or by-product?, that summarizes that very same dichotomy (without my extension, however). Here’s the abstract:

Considerable debate has surrounded the question of the origins and evolution of religion. One proposal views religion as an adaptation for cooperation, whereas an alternative proposal views religion as a by-product of evolved, non-religious, cognitive functions. We critically evaluate each approach, explore the link between religion and morality in particular, and argue that recent empirical work in moral psychology provides stronger support for the by-product approach. Specifically, despite differences in religious background, individuals show no difference in the pattern of their moral judgments for unfamiliar moral scenarios. These findings suggest that religion evolved from pre-existing cognitive functions, but that it may then have been subject to selection, creating an adaptively designed system for solving the problem of cooperation.

The general argument for religion as an adaptive property is a kind of just-so story. Because humans are dependent on cooperation for survival, religion could have provided an internal bias to promote social cohesion, to promote feelings of guilt and fear about defecting from the group, and also to act as costly signals — you knew you could trust an individual to be a loyal member of your group if they were willing to invest so much effort in playing the weird religion game, just to get along. Strangers will not try to free-ride on your gang if membership involves snipping off the end of your penis, for instance. Also consider the chronic Christian condition of believing themselves to be an oppressed minority—that’s emphasized because if membership is perceived to be costly, even if it actually isn’t, it still can act as an inhibitor of free-riding.

The by-product model recognizes that there are advantages to cooperative group membership, but does not require the evolution of specifically religious properties; these are incidental features of more general cognitive capacities. In this case, we’d argue that such advantageous abilities as a theory of mind (the ability to perceive others as having thought processes like ours), empathy, and a need for social interaction are the actual products of selection, and that religion is simply a kind of spandrel that emerges from those useful abilities.

I favor the by-product theory because it is simpler — it requires fewer specific features be hardwired into the brain — and because it is readily apparent that many of us can discard all religious belief yet still function as cooperating members of a community, with no sense of loss. That suggests to me that religion is actually a superfluous hijacker of potentials we all share.

If you’re familiar with Hauser’s work, you know that he adds another datum: people moral judgments on the basis of a kind of emotional intuition. This intuition is independent of rationalizations and more complex institutional mandates, and is therefore far more deeply imbedded in our brains. We make choices based on feelings first, and the Ten Commandments are invoked later. Religion may work to reinforce some of those feelings, however, so it could act as a kind of cultural amplifier of more intrinsic biases.

To the extent that explicit religiosity cannot penetrate moral intuitions underlying the ability to cooperate, religion cannot be the ultimate source of intra-group cooperation. Cooperation is made possible by a suite of mental mechanisms that are not specific to religion. Moral judgments depend on these mechanisms and appear to operate independently of one’s religious background. However, although religion did not originally emerge as a biological adaptation, it can play a role in both facilitating and stabilizing cooperation within groups, and as such, could be the target of cultural selection. Religious groups seem to last longer than non-religious groups, for example.

In the future, more experimental research is needed to probe the actual relationship between folk moral intuitions and intuitive beliefs about afterlife, gods and ancestors. It seems that in many cultures religious concepts and beliefs have become the standard way of conceptualizing moral intuitions. Although, as we have discussed, this link is not a necessary one, many people have become so accustomed to using it, that criticism targeted at religion is experienced as a fundamental threat to our moral existence.

The idea that religion did not give us an evolutionary advantage, but has been shaped by cultural evolution to better fit and support our productive behaviors, is an interesting one. Of course, it doesn’t make religion right or good; what it suggests is that the strength of free-thinking communities could take advantage of some of the cognitive contrivances of religion, without the extraneous baggage of god-belief. We could just add a few costly signals to atheism, for instance.

So I’m going to have to ask you all to get genital piercings if you want to be a New Atheist.

(Don’t worry, just kidding!)

(via björn.brembs.blog)

Comments

  1. #1 Dianne
    February 10, 2010

    So I’m going to have to ask you all to get genital piercings if you want to be a New Atheist.

    Only if you go first and post a picture of you modeling the results (closeup and full frontal) afterwards. We expect a good example of our spiritual leader.

  2. #2 Sharon Astyk
    February 10, 2010

    I don’t have a strong opinion on the merits of one theory over another, and am willing to accept the paper’s (and your) preference for the by-product theory. The question, of course, that it raises, however, is why religious elements are so universal if this is a by product. That, is, why aren’t there more examples of people expressing those cognitive functions in non-religious ways as whole societies? Do you have a theory for this – I’m curious?

    Sharon

  3. #3 marie-annick
    February 10, 2010

    Great, now we’re going to have factions based on whether or not you hang to the right or to the left.

  4. #4 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    February 10, 2010

    So I’m going to have to ask you all to get genital piercings if you want to be a New Atheist.

    I’ll just stick with the only holes it came with.

  5. #5 Louis
    February 10, 2010

    So I’m going to have to ask you all to get genital piercings if you want to be a New Atheist.

    Waaaaaaay ahead of you, PZ.

    Wait…TMI?

    Photos on application to the usual address.

    Louis

    P.S. Sensible comment will have to wait until I’ve read the paper.

  6. #6 Stephen Wells
    February 10, 2010

    I liked the deadpan tone in the conclusions, where they say “To the extent that explicit religiosity cannot penetrate moral intuitions underlying the ability to cooperate, religion cannot be the ultimate source of intra-group cooperation.”

    @2: humans seem to have an innate bias towards explanations involving minds and intentions, hence supernatural beings/gods. It’s what Bacon would have called an idol of the tribe- a cognitive bias common to humanity.

  7. #7 Mike Wagner
    February 10, 2010

    Do the piercings have to be through our own genitals, or can it be done to the religious leader of our choice?

  8. #8 Louis
    February 10, 2010

    @ Mike Wagner #7,

    Oh wait that puts a whole new complexion on things. I’m voting for piercing the Pope’s genitals…

    …with a dump truck dropped from a plane (and I’m not sterilising the truck first).

    Louis

  9. #9 James Sweet
    February 10, 2010

    An interesting idea presented in Guns, Germs, and Steel is that organized religion, for better or worse, was an important stepping stone to the modern state, because it provided justification for early tribal/proto-state loyalties. In other words, back when governments were primarily in the business of taxing their citizens for the benefit of the leaders, and convincing people to wage war against other societies, how the hell do you expect to convince people to go along with that crap without religion? (Yes, I realize some people think that’s all governments do now, but I guess being a died-in-the-wool liberal I disagree)

    The interesting thing about this hypothesis is that it would suggest that selection favored religious cultures at one time, but that this is no longer necessarily the case. In other words, in a population consisting of multiple constantly warring cultures, the cultures who convince their citizenry that dying in battle will send them to paradise will possess a distinct advantage over other cultures — but no such argument can be made in the modern world.

    Guns, Germs, and Steel of course doesn’t take the argument this far, but it is an interesting speculative outcome. Speculative being the key word — I realize I am mostly just making shit up here :)

  10. #10 Givesgoodemail
    February 10, 2010

    “This intuition is independent of rationalizations and more complex institutional mandates, and is therefore far more deeply embedded in our brains.”
    I would say rather that what we often call “intuition” is actually highly-evolved rational, cognitive functions working at a sub- or semi-conscious level. (The old saw about the first twitch in a combat situation usually being the correct one comes to mind.)
    They’re no less complex–the process by which we come about them is just not one that is consciously called up.

  11. #11 John_Robinson
    February 10, 2010

    Why do we need any adaptive ideas here. Religion is clearly a cultural artefact, and cultural evolution is wholly different from biological, incorporating the whole gamut of ideas from Lamark onwards, but excluding Mendel (please don’t get on to the whole meme issue which is fairly absurd in itself).

    Personally I am with Gould and Lewontin here (not bad company) in rejecting almost all Evolutionary Psychology. The adaptation was in mental plasticity, that’s enough to spark all the subsequent weidness of the history of ideas, good and bad.

  12. #12 MiikaH
    February 10, 2010

    “Pyysiäinen.” With an “i”.

  13. #13 daveau
    February 10, 2010

    This is so reasonable; the godbots will just hate it.

    Dianne@1

    Only if you go first and post a picture of you modeling the results (closeup and full frontal) afterwards. We expect a good example of our spiritual leader.

    Or, he could just lie like the other spiritual leaders do.

  14. #14 Givesgoodemail
    February 10, 2010

    I would also say that organized religion, at least based on modern-day examples, has little or nothing to do with the faith of the individuals that make up that religious group. OR is about nothing more than power.

  15. #15 knutsondc
    February 10, 2010

    @9 – That’s a good thought. I’d be curious to know how religious beliefs and practices changed when people shifted from basic hunter/gatherer cultures to agriculture and herding. That coincided with the idea of accumulation of capital and the creation of a class of people who didn’t have to spend all their time gathering food and therefore could spend their time thinking and inventing (and, to be sure, doing some other, less useful things). While that development has on the whole been a tremendous positive for humanity, one can understand that at the time it would require some powerful persuasion to get the majority of the people to come up with the food and shelter for those few doing intellectual work.

  16. #16 Will E.
    February 10, 2010

    It seems that in many cultures religious concepts and beliefs have become the standard way of conceptualizing moral intuitions.

    This perfectly encapsulates my thinking on the topic, but it’s expressed much more cogently that I’ve managed. It’s like when folks such as Sagan, Dawkins, Hitchens, et. al., are criticized for sounding like evangelists/fire-and-brimstone preachers themselves, it is because of this “conceptualizing” of awe, reverence, profundity, and mortality in religious terms. Anyone talking about those things has to be somehow religious, right?

    This needs to be turned around: religious thinkers should be seen as stepping into scientific territory but without using the rigorous and self-correcting methods that science uses; instead of evidence, data, and experiment, they use miracles, deities, and prayer.

  17. #17 Steve LaBonne
    February 10, 2010

    That, is, why aren’t there more examples of people expressing those cognitive functions in non-religious ways as whole societies? Do you have a theory for this – I’m curious?

    Actually, many cultures have belief systems that we tend to describe as “religion” for lack of a better word, but that would barely be recognizable as such to the typical adherent of one of the major organized religions. Pascal Boyer made (and copiously illustrated) this point very clearly in Religion Explained.

  18. #18 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 10, 2010

    Sharon Astyk #2

    The question, of course, that it raises, however, is why religious elements are so universal if this is a by product. That, is, why aren’t there more examples of people expressing those cognitive functions in non-religious ways as whole societies? Do you have a theory for this – I’m curious?

    There many different forms of religion, ranging from fire and brimstone fundamentalism to the vague deism of a Bishop Spong. IMNSHO this argues for the by-product theory of religiousity. We’re social animals and we have hardwired forms of social behavior. Much of this behavior is fairly specific. “Don’t kill other members of the pack.” “Share food with weaker clan members.” “Women and children first, protect the tribal genetic inheritance.”

    If there were just a few forms, then I would tend more towards an innate religiousity. But when fundamentalist Hinduism and atheistic Buddhism can arise from the same cultural milieu, that tells me that religion isn’t something hard-wired but is coincidental to something else.

  19. #19 Cat Sitting Still
    February 10, 2010

    The question, of course, that it raises, however, is why religious elements are so universal if this is a by product. That, is, why aren’t there more examples of people expressing those cognitive functions in non-religious ways as whole societies?

    What, you mean like art and music, science and math?

    And atheism already has a costly signal–admitting lack of god-belief in public.

  20. #20 Maslab
    February 10, 2010

    So I’m going to have to ask you all to get genital piercings if you want to be a New Atheist.

    Great, now they’ll have to stick their finger up their derriere and scream “snake” just to pee.

    The department stores are going to have a blow-out on bathroom cleaners…

    Great, now we’re going to have factions based on whether or not you hang to the right or to the left.

    It is quite obvious that we must hang to the left, as we are all labeled “Godless Liberals” and must conform to this.

  21. #21 Steven Dunlap
    February 10, 2010

    @9 and 15,

    James Burke in the first Connections episode pointed out that the Pharaoh who had an astronomer found out that Sirius appears in the sky the day before the Nile flooded. He used this predicative ability to declare himself a god on Earth thereby giving himself the power to compel the peasants to pay taxes and build pyramids, etc. After the job of God

  22. #22 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 10, 2010

    Great, now they’ll have to stick their finger up their derriere and scream “snake” just to pee.

    TMI! I am not going to ask. I really, truly do not want to know what this comment is referring to.

  23. #23 darbyunlimited
    February 10, 2010

    It does seem like religion could have filled the gap between familial-links in small tribal groups to the binding force for larger groups (the same force you now see in cultural or nationalistic groups), and larger groups of humans have been shown to be pretty adaptive.

  24. #24 Peter G.
    February 10, 2010

    An interesting question to be sure. Not all “primitive” societies have religious beliefs in the sense of some controlling deity. Taboos develop from the confusion between correlation and causation and are often bizarre in consequence. Is that religion? Religion clearly confers a survival advantage on the insiders who benefit from the productive capacity of a society but contribute little of real value. I can’t say that I see any genetic component to religion. It is too easily lost and those who lose the habit never seem to miss it.

  25. #25 sorceror171
    February 10, 2010

    I’ve been thinking lately that ‘worldviews’ are mental symbionts, not unlike the flora we have living in our gut. Those bacteria co-evolved with us, and are necessary for our digestion; they even secrete hormones that affect their hosts.

    Now, we need those endosymbionts, but they can have deleterious effects; some tend their host toward obesity, for example.

    I think humans mentally need an overall schema, a worldview, a framework of understanding; there’s a mental ‘ecological niche’ there. And such worldviews have been co-evolving with us, like Dawkins’ memes.

    Religious worldviews contain notions of the supernatural, non-religious worldviews don’t. (There are other, orthogonal variables, though; some worldviews are dogmatic and others are more flexible and open. I can get along a lot better with a flexible theist than a dogmatic atheist a la Stalin, for example.) I think religious worldviews can have deleterious effects on a lot of hosts; some are more resistant than others, but most of them develop at least some irrationality… and a willingness to accept some propositions without adequate evidence seems to me to be a large risk factor for dogma.

  26. #26 Maslab
    February 10, 2010

    TMI! I am not going to ask. I really, truly do not want to know what this comment is referring to.

    Its origin is really not that bad, but okay.

  27. #27 Peter H
    February 10, 2010

    The books of Karen Armstrong shed considerable light on the development of religion in the judaeo-christian sense. Joseph Campbell wrote voluminously about the general tendency of the human beast to develop gods and mythologies.

  28. #28 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawm1HFvcLVqmyoIRIjleA5RKbZ8B09zVxxM
    February 10, 2010

    I admire your piercing intellect

  29. #29 mck9
    February 10, 2010

    I haven’t read the paper yet, but at least in PZ’s summary I don’t see much recognition of a political theory for the evolution of religion.

    Whatever other effects it may have, religion can be a powerful instrument of social control. Social elites, or would-be elites, tend to select and promote those religions, or those elements of religions, that are most effective in securing and enhancing their own power.

    This notion has less to do with biological evolution than with memetic evolution. Religions that don’t support the social elites tend not to receive support from them. Elites that don’t use effective tools of social control (whether religious or otherwise) tend not to remain elites.

    Such a political theory may overlap a bit with the theory of religion as an adaptation for cooperation, but it doesn’t require any specific features to be hardwired into the brain, beyond what is already required for political organization. It complements the theory of religion as a byproduct, without conflicting with it.

  30. #30 andrew h
    February 10, 2010

    it’s probably true that all cultural institutions can be seen as products of cultural evolution, within the ecology of a network of human brains.

    religions are sets of ideas that spread through brains on the basis of human emotions like fear, fairness, belonging-ness, and intellectual problems like ‘why’, ‘what’, etc.. successful religions are those which cover enough emotional and intellectual territory that they’re hard to kill with one blow, while at the same time being simplistic enough in their primary “hooks” (live forever, know what’s right, be forgiven, etc.) that they can be transmitted in just a few hours of information transfer. a religion that can avoid killing its host, while at the same time encouraging its host to spend a few hours divulging it to other brains, will get innumerable chances to test its spread of emotional/intellectual ‘solutions’ – misunderstandings on the part of the proselyte, or in-use synthesis by the proselytizer, allow for adaptation.

    religion: totally not hardwired. the very same mechanisms allowing religion membership also allow for membership in a company, a guild, a political party, etc. each type of institution delivers a different package of emotional/intellectual/motivational solutions. religion is relatively odd since its content doesn’t actually, directly, address physiological needs or security, while “jobs” or “professions” get you a basis for material trade.

  31. #31 Sastra
    February 10, 2010

    “Religion” is such a broad category. When we focus on the form and utility of the social structures we sometimes tend to overlook the significance and contributions of vital elements like mystical experiences. Transcendence and revelations are one of the critical factors which differentiate a religion, from a social group. They are either sought, or you follow those who can have them, on the assumption that this is how you gain “real” knowledge.

    One of the interesting theories I’ve read on the origins of religion is that it’s a natural byproduct of the human brain’s egocentric tendency to confuse self and other. Both young children and primitive animism attribute aspects of the self to objects and events. They’re not so much projecting consciousness and agency into things, as exhibiting a mentality which doesn’t differentiate between the internal and external, or between thoughts and objects.

    Mystical experiences ramp this confusion up a notch: when certain parts of the brain are effected by illness, drugs, or meditation, one loses the sense of being an individual self. It feels as if one is spread over the cosmos, or perhaps, the entire universe is your consciousness. You are communicating with “God.” The internal world and external world have blent together into an undifferentiated stew of mind and matter. This sensation might be similar to the sense of ‘oneness’ babies have with their environment — and their mother.

    If the religion has a ruling deity, the deity resembles nothing so much as the all-knowing, constantly-watching parent which helped to form our sense of self and other. I suspect that this is going to be part of the explanation.

  32. #32 Sara
    February 10, 2010

    For a part of the voting record – I vote by product. I think we are hardwired for social conforming AND hierarchical status. Conforming is survival of genes, and hierarchical is survival of self – which is arguably the first as well. Religion takes advantage of both of those things.

    For my position of the NEW ATHEIST – I refuse to associated with any organized religion or even pseudo religion. Which is why I won’t call myself an Atheist. I feel like I just looped my self into a belief instead of an idea that could be changed upon arrival of different evidence, however unlikely.

    Also, I think if you all start piercing things down there, my enjoyment is probably going to be affected – and frankly, its all about me.

  33. #33 Ibis3
    February 10, 2010

    Speaking as someone who comes at the question from an historical/anthropological perspective, I’d have to go with by-product. I’ve found that when the questioned is framed from a scientific viewpoint, the significance of the modernity of established dogmatic religion is rarely considered. We can surmise from the evidence that the earliest, prehistoric forms of religion had more to do with attempts to influence the world and to maintain relationships with the dead than with morality. As humans, we project personalities onto inanimate objects which we then “communicate” with. We live in a world where, when we have no direct control, we supplicate “the forces out there” or try to influence those forces by means of sympathetic magic and ritual. As for non-religious examples of these tendencies: naming ships, cars, and computers; creation of myth and literature (not to mention the experience of the audience); the psychological aspect of anxiety disorders like OCD and hoarding (cf. the sentimental attachment to objects/fear of destroying memory of events with sacralising of religious fetishes/relics); homeopathic “medicine”; non-religious superstitions of athletes.

    In other words, we see this complex of psychology and behaviours exhibited in all kinds of contexts. A byproduct of extreme empathy on the one hand (leading to personification of even the inanimate and anthropomorphising of animals and plants) and emotional attachment on the other (not limited to the living kin group but extended to include the deceased, objects etc.). We are prone to create believable “pseudo-people” (e.g. gods, literary characters, animal spirits, personified objects) and then become attached to them, relate to them or communicate with them or influence them as we would with our family/tribe members (prayer, ritual, magic, sacrifice, letters to Santa).

  34. #34 justawriter
    February 10, 2010

    Interesting. It seems to confirm my “belief” in ignosticism, which is that religious beliefs, defined as the existance of a supreme being and/or an afterlife, play such a small role in ones character that they are not worthy of discussion. The church you belong to, on the other hand, is a social organization and serves as a much better predictor of your behavior.

  35. #35 Glen Davidson
    February 10, 2010

    What gets ignored in almost all of these “adaptation or by-product” discussions is that basically the pre-rationality (say, of the Greeks) human understanding of the world is spiritual (or “spiritual,” since some would dispute the meaning of that term).

    That doesn’t necessarily mean “religious” (and not every culture was), but religion easily comes from the sort of “phenomenological” point of view. It’s a by-product of the fact that we’re “thrown” into a world in which everything is (before science) just sort of a magical fact, and not an explainable phenomenon.

    It’s really rather obvious, once pre-scientific human knowledge is considered. Religion is just an organization of the pre-scientific view, and today it taps into both ignorance and into the fact that science is not how we first understand the world at all.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  36. #36 Ibis3
    February 10, 2010

    A few things I’d like to add:
    Morality, priesthoods, and hierarchies seem much, much later additions to the “religion complex” (as are scripture and dogma, obviously).

    To me, there doesn’t seem to be any problem with continuing to make believe, as long as we don’t deprive ourselves of reliance on science and knowledge when it’s crucial to do so, as long as we don’t insist on the truth of what we’re pretending in the face of evidence, and as long as we don’t impose our make believe rites and morals on anyone else.

    (To use a non-religious example…) Call your car Betsy if you want to, have conversations with her if you like, but take her to the shop if you hear something rattling, and don’t tell your passenger that you’d rather rely on Betsy’s goodwill to get you to your destination than depend on a mechanic to make sure she’d in working order.

  37. #37 Cimourdain
    February 10, 2010

    Why is it either-or? Also, why isn’t it asked how religion may have evolved in order to perpetuate itself?

    If one takes the case of Islam, say, its culture of popular fanaticism and its institutions of Shariah, jihad and dhimmitude were enormously effective in its spread and creating vast zones of cultural autarky.

    One could also point out that a society that had the ability to produce large numbers of fanatical, death-defying warriors had an advantage over those that did not in the struggle for existence, human history being what it is.

  38. #38 brembs.net
    February 10, 2010

    The question, of course, that it raises, however, is why religious elements are so universal if this is a by product.

    It is widespread for sure, but not universal. See for instance the Hadza, whose religion has been described as ‘minimal’.

    Another important, but less social, cognitive aspect contributing to the evolution of religion is that religious rituals provide you with an illusion of control over fate (think rain dance, or prayer). In times where famine, death, injury, war and disease were rampant, such a mechanism may have contributed significantly to not only group but especially individual survival. To this day, religious people have a lower incidence of depression compared to non-religious controls.
    Animal models: learned helplessness and superstition conditioning.

  39. #39 Colin
    February 10, 2010

    @38 – I’d agree, but I’d add the notion that, in a preliterate society, rites and rituals can be a means of preserving knowledge (like when to plant your crops and when to harvest them). Making them “sacred” lowers the amount of memetic “drift” between years, and between generations.

    That, I suspect, is, at least, a contributing factor to the development of religion as we know it today.

  40. #40 Corocotta
    February 10, 2010

    @2 – Sharon asks: “why aren’t there more examples of people expressing those cognitive functions in non-religious ways as whole societies?”

    I’d say: because religion is a channel for power enforcing and, not belonging or showing independence have been severely punished. Once entrenched, it’s very difficult to debunk.

    Survival instinct: How many Jews and Muslims converted to Christianize in late medieval Spain?

    How many atheist went to Church every Sunday during so many centuries?

    That’s my theory.

  41. #41 P@J
    February 10, 2010

    Religion as a virus? Reminds me of Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash”:

    [Hiro:] ??is it a virus, a drug, or a religion??
    Juanita shrugs. ?What?s the difference??

  42. #42 Andyo
    February 10, 2010

    But this question is interesting only for academic reasons and/or general curiosity, is it not?

    To use it as an argument that religion can’t be done away with in any significant way is disingenuous not because it’s adaptive or not, but because the answer to that doesn’t matter at all.

    I’ve only seen this “argument” brought up by the religious or the faitheists, but it’s just an excuse.

  43. #43 tanyawalker79
    February 10, 2010

    Don’t we already pay costs by being atheists? We’re ostracized and villified by many of our peers. Why would someone choose to be something that could be so damaging to our social standing?

    A great letter was posted on Parenting Beyond Belief’s FB page: http://wonderfulpages.com/doodad/2009/11/an-open-letter-to-our-friends/

    In other words, there’s no way in hell (ha ha) that I’m getting a genital piercing.

  44. #44 RamblinDude
    February 10, 2010

    Also consider the chronic Christian condition of believing themselves to be an oppressed minority?that’s emphasized because if membership is perceived to be costly, even if it actually isn’t, it still can act as an inhibitor of free-riding.

    I disagree with this. I would say rather that this is one of the founding concepts on which Christianity is built?the Christian martyr being thrown to the lions but achieving a reward in heaven. It?s a religion built on martyrdom; not to exclude outsiders, but rather as an inherent psychological predisposition of the believer. Even if Christianity were to take over the world, they would find some way to nail themselves to crosses. Well, until the inevitable morphing of their beliefs into something less taxing, that is.

    Byproduct or not, I think there?s a crucial element to religion, which for me simplifies things: our desire for security. We need physical security, of course, but with our big brains and the ability to grasp concepts, we can create intricate structures built entirely out of thought and then try to find a safe haven within these elaborations to achieve a sense of psychological security. We are fearful creatures; we want security. We don?t like feeling uncertainty and confusion, and it?s very beguiling to slip into a fixation built around play-pretend. And it?s not exclusive to the preoccupation with deities, either. This is where imagination is both a blessing and a burden.

    Many people reject this simplistic approach to being comforted, and reject altogether anything that smacks as merely being the illusion of something that is only a projection of desires built out of our thoughts, but obviously many don?t (I would say most don?t) and will often latch on to whatever current mental activity is in vogue. This in itself is a reflection of the need for security, in this case through group conformity.

    I?m convinced, however, that deep down in us?beneath all the thinking and talking and arguing and believing?we all have a pretty good idea where the real world ends and our thoughts begin. It?s just that we tend to devote our lives? for reasons related to this quest for psychological security?to blurring the line. I tend to think that the reason for the line-blurring is very much a product of mental laziness. From whence this lack of initiative for genuine truth-seeking? I don?t know. Is it a byproduct of something else, or has there been an evolutionary advantage to it? I suspect it?s both.

  45. #45 abb3w
    February 10, 2010

    Myself, I suspect (even though the genes provide the foundation medium for the memes) religion is more a development of cultural evolution than of biological evolution.

    PZ: This intuition is independent of rationalizations and more complex institutional mandates, and is therefore far more deeply imbedded in our brains.

    However, the flavors the intuition recognizes depends on whether someone is conservative or liberal (doi:10.1007/s11211-007-0034-z), which political alignment may have a genetic link (doi:10.1017/S0003055405051579) — although the nature/nurture factor strengths there haven’t been made clear.

    (I’m also not convinced all “conservatives” actually use all five flavors; I suspect some of the Randite-leaning neocon and CheapLaborConservative types are limited to only the primary of “HARM”. However, I’ve no hard data to verify this, merely intuition.)

    James Sweet: The interesting thing about this hypothesis is that it would suggest that selection favored religious cultures at one time, but that this is no longer necessarily the case.

    Or, alternatively, that “has religion” was a trait that was favorable relative to “nothing at all”, but that there may be more recent developments (perhaps in part facilitated by the existence of religion), where novel development X allows an advantage over both religion and over nothing at all.

  46. #46 broboxley
    February 10, 2010

    the evolution of religion is as follows
    an individual see’s or experiences something extremely out of the ordinary and uses what knowledge he has to explain this event to 3rd parties. They find it amazing and enjoy the retelling of the tale from the original observer. A sharp individual notices this gathering and decides to organize the group into his favor. Here comes scripture dogma and tithing. The original person seeing what is going on tries to stop it he is then killed or died prior to the organizing of the new religion

  47. #47 KillJoy
    February 10, 2010

    I already HAVE my genital piercing.
    I’m ahead of the curve on this one.

  48. #48 Louis
    February 10, 2010

    (Don’t worry, just kidding!)

    Ok I didn’t see that part the first time I read the post. I’m gonna need a nurse and some bandages.

    Louis

  49. #49 RamblinDude
    February 10, 2010

    Glen Davidson,

    Religion is just an organization of the pre-scientific view, and today it taps into both ignorance and into the fact that science is not how we first understand the world at all.

    I really like that sentence.

  50. #50 badgersdaughter
    February 10, 2010

    Jesus washed his followers’ feet.

    Who’s performing these piercings?

  51. #51 Ian
    February 10, 2010

    I think this view conflates at least two, if not three phenomena. To begin with, there’s religion as group identity. That seems to be simply re-purposed tribalism. Which is, of course, most probably an adaptive phenomenon. But then there’s “belief in the supernatural”. That’s all caught up in cause and effect. An indoor cat tries to hunt bushes that rustle in the wind. An outdoor cat knows the difference. But a sufficiently self-conscious individual wonders “what causes the wind to blow”, and drawing from his or her experience, posits a (purely naturalistic) deity…which then evolves into the gods of modern religion. Both are by-products, but of different phenomena.

    But to really ask whether religion is adaptive missing the whole idea of evolutionary landscapes. “Is religion adaptive” isn’t a good question. The real evolutionary question is whether, in a given environment, religion conveys selective advantage. And therein, I think, the answer is clearly “yes”…at least some of the time. During the time of the Inquisition, for example, being able to believe without doubt probably increased your chance of survival. On the other hand, doubt, at least at some level, is very conducive the scientific progress, which suggests that some amount of doubt is also adaptive. Presumably there is some balance between doubt and belief, within a population, that optimises that population’s “success”. Freethinkers, for example, don’t make very good jihadis, but without people willing to die for “faith and family”, wars aren’t won.

    Without the balance between the (freethinking) intellectuals who make up the “founding fathers” and the (probably more religious) footsoldiers, the United States wouldn’t exist, not as it does today.

  52. #52 JackC
    February 10, 2010

    Great, now we’re going to have factions based on whether or not you hang to the right or to the left

    Hangist. My beliefs (and physical attributes) are being ignored. I am incensed.

    JC

  53. #53 Coriolis
    February 10, 2010

    I think Sastra makes a good point, and it’s pretty clear that all these explanations have to do with the social aspects of religion, as opposed to the mystical (understandably so, since the social ones are all that’s really relevant if you’re not in the religion yourself). Mysticism is not even necessarily connected to organized religion and the explanations for it should be different then the ones for religion.

    It seems to me that the mystical aspects are much more the domain of psychology rather then sociology. If there is one common aspect to all mystics it is that they all claim to have experiences where they feel “at one” with the world. It’s not very clear what they actually mean by that but it is quite odd that there seems to be agreement on this point even though they disagree on practically everything else.

    Although I don’t think I really buy the this is like what babies feel theory… sounds a bit too convenient heh.

  54. #54 Molly, NYC
    February 10, 2010

    Also consider the chronic Christian condition of believing themselves to be an oppressed minority?that’s emphasized because if membership is perceived to be costly, even if it actually isn’t, it still can act as an inhibitor of free-riding.

    Could increasing the absurd things adherents are expected to believe act the same way? I think Christianity started rather simply–in a horrifically violent culture (with a lot of myths about deities born from human virgins), Jesus suggested that people try being kind to each other. A wonderful idea, so lots of people signed on.

    Later, they were required to accept that He himself was a deity with a virgin mother.

    Then He knew every bloody thing everyone was thinking or doing, so there was the illusion of no privacy.

    Then He was really interested in micromanaging everyone’s sex life, so the most mundane, normal urges meant you were going to fry in Hell for all eternity (an attitude that influences modern public policy to an appalling degree).

    Then everyone owed Him big-time for dying for our sins, in case you weren’t feeling guilty enough.

    Etc. Modern-day social/political persecution of Christians is BS, but this sort of thing really is costly.

    (Not to rank on Christians, particularly–observant Jews lead lives so burdened by ritual that it’s amazing they get anything else done. And Muslims have that stop-whatever-you’re-doing-and-pray-5-times-a-day, fast-for-a-month thing.)

  55. #55 Hank Fox
    February 10, 2010

    PZ, I’m with you on this one.

    There’s an observer bias built into any current view of the question, though, that of “How different would things be if we hadn’t had religion?”

    Typically, most people would automatically frame the question in terms of the advantages we’ve gotten from religion. Because, after all, we’re here now, in this beautiful modern present, and we HAVE had religion for ages. So religion must have some advantages, or at least very few disadvantages.

    They’d never consider the flip side of the question, which would be “Why are things so horrible, and what effect has religion had on the situation?”

    Because we live here and now, and because most of our lives are relatively comfortable, we have a hard time imagining “Why are things so horrible?” as a real question.

    And yet … I can imagine it. Just some random bits off the top of my head:

    We?re changing the weather of our home planet, the effects are going to be drastic, and we seem to be too stupid to stop it. We here in the US are engaged in two simultaneous wars, in which not only our own kids are being killed, but also a possible several hundred thousand innocent bystanders … for no good reason. TV and radio in the US is full of transparent liars who make millions from manipulating fools, and they not only keep on making the millions, the fools love them for it. Our own beloved You Betcha political bonehead can make a one-hour speech to a club of malignant dullards and take home a $100,000 paycheck, more than some people make in 100 years. Also in the US, the government can take your property and throw you in prison for selling or smoking pot. The Japanese are allowed to hunt whales for a reason everybody knows is a lie, but nobody is able to stop them. Ireland has passed a law against ?blasphemy? ? which will be whatever the fuck the prosecutor-of-the-moment decides that is. The Netherlands has an even worse law that allows them to go after anyone who ?insults? a group of people. In Spain we allow some idiot 16-year-old to kill six bulls in one day, and some people consider it high entertainment. We?re coming up on 7 billion people on planet Earth, and the effects of that are obvious to anyone willing to notice, yet Octomom and the Duggars (19 Kids and Counting) are heroes to many.

    Few of those things seem directly related to religion, and yet in my mind, they ARE, in that they are all results of foggy, irrational thinking, and studied complacence about foggy, irrational thinking in others. Qualities which religion champions, demands and reinforces in every society in which it exists.

    In any culture of reason, Cindy Sheehan would have been a hero, instead of the mouthy traitorous bitch plenty of Americans believe her to be (and Sarah Palin would be an unnoticed soccer mom). In any culture of thinking people, college professors would be social lions, striding an intellectual landscape trailing legions of admiring fans.

    Hell, I think any thoughtful culture would take one look at the 300-plus (or whatever) models of printer ink cartridge we?re faced with every time we need a replacement and say ?Well, this is just ridiculous. There should be about 10 of these and no more, interchangeable among all makers.?

    Instead, we have people excited about the possibility of naming buildings and roads after George W. Bush. Glenn Beck, a man who should be forbidden to open his mouth within 10 miles of impressionable children, has a TV show.

    I believe religion has had negative effects on us, both culturally and genetically ? and not small negative effects, but massive ones.

    It?s made us vastly more stupid. Possibly, in the end, too stupid to survive.

  56. #56 Sonja
    February 10, 2010

    This gets so complicated because religion has served so many different uses in society.

    One important role of religion was to give authority. There was a great film about the inuit society called “Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner”. In it, there were a group of sociopathic individuals who were very destructive to the operation of the rest of the community. Finally, the spiritual leader exhiled them from the community.

    A friend and I had just seen this film and he asked me, “Why did that bad group of people leave? They had more power than the rest of the community because they were willing to use violence and lies to get what they wanted.”

    I replied, “Authority.” The spiritual leader could claim a higher authority and was the only person in the community who had a trump card over the group of bad people.

    I can imagine in smaller hunter-gatherer comunities where there was no military or police to control people with anti-social or sociopathic tendencies, the claims of a spiritual leader to speak on behalf of gods was a useful tool to control behavior.

  57. #57 chuckgoecke
    February 10, 2010

    Alright, I’m okay with the piercing. I just need to know at what age should I pierce my child’s genitals. Is it immediately after they are born; or is it when their clitoris or penis is big enough to safely be pierced; or should we wait til early adolescence to their “coming of age”?

  58. #58 Veribu
    February 10, 2010

    @2 – I would say that the reason permeates so many disparate human groups is the reason why most mammals have four legs. Early on in our cultural development, spirituality and early religion was formed. These folk bonded together better than some of the others without (as per the study), so the concept spread with them. Thus the majority of humanity has always had that religious / spiritual part of their culture.

  59. #59 Ibis3
    February 10, 2010

    @Molly #54

    I think Christianity started rather simply–in a horrifically violent culture (with a lot of myths about deities born from human virgins), Jesus suggested that people try being kind to each other. A wonderful idea, so lots of people signed on.

    I’ll have to disagree. This was not an especially “horrifically violent culture”. Much of the initial growth of Christianity happened during the Pax Romana, an environment that was pretty cosmopolitan and more secure than most in the ancient world. Moreover, it’s a Christian myth that it alone was “civilised” and “kind” and “uniquely moral” compared with the prevailing religions and philosophies (though I grant it may have been a departure from pre-Hellenic reactionary strains of contemporary Judaism). The “wonderful idea” that attracted early followers of the cult was the idea that God was the special friend of the poor and powerless, and most early Greek and Roman converts were the poor, the illiterate, slaves, and women. Of course, once Constantine started favouring them, there were new incentives.

  60. #60 Veribu
    February 10, 2010

    *the reason RELIGION permeates*

    FTFM

  61. #61 SteveM
    February 10, 2010

    I can imagine in smaller hunter-gatherer comunities where there was no military or police to control people with anti-social or sociopathic tendencies, the claims of a spiritual leader to speak on behalf of gods was a useful tool to control behavior.

    The old “just wait till your father gets home” school of discipline. Religion just exploits and cultivates childhood hopes and fears and trusts into adulthood.

  62. #62 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 10, 2010

    I just need to know at what age should I pierce my child’s genitals.

    You should wait until you’re at least 25 before piercing your child’s genitals. You might even wait until you’re 30 or even 35 before you start piercing. 60 is not too early to wait.

  63. #63 SteveM
    February 10, 2010

    Religion just exploits and cultivates childhood hopes and fears and trusts into adulthood.

    Just as domestication of animals involves breeding them to retain their infantile behaviors into adulthood, so too religion “domesticates” us by encouraging us to retain our infantile behaviors into adulthood.

  64. #64 Sastra
    February 10, 2010

    chuckgoecke #57 wrote:

    Alright, I’m okay with the piercing. I just need to know at what age should I pierce my child’s genitals. Is it immediately after they are born; or is it when their clitoris or penis is big enough to safely be pierced; or should we wait til early adolescence to their “coming of age”?

    None of the above: the genital piercings should be delayed till late adolescence, to coincide — or even prompt — the sacred “getting the hell out of the house” stage.

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    February 10, 2010


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  66. #66 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmHzDpTLP2mp-qpt639sa9q2J8Wl4QREfQ
    February 10, 2010

    The problem is that there are 2 types of religion, primal or shamanistic religion and Organised hierarchical religion. The first is a by-product of our thinking systems. The second is an agricultural disease. Boyer has already been referenced in this thread and is well worth a read especially about primary religion.

    Tayshrenn

  67. #67 chuckgoecke
    February 10, 2010

    More seriously, I agree with the idea that religion benefits a society’s cultural survival by helping motivate its people to war. The fastest spreading religions were the most war-like; Islam, Christianity, and Roman paganism. Hinduism, and its offshoot Buddhism, and Judaism are less war-loving, and thus either haven’t spread as fast or far, and/or haven’t saturated the places they occur as much.

  68. #68 tsig0
    February 10, 2010

    PZ

    One nut or two?

  69. #69 Free Lunch
    February 10, 2010

    Chuckgoecke,

    Islam and Christianity had the added advantage that they included a universalism in their doctrine. I’m not sure that Roman Paganism ever did that well out in the sticks, at least not in the Eastern Mediterranean. Other religions tended to be associated with the culture they were part of. Judaism and Hinduism are good examples of religions tied to cultures.

  70. #70 daswollff
    February 10, 2010

    The smartest comment on the blog (meaning, the one I wanted to make) is clearly number 11.

    Does it really make sense to talk about the “evolution of religion”?
    The term alone is at least sloppy. What evolved are the faculties that made religion possible (the ability to imagine abstract entities, probably building on abilities even simpler, like a pairing of object permanence with the ability to recognize cause-effect relationships), the rest was cultural. And that “cultural evolution” is a different animal compared with its biological cousin, isn’t that world shattering of an insight.

    To say it clearly: “evolution of religion” is a misnomer. It doesn’t have more to do with biological evolution than the “evolution of agriculture”, the “evolution of pottery” or the “evolution of spaceflight”.

  71. #71 Evil Merodach
    February 10, 2010

    Neanderthals left no definitive evidence of religion, whereas Homo Sapiens of that time did. It pains me to say it but perhaps religion did bestow an social and organizational advantage?

  72. #72 Ibis3
    February 10, 2010

    @chuckgoecke #67

    Not so. Roman Paganism (like its neighbour, Hinduism) was mostly syncretic and pluralistic, not warlike at all really (though both Hinduism and Roman Paganism have/had a few bellicose elements among the collection). On the other hand, Judaism was supremely warlike (just take a gander in the OT)–but it wasn’t interested in converting outsiders (i.e. spreading). And Christianity wasn’t so much warlike as puritanical and dogmatic (legal punishment rather than war was the instrument of choice in forcing conversion and maintaining itself).

  73. #73 Alexander the Good Enough
    February 10, 2010

    Honestly, Batzrubble!

    I think this onion can be peeled another layer or two. I fully agree that religion, in whatever form, is ultimately a side result of the evolution of our “intelligence.” (There are days when I have my doubts, about our intelligence that is.) What’s more, and I write this as a life-long and thoroughgoing atheist, the answer can be found in Genesis.

    A syllogism:

    First, we humans have, as a result of the intellect we’ve evolved, a greater presence of own personal mortality than any other animal (mostly). Second, the first and most primal concern of any organism is to survive, and then successfully reproduce. Conclusion: the overwhelming knowledge of our own mortality (the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge perhaps, after which the Fall?) has us in a constant state of anxiety for our survival. I posit that religion (in all its forms) arose to mediate the dialectic between our knowledge of our mortality and our will to survive, and it is from this primal dialectic that religion derives its power. The rest is social adaptation and evolution to harness and direct this power. This knowledge of our mortality easily leads to a solid and logical morality as well (the first precept being “Thou shall not kill…”).

    A book could easily be written supporting this idea, but I’ve neither the time nor inclination. But look around. What is “salvation” about? What even is “nirvana” about? I leave the rest as an exercise for the reader.

  74. #74 Leon
    February 10, 2010

    So I’m going to have to ask you all to get genital piercings if you want to be a New Atheist.

    Ouch!

  75. #75 Cimourdain
    February 10, 2010

    chuckgoecke is righter than he knows. Buddhism reached China on the backs of Kushan armies.

    That’s my previous point about the advantage that accrues to societies that are capable of producing large numbers of fanatic warriors. Its why, when faced with the religion that does this best, Islam, Christianity had to basically copy the doctrines of Jihad wholesale.

  76. #76 Peter H
    February 10, 2010

    @ 71

    I believe Neanderthal burials have been found which contain grave goods and other evidence of burial ritual; I find it difficult to think such behavior would not have religious overtones.

  77. #77 KillJoy
    February 10, 2010

    Once again Smoggy makes me giggle uncontrollably, which causes my co workers to stare at me as though I were insane. Thanks Smoggy. :P

  78. #78 uselesstwit
    February 10, 2010

    I know I’m going to regret asking this. If genital piercings are for New Atheists, what’s required of a Militant New Atheist?

  79. #79 Sven DiMilo
    February 10, 2010

    Personally I am with Gould and Lewontin here (not bad company) in rejecting almost all Evolutionary Psychology.

    *rolls eyes*
    And do you reject it for the same transparently political reasons as they do did did and do?

  80. #80 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    February 10, 2010

    I know I’m going to regret asking this. If genital piercings are for New Atheists, what’s required of a Militant New Atheist?

    A voice

  81. #81 Smoggy Batzrubble OM4Jesus
    February 10, 2010

    Dear Brother/Sister KillJoy, you are welcome. Perhaps you should think of your giggling as a form of atheists witness. If you sign up with Floyd and I for a set of our patented ornamented nipple-bells, then the next time you giggle you’ll also tinkle, and your co-workers will want to know what that sound was. Then you’ll be able to show them your piercings and explain that you are witnessing for atheism. Just imagine what the consequences of such a display might be!!

    Dear uselesstwit, for the militant atheist Floyd and I offer a great range of offensive piercings which explode loudly whenever anyone mentions the name of Jesus, God or Pope Benny the Rat.

  82. #82 Kel, OM
    February 10, 2010

    ha Ha! Another paper to add to my collection. Looking forward to reading this one

  83. #83 frog, Inc.
    February 10, 2010

    I think that the concept of “religion as cooperation” is deeply misguided.

    Religion is an attempt at social integration of human beings natural tendency to dissociate. Everyone dissociates to some extent to other; many people dissociate quite often, and in many societies religion is the way that this dissociation is handled socially.

    People literally hear the voice of God, in the ME traditions, or are possessed in the West African tradition, or are a mask of a god in some Niugini traditions.

    In the modern tradition, most people need some mental health treatment. I remember reading that even in our societies, 40% are willing to report hearing voices or seeing angels — and that would have to be the low extremum of the actual range of recognizable dissociative events. Everyone daydreams to some amount or other.

    “Culture” is aobut cooperation. Religion is much more narrow than that — it’s not just dance (and other synchronic aesthetics), or oaths (and other performative language) — it’s specifically about projecting internal mental processes.

  84. #84 MadScientist
    February 10, 2010

    I object to “religion evolved” (wasn’t it created by some god in 6 days 6000 years ago) – that should be the “development” of religion. I don’t understand why people are obsessed with the notion of a ‘god gene’ or that religion must somehow be intrinsically tied with natural selection. Religion is made possible by two things: ignorance and the ability to impart ideas to others. The less ignorant a person, the more likely they are to say religion is bullshit; in fact we even have evidence that people as long as 2500 years ago thought religion was bullshit, so you really only need a very basic knowledge of the natural world to discount the claims of religion (and ultimately discard religion as well).

    Asking if religion is “evolved adaptation or by-product” makes as much sense as asking if cars are an evolved adaptation or by-product. Religion is created by humans and it exploits ignorance and distress; it also propagates itself through threats. Now while humans have many traits which can be exploited by religion, there is no reason to believe (and no evidence to support) that religions must necessarily develop because of a “religion creation gene”. I find having no religion as the natural position, and with the modern public education systems that should remain the case; religions only continue to exist via inculcation of lies in the very young (training them to exempt religion from thought or criticism) and through threats. Unfortunately it’s also true that a new religion can crop up any time to exploit human fallibility – we see this happen all the time.

  85. #85 Hank Fox
    February 10, 2010

    Alexander #73: “First, we humans have, as a result of the intellect we’ve evolved, a greater presence of own personal mortality than any other animal (mostly). Second, the first and most primal concern of any organism is to survive, and then successfully reproduce.”

    I’m not sure I can agree with the first statement. We’re not good at reading other species, and it’s difficult to know what, really, is going on in their heads. But I’d argue that a “presence of personal mortality” doesn’t require any great amount of intellect. Judging from my own experience, I suspect dogs, horses and cattle have it in some measure.

    Survival and reproduction: I may be mistaking you connecting these two with intellect, but I doubt they have any necessary connection at all.

    As to your point about religion coming from a desire to thwart mortality, I agree. But the better point is that religion arises simply out of the first of the five stages of grieving: Denial.

    All that business about afterlives, heavens and hells, etc., is an elaborate fantasy world developed on the lip of a plugged emotional drain. It?s all an extended childish refusal to face facts in the real world.

    Atheists are no more happy to lose loved ones, it?s just that they (we) are unable to deny the realities of mortal life, unable to allow ourselves pleasant but ultimately malignant fantasies.

  86. #86 Pierce R. Butler
    February 10, 2010

    Yes, I know y’all were all waiting for this:

    For a select clientele, genital Pierce-ings are available, on-site or at our comfortable facilities.

    Advance photo required; no Y-chromosomes need apply.

  87. #87 Smoggy Batzrubble OM4Jesus
    February 10, 2010

    Brother Pierce, You have such a great name!

    Would you like to come into business with Floyd Rubber and I?

    If you desire anonymity we could change your moniker to “Pierce A. Buttock”

  88. #88 daswollff
    February 10, 2010

    @71

    Please don’t talk about religion like it’s a trait one inherits.
    It’s a social construct.
    What evolves are the abilities that make this kind of behavior possible.
    One of our ancestors who had the necessary abilities in abstract thinking, to think himself a god, an afterlife, or spirits whose actions explained something, already had an advantage over competitors, who couldn’t grasp abstract concepts. But because that advantage came because of the underlying abilities and not because he used them in his spare time to create gods.
    Religion seems to me in this context secondary.
    And even if it were not, and played a vital role, it is not dependent on evolution: Once you have the “abstract thinking hardware” evolved into the proper place, it’s (mostly) cultural evolution. And that’s not evolution anymore.

  89. #89 Kel, OM
    February 10, 2010

    I always thought it a by-product, an extension of being able to project into the future, to recognise the self, of being able to detect agency, social learning, etc. Guess I’ll read the paper and see whether my suspicions were correct.

  90. #90 Alexander the Good Enough
    February 10, 2010

    Hank-

    I quite agree with you that other animals seemingly have some significant sense of mortality, which is why I included the parenthetical “mostly.” We as humans differ only in degree. But that degree is significant. It seems to me, and obviously it’s difficult to verify this objectively, the we have a notably clearer sense at a younger age and throughout adulthood that we individually have a finite lifespan. This deep and early awareness of our impending personal demise results in various but often strong levels of anxiety in us humans, and one result is the development of religion in an attempt to ameliorate this persistent anxiety.

    Denial of mortality (the first stage of grieving for a reason), with heaven/hell/”eternal life” etc., is a hallmark of the 3 Western religions, especially Christianity and Islam. The “philosophical” Eastern religions, on the other hand, lean towards acceptance of mortality with concepts of “nirvana” and “oneness.” Both approaches have obvious limits, we’re all going to die regardless, but they both have supplied solace and succor, as well as motivating mayhem and destruction, through the ages.

    Myself, I’m pretty sure that things for me after my passing will be much like they were for me before I was born. The universe seems rather symmetrical that way.

  91. #91 Butch Pansy
    February 10, 2010

    @65 re: “Pain is pleasure”

    As one of my yoga instructors was fond of saying: “It’s not pain; it’s a sensation.”

    I feel sensational! became my mantra for a while.

  92. #92 natural cynic
    February 10, 2010

    …consider the chronic Christian condition of believing themselves to be an oppressed minority?that’s emphasized because if membership is perceived to be costly, even if it actually isn’t, it still can act as an inhibitor of free-riding.

    I don’t think so. Early Christianity went through periods of toleration and repression. During repressive times, the churches built themselves on the view of an afterlife that was far better than current circumstances, and the martyrs gave an example that their beliefs were so strong, well, they must be right. For a Roman slave, many would choose a short nasty death, with hope of a resurrection over a shitty life that might not last much longer anyway. During times with little repression, the memories and stories of the recent martyrs would be a strong influence that would tell the downtrodden that if martyrs would be strong enough to take such risks with their lives, then there must be some kind of special strength that can be gained by being a follower. All this happened during a time of religious diversity with lackluster faith in most of them with most of the populace. Early Christianity could then be perceived by a non-believer as a much stronger belief system.

    In more current times, it seems that PZ doesn’t take human contrariness into account. Believing any religion in our society has such a small actual downside while having a much larger perceived downside. So, a martyr complex is possible without much cost while being a martyr has a huge perceived upside.

    And who cheers for the overdog, anyway. Go Cubbies.

  93. #93 cody.cameron
    February 10, 2010

    I wonder if it would help to look at the finer morsels that come together to make religion, instead of treating the whole of religion as a single entity.

    The two main aspects of religion (to me), seem to be a sort of mystical/unsubstantiated/superstitious belief in some purported explanation of the world, and an authority structure that typically abuses its power in ever more clever ways.

    The superstitious elements always claim to resolve some grand mystery of the universe, and the evolution of those beliefs through history as humankind has learned about its environment appear glaringly obvious.

    E.g., polytheistic beliefs–with a god for lightning, the ocean, the sun, moon, plants, floods, etc.–became one god ruling a single natural/physical world, because humans slowly learned that the moon caused the tides, and so on.

    Heaven and hell are also excellent pre-history questions–“what is above me? and what is below me? all I ever see is more blue sky or more dirt, no matter how high I climb or how deep I dig. Maybe that’s where you go when your body dies!” I suspect this sort of behavior–making up myths & superstitions to explain the natural world–should fully account for the vast similarities between geographically separated religions.

    The other major aspect of religion, authority, seems like it has a very natural origin in the formation of larger societies, and the very natural instinct to compete and control one another for one’s own genetic propagation.

  94. #94 Pierce R. Butler
    February 10, 2010

    Brutha Smoggy – Thanks for the invite, but (a) that proposed pseudonym is one all my cherished 4th-grade classmates would recognize (having given it to me), and (b) I harbor a sneaking suspicion that you and Tovarsich Floyd would be lining up for freebies as a “professional courtesy” (and I’m just not that PC).

    Besides, I have evidence that y’all may not be True New Atheists? at all!

  95. #95 ursa major
    February 10, 2010

    Several random thoughts:

    I have doubts about religion being a tool for coping with anxiety about death when as best I can tell fear of death is amplified by religion. If there is no hell (or equivalent) what is there to be afraid of? Also, as best as I recall, the oldest religions did not have an afterlife.

    Dissociation, synesthesia (e.g. seeing auras), psychosis and drug induced states -particularly the reports of those of high status – seem likely seeds for the notions of invisible worlds and powers.

    Giorgio de Santillana, and others, suggested that a major function of myth was for the transmission of astronomical knowledge. The stories of the various couplings, struggles and travels of the gods were codes for the movements of the planets, which stars could be expected to rise with the sun and other relevant information.

    Even as late as Aristotle, an educated person could take it as a commonplace that the gods are the stars.

    Uh, So it seems religion is a side effect of our biology, cultural change, historical accident and episodes of just plain stupidity.

  96. #96 frog, Inc.
    February 10, 2010

    @natural cynic: Early Christianity could then be perceived by a non-believer as a much stronger belief system… So, a martyr complex is possible without much cost while being a martyr has a huge perceived upside.

    As if religion was a rational, conscious choice.

    It’s not. People really do hear the voice of God, they feel his presence, they smell the Virgin’s flowers, they see angels. They “receive” dreams.

    It’s much more about their theory of mind and a model of their own mental functioning than anything else. Why does the Freudian model of Superego, Ego, and Id smell so much like the Father, Son & Holy Ghost? Why do so many “polytheistic” cultures have legal systems where responsibility for acts are distributed (aka, you can get off on murder because it means you were “possessed”)?

    Religion isn’t a rational explanation of, but an expression of personal & social mental functions.

    Rationalist tend to treat religion as if it were analogous to science or philosophy. They focus on theology as if it were a rational construct which underlies religion, rather than apologetics for religion, an epiphenomenon when trying to map religion into the rational domains of life.

  97. #97 RijkswaanVijanD
    February 10, 2010

    Religion seems more like a social parasitic strategy to me.. Masters of ceremony exploiting some cognitive bias to feed of us, but as we learn more their grounds of exploitation crumble.. Since they can no longer supress the learning itself by simply burning us at the stake, it’s a done strategy too.

  98. #98 frog, Inc.
    February 10, 2010

    RVD: Religion seems more like a social parasitic strategy to me.. Masters of ceremony exploiting some cognitive bias to feed of us,

    The kleptocrats are secondary. They’re feeding not off a “cognitive bias” but a much more complex phenomenon — which is that a human-level mind developing in a relative small community is going to have serious issues distinguishing between what is globally, objectively true, and what is locally, subjectively experienced. A good con-man can take advantage of it.

    If you grow up in a Niugini village or the Roman Empire — how are you going to distinguish between external voices and voices in your head? What test can you make, when everyone around is almost identical to you, and therefore also hears the same voices? Where you have very little physical equipment to test, a limited historical record available to you, and an inaccurate physics?

    Religion is inevitable then, hand in hand with related mental processes. The social parasites then come later, folks who have figured out how to manipulate the pre-existing “supernatural” forces.

  99. #99 Nick
    February 10, 2010

    killjoy #47
    ‘I already HAVE my genital piercing.
    I’m ahead of the curve on this one.’

    But is it on the head of the curve?

  100. #100 Nick
    February 10, 2010

    As has been mentioned above, the term ‘religion’ is a bit of a catchall. I would be curious to know to what extent, across the different cultural expressions of religion, religion concentrates power, prestige or other benefits to a small group within that society.

  101. #101 F
    February 10, 2010

    Religious groups seem to last longer than non-religious groups, for example.

    Despite the fact that the usefulness of the religion in dealing with the wider world, outside of the group, may be long-vanished (or non-existent from inception).

    I think the advantage would be for a group to break up or change when its methods for dealing with the world become invalid, or are realized to be so.

  102. #102 Hieronymus The Troll Braintree
    February 10, 2010

    Strangers will not try to free-ride on your gang if membership involves snipping off the end of your penis, for instance.

    We’ve been over this before, PZ. Circumcision does not constitute “snipping off the end of [one's] penis.” It constitutes snipping off the skin surrounding the end of one’s penis.

    If there’s still any confusion, I think the best way to illustrate the distinction is for you to loan me your penis for a few minutes so I can show you. I’m sure you’ll find the experience nothing short of educational.

    And, BTW, I do think that religion is an evolutionary adaption for a very obvious reason that is completely missing from the old Professor’s post: Life sucks. And it used to suck even worse before good hygiene or decent dental care. People didn’t live as long, either and loved ones tended to die far earlier than they do now, thus providing ample opportunity for mourning and despair. If you’re grinding away at some back-breaking job all day after your spouse has died of typhoid, knowing that you’re going to be dead in a few years and that relentless poverty is all you’ve got to look forward to, atheism is not exactly going to sustain you. If you believe that there’s some Big Spook with a Hammer in the Sky, who’s going to reward you for being inherently less “sinful” than people who are better off while punishing them and your enemies, and allow you to meet up again with your lost loved ones that can keep you going. Religion provides meaning when there’s nothing else left. Without meaning there’s less reason to live.

    Hope, even false hope, is an evolutionary advantage simply because it gives you the will to live. No hope is the opposite.

    Duh.

  103. #103 John Morales
    February 10, 2010

    HTTrollB:

    We’ve been over this before, PZ. Circumcision does not constitute “snipping off the end of [one's] penis.” It constitutes snipping off the skin surrounding the end of one’s penis.

    Are you arguing that because you consider that the skin of the penis is not part of the penis, per se?

    (It’s called the ‘prepuce’, by the way.)

    If there’s still any confusion, I think the best way to illustrate the distinction is for you to loan me your penis for a few minutes so I can show you. I’m sure you’ll find the experience nothing short of educational.

    As a counter-offer, I could illustrate to you the non-distinction if you offer any given body-part and I remove the skin covering it; clearly I’d not have mutilated that body-part, only its skin. No biggie, right?

    And, BTW, I do think that religion is an evolutionary adaption for a very obvious reason that is completely missing from the old Professor’s post: Life sucks.

    Speak for yourself. Life has ups and downs, but I emphatically reject the proposition that my life sucks.

    Religion provides meaning when there’s nothing else left. Without meaning there’s less reason to live.

    Religion also provides self-loathing and depression and unhappiness — never mind that such meaning as it purports to provide is gained at the expense of intellectual honesty and at the cost of cognitive dissonance.

    As for meaning, I don’t hold there’s any to my life (it just is) nor do I require any, yet I very much appreciate it.

  104. #104 frog, Inc.
    February 10, 2010

    JM: As for meaning, I don’t hold there’s any to my life (it just is) nor do I require any, yet I very much appreciate it.

    Well, it obviously mean something to you.

    Just folks like The Troll lack the sophistication to understand that meaningfulness is relative — that there’s no such thing as something being “meaningful” without reference to an interpreter of that meaning. That insanity leads to thinking that you need a Universal to give something “meaning”.

    My life is terribly meaningful to me — infinitely meaningful. I just don’t think it’s terribly meaningful to others, outside of my immediate family. And I definitely don’t need an Infinite Daddy, a prime mover, to make it absolutely meaningful.

    The world will be a lot better place when folks can accept that most knowledge is relative to a knower, without it being an arbitrary preference. Most advances in science for the last 500 years have applied that principle.

  105. #105 Hieronymus The Troll Braintree
    February 10, 2010

    Life has ups and downs, but I emphatically reject the proposition that my life sucks.

    That probably speaks volumes about your observation skills.

  106. #106 KillJoy
    February 10, 2010

    Smoggy;
    Its Brother KillJoy, and my nipples are already decorated as well. You’ll have to come up with something even more interesting.

    Nick;
    Its slight below, and under the head of the curve. :P

  107. #107 John Morales
    February 10, 2010

    frog,

    Well, it [my life] obviously mean something to you.

    It means I exist, for now. But that’s true for my dog, too (or for any organism).

    HTTrollB:

    That probably speaks volumes about your observation skills.

    Nah, it’s that I’m not neurotic or insecure, and I have an easy life in “the lucky country”.
    In what sense does my life supposedly suck?

    BTW, is the prepuce¹ part of the penis, or not? ;)

    ¹ (It also covers the clitoris, in females).

  108. #108 frog, Inc.
    February 10, 2010

    JM: It means I exist, for now. But that’s true for my dog, too (or for any organism).

    Nah, it means a lot more to you than that. Be serious, man. Almost everything you do depends on the proposition that you value your life, that it has a specific contour and tone.

    You’re like the Berkeleyan who claims that he doesn’t believe in external reality, but jumps quick when you threaten to smack them.

    It’s an intellectual pose. You deeply care about your life. It means a lot to you, beyond it’s mere existence.

    You just don’t posit that it means something to a non-existent universal viewpoint. That the universe cares — but you as sure as hell do care.

    And that’s what “mean” means in this context. The Troll thinks that without some Sky Daddy caring about his life, he has no basis to care about his life and his relationship with everyone else — which is as silly as claiming that you don’t care.

  109. #109 Cowcakes
    February 10, 2010

    Re: #65

    Dear Smoggy and Floyd.

    As the legendary songstress Chrissy Amplett was heard to announce, “It’s a fine line between pleasure and pain”.

    Also do tell, do your services include the insertion of pearls under the skin. I’m informed by acquaintances in Broome that this is most decorative and erotic. Perhaps it would appeal to the more affluent atheist.

  110. #110 John Morales
    February 10, 2010

    frog,

    It means I exist, for now.

    [1] It’s an intellectual pose. [2] You deeply care about your life. It means a lot to you, beyond it’s mere existence.

    1. Perhaps you’re right.
    I believe it’s a statement of fact about my own belief, as I understand it, and I don’t believe that it’s a pose.
    Are you suggesting I’m lying to myself?

    2. Well, yes, I do deeply care. I don’t wish for it to be lived in pain, or in suffering, or for it to cease.
    That said, I reiterate: I don’t ascribe it any particular meaning, only existence.

    BTW, you do realise the concepts of ‘caring for’ and ‘meaning of’ [something] are not synonymous, right?

    (If you’re suggesting that because I care about my life and its condition, this therefore is the meaning, then I suppose so, in a sense; but it’s rather vacuous.)

  111. #111 John Morales
    February 10, 2010

    frog,

    And that’s what “mean” means in this context.

    No, I think it refers to ‘purpose’, not to ‘caring’, in that context.

  112. #112 Smoggy Batzrubble OM4Jesus
    February 10, 2010

    Dear ‘Brother’ Killjoy, your nipples are already perforated? Well done, you are ahead of the atheist curve! Do you still have your foreskin? If you do, do you still wish to retain all of it, part of it, or any shred of it? There are myriad possibilities for prepuce modification.

    Dear Cowcakes,
    Pearls under the skin? Definitely! We also insert marbles, golf balls and remote controlled vibrating eggs. Believe it or not, we inserted a pair of vibrating eggs in the breasts of a woman whose partner had a fetish for boobie-sex. By happy coincidence she was a competitive swimmer, and she later discovered that if the eggs were triggered during a race her stroke rate increased by around 11%.

    Smog

  113. #113 frog, Inc.
    February 10, 2010

    JM: BTW, you do realise the concepts of ‘caring for’ and ‘meaning of’ [something] are not synonymous, right?

    In this case, they are (even if it does lead to a tautology). When The Troll says that his life “means something” — he’s not using it in the sense that it is a defined symbol with a fixed referent, that it has a meaning in the sense that a word means something.

    He means that someone cares about it and it’s effect on the world, thereby justifying a particular structuring of his life, rather acting in a aimless, random way.

    What’s the answer for a Christian to “Why should I get up in the morning”? It’s not a definition — it’s “God loves you”, aka the universe cares profoundly about you.

    So, no I’m not exactly saying that you’re lying to yourself. I’m suggesting that you’re misunderstanding the question, by using the wrong definition of “to mean” in a particular case.

    All the things that religionists believe flow out of “life having meaning” — such as ethics, love, structure, aim — are all things consistent with my reading of the statement. A non-religionists is motivated for the same things by their caring for their life and for those of others; the religionists seems to believe that they wouldn’t care for their own life and those of others if Jujumbu the Lightning God didn’t care. They seem incapable of identifying with their “caring module” — as if that aspect of their personality can only exist externally to them.

    Therefore, I posit they have a tendency to dissociate when thinking about things of that nature; aka, they’re thoughts about caring about their lives are experienced in semi-fugal states, as if they were reading the mind of some external entity.

  114. #114 frog, Inc.
    February 10, 2010

    JM: No, I think it refers to ‘purpose’, not to ‘caring’, in that context.

    What’s “purpose” in this case? It means someone cares that I do X rather than Y. It’s not the same kind of teleology of a machine — an engineer doesn’t care “about” his designs, just the results.

    But “the meaning of life” is about “caring about” the entity in question itself, not merely the results.

    We’re stepping into a very ill-defined area here. It’s aesthetic, and not rational. Every word used has multiple, and often contradictory, meanings, all of which are “intended”.

    What’s the purpose of life? “Pleasing God”.
    What does life mean? “That God loves you”.
    Why are we alive? “To worship God”.

    The answers, if the questions are interpreted normally, would appear to be non-sequiturs. But they’re not exactly that — because aesthetics, beauty and “caring” don’t demand logical interconnectives.

    My issue is with the external locus implied by this literary tradition. It’s a problem known within the tradition itself — endless problems with omniprescense, omniscience, omnibelevolence, theodicy, suffering, and so on, because of that demand. Ultimately, it’s an ugly little song, that demeans the artist.

    It’s ugly for your “I Am” to be a voice from the sky.

  115. #115 John Morales
    February 10, 2010

    frog, thanks for the clarification.

    The Troll says that his life “means something” — he’s not using it in the sense that it is a defined symbol with a fixed referent, that it has a meaning in the sense that a word means something.

    Hm. This is the quote: Religion provides meaning when there’s nothing else left. Without meaning there’s less reason to live.

    (I note if ‘religion’ is substituted with ‘ideology’, the sense of that statement doesn’t change; this indicates it’s not about deities, it’s about belief.)

  116. #116 frog, Inc.
    February 10, 2010

    JM: I note if ‘religion’ is substituted with ‘ideology’, the sense of that statement doesn’t change; this indicates it’s not about deities, it’s about belief.

    True enough, but why is the deity a necessary element of the formula? You don’t hear people saying this about non-deity ideologies – “Palinism provides meaning when there’s nothing else left.”

    Change Palinism with any other non-deity type ism — fascism, communism, liberalism, Libertarianism, Dadaism… None of them really work (you only hear it from the fringiest of nut cases that even the religious consider insane fanatics). None of them rise to the point to being first “meanings” — they all depend on some other system to motivate them, even if it’s “I love my freedom” or “I love other people”.

    It’s a peculiar kind of ideology that works in that sentence — suggesting that there’s more going on there than the surface meaning. It’s that “nothing else left” that really motivates the phrase, more than the “provides meaning”. It’s a contrast with vulgar nihilism that I see there, that there’s no standards, no aims, no purposes, no meanings, no caring without an external standard, purpose, aims…

    Even the rare cases where a non-deity ideology, say Communism, works for someone in “It gives me meaning when there’s nothing left”, I’d posit that the external element of historical inevitability or the Volk fills the same role as Mr. Deity.

    I always have a “purpose”. To live, to care for my family, to be productive, to learn, to walk the dog… It’s hard for me to imagine what “when there’s nothing left” really means, without assuming some kind of projection going on.

    How does one not care, be free of desires and aims, without being in fugue state? They seem to be saying, “I’d be psychotic with God”, which implies to me that “God” is a part of their personality that they’re not identifying with.

  117. #117 scooterKPFT
    February 10, 2010

    I’m going to have to ask you all to get genital piercings if you want to be a New Atheist.

    I already have the unabridged Origin of Species tattooed on my penis

  118. #118 Smoggy Batzrubble OM4Jesus
    February 10, 2010

    “I already have the unabridged Origin of Species tattooed on my penis.”

    Wow Brother scooter! Can my friend Floyd Rubber have a look? He’s a voracious reader.

  119. #119 frog, Inc.
    February 10, 2010

    They seem to be saying, “I’d be psychotic with God”

    Freudian slip. Without, of course.

  120. #120 John Morales
    February 10, 2010

    frog,

    True enough, but why is the deity a necessary element of the formula?

    It’s not (cf. Heaven’s Gate).

    It’s a peculiar kind of ideology that works in that sentence — suggesting that there’s more going on there than the surface meaning.

    Yes, good point. I guess it’s not the ideology per se, but rather how much one invests in it.

    [1] I always have a “purpose”. To live, to care for my family, to be productive, to learn, to walk the dog… [2] It’s hard for me to imagine what “when there’s nothing left” really means, without assuming some kind of projection going on.

    1. I do those; but I do them (with the notable exception of being productive¹) because it satisfies me, not because I think I’m somehow ‘meant’ to do them.

    I don’t consider this a purpose, I consider it a desire.
    (Admittedly, some may well believe their desires are their purpose, but I don’t.)
    I grant that if one sees the satisfaction of their own desires as a ‘purpose’ or ‘meaning to their lives’, then I too have one (but I don’t consider myself a hedonist, though this seems to be the implication! — again, surely this applies to every life-form, to the extent they have desires).

    2. Me too. One’s existence is (or should be!) a given; since it’s always there (from one’s perspective), there’s never a “nothing left”. Why isn’t that enough? :)

    My main point was (and is) that the original contention by the dinosaur was, at best, a hasty generalisation.

    ¹ I’m very lazy. I do the least I can do so that I achieve enough to get by, and no more.
    I work to live, not live to work; any productivity I generate is a necessity, not an ideal.

  121. #121 frog, Inc.
    February 10, 2010

    JM:

    Heaven’s Gate is clearly a religious group. Mr. Deity might be aliens, but the aliens are clearly a deity and not a rational hypothesis of non-earth derived intelligences. I think it goes to my point.

    One’s existence is (or should be!) a given; since it’s always there (from one’s perspective), there’s never a “nothing left”. Why isn’t that enough?

    ‘Cause most people are nutz. They can’t identify with all their own pieces. Their senses of self are fragile and distributed. Take them seriously when they say they “talk to God, and God listens”. For many — God even talks back!

    Many people’s minds simply breaks down when they look at their own existence as if they were taking an external point of view. It’s subtle for most — but it’s there. They aren’t followers of Lucretius!

    Why would anyone be flabbergasted by “fine tuning”? Why would anyone mumble such nonsense as the anthropic principle? Really, it should be obvious that our existence is a presupposition of anything we do, ask, or study. It’s never a surprise or a statistical anomaly that I exist!

    I don’t consider this a purpose, I consider it a desire.
    (Admittedly, some may well believe their desires are their purpose, but I don’t.)

    I think for the purposes of this conversation, whatever gets you through the night is alright. Whatever is the psychological motivator for your ideological predisposition is your “purpose” (in terms of what The Extinct One means). They’re usually pretty complicated for sane people, with lots of competing desires/aims/standards/feelings and so on.

    Fine haggling over desire vs. purpose vs. aim isn’t useful if you want to understand the religious motivation — it’s not a philosophical position, a rational argument, but expressions of “what makes me tick”. Abrahamists state it as a “purpose”, since their literature is filled with teleologies and histories. I don’t think the Greeks would have talked about it quite that way, since their stories were filled with competing spirits animating or inspiring activity; so I’d expect they would talk about what “animates” them. The Romans were “inspired” rather than “purpose-driven”.

    I guess us moderns & post-moderns “have drives”. We take ownership and identify with the complexity of our minds. Moderns try to rationally “handle their desires”. We can even see ourselves “integrating drives”: post-moderns are epiphenomena of interlocking agents.

  122. #122 Hieronymus The Troll Braintree
    February 10, 2010

    Face it guys, for most of the human race today and nearly all in human history life has royally sucked.

    How’d you like to be a Pakistani living in Pakistan? Or a Chinese peasant? Or a typical Russian citizen in a kleptocracy where rotten pay is the norm? How would you like to have been a medieval serf? A Roman laboror or slave? The modern, western standard of living is a new invention that has often been interrupted by cataclysims like WWII and the great depression. Back at the turn of the last century the average life span was about 45. If you were black things were even worse. Child labor was common. The average work day was 12 hours six days a week and the pay was rotten. (In New York the average pay was $200 a year–less than $4,000.00 in today’s dollars.)The only entertainment most people could afford was drinking themselves to death. And the educational system was nothing to write home about either. Most kids didn’t make it out of junior high school and spent their lives taking the kind of jobs your parents warned you about.

    And for most there was no way out–globally there is no way ou–except the grave.

    I wouldn’t want to live like that. Would you?

    So how do you console yourself if you’re, say, a medieval serf whose life is one of filth and endless toil? You believe the fairy tales you’re being told. Jesus cares about you, he sees your suffering and will reward you in the hereafter for being so faithful. Do your enemies laugh at you? Don’t worry. They shall burn in Hell. Did your child die from an infection of the sort that could easily be cured now by penicillen? Don’t worry. You’ll see her in Heaven.

    Is it really so impossible for you people to see the inherent appeal of that? Or how that logic can give people the will to live when everything else is shot? Or why that might give the people succeptable to religion an inherent evolutionary advantage? Just how obvious does it have to be in order for you to get it?

    If this were a “Twilight Zone” episode John “Prepuce” Morales would be transported to 17th century London just in time to see a third of the population die from Bubonic Plague. The survivors would then burn him at the stake for the crime of telling them to cheer up because, as far as he was concerned, everything is just fine.

  123. #123 John Morales
    February 10, 2010

    frog,

    Fine haggling over desire vs. purpose vs. aim isn’t useful if you want to understand the religious motivation — it’s not a philosophical position, a rational argument, but expressions of “what makes me tick”.

    I probably will never viscerally understand the position of the religious, though I intellectually accept their existence and their claims.

    For me, that “I am” is enough, I don’t need “I am for some reason” or that “there is meaning to my being” to be satisfied.
    Note I’m not saying that this could not be so, only that I feel no need for any such belief.

    I am aware that I’m atypical in this respect, but don’t think I’m exceptional, either.

  124. #124 John Morales
    February 11, 2010

    Hieronymus:

    How’d you like to be a Pakistani living in Pakistan? Or a Chinese peasant? Or a typical Russian citizen in a kleptocracy where rotten pay is the norm? How would you like to have been a medieval serf? A Roman laboror or slave?

    I’d like it no more and no less than my current existence, that would just be the way things are. I’d still seek to get by, best as I could. Nothing about my attitude would change, I’d still seek to minimise unpleasantness in my life and to appreciate what I did have.

    The modern, western standard of living is a new invention that has often been interrupted by cataclysims like WWII and the great depression.

    So? One judges one’s standard of living by comparison to one’s peers, not by hypotheticals. For some of us, good enough is good enough.

    And for most there was no way out–globally there is no way ou–except the grave.

    Hate to break this to you, but that’s the only “way out” for you and for me, too! ;)

    So how do you console yourself if you’re, say, a medieval serf whose life is one of filth and endless toil? You believe the fairy tales you’re being told.

    Speak for yourself. I believe what I find believable, not what might comfort me. In another time, or another place, this might be different, but this is just hypothetical.

    If this were a “Twilight Zone” episode John “Prepuce” Morales would be transported to 17th century London just in time to see a third of the population die from Bubonic Plague.

    Ah, good. Then I’d survive the plague.

    The survivors would then burn him at the stake for the crime of telling them to cheer up because, as far as he was concerned, everything is just fine.

    Well, I see you consider me an idiot, but no. I’d hardly say something that would get me burnt at the stake.

    In that time and place, I’d be sensible enough not to offend others to that extent (I’ve done so before — you might not be aware, but I was a Catholic altar-boy until I was 15 y.o., though I was an atheist by the age of 12. I didn’t need the aggravation.).

  125. #125 Hank Fox
    February 11, 2010

    Hieronymus #102: “We’ve been over this before, PZ. Circumcision does not constitute ‘snipping off the end of [one's] penis.’ It constitutes snipping off the skin surrounding the end of one’s penis.”

    Spoken by someone who obviously does not have that “skin.”

    Speaking as someone who DOES, first of all, it’s not just “skin,” it’s a protective and sensory ORGAN, mister. You might as well insist the nose is just skin, or the ear or nipples are just skin.

    And second, as a foreskin extends out past what YOU mistakenly consider the end of the penis, it IS, in fact, the REAL end of the (unmutilated) penis. — Which means you’re sort of like someone with no lips insisting the outermost part of the mouth is the teeth.

    And finally, for the political part of this comment, performing unnecessary elective surgery on babies, historically without the least bit of painkiller, is an obscenely barbaric practice.

    Doing it casually because “we’ve always done it this way” or “God said we should” makes it an obscenely barbaric STUPID practice.

  126. #126 chuckgoecke
    February 11, 2010

    Hieronymus The Troll, your ideas are truly those of a dope. First on average age, versus lifespans. The potential lifespan of humans has been about 70 – 80 years since before recorded history. The “average” lifespan is influenced by how many people died at younger ages. Most people died before the age of 2 back in the old days. That has a pretty strong influence on the average lifespan. Lots of people lived to comfortable old age even in neolithic times. This was one of the great innovation of modern humans, the care of the old, because they were valuable due to their knowledge and wisdom.

    Second, on the misery of life. Speak for your own dogdamn self! How do you know a “Pakistani living in Pakistan” or a Chinese kid working a 12 hour day is miserable and hating life. People have the ability to find fun and interest and satisfaction in all different ways of going through life. Yes, part of it is not knowing anything different, and fun is relative, but people have fun in all ages, locations, and places and status’ in life. It is incredibly ethnocentric and culturally insensitive of you to assume people in a lower status than you are “miserable”. This sort of reminds me of a rich asshole from Beverly Hills, CA making a wrong exit and finding himself in East LA, seeing a group of Hispanic guys sitting on their porch on a Sunday afternoon drinking beer. He thinks, oh those poor miserable {ethnic slur}’s, they don’t have anything better to do. Hey, they’re friends and neighbors, watching a Football game, enjoying the beautiful weather outside, while their wives are doing the reciprocal things inside, making some great food(sorry for the cliched scenario). Nobody’s happy all the time, and few healthy people are miserable all the time. Its been this way for at least 100,000 years.

  127. #127 John Morales
    February 11, 2010

    chuckgoecke, good points.

    Psalm 90:10: The days of our years are threescore years and ten.

    No dark satanic mills in that milieu (though the salt-mines of Roman times still resonates).

  128. #128 Hieronymus The Troll Braintree
    February 11, 2010

    Dear John,

    I see no reason to keep arguing with someone who has displayed your immense gift for missing the point and denying odious reality. I am confident that anyone who is reasonably objective and intelligent and, for some reason, still interested in this thread, can see that you simply won’t understand anything that contradicts your preferred viewpoint and that you are stupidly picking on small points in a way that shows you are completely missing the big picture. Just about anyone can understand how the awfulness of being an ignorant peasant with few options, a stunted life span who has suffered irrepable loss–something that is quite common among the extremely impoverished–might need religion, as something to help them get through the day. You on the other hand, obviously lack the basic human capacity to do this. The fact that you don’t need religion to get you through the day is beside the point. Others feel they need it and they’re the overwhelming majority. You have done nothing to knock down my point that religion is something that sustains people. If it sustains them they’re more likely to reproduce. This really isn’t hard to understand provided you don’t insist on behaving like an idiot.

    http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4RNWN_enUS313US313&q=Christianity+sustains+me

    I’m done for the day. Please feel free to discredit yourself without me.

  129. #129 Owlmirror
    February 11, 2010

    Epicureanism:

    Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of Epicurus, founded around 307 BC. [...] Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquility and freedom from fear (ataraxia) as well as absence of bodily pain (aponia) through knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of our desires. The combination of these two states is supposed to constitute happiness in its highest form.

    Stoicism:

    Stoicism was a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC. The Stoics considered destructive emotions to be the result of errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of “moral and intellectual perfection,” would not undergo such emotions. Stoics were concerned with the active relationship between cosmic determinism and human freedom, and the belief that it is virtuous to maintain a will (called prohairesis) that is in accord with nature. Because of this, the Stoics presented their philosophy as a way of life, and they thought that the best indication of an individual’s philosophy was not what a person said but how he behaved. Later Roman Stoics, such as Seneca and Epictetus, emphasized that because “virtue is sufficient for happiness,” a sage was immune to misfortune.

    Cynicism:

    Cynicism (Greek: K???????) originally comprised the various philosophies of a group of ancient Greeks called the Cynics, founded by Antisthenes in about the 4th century BC. The Cynics rejected all conventions, whether of religion, manners, housing, dress, or decency, advocating the pursuit of virtue in a simple and unmaterialistic lifestyle. [...] The classical Greek and Roman Cynics regarded virtue as the only necessity for happiness, and saw virtue as entirely sufficient for attaining happiness. Classical Cynics followed this philosophy to the extent of neglecting everything not furthering their perfection of virtue and attainment of happiness, thus, the title Cynics, derived from the Greek word ????, (“dog” in English) because they allegedly neglected society, hygiene, family, money, etc, in a manner reminiscent of dogs. They sought to free themselves from conventions; become self-sufficient; and live only in accordance with nature. They rejected any conventional notions of happiness involving money, power, or fame, to lead entirely virtuous, and thus happy, lives.

  130. #130 Hank Fox
    February 11, 2010

    Hieronymus The Troll Braintree #128: “… religion is something that sustains people. If it sustains them they’re more likely to reproduce.”

    But then again, this is a conclusion you reached by looking at the world through god-colored glasses. By which I mean: a bias built into everything you think by being brought up in a goddy world.

    The problem you have is an observer bias that looks back into the time before science and sees humans living with religion, apparently successfully, and yet fails to realize that religion was their only choice. The fact that the human race survived that time is not necessarily proof that religion sustains them. It could instead be a terrible parasite that they simply continued surviving, generation after generation.

    What you have to do is look at a time when people had a choice of something other than religion, and compare those people to the religion-only group.

    Divide history into that world before science, when there were only religious ways of solving problems, and into the world after science, when it became possible to solve problems using non-religious thinking.

    Okay, what were the fruits of the religious mindset? Compared to what we have today, they were poverty, sickness, war, early death, squalor.

    What were the fruits of the scientific mindset? Invention, trade, healing, vast creativity and discovery, and wealth for the individual off the scale of anything that ever before existed.

    (And bear in mind that, though people do frequently mix the two in their heads, the two mindsets are distinctly different. Science, for instance, is impossible to do in a religious frame of mind. I don’t mean that religious people can’t do science; I mean that you can’t do the science without being, in the moment you’re doing science, in a science frame of mind and not a religious frame of mind.)

    When you compare the people of the two eras, you?ll realize you?re wrong. Religion was DAMAGING to the reproductive success of humans. They only lived with it because they had to, and so they muddled along as best they could.

    The evidence of the improvement brought about by non-religious thinking, science thinking, is the nearly 7 billion people now living on Earth, as compared to the (at best) few million during the religion-only era. (And DON?T think this is just the result of natural population increase. There?s no way 7 billion people could live on this planet without some truly aggressive scientific thinking — in medicine, agriculture, energy, transportation, etc.)

    In a different scenario than the one you imagine, a world without aggressive religion, people are sustained by their fellow humans, or their own innate hope. Lacking the despair, wooly thinking and fear of afterlife punishment, they become BETTER able to live and reproduce.

  131. #131 John Morales
    February 11, 2010

    Hieronymus:

    You on the other hand, obviously lack the basic human capacity to do this.

    Whoo! Since it’s basic to humans, and I obviously lack it, that makes me not-human!

    (Now, if only I had tentacles!
    Alas, I’m but a non-human humaniform. :|

    Where’s the nearest euthanasia-booth?)

  132. #132 Miki Z
    February 11, 2010

    Where’s the nearest euthanasia-booth?

    They don’t have them at the Howard Johnson’s in Australia?

  133. #133 John Morales
    February 11, 2010

    Miki,

    They don’t have them at the Howard Johnson’s in Australia?

    Nevermind where I am; where’s Hieronymus?

    It clearly needs to be put out of its misery, what with the suckitude of life and the existential angst…

  134. #134 Rorschach
    February 11, 2010

    Moral judgments based on emotional intuition( an oxymoron ?) ?
    I agree with one of the previous commenters, seems more likely that these perceived “intuitions” are based on complex integrated experiences.

    As to religion and its spread through humans’ brains, my pet theory is that it started as a way of explaining the world in a time before science, way of explaining why it wouldnt rain for a year, why there was no food to be hunted in a season, why baby and mother died in childbirth, why the sun blacked out, andsoforth.And it sort of got out of hand and went viral at some point when the focus shifted from ploytheism to one god, and theologies, and those-are-not-like-us notions developed.
    I am not convinced at all that religious beliefs ever did anything for social cohesion or morality, seems to me that to the contrary, religion was a rather handy means to justify and motivate acts of barbarism and genocide.

  135. #135 KLT
    February 11, 2010

    The real question is, why is mankind moving *backwards* instead of *forwards* in morality according to evolution? With the amount of civility and education you all have acquired by now, why are you still have such *base* and explicit conversations? Shouldn’t society have moved beyond that…according to evolutionary theory? If so, then why is society clearly continuing to *regress*?

    And if Christianity is no different in origin from any other pagan religion, than why have pagans throughout history always attacked the “sons of the light” (Ephesians 5:6-8) (true followers of Christianity…not half-hearted converts who backdown under pressure to conform).

    There has never been a *true* Christian who hasn’t faced persecution from either friends, family members, false apostate Christians, and non-believers alike.

    In fact, the Bible clearly indicates that just being a true Christian will bring persecution from the world which is why Jesus fortified and strengthened his disciples ahead of time in order to be able to endure it.

    ?If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ?No servant is greater than his master.?If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ?They hated me without reason.? (John 15:18-25)

  136. #136 Rorschach
    February 11, 2010

    There has never been a *true* Christian who hasn’t faced persecution from either friends, family members, false apostate Christians, and non-believers alike.

    :D :D :D

    Better trolls christians please.

  137. #137 WowbaggerOM
    February 11, 2010

    KLT,

    Yeah, those Christians in the USA are so persecuted. With, what, 80% of the population and all. That 20% sure does a good job of keeping them down.

    Idiot.

  138. #138 Andreas Johansson
    February 11, 2010

    During the time of the Inquisition, for example, being able to believe without doubt probably increased your chance of survival.

    Perhaps. It’s not hard to imagine the apathetic or cynical happily parroting the party line while the genuinely faithful get in trouble for their faith not being quite in line with official standards.

  139. #139 Rorschach
    February 11, 2010

    During the time of the Inquisition, for example, being able to believe without doubt probably increased your chance of survival.

    That’s not something that shows up in evolutionary terms though. More like hiding in the woods while your camp is raided by a hostile tribe is increasing your chance of survival.

  140. #140 Stephen Wells
    February 11, 2010

    Interesting that KLT apparently thinks that a bit of bad language on the internet (plus human rights) is morally worse than politeness and slavery. Fuck that noise.

  141. #141 Miki Z
    February 11, 2010

    From: Patient Zero in Bio-Terror Weapon
    To: Fresh Group of Infectees
    Subject: How People Will Treat You

    If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

    Remember the words I spoke to you: ?No servant is greater than his master.? If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

    If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be bleeding from every orifice. Now, however, they have no hope for their survival. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be having convulsions.

    But now they have seen these abscesses, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ?They hated me without reason.?

  142. #142 WowbaggerOM
    February 11, 2010

    KLT wrote:

    With the amount of civility and education you all have acquired by now, why are you still have such *base* and explicit conversations?

    I believe the only response to a comment like that is this: cram it in your ass, with walnuts – you dipshit fucking clown shoe.

  143. #143 Miki Z
    February 11, 2010

    The opposite of ‘explicit’ is not ‘polite’. The opposite of ‘explicit’ is ‘vague’.

    Should we be having *acid* and vague conversations?

  144. #144 ConcernedJoe
    February 11, 2010

    I come down on the side of by-product. It least I think I do.

    To me religion resulted from the traits of sociability, curiosity, solution seeking, and higher level intelligence – that almost universally are present in our lineage, and the trait of RWA (to me mostly a mental wiring) that exists in about 30% of us, all exploited by the trait in a smaller percent of us to dominate and lead. All these traits in balance had and have some adaptive usefulness in populations.

    So starting out god based religion was a natural by product because it provided so many “answers” that we could not have otherwise determined (god was so to speak the most reasonable explanation so it had traction) and was a by product phenomenon must useful to leaders to foster.

    Even today – where groups may not be god believers – and indeed scientifically savvy – religion-like phenomena still occur. Movements like Communism and Objectivism for example that have the taste and feel of religion – just without the supernatural.

    To me all religions are by products of the traits above. Traits we’ll mostly “always” have.

    The amount of religion-like (supernatural or not) phenomena – in this modern world – is a function of how much power non-RWA’s accede to the RWA’s. And perhaps one of the variables is how much adaptive docility runs through the non-RWA’s.

    I went through this to open myself to constructive criticism. Am I aligned with those that really know what they are talking about in any way – or not? Thanks.

  145. #145 brstilson
    February 11, 2010

    I think religion is also an adaptation for one simple reason:

    It provides mating credentials for otherwise undesirable males, as well as severely restricting if not eliminating female choice over who they choose to be with.

    Just about every religion seems to operate on the sole purpose of subjugating women. I think religion provides a mechanism and justification for a kind of dating communism: every man gets a woman.

    Back when I was in a religious cult, there was a big push for men to be “spiritual.” Women were constantly told to make that quality number one over all others. They were promised happy marriages as a result. The problem is a lot of guys figured out that all they have to work on is their piety, at the expense of just about everything else. So you have these guys who would under normal circumstances never get a date arm-and-arm with beautiful women.

  146. #146 simonator
    February 11, 2010

    I think we can agree that belief in God(s) is largely a product of the misuse of empathy to explain the natural world. Now empathy can improve fitness, because answering the question “why is she mad at me?” can greatly improve one’s chances for procreation. When you use it to answer the question “why is it raining” we end up with weather gods.

    What is interesting to me is the extant to which the God(s) so created have become the ultimate sources of morality. Is it because religion is from a missapplication of empathy that societies often cede to religion the job of telling us whom we should feel empathy for, and who we should withhold it from? It certainly seems as if the dislike that many of the faithful feel for atheists is not merely dislike of outsiders, but a belief that our empathy is damaged or missing and that therefore we are OF COURSE capable of all sorts of evil acts.

    What with the earthquake in Haiti recently, I’ve been thinking about the question of “the existence of evil.” Somebody at work parroted the idea that maybe God was punishing them for being so corrupt. Now years ago I might have said something like “I choose not to believe in a God who places such a low priority on justice.” But of course whether God(s) exist or not is an entirely different question from whether they are moral. But the very idea that God just could be evil is very offensive to most believers, so linked is morality and religion.

    And this linkage seems deeper than the mere definitional one upthread where some have so linked “evolution” with “natural selection,” that they insist on using some alternate word for “change over time” if natural selection isn’t the exclusive mechanism involved.

  147. #147 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 11, 2010

    Ah, KLT still thinks she has anything to say that we might be interested in. The delusion for that inane and insane belief underlie her delusions in her deity and babble. Her deity doesn’t exist, and her babble is fiction/myth, since she has presented no physical evidence to the contrary, marks her whole being and belief system as a lie. Yawn. Boring, inane and insipid delusional fool. Take your delusions elsewhere KLT. We don’t want to share, as we are rational, and you are not.

  148. #148 Chaynelinkfence
    February 11, 2010

    Well, I’m way ahead of you P.Z. I don’t know how many aspiring scientists have genital piercings but I was already forced to get one in the United States Navy. Just kidding, I wasn’t forced lol

  149. #149 Carlie
    February 11, 2010

    And if Christianity is no different in origin from any other pagan religion, than why have pagans throughout history always attacked the “sons of the light” (Ephesians 5:6-8) (true followers of Christianity…not half-hearted converts who backdown under pressure to conform).

    Probably for the same reasons that the Christians attacked the Muslims, and the Christians attacked the Jews, and the Christians attacked the any number of followers of animalistic religions, and the Protestant Christians attacked the Catholics, and the Catholics attacked everybody else. Really, have you neer read any history?

  150. #150 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    February 11, 2010

    There has never been a *true* Christian who hasn’t faced persecution from either friends, family members, false apostate Christians, and non-believers alike.

    You know what persecution is? Convert or die. Being disagreed with, or not ruling a theocracy, is not persecution, you fucking spoiled twit.

  151. #151 Walton
    February 11, 2010

    Just about every religion seems to operate on the sole purpose of subjugating women. I think religion provides a mechanism and justification for a kind of dating communism: every man gets a woman.

    Back when I was in a religious cult, there was a big push for men to be “spiritual.” Women were constantly told to make that quality number one over all others. They were promised happy marriages as a result. The problem is a lot of guys figured out that all they have to work on is their piety, at the expense of just about everything else. So you have these guys who would under normal circumstances never get a date arm-and-arm with beautiful women.

    I see your point, and I suspect your analysis might well be right. But I think the men in question deserve a lot more sympathy than is apparent from the fairly disparaging tone of your post.

    What I have noticed is that a lot of people who discuss gender and sexual norms have little understanding of what it’s like to be a very unattractive and sexually-deprived man. People around here are (rightly) very concerned about most forms of inequality – gender, racial, socio-economic, etc – but rarely talk about one of the most fundamental natural inequalities: inequality of sexual attractiveness. For most people, sex is a basic desire and a major factor in quality of life; and the plain fact is that attractive people are likely to get much more of it, much more often, than unattractive people.

    And just as one of the consequences of an unregulated economy is that inequality between rich and poor tends to deepen, so too one of the consequences of sexual freedom is that inequality between attractive and unattractive people tends to deepen. In conservative and/or patriarchal societies, where people tend to be pressured to marry early and to marry within their own ethnic and religious community, there is comparatively little sexual inequality between the attractive and the unattractive, since people have little choice of partners. But in a more liberal society, where individuals have broad freedom to choose their own sexual partner(s), they are going to choose a more attractive over a less attractive partner – and unattractive people are much more likely to be excluded. The whole ridiculous system of “dating” in modern Western society makes it even more unlikely for an unattractive, and/or socially inept, person to be sexually successful.

    I’m not, in any way, seeking to defend or justify misogyny or conservative/patriarchal social norms: I’m an outspoken opponent of both these things, as the regulars are well aware. But I do think that the special problems of unattractive and sexually unsuccessful people, and the emotional and psychological problems caused by being constantly rejected by members of one’s preferred gender, need to be studied much more extensively.

  152. #152 Carlie
    February 11, 2010

    Walton, the problem of unattractiveness can be overcome by being nice to each other. That’s a much better strategy for women, and people overall, than to try to overcome it by telling women to take whatever God gives them and then letting men off the hook for any boorish behavior, don’t you think?

    Claiming that unattractiveness is somehow important enough of a driving factor to help create an entire system that subjugates the free will of women is amazingly ludicrous. First off, straight physical attractiveness is different from person to person; there are guys who make me weak in the knees who most people wouldn’t take a second glance at, and would laugh at if they did. Second, what is considered attractive changes with the whims of fashion, so there’s no standard of attractiveness that’s been around long enough to create the kind of major memetic influences you’re talking about. Third, the only thing that evo psych can tell us about what people innately find attractive is that people who look not sick are more attractive than people who look sick.
    Fourth, unattractive men have gotten mates since the dawn of time because people are complex and don’t just look at physical features, and never have. In fact, there is MUCH more leeway in how attractive a man is regarding his mate choice than there is for women.

    Seriously, Walton. Difficulty getting dates is not due to physical attractiveness. It’s not even necessarily due to social aptitude. It’s how one treats people in general, how one treats women (regardless of whether the mate choice in question is male or female), how large one’s social circle is, and how lucky one is in whether there is a potential partner around who shares one’s tastes in life.

  153. #153 chuckgoecke
    February 11, 2010

    Walton,
    Physical attractiveness is undoubtedly one of the strongest selective forces that has remained important even into modern times(that, and penis size). For us not blessed with physical beauty(or small tallywackers), the only other option is having above average wit. Hence we get the distribution of looks and brains we have today; beautiful smart people, beautiful dumb people, and ugly smart people(your typical Walmart is an anomaly to this, of course).

  154. #154 Carlie
    February 11, 2010

    that, and penis size

    You are joking, right?

  155. #155 https://me.yahoo.com/a/KtrH9g4llpHui8s2.0ezzjBOheU0WpQaoHA-#ab4e8
    February 11, 2010

    Walton,

    Your thinking is getting woolly again. Can we please have a definition of “attractive” before you do several paragraphs on it?

    I don’t think, despite your occasional confusion, that you are so shallow as to be after someone who has perfectly symmetrical facial features, a good boob-job and who spends her entire day / income on working at how good she looks at first glance.

    So, what is attractive to you? It will almost certainly be some combination of physical features and personality. How are you going to judge that personality if you all you notice in potential sexual partners is how they look from ten metres away? And then run off feeling unwanted again? It’s you that’s doing the running away so you’re not the victim here, are you?

    What about all the women who feel rejected by you because you won’t talk to them for the 20 minutes it takes to find out how interesting they are? Or to discover that they find you interesting too?

    I know that PZ jokes about his trophy wife but think for a minute. He only gets away with that because he knows and we know that the woman in question is physically attractive, highly intelligent and clearly very resourceful.

    If she’d really been some dumb Z-list celebrity do you think he would have married her? Do you think he would describe her in that way?

    Think of the way David M describes his physical characteristics and his Aspergers. Even allowing for the self-deprecation, you may have noticed that not a few of the women here go mad for his brain!

    (I think I’ve said this before but the final decision for me on a sexual partner has always been the answer to the question, “Would I want to have a conversation with this person in the morning? – though blokes taller than me do have a headstart.)

    Maureen

  156. #156 Sanction
    February 11, 2010

    that, and penis size

    Say what?

    small tallywackers

    Are you projecting?

  157. #157 Walton
    February 11, 2010

    Carlie,

    That’s a much better strategy for women, and people overall, than to try to overcome it by telling women to take whatever God gives them and then letting men off the hook for any boorish behavior, don’t you think?

    To clarify, I didn’t, at all, intend to try and justify “telling women to take whatever God gives them”, nor was I arguing that men should be “let off the hook” for inappropriate behaviour towards women. As you know, I’m an opponent of sexism, and have spoken out in the past against sexist language and attitudes. I was just pointing out that the needs and problems of unattractive people often seem to be disregarded in discussions of these issues.

    Seriously, Walton. Difficulty getting dates is not due to physical attractiveness. It’s not even necessarily due to social aptitude. It’s how one treats people in general, how one treats women (regardless of whether the mate choice in question is male or female), how large one’s social circle is, and how lucky one is in whether there is a potential partner around who shares one’s tastes in life.

    I agree that the factors you list are all relevant to sexual success, but I think it’s fairly self-evident that physical attractiveness is also a major factor.

  158. #158 Walton
    February 11, 2010

    Maureen: I wasn’t primarily talking about myself. There are several support websites for the involuntarily-celibate community; there are a lot of adults around who have had little-to-no sexual experience, and often suffer emotional problems as a result. This is a much more widespread problem than people believe, but most people never talk about it because of the associated social stigma.

    (My own issues are more complex, and I don’t intend to go into them here. I’m talking much more generally about unattractiveness and involuntary celibacy as social problems, and the fact that they’re frequently ignored.)

  159. #159 chuckgoecke
    February 11, 2010

    Carlie, I wish I was!

  160. #160 chuckgoecke
    February 11, 2010

    My evidence, one anecdotal point, was a fellow I knew long ago, I don’t even remember if it was a real life person, or an online one, who had spent time in a penitentiary. He told me, having seen lots of men naked, that the guys with extra big penis’s were dumber than usual. Prison populations are probably dumber than average to start with, and I think I quizzed him about the race part of it, and he left me with the impression, that he was talking about just the white race, as I guess they were somehow segregated.

  161. #161 HappyHax0r
    February 11, 2010

    @#143

    Or perhaps having vague conversations on acid which is what the religious are doing, apparently.

  162. #162 Sanction
    February 11, 2010

    My evidence, one anecdotal point, was a fellow …

    That’s a flimsy hook on which to hang a conclusion that penis size is “undoubtedly one of the strongest selective forces that has remained important even into modern times.”

    he left me with the impression, that he was talking about just the white race …

    Why did you feel the need to specify this?

  163. #163 Carlie
    February 11, 2010

    chuckgoethe – Penis size cannot be a factor that’s selected for, because it’s not something that is easily visible before the sex is underway (at which point most of the sexual selection has already occurred). Apart from the rather strange codpiece fad of the middle ages, penis size is not something that is seen and enhanced in normal social interactions. If I were to encounter you in a standard social situation, I wouldn’t be able to size you up in that particular manner. You can’t buy a push-up penis enhancer at Sears and Wal-Mart. There isn’t a mega-empire built around “boys gone wild” videos of them flashing their penises at raving hordes of screaming fertile women. You don’t see scantily-clad penises being used to sell beer, cars, and cleaning products. Saying that penis size has anything to do with female choice in humans is simply a non-starter.

  164. #164 chuckgoecke
    February 11, 2010

    Sanction,
    I wasn’t saying that it wasn’t flimsy. Same as my brains/beauty hypothesis. Just a suggestion that its possible. Check out the trend in penis size amongst the great apes, humans included. As Homo sapiens moved out of the tropics, the selective pressure should have been for a smaller penis, you’d think.
    As for the race card, I was specifically trying to find out if this fellow held a race view on this that might have tainted his observation. Trying to ignore the race/penis size controversy won’t make it go away.

  165. #165 chuckgoecke
    February 11, 2010

    Carlie, all I can say is girls talk, at least some girls talk.

  166. #166 chuckgoecke
    February 11, 2010

    Carlie, maybe its a relatively new phenomena, but I think the

    “mega-empire built around “boys gone wild” videos of them flashing their penises at raving hordes of screaming fertile women”

    exists right now at clubs like Le Bare.

  167. #167 Carlie
    February 11, 2010

    Shoot, chuckgoecke, I got your name wrong before. Sorry.

    But neither of those things you mentioned are large-scale societal factors. It simply isn’t something that is used as a sexual selection factor in humans at large, period. Maybe if you could show that larger penii have a higher rate of sperm transference that also leads to significantly higher pregnancy rates you might have something, but there really isn’t any data to support that.

  168. #168 https://me.yahoo.com/a/KtrH9g4llpHui8s2.0ezzjBOheU0WpQaoHA-#ab4e8
    February 11, 2010

    Walton,

    Sorry if I misread you but I did feel as though I had heard some of it before.

    On this involuntary celibacy thing, though, I’m going to take some convincing. I can see that there might be a problem if you’re the only person under 50 in a small, isolated community, especially if you are either related to all the others or in a strictly hierarchical set-up. I know that people with severe physical disabilities meet extra challenges but those problems are often the result of, effectively, living under a repressive regime – one which takes no account of their sexuality. To my certain knowledge we’ve been actively campaigning about that since the early 1980s.

    Ditto those who live in closed and repressive religious communities, whether the closing off of possibilities is a mental or a physical barrier.

    People who have been seriously abused may need help with overcoming that baggage before or while taking on a sexual relationship.

    So, yes, there are people who face a particular challenge in seeking to express their own sexuality but the fact remains that the vast majority of such people do get out from under whatever it is that is holding them back. Perhaps we need to concentrate more on just how they do it.

    And I still think you need to do some work on what “attractive” means.

    Cheers, Maureen

  169. #169 frog, Inc.
    February 11, 2010

    JM: For me, that “I am” is enough, I don’t need “I am for some reason” or that “there is meaning to my being” to be satisfied.

    You’ve read lots of different kinds of books, and been exposed to lots of different kinds of media, and lots of different kinds of people.

    As opposed to most Abrahmists, who’ve read “histories” all their lives, teleological histories. It’s the only language they have available.

  170. #170 Sanction
    February 11, 2010

    As for the race card, I was specifically trying to find out if this fellow held a race view on this that might have tainted his observation.

    I see. Thanks for clarifying.

  171. #171 frog, Inc.
    February 11, 2010

    KLT: And if Christianity is no different in origin from any other pagan religion, than why have pagans throughout history always attacked the “sons of the light”

    I’m guessing you haven’t read your Dead Sea Scrolls.

    You know what kind of people the original “Sons of Light” were like, don’t you? They make Al-Qaeda seem reasonable and compassionate. Long lists of cursing everyone but their tiny little group. The worst of middle-eastern misogeny (Oh Nos! There’s a bloody vagina! So scary!) Against any kind of innovation (Evil Calendar Reformers! They Must Die!).

    Yeah — you’re right. They were different. A moral person would’ve taken the side of the Stoics or Epicureans. Thank God that we’ve had so few True Christians.

  172. #172 Sanction
    February 11, 2010

    Maureen @168

    I know that people with severe physical disabilities meet extra challenges but those problems are often the result of, effectively, living under a repressive regime – one which takes no account of their sexuality.

    Yes. I know a woman with a physically disability who has been frustrated by men who simply do not see her as a sexual being or, if they do, stop at a perceived conversational barrier: how does a person, early in a potential relationship, broach the subject of sexual compatibility?

    My friend, for one, would much rather have that conversation than see an interesting man walk away in silence.

  173. #173 frog, Inc.
    February 11, 2010

    Rorshach: As to religion and its spread through humans’ brains, my pet theory is that it started as a way of explaining the world in a time before science, way of explaining why it wouldnt rain for a year, why there was no food to be hunted in a season, why baby and mother died in childbirth, why the sun blacked out, andsoforth.

    I think that’s an anachronistic reading. From most stories I’ve read of that type, the “explanation” seems mostly like a gimmick for the story — just as in sci-fi stories there’s a “gimmick”, but the real question is different. Robot stories are rarely about robots, alien stories are rarely about aliens,…

    We like stories that “explain” something. So poor translation and anachronistic interpretations lead us to take a little gimmick and turn it into the crux of the matter. Our fairy tales start with “Once upon a time…” but nobody every really thought that the story was a history of something that happened long ago, right?

    For example, a lot of “Coyote” stories have some gimmick about how some tradition “began” or how something was “created”. But they’re mostly about the nature of language, it’s uses and misuses.

    Or take Genesis. I seriously doubt that pastoralists 3000 years ago really cared about how the world was “created”. That was just a setting for a story discussing language, knowledge and most of all — family as the basis of prestige and social relationships. It’s only stupid moderns that need it to “explain creation”.

  174. #174 https://me.yahoo.com/a/jHsAdlN82OxG8kznlM44nOzFXC3ATihM#c0bde
    February 11, 2010

    “to promote feelings of guilt and fear about defecting from the group, and also to act as costly signals ? you knew you could trust an individual to be a loyal member of your group if they were willing to invest so much effort in playing the weird religion (science) game”

    -sounds like science as well as religion- hold “our” belief or else be banished.

  175. #175 https://me.yahoo.com/a/KtrH9g4llpHui8s2.0ezzjBOheU0WpQaoHA-#ab4e8
    February 11, 2010

    Sanction,

    I’m sorry that your friend is facing this. This is not something I can pontificate on from direct experience but what I have learned from friends with more visible disabilities is that it is going to take a bit of extra patience but it can be done.

    It may be necessary to use extra guile – insist that the movie you really, really want to see is the one with explicit sex scenes – even if it isn’t really – so that you can talk about your reaction to it, initially in film critic mode.

    Some people have found that talking openly about sex with trusted friends helps build confidence so that when they are with someone potentially interesting it is easier to be a bit bold, even cheeky.

    In the end, though, if it is someone you know and like who just isn’t getting it then it may be necessary just to come out and say it – “I think I could fancy you.”

    Once the penny has dropped, though, Mr Potential Partner may need loads of reassurance and this is where the practice in talking openly about sex comes in. It may be necessary to say in so many words yes, I can do that but you’ll have to lift me out of the wheelchair first.

    Sorry, I’m guessing here as I don’t know the nature of your friend’s disability.

    Doing a quick google for sources of information a minute ago, I came across this blog which looks as though it might good though I’ve not explored all of it.

    My best wishes to your friend and if you want my email address please do say so.

  176. #176 Carlie
    February 11, 2010

    Yahoo person of indeterminate username: I’ve been reading that blog for awhile now, and it is very good. (speaking from a nondisabled perspective, but a lot of other disability blogs do cross-link to it)

  177. #177 frog, Inc.
    February 11, 2010

    Carlie: Penis size cannot be a factor that’s selected for, because it’s not something that is easily visible before the sex is underway

    That’s today. But most populations weren’t in temperate climates until recently — and even in temperate climates, people were often not heavily dressed, historically (Patagonians were known to live butt-naked in practically arctic conditions). Penis size may have had a lot to do with it — you do see culture (say in Niugini) where men wear gigantic gourds to “accentuate” it fashionably.

    It’s hard to know. But it’s not a non-starter.

  178. #178 frog, Inc.
    February 11, 2010

    Walton: What I have noticed is that a lot of people who discuss gender and sexual norms have little understanding of what it’s like to be a very unattractive and sexually-deprived man.

    You don’t think there’s a lot of unattractive females? They may, in general, be less “sexually deprived” — but they are just as “affection” deprived.

    It really isn’t an insurmountable problem, particularly as you age and both males & females become more sexually adept and less dependent on visual attractiveness for their satisfaction.

    Outside of people who are profoundly physically damaged (which is a separate problem) — the problem in a modern society of finding a partner is more in the head of the searcher than anything else. Lack of skillz, self-sabotage (by say, trying to find model-level beauties), and other varieties of neuroticism are much larger factors than simple beauty.

    The bootstrap problem is, however, that working out skillz and overcoming neuroticism is more challenging when you don’t have a beauty advantage lowering the “barrier to entry”…

  179. #179 Sanction
    February 11, 2010

    Once the penny has dropped, though, Mr Potential Partner may need loads of reassurance and this is where the practice in talking openly about sex comes in. It may be necessary to say in so many words yes, I can do that but you’ll have to lift me out of the wheelchair first.

    Talking openly about sex is necessary at some point. The hard part is identifying the appropriate time — after the initial “getting know you” stage but before the “I’m just going to move on because of the uncertainty and let’s just be friends” stage.

    I have a physical disability that affects my sex life a bit, and what I’ve done is something along the lines of your suggestion:

    It may be necessary to use extra guile – insist that the movie you really, really want to see is the one with explicit sex scenes – even if it isn’t really – so that you can talk about your reaction to it, initially in film critic mode.

    If the topic of sex in general is raised in the “getting to know you” stage, and I try to make sure it does, I mention offhand that I’ve never once had sex in the dark (I’m deaf) and throw in a couple of humorous comments about that.*

    I’m looking for a response of some sort, such as a nod or a laugh or a “I could never do that.” If the latter, I have a pretty good idea that perhaps a sexual relationship isn’t in the cards.

    So your idea of seeing a movie, or otherwise arriving on the subject, would be a good one for someone like my friend, who has a disability substantially affecting her mobility and sex life. “That sex scene sure was hot *chuckle* and in fact she was in the same position I could be in.”

    * Or did, rather, back in my dating days.

  180. #180 Jadehawk, OM
    February 11, 2010

    This “involuntary celibacy” thing is fascinating to me. I suppose the trend away from a proper hookup culture and the adaptation of American-Style dating can do horrible things to young people’s sex lives, but other than that, I just don’t understand it. You’d have to have very particular combinations of characteristics to not ever get laid, because physical attractiveness (or lack thereof) just isn’t everything. As a matter of fact, some of the most sexually “successful” guys I know vaguely resembled trolls, physically speaking. but then, they had enough time to develop properly interesting personalities (most of them were in their late 30’s), plus they were open to casual sex.

    I suppose if you’re shy + don’t drink + only want sex in a relationship + hang out with crowds that just don’t find your type sexually appealing(or only in very professional circles where anything else would be inappropriate), you won’t get any, ever. But otherwise it’s hard for me to imagine, especially now that the internet exists, what sort of personality you’d have to have to never attract anyone. You’d have to be so shy to be completely invisible to people in general, or have a disturbing or ghoulish or plain non-existent personality.

  181. #181 TRBQ
    February 11, 2010

    Have you heard the public radio documentary “The Science of Religion?” It is part of series The Really Big Questions airing on stations nationwide http://www.trbq.org

  182. #182 Walton
    February 11, 2010

    This “involuntary celibacy” thing is fascinating to me. I suppose the trend away from a proper hookup culture and the adaptation of American-Style dating can do horrible things to young people’s sex lives, but other than that, I just don’t understand it. You’d have to have very particular combinations of characteristics to not ever get laid, because physical attractiveness (or lack thereof) just isn’t everything.

    Er, it does exist. I’m not just talking about myself here. A small, but not insignificant, propotion of adults have little or no romantic or sexual experience, despite actively seeking it throughout their adult lives. Look it up: there are online support groups dedicated to involuntary celibacy, in which there are plenty of men and women (some in their 40s or 50s) who have never dated, had sex or had anything approaching a relationship. It’s not restricted to any one country or society, so no particular culture is to blame. And many incel people suffer from low self-esteem, emotional deprivation and depression as a result of their situations. So please don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.

    I suppose if you’re shy + don’t drink + only want sex in a relationship + hang out with crowds that just don’t find your type sexually appealing(or only in very professional circles where anything else would be inappropriate), you won’t get any, ever.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong on all counts. I’m not all that shy, do drink and have an active social life, and have nothing particularly against casual sex (not that the possibility has ever arisen). Yet I have little or no romantic or sexual experience. And, again, I’m by far not the only person in this situation.

    I am really quite pissed off when people suggest that “involuntary celibacy doesn’t exist”. Take five minutes to research it. It does exist and is a real problem, and psychologists need to start paying real attention to it.

  183. #183 Jadehawk, OM
    February 11, 2010

    Walton, do try to read for comprehension. For one, I didn’t claim it didn’t exist; and two, you’re barely over 20, so for you to say you aren’t getting any doesn’t actually have shit to do with what I was talking about.

    In regard to your sexlessness, I have to say that I have the vague suspicion that you do hang out with the wrong crowd though.

  184. #184 Walton
    February 11, 2010

    …you’re barely over 20, so for you to say you aren’t getting any doesn’t actually have shit to do with what I was talking about.

    As I made very clear, I wasn’t primarily talking about myself. There are significant numbers of 30, 40 and 50-year-olds who, for a variety of reasons, have no romantic experience. And my own experience is relevant, anyway; a 20-year-old is not a child, and, in my experience, a “normal” 20-year-old will have had several relationships and plenty of romantic experience in his or her lifetime. (Those few who haven’t tend to be restrained by conservative religious or cultural values of some sort.)

    In any case, incel status is a matter of degree, not of kind. The point I was originally making on this thread is that, in a free society, attractive people get much more sex than unattractive people, and that this is a form of natural inequality that no one seems to consider when discussing sexual norms. You haven’t said anything that contradicts this.

  185. #185 David Marjanovi?
    February 11, 2010

    In regard to your sexlessness, I have to say that I have the vague suspicion that you do hang out with the wrong crowd though.

    Or perhaps with none at all, like me. (How many Conservative student activists are female?)

    27 years old, never been in love (in meatspace at the very least) ? and it’s not like I’m aromantic or something ?, never has anyone been anywhere near in love with me (or if so, they’ve all been hiding it well), never been approached in a however vaguely sexual manner (never mind the brain scans, LOL), let alone done that myself. Certifiable nerd with a couple of symptoms of Asperger’s, no incentive to go anywhere crowds go (or at least to go there alone, which is the very point), basically no friends my age in meatspace…

    All that said, Walton, it’s too soon to worry about you.

  186. #186 Jadehawk, OM
    February 11, 2010

    As I made very clear, I wasn’t primarily talking about myself.

    and yet, you used yourself as an example to contradict what I was saying, even though I wasn’t talking about you.

    There are significant numbers of 30, 40 and 50-year-olds who, for a variety of reasons, have no romantic experience.

    and I disagree with this statement of fact…. where?

    And my own experience is relevant, anyway; a 20-year-old is not a child, and, in my experience, a “normal” 20-year-old will have had several relationships and plenty of romantic experience in his or her lifetime. (Those few who haven’t tend to be restrained by conservative religious or cultural values of some sort.)

    so there’s one more field about which your experience is limited. There’s nothing dramatically special about starting one’s sex-life in the late 20’s; usually it’s because few teens and early 20-year-olds have much in the way of an interesting or deep personality, so it’s a subgroup more focused on looks than personality (and one from which one can rarely pick someone with a personality to want to have sex with). It’s also not the same as what I was talking about, i.e. having no or almost no sexual experience thorough one’s life.

    In any case, incel status is a matter of degree, not of kind. The point I was originally making on this thread is that, in a free society, attractive people get much more sex than unattractive people, and that this is a form of natural inequality that no one seems to consider when discussing sexual norms. You haven’t said anything that contradicts this.

    aside from the fact that you still haven’t defined “attractive”, there’s nothing to disagree there. so why are you rambling on as if I did?

  187. #187 Tulse
    February 11, 2010

    Walton and David, this is why they invented the Internet. There are plenty of places on the web that let people with similar interests get together virtually, and some of those specialize in getting such folks together in reality as well. I know plenty of folks who have made genuine personal connections in meatspace through either online dating services or just online venues in general. (One of these folks is an acerbic blind Jewish lawyer in his ’50s who is a Star Trek fanatic and wanted to marry a co-religionist, so if he can find someone online to wed, I’m sure others with fewer potential roadblocks can locate appropriate potential partners by similar means.)

  188. #188 Hyperon
    February 11, 2010

    Research suggests that men tend to preponderate at the far end of the Gaussian distribution of IQ. This also might be another factor: it’s simply hard for high-IQ men to meet like-minded women, because there might not be many around. (The incoming sneers won’t impugn in the slightest the truth value of anything I have said here.)

  189. #189 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 11, 2010

    The incoming sneers won’t impugn in the slightest the truth value of anything I have said here.

    What truth value? You never present any. Just idjitcy.

  190. #190 David Marjanovi?
    February 11, 2010

    Walton and David, this is why they invented the Internet.

    I’m beginning to notice.

    This also might be another factor: it’s simply hard for high-IQ men to meet like-minded women, because there might not be many around.

    If so, they’re rather drastically overrepresented both on Pharyngula and among professional scientists and their students.

  191. #191 Kel, OM
    February 11, 2010

    Research suggests that men tend to preponderate at the far end of the Gaussian distribution of IQ.

    I went to a lecture where that came up. The reason for such things? Women selected men with high IQs. According to our genes, smart is sexy. ;)

  192. #192 Sanction
    February 11, 2010

    Why hello, Hyperon, you fuck. Haven’t seen you here lately. You haven’t suffered any temporary inconveniences lately, have you? That would be just terrible.

  193. #193 Walton
    February 11, 2010

    Research suggests that men tend to preponderate at the far end of the Gaussian distribution of IQ. This also might be another factor: it’s simply hard for high-IQ men to meet like-minded women, because there might not be many around.

    I don’t think this means anything. IQ only measures a specific type of reasoning ability; despite its name, it isn’t a comprehensive all-round measurement of a person’s overall “intelligence”. Intelligence comes in many forms. IIRC, the evidence doesn’t suggest that either gender is more intelligent than the other, on average. It certainly isn’t a plausible explanation for involuntary celibacy (and remember that incel affects women as well as men).

  194. #194 Hyperon
    February 11, 2010

    If so, they’re rather drastically overrepresented both on Pharyngula and among professional scientists and their students.

    Pharyngula, I’d rather not comment on, but if I were you I wouldn’t be so sure about the sciences. It’s common knowledge that the physical sciences, engineering, mathematics and computer science are all disproportionately occupied by men (despite the omnipresence of affirmative action). Theoretical physics, the foundational and arguably most important science, has probably never had a single important female contributor.

  195. #195 Gyeong Hwa Pak, Lao Daung Duen
    February 11, 2010

    Theoretical physics, the foundational and arguably most important science, has probably never had a single important female contributor.

    Which is completely meaningless since you’re not considering the sociological-economical-political factors that prevents women from accessing that field.

  196. #196 Hyperon
    February 11, 2010

    IQ only measures a specific type of reasoning ability; despite its name, it isn’t a comprehensive all-round measurement of a person’s overall “intelligence”. Intelligence comes in many forms.

    That is one of the common escape routes. I don’t think it’s very convincing. IQ is a strong predictor of all sorts of important attributes, such as income and job performance. (The Wikipedia entry on IQ is a great place to start reading about this.) If you want to choose other metrics of intellectual performance, such as number chess champions or number of patents filed, women will generally come out worse. (Always with the exception of more “social” fields such as writing. This squares easily with data from psychology indicating that women are, relative to men, more social-driven and less status-driven.)

  197. #197 Tulse
    February 11, 2010

    “Theoretical physics, the foundational and arguably most important science”…

    …Hyperon says on a biology blog.

    I’d be curious as to how one operationalizes and measures “importance”.

  198. #198 Jadehawk, OM
    February 11, 2010

    Which is completely meaningless since you’re not considering the sociological-economical-political factors that prevents women from accessing that field.

    in Hyperon’s universe, there aren’t any: blacks are convicted more often for drug crimes because blacks are just naturally more prone to be criminal and/or drug addicted; Muslims are just naturally more prone to violence and speaking with un-British accents, and they’re naturally worse employees; and women are underrepresented in “traditionally male” science & engineering jobs because they’re just naturally dumber.

  199. #199 Hyperon
    February 11, 2010

    I’d be curious as to how one operationalizes and measures “importance”.

    I like biology, which is partly why I read this blog. Somehow or another though, I don’t think that from a truth-seeking perspective, studying animals is as important as studying matter, energy, space and time. I don’t think that from a technological perspective biology can compete with the discipline that gave us electricity, electronics, radio waves, flight, nuclear weapons, microscopes, mass spectrometers, MRI scanners…OK, getting a bit carried away. That’s not to mention that physics was the field that got science going in the first place.

  200. #200 Hyperon
    February 11, 2010

    It certainly isn’t a plausible explanation for involuntary celibacy (and remember that incel affects women as well as men).

    Oh yes, that’s not what I was suggesting. Sorry for not stating myself clearly. I don’t know of any data at all which implies that involuntary celibates tend to be males with high IQ. I merely thought that my remarks might have been relevant to a number of participants in this thread, yourself included.

  201. #201 Knockgoats
    February 11, 2010

    IQ tests are calibrated so that the male and female means are the same. They also need to be recalibrated every so often because the mean keeps drifting upwards (Flynn effect – about one S.D. in Japan since 1945 IIRC). So anyone who suggests they measure intelligence in the way a tape measure measures height is an idiot.

    Oh, hi, Hyperon, didn’t see you there!

  202. #202 Hyperon
    February 11, 2010

    I don’t think anyone did suggest that IQ tests “measure intelligence in the way a tape measures height”. This is a well-known strawman. What might instead be suggested is that IQ is a very helpful concept, since it is such a strong predictor of various attributes we would normally associate with intelligence.

  203. #203 Carlie
    February 11, 2010

    . What might be suggested is that IQ is a very helpful concept, since it is such a strong predictor of various attributes we would normally associate with intelligence.

    So you’re not saying outright that men are smarter than women, you’re just suggesting that some people might take it that way because IQ is measuring something that we would normally call intelligence.

    Run! Laden and Hyperon have fused into an unholy amalgam of vacuous crap!

  204. #204 Hyperon
    February 11, 2010

    Since intelligence is so strongly linked with IQ, yes, there are probably more highly intelligent men than there are highly intelligent women. When we take into account other evidences (such as number of patents filed, numbers of great composers and chess champions), the conclusion seems pretty ineluctable. Whether the root cause is culture or biology remains an open question. (Seems probable to me that both are involved.)

  205. #205 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 11, 2010

    Yawn, Hyperon’s inane idea got a president of Harvard fired. Should give him the banhammer. What a waste of posts. Not of shred of supporting evidence.

  206. #206 Carlie
    February 11, 2010

    Back to Walton: I don’t know that anyone would assert that there aren’t people who haven’t had luck finding romantic partners, sometimes for many decades. However, I would argue that it’s not due to the fact that they are simply so physically unattractive that no one in the ENTIRE WORLD will come near them regardless of their other positive traits. Didn’t Stephen Hawking have a torrid affair with one of his nurses? There are many factors that can contribute to lack of romantic success that have nothing to do with physical attractiveness, such as a rotten personality, looking for love in all the wrong places (sorry, couldn’t help it), being so self-conscious as to refuse to engage with others, not going out and meeting people in the first place, etc.

  207. #207 Bill Dauphin, OM
    February 11, 2010

    Walton:

    I’m coming late to this party (neither of the potential puns there was premeditated!), but…

    The point I was originally making on this thread is that, in a free society, attractive people get much more sex than unattractive people,

    I would agree with that point, as far as it goes. In related news, in a free society, 7’2″ men also dunk more basketballs than 5’7″ men do (Spud Webb notwithstanding). Certain physical attributes affect one’s likelihood of being able to (or getting the opportunity to) perform certain physical tasks (though I think height is more directly related to dunking than looks to boinking); deal with it.

    But it actually seemed (and has seemed in the past when this has come up) that you were making a slightly different point… to wit, that some people (including you) are so unattractive that they’re unlikely to get any sex, ever.

    This, I dispute. I don’t know if you have access to trashy American TV talk shows like Jerry Springer or Maury Povich, but if you do, take a look sometime (not too long a look; they’ll rot your brains). Those shows are always doing segments on infidelity, and if you check one out, you’ll see some truly hideous specimens of humanity (of both genders) who’ve not only found mates but found people with whom to cheat on said mates.

    So sure, being unpretty reduces your odds… but I don’t believe there’s truly anyone so ugly that they can’t get laid if they want to badly enough… and if they have a sufficiently open mind about others’ looks. Are you perhaps applying the same exclusionary standards to potential partners that you seem to suggest you and others are suffering from?

    To be fair, I’ve been married for 25 years, and thus haven’t had to face scrounging up a partner… but if you’re truly as not-shy, sociable, and morally untroubled by casual sex as you say, you can get rid of that burdensome virginity. Join clubs, take (recreational) classes, go to bars…. If all else fails, place a personal ad (I bet if you placed an ad that said “I made a bet with my online friends that I’m so ugly you won’t sleep with me” you’d be a nonvirgin within a week, just ‘cuz people love a challenge).

    And without meaning to start up that thread all over again, you might even consider seeing a carefully selected sex worker (I believe you’re within reasonable travel distance of places where it’s legal and well regulated, and you wouldn’t have to worry about supporting some virtual slave tricking for drugs). That would, of course, be an unsustainable way to have anything like a sex life, but it might be a way to get yourself “off the snide,” as they say.

    In any case, short of physical disabilities that make sex literally impossible (and even severe disabilities usually don’t do that), I just don’t buy that there are people whose looks really keep them from ever getting any. Look out your window: There’s pretty women out walking with gorillas all over the place… and I refuse to believe you’re uglier than a gorilla.

  208. #208 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    February 11, 2010

    Hyperon, Don’t suppose the fact that men score higher on average on IQ tests could have anything to do with the fact that most of them are prepared by men, calibrated on men and administered in traditionally male dominated environments, could it?

  209. #209 Hyperon
    February 11, 2010

    Can’t we define a natural inner product on Dilbert space? If so, you should be able to readily comprehend that more or less the same results will be apparent no matter what metric you use for determining intelligence. Take achievement in mathematics, computer programming, hacking, invention, or almost any other intellectual field you’d care to name.

    Anyway, I’ve made my point now, and there’s no need for me to pursue this any further.

  210. #210 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    February 11, 2010

    Walton says,

    The point I was originally making on this thread is that, in a free society, attractive people get much more sex than unattractive people,

    It ain’t necessarily so. It may be that more people want to have sex with attractive individuals, but the amount of nookie one gets is determined by a whole lot of things–mainly (at least for men) by how badly one wants it and how much one is willing to degrade oneself to get it.

    I’ve noticed a lot more correlation between how much a man values women only for sex and how much sex he will get. There are always women with poor self esteem who fall for such guys. Those of us who have always seen women as human beings first might not require 64-bit arithmetic to tally our sexual activity, but I think we wind up having happier marriages.

    It is a matter of what you value.

    Having said that, my experience has been that all humans value a person with decent self confidence, and your self esteem could use a little work. It is not as if you don’t deserve to have decent self esteem. You seem a decent enough sort–flat-assed wrong on some issues–;-)–but you care about people and society etc.

    What healthy women (and men for that matter) find attractive is confidence–particularly if it is merited.

  211. #211 frog, Inc.
    February 11, 2010

    Walton: . And many incel people suffer from low self-esteem, emotional deprivation and depression as a result of their situations.

    Turn that around. You’ve got it backwards.

    Of course, like most social & biological systems, decomposing into cause & effect is the wrong way to look at it — they are self-sustaining cybernetic loops. So you’ve got to cure it both ways — learn more skillz, while simultaneously treating the neuroticisms.

    It’s not uncommon. You’re not very successful, so you get nervous and stressed. The nerves and stressed make you a bit hinky — you sweat extra, get ticks, give loser signals. Which leads back to the beginning of the loop. As times goes on, it becomes a more general debilitation. You fail to recognize opportunities because 1) you lack the skilz too 2) you’ve built up neuroticism that make it impossible to recognize the situations.

    But really — the black eyeglasses are the ones that you’re wearing. You have to relax, make friends and ask advice. Primarily recognize that the only way to break the loop is by dropping the glasses — hell, pretending that you’re pretty and everyone wants you is halfway to the solution.

    Haven’t you seen the ugly guy who has no girlfriends who finds one? He’s suddenly surrounded by opportunities.

  212. #212 Sanction
    February 11, 2010

    What healthy women (and men for that matter) find attractive is confidence–particularly if it is merited.

    What a_ray said. If you don’t have confidence, act like you do. No one can tell the difference.

  213. #213 frog, Inc.
    February 11, 2010

    Hyperon: Take achievement in mathematics, computer programming, hacking, invention, or almost any other intellectual field you’d care to name.

    Ho hum, begging the question of what intelligence is. The same boring platitudes going back a century.

    You know, not all “intelligence”, at least for the non-terminally insufferable and narcissistic, means pure abstraction. Math & making money is a tiny bit of the intellectual puzzles in the world — most are much much more concrete, thereby not really lending themselves to abstract testing.

    I’m of the opinion that, unless you’ve been raised in a cave, lacking a recognition of that is a sure sign of a deep stupidity.

  214. #214 Bill Dauphin, OM
    February 11, 2010

    Umm… I just got home from dinner and re-read #207. I didn’t mean to come off quite so cavalierly. I stand behind the basic intent of the comments, but on reflection, I shouldn’t have been quite so flippant about it.

  215. #215 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    February 11, 2010

    When we take into account other evidences (such as number of patents filed, numbers of great composers and chess champions), the conclusion seems pretty ineluctable.

    Chalk that up as another in the long line of idiotic and stunningly myopic things Hyperon has spewed here.

  216. #216 Feynmaniac
    February 11, 2010

    Walton,

    In any case, incel status is a matter of degree, not of kind. The point I was originally making on this thread is that, in a free society, attractive people get much more sex than unattractive people

    Kavorka!

    Yes, a physically attractive person has an advantage over some who isn’t, but it’s not the only factor in what constitutes an “attractive” person. Look at the real life examples in the Kavorka article. If Henry Kissinger could get a lot of tail any man can! Attracting the opposite sex is a skill. Like any skill some start better than others, but you can improve by learning and practicing.

  217. #217 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    February 11, 2010

    Anyway, I’ve made my point now, and there’s no need for me to pursue this any further.

    You’ve made a point, but not the one you think you have. It’s the same point you always make here. That despite the fact you think you know a lot about the world, you continue to provide us with example after example of reason why you don’t.

  218. #218 frog, Inc.
    February 11, 2010

    a_ray: I’ve noticed a lot more correlation between how much a man values women only for sex and how much sex he will get. There are always women with poor self esteem who fall for such guys.

    Or who merely value men for sex. It goes the other way as well. The stereotype is over broad.

    I think it’s simpler. If you don’t ask for it (in a non-creepy way) you don’t get it.

    So a) it helps if you’re pretty.
    b) it helps if you’re confident.
    c) it helps if you’re funny.
    d) it helps if you want it.
    e) it helps if you’re smart.
    f) it helps if you’ve got playa skillz (ie, competent at the dance).

    All of those are helped by practice, practice, practice (even being pretty — there’s an art to maximizing your assets); and by avoiding self-sabotage due to neuroticisms (which are a non-suprising side effect of a history of failure).

    That’s what high-school and drunken parties are for in the states — to practice, by finding whoever’s left without a partner and asking them to dance. They don’t have to be the thrill of life — they’re just a practice partner, who themselves may need a practice partner.

    Often lonely people just don’t seem to get that. Love the one you’re with.

  219. #219 Hyperon
    February 11, 2010

    That’s what high-school and drunken parties are for in the states — to practice, by finding whoever’s left without a partner and asking them to dance.

    This isn’t even remotely unique to the States. Sorry to come off as so combative, but it is just a monstrosity of misinformation to attribute this kind of behaviour to teenagers in specifically the United States.

  220. #220 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 11, 2010

    Yawn, stoopid H still hasn’t said anything cogent all day. What an idjit. In his case, ’tis better not to open his mouth and prove his idjitcy, but rather to remain silent and simply let people think he is one.

  221. #221 frog, Inc.
    February 11, 2010

    Hyperon: This isn’t even remotely unique to the States. Sorry to come off as so combative, but it is just a monstrosity of misinformation to attribute this kind of behaviour to teenagers in specifically the United States.

    You are stupid, ain’t ya? I never claimed it was unique to the US — but until it’s shown to be universal (which it’s not), I’ll stick my claims to what I actually do know. There’s no “only” in the sentence.

    Dumb as a rock and acting arrogant. What a beautiful combo. Probably voted for Bush twice and thinks of himself as a libertarian.

  222. #222 frankosaurus
    February 11, 2010

    I don’t know what evidence is needed to point to varying intelligences between men and women. Certainly the idea isn’t counterintuitive. In the pantheon of great thinkers, how many are men and how many are women. In the pantheon of incarcerated people, how many are men, and how many women?

    If one accepted that men occupy the higher ends and lower ends of intelligence, then this phenomenon isn’t problematic to understand.

    On the other hand, there are other fields where women, throughout history, have consistently outperformed men. Nurturing and maintaining social relationships come very much to mind. Not bombing the sh** out of other countries comes to mind as well.

    I understand the concern that mapping intelligences or any innate features between genders can cause people to worry about systematic discrimination that can result and has resulted. But much of this is blown out of proportion. The equality agenda often looks for more problems than there actually are. (ie, yeah there are more male engineers than female. is this a problem?)

  223. #223 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 11, 2010

    Fuckysoreass, you are as dumb, insipid, crass and and idiotic as Hyperon. Which means you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. And we are absolutely uninterested in anything you have to say. Just like Hyperon. Do everyone a favor and just go and stay away. After a few years of practice, you might actually have something cogent to say.

  224. #224 frog, Inc.
    February 11, 2010

    maintaining social relationships

    And pray tell, how is the intelligence of that measured and valued? Maintaining social relationships is the very driving force of human intelligence — yet you relegate to one of those “women things” opposed to “intelligence”.

    You’re another dumb shit. Good bet that you’re male, eh?

  225. #225 Jadehawk, OM
    February 11, 2010

    oh look, it’s the other racist, sexist, reactionary idiot.

  226. #226 redliterocket4
    February 12, 2010

    Human consciousness did evolve, and our moral intuitions are rooted in empathy, not religious dogma. Many literal-minded religious folks do argue that, without God’s law, there is no law, and so no basis for moral behavior. But not all religion is an attempt to manufacture odd reasons for us to behave and love one another; rather, religion may be a response to to the fact of our innate moral, aesthetic, and intellectual intuitions. For instance, Plato saw the transcendent ideal of Goodness behind his and other’s impulse toward social justice; he saw Beauty behind the human form, and Truth behind understanding’s limited grasp of sensory experience. He couldn’t account for justice, for proportion, or for knowledge without assigning their true cause to the realm of eternal forms.

    We could attempt, as is the norm in our materialistic age, to explain all these intuitions away with a Darwinian algorithm. Or we could suggest religion is just a spandrel.

    …we’d argue that such advantageous abilities as a theory of mind (the ability to perceive others as having thought processes like ours), empathy, and a need for social interaction are the actual products of selection, and that religion is simply a kind of spandrel that emerges from those useful abilities.

    Either way, while it is clear consciousness evolved, this doesn’t give us any reason to suppose our intuitions of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are not in fact transcendent Ideas drawing human history toward their ever-fuller realization in our earthly lives. The standard creation myth of our modern scientific culture, of having achieved a more accurate understanding of reality compared to pre-modern peoples due to Reason, already implies that human history is not merely “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” but is a sort of progressive unfolding of deeper wisdom.

  227. #227 redliterocket4
    February 12, 2010

    Oops, the second paragraph of that block quote is my own text, while the first is quoted from PZ’s above.

  228. #228 Miki Z
    February 12, 2010

    Certainly the idea isn’t counterintuitive. In the pantheon of great thinkers, how many are men and how many are women. In the pantheon of incarcerated people, how many are men, and how many women?

    This is certainly not the most ignorant frankosaurus statement (my vote for most ignorant is that sleeping people have no brains), but it ranks.

    Systematic bias against women in mathematics is both real and troubling to (most) mathematicians. I’m most familiar with the case of Jenny Harrison because I met her briefly and knew Robion Kirby a bit better. Neither was ever my professor, but I encountered them in other contexts. The list of famous female mathematicians is not long, compared to the list of famous male mathematicians, but the collective contribution in the past 200 years is enormous. Many of our understandings of the deep structures in algebra are thanks to these women. Emmy Noether in particular is a giant in the field and was recognized as such more than a century ago.

    A lot of speculation and study has gone into why women are not more well-represented in mathematics. Anecdotally, when I was working as a computer programmer a lot of my colleagues were women, many with doctorates and ferocious skill. When I went back to school for math, most of the students were men. I know that the women I worked with could do the math — I saw them do it often — so it seems to me to be selection bias. Some research has backed this position as well. The combination of luck and timing required to get tenure does not favor women who have children, and this discourages application to Ph.D. programs, which reduces the pool of talent, etc.

    How many of the great religious thinkers have been women? The great generals? The value of oppression as a social control tool is that it generally works. Religions which promoted the subservience of women (most of them) tend to have more abundant flocks. The negative correlation between education and child-bearing has been extensively studied and remarked upon. (For you, frank, that means that the more educated a woman is the fewer children she is likely to have.) Is sexism an adaptation or a by-product?

  229. #229 windy
    February 12, 2010

    It certainly isn’t a plausible explanation for involuntary celibacy (and remember that incel affects women as well as men).

    +1

    I may not qualify as an ‘incel’ but most of this sex-getting advice directed at Walton seems incredibly patronizing and useless. Have you never had a dry spell? If you accept that many people involuntarily lack partners for sex/romance for extended periods of time, wouldn’t it be statistically likely that some smaller number of people never get lucky (or haven’t so far)?

  230. #230 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    Many of our understandings of the deep structures in algebra are thanks to these women. Emmy Noether in particular is a giant in the field and was recognized as such more than a century ago.

    who disputes this? I don’t. Jane Austen and George Eliot. Marie Curie. Maggie Thatcher. All great women. And I can name you some women as well that I know personally that I can confidently say are smarter than I will ever be. I can also say the women who ran the 100m in the last olympics are among the top 0.0001% fastest people on earth. Still, they’re not breaking the record.

    I don’t understand the argument, however, that science and math suffer if there isn’t enough proportional representation among the genders. Or that the lack of equality is itself evidence of systematic oppression. Some of my female colleagues turn down prestigious clerkships and partnerships because it is not the life they want to lead. That doesn’t say anything about character flaws, or a badly constructed system. That’s just taking charge of your life and doing what you want with it.

    But I’d like to know what you know about systematic bias against women in math. Who are these foul men plotting against the rise of female mathematicians. You can speculate and say because the proportions aren’t equal, there MUST be something off-colour happening somewhere. OK, I’d like to know if and how this comes about, and I remain amenable to persuasion. Do you have explanations or “theories”?

    sounds like you have at least one theory – that female subordination comes from the influence of religious leaders and generals. I would say you might have something to that in terms of present day evangelism that explicitly say things to that effect (though not in regards to math). But that doesn’t account for Catholicism and their reason for prohibiting contraceptives because of the objectivization of sexual partners (sounds almost feminist doesn’t it?). ANd for your theory to hold water, you’d have to hold that before (or in the absence of) great religious leaders and generals we had women doing math in droves. Is that what the evidence shows?

    The other thing is that the top minds, top generals, top religious thinkers pretty much had a rough go of things in other facets of life, and often died young. Sometimes you have to be pretty stupid to want to be smart.

  231. #231 https://me.yahoo.com/a/KtrH9g4llpHui8s2.0ezzjBOheU0WpQaoHA-#ab4e8
    February 12, 2010

    Frankie, dear, we haven’t got time to worry about precisely which men are in some foul conspiracy. I think that line of thought says more about your mind than about mine.

    It’s just that somehow we managed to raise several generations of men who if they pass a woman in a university corridor will assume that she’s the cleaner – cap and gown notwithstanding! – and that those generations happened to coincide with the formalisation of science and huge developments in many fields.

    It does not require anyone to be evil in the first place, simply a bit unimaginative, a bit one-dimensional. That’s another thing at which very clever men have been known to excel. The evil ones, if such exist, are the ones who having had the wastefulness and illogic of their ideas pointed out to them still want to hang onto the past like some sort of grubby comfort blanket.

  232. #232 Carlie
    February 12, 2010

    If you accept that many people involuntarily lack partners for sex/romance for extended periods of time, wouldn’t it be statistically likely that some smaller number of people never get lucky (or haven’t so far)?

    I think what a lot of people are arguing is against Walton’s premise that said dry spells are solely because of the amount of physical attractiveness of the person involved.

  233. #233 Walton
    February 12, 2010

    I think what a lot of people are arguing is against Walton’s premise that said dry spells are solely because of the amount of physical attractiveness of the person involved.

    I didn’t quite say that. In my case, there are certainly a number of other factors. But lack of physical attractiveness does play a big part in many cases of involuntary celibacy.

  234. #234 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 12, 2010

    But lack of physical attractiveness does play a big part in many cases of involuntary celibacy.

    Sorry, I would suspect being an egotistical ass has far more to do with it than looks. If you come across as not being interesting by only talking about yourself, and pontificating about your politics, you turn people off. And people with ego can’t have the fault be them, so they can blame it on looks and how shallow the opposite sex is.

  235. #235 John Morales
    February 12, 2010

    Sigh. Walton, if you regularly exercise (including resistance work) and are relatively abstemious, then (unless you’re grotesquely disfigured) I assure you that you shan’t lack “physical attractiveness”.

  236. #236 Miki Z
    February 12, 2010

    But I’d like to know what you know about systematic bias against women in math. Who are these foul men plotting against the rise of female mathematicians. You can speculate and say because the proportions aren’t equal, there MUST be something off-colour happening somewhere. OK, I’d like to know if and how this comes about, and I remain amenable to persuasion. Do you have explanations or “theories”?

    See here for a brief discussion of possible reasons for the disparity, as well as an entire book written about it. In particular, note:

    In surveys of adolescent girls, very few say they desire to be an engineer or physicist, preferring instead to be medical doctors, veterinarians, and lawyers.

    When young girls already know that they don’t want to be doing math-related careers, this is the result of bias. The article summarizes the conclusion of the referenced book:

    When women opt out of careers (or segue to part-time work in them) to have children, this is a choice men are rarely required to make. Of course, this affects al women, not only those who are in math-intensive fields. And it also can be seen among women scientists who work outside the academe, such as pharmaceuticals, sales, research. They leave these careers disproportionately in their mid-thirties, presumably to start families. But when you couple this with the fact that so many fewer women enter the PhD pipelines in the math-intensive fields, this is a major reason for the shortage of women professors in these fields today.

    This is a systematic bias. I’ve already heard your thoughts on the evils of equality as an idea, so I don’t harbor the illusion that I can convince you that this is a problem. The type of career that cannot be pursued by those who spend time with their children is corrosive to society. As well, an absence of women as mentors lowers the number of students entering graduate programs.

    See Ogan, Ahuja, Robinson, Herring, & Goh, 2007. Being the Same Isn’t Enough: Impact of Male and Female Mentors on Computer Self-Efficacy of College Students in IT-Related Fields., Journal of Educational Computing Research for a statistical study on the IT-field which found a significant main effect for gender of the mentors.

    See also:
    Women Scientists and Engineers Employed in Industry: Why So Few? by the National Research Council, which explores discriminatory practices and an attrition at double the rate of men.

    Margaret W. Rossiter, Women Scientists in America: Before Affirmative Action, 1940-1972 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).

    Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries

    etc.

    You’re making another ill-informed argument, frank. Hardly surprising.

  237. #237 John Morales
    February 12, 2010

    Hardly on topic, but I’m reminded of Hypatia by this talk of religion, women and mathematics.

  238. #238 Miki Z
    February 12, 2010

    One wonders why the encouragement of Hypatia’s scholarship by the local Christians did not lead to more women teachers at the time.

  239. #239 Knockgoats
    February 12, 2010

    For instance, Plato saw the transcendent ideal of Goodness behind his and other’s impulse toward social justice; he saw Beauty behind the human form, and Truth behind understanding’s limited grasp of sensory experience. He couldn’t account for justice, for proportion, or for knowledge without assigning their true cause to the realm of eternal forms. -redliterocket4

    Plato was a totalitarian racist who advocated systematic, conscious lying as a political strategy. Nice friends you have. Moreover the connection between these political views and his “Theory of Forms” is quite close. Read Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies: Volume 1 – Plato, if you haven’t.

  240. #240 frog, Inc.
    February 12, 2010

    windy: Have you never had a dry spell? If you accept that many people involuntarily lack partners for sex/romance for extended periods of time, wouldn’t it be statistically likely that some smaller number of people never get lucky (or haven’t so far)?

    Statistically? Oh, that makes me laugh. As if getting sex was a series of independent random events, like trying to guess the lottery numbers.

    What’s the probability distribution? What’s the random function? Really… statistically likely — that means you can actually derive a function and calculate it. It’s not sciencey way to arm-wave.

    If you can do that — we could reduce cultural studies to physics! As a matter of fact, I find externalizing the locus of control like that extremely patronizing — “Oh, you poor dear! You’ve just had a streak of bad luck!”

    Oooh — maybe that’s why I suck at basketball! I’ve just had decades of Bad Luck! I’m exactly like an NBA player — except for a lifetime long streak!

  241. #241 Miki Z
    February 12, 2010

    frog, Inc.,

    Like many of us statistically basketball-challenged, you are probably struggling with a floor effect. I personally cannot get more than a bit off of it and be assured of a safe landing.

  242. #242 Steve Roth
    February 12, 2010

    In Hellenic Judah (after it was swallowed up by Alexander and was ruled by his successors), there was a stong Hellenization movement. This included the central institution of the gymnasium–including in Jerusalem. Portions of the Jewish community were quite resistant to that Hellenization and especially the gymnasium, partially because they were subject to ridicule when seen naked.(Kugel, How to Read the Bible, Chapter 35) If circumcision served as an in-group marker, why were they so resistant to displaying this marker?

  243. #243 David Marjanovi?
    February 12, 2010

    Pharyngula, I’d rather not comment on, but if I were you I wouldn’t be so sure about the sciences.

    <sigh>

    I am sure about my own field. I go to as many conferences as I can get financed?

    It’s common knowledge that the physical sciences, engineering, mathematics and computer science are all disproportionately occupied by men (despite the omnipresence of affirmative action).

    Omnipresence since when? Yesterday?

    “Omnipresence” is also wrong, because there’s no such thing in most countries. What I can tell you are cases of misogynistic male professors giving professor jobs to more men?

    numbers of great composers

    Dude, it’s only been a few years since the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra caved in to the public outrage and allowed women to become members at all. Less than 10 years, I think.

    Several women have now got in. The entrance exam is pretty scary, and there’s no affirmative action whatsoever.

    That’s what high-school and drunken parties are for in the states — to practice, by finding whoever’s left without a partner and asking them to dance. They don’t have to be the thrill of life — they’re just a practice partner, who themselves may need a practice partner.

    Often lonely people just don’t seem to get that. Love the one you’re with.

    I absolutely don’t get it. I neither want to pretend nor to be misunderstood nor to misunderstand nor to have a break-up every few weeks or months.

    (?But then, ?

    ?shocker alert!?

    ?I’ve so far stayed out of this particular situation anyway, by just not dancing. It’s not even a matter of self-confidence; I simply completely lack the urge to make artificial movements like that.)

    On the other hand, there are other fields where women, throughout history, have consistently outperformed men. Nurturing and maintaining social relationships come very much to mind. Not bombing the sh** out of other countries comes to mind as well.

    You just need to let them.

    Unfortunately, this holds even for the involvement of women at the highest levels of the Rwandan massacre.

    Have you never had a dry spell?

    I do know someone who is now close to 45, has accumulated a long list of ex-partners, and has never been alone for more than 6 weeks in a row since he was 24. So, some people haven’t. But I find him remarkably indiscriminating. :-}

    I don’t understand the argument, however, that science and math suffer if there isn’t enough proportional representation among the genders.

    <headdesk>

    1) Those women who want to pursue such a career suffer if it’s denied to them.
    2) Some of those might actually, you know, advance the field, and science & math suffer when they’re not allowed to advance the field.

  244. #244 David Marjanovi?
    February 12, 2010

    If circumcision served as an in-group marker, why were they so resistant to displaying this marker?

    Because suddenly they weren’t the majority anymore (in such Hellenistic settings).

  245. #245 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    February 12, 2010

    Frankosaurus,
    OK, I’m gonna venture out on a limb and posit that you are not a scientist. If you were, you would realize the tremendously important role that mentoring plays in the process of becoming a scientist. And studies have shown that we are much more likely to adopt and be more effective in our mentorship of people who are like us.

    Also keep in mind that many technical types are nerds and have no real understanding of how to relate to women. What’s the joke: An engineer’s idea of a first date is stalking. The last date is a restraining order.

    Because women and minorities form a tiny proportion of the technical population, they tend to be cut adrift. They may not even fully comprehend the importance of finding a good mentor. As a result: They often don’t get effective advisers. The advisers they do get may let them fall through the cracks because they are shy. Of if they pursue what they need aggressively, they risk being a “bitch”. And that doesn’t even begin to consider the overt harassment that many women researchers still face.

    Examples:
    1)I know a woman who found when she arrived for grad school that she had been assigned an adviser who was on sabbatical that year.
    2)I actually heard some of my fellow male grad students make rape jokes!
    3)I knew one woman who was driven out of her profession and ultimately to suicide by a colleague who sabotaged her research with the goal of ensuring his former student would get a presteigious fellowship rather than her. The guy got caught, but within a year was back working on the experiment! Ten years later, my friend was dead.

    That is just my personal experience. As Faulkner said: “The past isn’t over. It isn’t even past.”

  246. #246 Hyperon
    February 12, 2010

    Emmy Noether in particular is a giant in the field and was recognized as such more than a century ago.

    You do realize how daft that sounds, right? You give a single example of a woman who made an important contribution to math/theoretical physics. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of men who made even more impressive contributions.

    Anyway, is it really true that Noether’s theorem in classical mechanics wasn’t known before 1915? I find that hard to believe.

  247. #247 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    Miki,

    The type of career that cannot be pursued by those who spend time with their children is corrosive to society.

    in what way? You make it sound as if society would be better if we stop reproducing.

    But I’m not as rigid about this as you’d think. If you say that inequality in itself is a problem, then yeah, I’m going to need more information than that. And does this also mean that there is systematic bias in flower shop workers? But I am open to hearing how society suffers. I just reject ideological reasons.

    I don’t doubt that having children will be a factor in career choice (notice the choice part). Extended absences are more difficult for certain fields than others. Law and medicine, where there are lots of women, can basically be practiced at any time. But I don’t consider these practical considerations to be “systemic bias”.

    But lets flesh out one idea, what I raised last time about how math suffers when there is no proportional representation. You haven’t answered this, but stop me if I’m wrong. The problem is that by not having equal representation, you won’t be attracting an equal representation of students. Is that right? If so, notice it kind of begs the question (the reason equality is good is that equality is good and brings about more equality). And also, nothing about this makes the case that math as a discipline will be getting better or making more discoveries as a result.

    To make one thing clear, however. People call me racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever, and people often think that’s the end of it – once so branded, I’m no longer one who a person needs to justify their beliefs to. But I don’t think I’ve shown myself to be closed-minded. I don’t just regurgitate stereotypes. And moreover, my attitude about life is one of great tolerance. I look at people and see difference and patterns of difference. I don’t advocate discrimination. But I’m realistic enough to say that one fights a losing battle if we think we can “Transcend” these differences.

  248. #248 Miki Z
    February 12, 2010

    Hyperon,

    That’s what the words “in particular” are for. You should fuck off.

  249. #249 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 12, 2010

    *examines from a distance the black hole of stupidity and insipidity caused by successive posts by Hyperon and Fuckosaurus, and backs away slowly.

  250. #250 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    February 12, 2010

    Hyperon says: “Anyway, is it really true that Noether’s theorem in classical mechanics wasn’t known before 1915? I find that hard to believe. ”

    [Head desk]

    Good lord Hyperon, aside from the total irrelevance of your incredulity, your downplaying of Noether’s achievements really reveals you for the ass that you are.

    This was a result of profound importance not just for classical but also for quantum mechanics. The use of Lagrangians had been widespread for a century, but coming up with a Lagrangian was not and still is not a trivial matter for an arbitrary system. Others had speculated about the connection between conserved quantities and symmetries, but Noether managed to restate the problem so that the connection became clear. This was an intellectual tour de force and it found immediate application throughout mathematical physics.

    The fact that you downplay it without understanding it in the least shows that you sport the latest fashion in rectal haberdashery.

  251. #251 Jadehawk, OM
    February 12, 2010

    how did that old line go…? the reason women aren’t as successful as men is because women don’t have wives…

  252. #252 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 12, 2010

    the reason women aren’t as successful as men is because women don’t have wives.

    The Redhead always says she needs a wife to do the housework. ;)

    Maybe our bigots would be willing to stay home and clean so the woman can bring home the bacon…

  253. #253 Miki Z
    February 12, 2010
    The type of career that cannot be pursued by those who spend time with their children is corrosive to society.

    in what way? You make it sound as if society would be better if we stop reproducing.

    In the same way that sleeping people have no brains? Seriously, I have no inkling of how you get from advocating that people have time to spend with kids to the suggestion that we should stop having them.

    Still, I think you’re young and uninformed and not just a troll (contrast with Hyperon), so…

    In the way that study after study after study shows that children do best when they have parents in a stable relationship who spend time with them. The demands made on science professors who are seeking tenure have little to do with their efficacy post-tenure. Many of these demands are a “distinction without a difference”.

    Perhaps not unique among fields, but distinctive for it nevertheless, mathematics puts a very high priority on being young. There are numerous warnings that mathematics is for the young, that you should have done something major by 25 or give up and do something else, etc. Any ‘time off’ (for example, getting pregnant) seriously hampers this.

    I mentioned mentoring before, and a_ray_in_dilbert_space mentions it as well. This is a serious concern for those of us in the sciences. The lack of equal representation makes it hard to get equal representation. It was not so long ago that your casual mention of females pursuing careers as physicians being realistic would have been seen as naive: men were physicians, women were nurses. When attitudes changed, the discipline became more accepting of women as physicians.

    The obstacles for women wanting to pursue math/science as a career are much tougher than the obstacles for men wanting the same thing. This is the case regardless of their personal desire to have children — I have heard more than on tenured male professor express the opinion that tenure is wasted on women because they’ll just get knocked up as soon as it’s granted. Of course, if they are pregnant before it’s granted, they can almost always kiss tenure goodbye.

    The “different choices” theme is used in the U.S. against minorities, but Japan has perfected the art of using it against women. Japan, like the U.S. has an equal pay act (though not as well enforced), so many companies designate some jobs as “mobile” and others as “stationary”. “Mobile” jobs have higher pay rates, better chances at promotion, etc. In practice, women get “stationary” jobs so that they will be able to “raise their family in a stable environment”. Men get the “mobile” jobs because they can just go live in a different city for a bit. These “choices” are made for them.

    The “choice” about science is being made for many women before they even stop being girls. If you have a child, you might come to understand how abhorrent it is when people make your child’s decisions for them.

  254. #254 Carlie
    February 12, 2010

    Hyperon, have you even ever heard of Virginia Woolf?

  255. #255 Carlie
    February 12, 2010

    ..or franko, you either?

  256. #256 windy
    February 12, 2010

    What’s the probability distribution? What’s the random function? Really… statistically likely — that means you can actually derive a function and calculate it. It’s not sciencey way to arm-wave.

    No, it’s a back of the envelope estimate. Dog knows I’m no Fermi or Drake, but sometimes it’s helpful just to pull some probability estimates out of a hat (or your own anecdotal experience) and play with them.

    If you can do that — we could reduce cultural studies to physics! As a matter of fact, I find externalizing the locus of control like that extremely patronizing — “Oh, you poor dear! You’ve just had a streak of bad luck!”

    Frog, you can be such a fucking turd sometimes. It was not meant to be a complete theory of human relationships, but a little thought experiment for people who have trouble understanding “involuntary celibacy”. I have trouble imagining it myself, but maybe there for the grace of dog go I.

    I bet if some conservative type asserted here that he doesn’t understand the concept “involuntary unemployment”, we would point out some external ‘loci of control’.

  257. #257 windy
    February 12, 2010

    …there but for the grace of dog…

  258. #258 Rozmarija
    February 12, 2010

    There’s a difference between religion, and inventing powerful deities. When humans first realized they were mortal, they created deities as a way of denying mortality, the purpose was to identity WITH the all-powerful eternal image.Even today, someone prays personally to God, dear God, and expects being recognized. On the other hand, religions originally were ways to maintain order among groups composed of disparate people, who had different desires but to survive had to work toward a common goal in their tribe, in their community. Those Ten Commandments were a brilliant distillation of sociobiology, combining civics with blocking innate impulses,but remembering to retain earlier data acquired (honor the elderly).

  259. #259 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    yup, I’ve read a room of one’s own. Then there’s Mrs. Dalloway, The Waves. talented writer. Of course, she is also known to have said that no one should write before they are 30, which tells me she’s not always balanced in her opinions. Nor do I think her opinions on the “middlebrow” are exactly what you would call scientific (talk about someone into stereotypes, huh?).

    In any case, I get the gist of the argument. Women won’t perform as well unless they are given time and leisure to perform well (though of course subsidizing such accommodations usually mean someone’s working harder elsewhere to pick up the slack). That’s a theory. And Intelligent Design is a theory too. Does it account for everything? (go to a young girl and replace her dolls and tea sets with an abacus. Will you be seeing productivity or tears? Oh, and give her her own room too). ANd by the way, the argument here is about writing, not math. I’m perfectly willing to say that women are, on the whole, more linguistically adept than men are. Though of course, Shakespeare and Goethe were dudes.

    back to Miki Z…

    Seriously, I have no inkling of how you get from advocating that people have time to spend with kids to the suggestion that we should stop having them.

    just drawing things to conclusions. One way of freeing up time that would otherwise be spent with kids is to just avoid having them altogether. But we’re not really highlighting this point so I’ll move on. Just wanted to show there’s a logic. But you still haven’t caught the brain/sleep thing, so I don’t know…

    I understand what you mean about the CHALLENGES of achieving gender equality in math and sciences, and these are things one would expect. It could be that a very capable female mathematician can’t sustain this career while performing other duties as wife and mother, or even faces discrimination or resentment among her male colleagues. On this score, what can I say. Sometimes we can’t have it all, and though we can legislate against discriminatory practices, you’ll never be able to police negative biases – same reason that I would have a hard time finding employment as a flower arranger – I’d probably be sized up as incapable before even having an interview.

    So I can appreciate social influences in career choice, and how complex and strong they can be. You didn’t even mention other things like familial approval, or opportunity cost – math doesn’t pay as well as nursing often (something about unions). However, if I understand you, you are not willing to attribute any inherent differences in ability between men and women in math and sciences. That even in school where the boys do better than girls pretty much all the time on average (and even when they are segregated) that this is just more social construction that we will eventually get to the bottom of. Is this true? Or do we actually believe in the differences, but bite our tongues lest our views propogate stereotypes in wayward directions.

    Notice again, you addressed “challenges” facing equality, not the benefit or need for it to math and science research, aside from the fact that equality may breed more equality which may boost enrollment and lead to immense disillusionment among more students when they hit 25. do I have that right?

    As for your example of how Japan stacks the deck against women, I’m not surprised. But not being a person who sees careerism as a solid goal for humanity I’m hardly alarmed (and I doubt they are either). The other thing you fail to mention is Japan’s declining population that is also aging. Might not this be a factor in encouraging a realistic division of labour within the household?

  260. #260 Hyperon
    February 12, 2010

    This was a result of profound importance not just for classical but also for quantum mechanics.

    Thanks for the kind lecture, but you have completely and utterly got the wrong end of the stick, either because you’re clutching at straws, or because you’re an idiot. I wasn’t questioning the theorem’s importance, so everything in your post was 100% irrelevant. My question was regarding whether the theorem was known before 1915, when Emmy Noether is alleged to have “discovered” it.

    Intuitively, I find it unlikely that such a rudimentary theorem in classical mechanics was discovered only in 1915. Classical mechanics was a highly sophisticated subject even by 1900, and the theorem is just so easy to prove (I remember proving it myself within about twenty minutes when I was around 18 or 19). The principle that conservation laws come from symmetries has been known since the 18th century, and it just seems hard to believe that it took until 1915 for someone to make this formal.

    Some of the central texts in the literature on classical mechanics (e.g. Goldstein 1950) don’t attribute the theorem to Noether.

  261. #261 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    by the way, where does the idea of equality come from in the first place? A priori?

  262. #262 Hyperon
    February 12, 2010

    There are numerous warnings that mathematics is for the young, that you should have done something major by 25 or give up and do something else, etc. Any ‘time off’ (for example, getting pregnant) seriously hampers this.

    Actually, that would be great for any serious theoretician. Nine months of thinking and studying! Would be superb. That alone would be sufficient reason for me to go and get pregnant, if I were able.

  263. #263 frog, Inc.
    February 12, 2010

    windy: Frog, you can be such a fucking turd sometimes. It was not meant to be a complete theory of human relationships, but a little thought experiment for people who have trouble understanding “involuntary celibacy”. I have trouble imagining it myself, but maybe there for the grace of dog go I.

    I bet if some conservative type asserted here that he doesn’t understand the concept “involuntary unemployment”, we would point out some external ‘loci of control’.

    Sure to one.

    But, “involuntary celibacy” and “involuntary unemployment” are completely different. You need to have a minimum living standard — you don’t need to have a minimum sexual standard. Sex is widely distributed; work is controlled by a group of organizations. Labor slack is a mandatory part of keeping wages low — a conscious attempt at keeping people unemployed in order to make cash. There’s no sexual equivalent.

    Some folks just have fewer choices — sure, given. But people who claim they have no reasonable choices — I think they’re misreading the situation. They’re either voluntarily celibate, in that they aren’t going to make the necessary investment of being misunderstood, break-up, etc, etc, (DM’s apparent position), or they haven’t learned yet how to get a partner.

    The solution to the latter? Learn. Practice.

  264. #264 Feynmaniac
    February 12, 2010

    Hyperon,

    The principle that conservation laws come from symmetries has been known since the 18th century, and it just seems hard to believe that it took until 1915 for someone to make this formal.

    Some of the central texts in the literature on classical mechanics (e.g. Goldstein 1950) don’t attribute the theorem to Noether.

    The more recent edition of the book does.

    Goldstein (2001) Classical Mechanics 3rd ed., pg. 589:

    The absence of explicit dependence on the coordinate means the Lagrangian is unaffected by a transformation that alters the value of that coordinate; it is said to be invariant, or symmetric, under the given transformation. Similarly, invariance of the Lagrangian under time displacement implies conservation of energy. The formal description of the connection between invariance or symmetry properties and conserved quantities is contained in Noether’s theorem.

    Einstein: “Yesterday I received from Miss Noether a very interesting paper on invariants. I’m impressed that such things can be understood in such a general way. The old guard at Göttingen should take some lessons from Miss Noether! She seems to know her stuff.” Kimberling, Clark (1981), Emmy Noether and Her Influence

  265. #265 frog, Inc.
    February 12, 2010

    frankosaurus: by the way, where does the idea of equality come from in the first place? A priori?

    No, it comes from me smacking you on the head, kid, if you try to pull this shit. It’s therefore, “inalienable” — if you don’t a civil war.

  266. #266 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    To get away from side-tracking this thread though…

    If religion were either a byproduct or a natural result of evolution, then I think one of the implications is that trying to overcome it is a fairly fruitless exercise, like trying to overcome parental instincts. However I see something to the idea that religion is a byproduct of at least one evolutionary advantage – concentred conceptualization. Meaning that humans, in order to keep track of everything that happens sense data-wise in the world have a fondness for picking something as a centering stone that suffuses everything else with meaning.

    Thus one reading of the Genesis myth – that God created the heavens, earth, stars, animals, etc means that they are themselves disrobed of godly status, and attention is drawn to one supreme authority. It’s no surprise then that scientific thinking would “stick” better in monotheistic cultures, transferring singular authority to objective analysis. So there’s nothing special or enlightened about atheism. It’s just the next logical step. Though the whole shift of values from the shifted authority makes for messy politics.

    THe problem here, of course, is that saying there is a disposition of mind that allows for objective thought is frightfully embarrassing when we see where we’ve seen metaphysics develop. That there is a “truth” above the sensations really is something we find happening only in India and Europe. To avoid racism, I suppose this is better explained by saying there’s nothing inherently good about objectivity anyway.(though how to phrase that without sounding objective?)

  267. #267 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 12, 2010

    Yawn, Fucky, you took forever to say nothing. What else is new? Take your meager intelligence and analysis someplace that may appreciate your limited talent.

  268. #268 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    frankosaurus: by the way, where does the idea of equality come from in the first place? A priori?

    No, it comes from me smacking you on the head, kid, if you try to pull this shit. It’s therefore, “inalienable” — if you don’t a civil war.

    I think it comes from Christianity, actually.

    how does the line go about unalienable? “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”

    Probably one of the things PZ refers to when talking about keeping the good without the god.

  269. #269 Bill Dauphin, OM
    February 12, 2010

    David (@243):

    That’s what high-school and drunken parties are for in the states — to practice, by finding whoever’s left without a partner and asking them to dance. They don’t have to be the thrill of life — they’re just a practice partner, who themselves may need a practice partner.
    Often lonely people just don’t seem to get that. Love the one you’re with.

    I absolutely don’t get it. I neither want to pretend nor to be misunderstood nor to misunderstand nor to have a break-up every few weeks or months.

    I absolutely don’t get it: The comment you’re responding to isn’t suggesting anything that requires pretense, or that indicates a commitment you might “break up” from. Rather, it’s explicitly suggesting that one should be open to enjoying one’s sexuality in the moment.

    If that’s not your thing, that’s cool. But remember that this whole line of conversation is mostly in response to Walton, who has indicated that he’s not averse to the idea of casual sex… which, as long as you’re upfront with your casual partners, need not entail misunderstanding or break-ups. In his case, a friendly no-strings-attached hookup might go a ways toward setting him up for a more substantial relationship down the road, by showing him that a lifetime of incel is not his inevitable fate.

  270. #270 Jadehawk, OM
    February 12, 2010

    fuckwit #1 sez:

    Actually, that would be great for any serious theoretician. Nine months of thinking and studying! Would be superb. That alone would be sufficient reason for me to go and get pregnant, if I were able.

    because getting pregnant means you get to sit on your ass and not do anything for 9 months, and afterwards everything goes back to the way it was before.

    you have got to be the worlds most clueless person.

    fuckwit #2 sez:

    That even in school where the boys do better than girls pretty much all the time on average (and even when they are segregated)

    look up the word “truthiness”; also look up “everybody knows that…”; then go read this and this. A normal, sane human would be ashamed at the levels of ignorance you’re so boldly and proudly displaying.

  271. #271 Knockgoats
    February 12, 2010

    I think it comes from Christianity, actually. – frankosaurus

    It’s difficult to believe even you are that stupid. Christianity is a strong contender – in a very strong field – for the title of most misogynistic religion ever. The Bible has nothing whatever to say against slavery. Those defending slavery in the US were overwhelmingly Christian. Christianity has a 2,000 year record of the vilest antisemitism. It was just when Christianity started to lose its stranglehold on western culture that ideas of real equality – political, social, and economic – began to emerge.

  272. #272 David Marjanovi?
    February 12, 2010

    They’re either voluntarily celibate, in that they aren’t going to make the necessary investment of being misunderstood, break-up, etc, etc, (DM’s apparent position),

    Oh for crying out loud. :-) I’m not at all voluntarily celibate. I’ve just never fallen in love (in meatspace at the very least), because I’ve never found anyone to fall in love with!

    Are you postulating some kind of “the appetite comes with eating” theory???

    Thus one reading of the Genesis myth – that God created the heavens, earth, stars, animals, etc means that they are themselves disrobed of godly status, and attention is drawn to one supreme authority. It’s no surprise then that scientific thinking would “stick” better in monotheistic cultures, transferring singular authority to objective analysis.

    Then why was atheism reached independently in the polytheistic cultures of ancient India and (at least once!) ancient Greece?

    I think it comes from Christianity, actually.

    how does the line go about unalienable? “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”

    That’s Deism, not Christianity.

  273. #273 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 12, 2010

    Poor Fucky thinks that anything Xian means anything other than delusional fools and idiocy around here? What an imbecile. I’m surprised he can even find the keyboard with a GPS, a clue, and a map.

  274. #274 David Marjanovi?
    February 12, 2010

    also look up “everybody knows that…”; then go read this and this.

    Or, in case you are more easily convinced by anecdotes than by data, let me point out that the girls in my class were on average better than the boys throughout 6 to 8 years…

    (Non-American school system: the class stays together for almost all subjects.)

  275. #275 Hyperon
    February 12, 2010

    Christianity is a strong contender – in a very strong field – for the title of most misogynistic religion ever.

    It’s pretty bad, but there’s not a supermodel’s chance in Comic-Con that Christianity can contend with Islam. Let’s not try not to trivialize burqas, polygamy, honour killings, systematic opposition to education of anyone without a penis, etc.

  276. #276 Feynmaniac
    February 12, 2010

    frankosaurus,

    I think it [equality] comes from Christianity, actually.

    *head desk*

    Many hunter-gatherer tribes are/were fairly egalitarian. The concept may not have been written down or recorded but it was probably actually practiced millennia before Christianity was invented.

    In any case, Christianity may have started as the religion of the persecuted, but it quickly became the religion of the persecutor. The Church isn’t exactly an egalitarian structure and Christian nations during medieval times were far, far from being egalitarian. Later on Christians would invoke the curse of Ham to justify slavery.

    how does the line go about unalienable? “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”

    The line came nearly two millennia after the creation of Christianity. Even considering that, the line was written by a slave owner in a nation which was exterminating the native population and where woman were second class citizens. Nice rhetoric, but not really followed through.

  277. #277 Josh, Official SpokesGay
    February 12, 2010

    I think it comes from Christianity, actually.

    Fuckosaurus, I think petit fours and finger sandwiches come from my asshole. That doesn’t mean I’m making sense.

  278. #278 Jadehawk, OM
    February 12, 2010

    Oh for crying out loud. :-) I’m not at all voluntarily celibate. I’ve just never fallen in love (in meatspace at the very least), because I’ve never found anyone to fall in love with!

    Are you postulating some kind of “the appetite comes with eating” theory???

    I believe he’s postulating that a person’s priorities might be such that getting laid becomes less likely by the choices a person makes. I.e. merely getting laid isn’t so high a priority that you’d do the sort of stuff that would get you laid. Like spending large amounts of time in extremely boring meatspace social situations; or decoupling the idea of falling in love from having sex (they really don’t HAVE to have anything to do with each other; but because in your case they evidently do, it means you’re so much less likely to have sex)

    basically, it often seems that the reason a lot of people don’t have sex isn’t because people try to get sex and fail, but because their priorities/values are such that they don’t do the things that would get them laid for various (perfectly valid, may I add) reasons.

    a sort of semi-voluntary celibacym, kind of like I’m semi-voluntarily poor, because attempting middle-class income levels via middle-income-type jobs would result in me going postal sooner or later

  279. #279 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    Jadehawk: yeah, funny how publicly funded studies at publicly funded institutions on subjects at publicly funded high schools can lead to results that line up with public values, no?

    but i will admit that study contradicts what i said about what the studies say. So point-counterpoint time:

    http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/odd-numbers/2007/11/29/why-men-are-better-mathematicians-and-engineers/

  280. #280 Carlie
    February 12, 2010

    Nine months of thinking and studying! Would be superb.

    ? Are you a Victorian member of the English nobility or something? I worked until the day I went into labor with both of my pregnancies, and thinking and studying is nice but kind of hard when puking, having legs and elbows squish the air out of your lungs, and needing to pee every half-hour.

  281. #281 Jadehawk, OM
    February 12, 2010

    so now that you’ve run out of arguments, you’re going the “it’s a conspiracy!!” route?

    it’s fucking embarrassing to watch.

  282. #282 Hyperon
    February 12, 2010

    I worked until the day I went into labor with both of my pregnancies, and thinking and studying is nice but kind of hard when puking, having legs and elbows squish the air out of your lungs, and needing to pee every half-hour.

    That doesn’t sound like a lot of time off to me, if you worked until labour. If so, then pregnancy presumably hasn’t impinged upon your career.

  283. #283 Jadehawk, OM
    February 12, 2010

    That doesn’t sound like a lot of time off to me, if you worked until labour. If so, then pregnancy presumably hasn’t impinged upon your career.

    of course it hasn’t! I’m sure that carlie had a wife at home who was able to take the babies off her mind while she continued her career-climbing right through and after the pregnancy. all she was ever required to do was to play with the kids for a couple hours after getting home from work, and maybe on the weekends, before getting back to focusing on career things. she was never required to or expected to take off days from work because her kids were sick (after all, her wife would do that instead), and was never expected to scale back work whenever necessary (again, because she has a wife to do that for her), or else be piled on for being a bad mother. She also never had to do any housework, or otherwise need to take care of anything that wasn’t job-related, since it was always understood that these are her wife’s responisbilities.

    and of course, no bosses have ever any prejudices against employees who run to the bathroom every few minutes, puke randomly, and can disrupt work by leaking goo on the floor and declaring “the baby is coming!”, and then leaving early and stay gone for days or even weeks.

    like i said. worlds most clueless person.

  284. #284 Hyperon
    February 12, 2010

    Jadehawk, the factors you mention are only loosely related to pregnancy, which was the specific topic I chose to comment on. Child-rearing is a much broader subject, and I would obviously grant that for most mothers it is a full-time job. But hey, there was nothing forcing Carlie to have kids. Personally, I’m never going to have kids, because (a) I would prefer spending my time otherwise, and (b) I think the planet is already crowded enough.

  285. #285 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    Many hunter-gatherer tribes are/were fairly egalitarian

    you mean the ones that said – you’re a hunter and you’re a gatherer? *point for me*

    I don’t deny there have been very cooperative societies. In fact, I would expect that, and it would really alarm me to see a society that systematically oppressed one gender. That’s just asking for the end of the species.

    Maybe you’re talking more along the lines of what I mean, of moral equality: that men and women possess the same dignity, intrinsic moral worth, and that should be reflected in how society is structured. As you say, how would we know they thought this without written records? And certainly we don’t find it in the other major religions. Buddhism, maybe, but that’s about forming the equal playing field by negation of everything.

    The Church isn’t exactly an egalitarian structure and Christian nations during medieval times were far, far from being egalitarian

    notice again the difference between equality and egalitarian. I can say that a comatose person is equal before the law as anyone else without being committed to saying they should have a seat in Parliament. *cue jokes about inept politicians*

    But not egalitarian because of leadership roles reserved for men? When the belief is that the earth is transitory and the real kingdom is the kingdom of God, that glory is fleeting, the fact that there was no power of conscription to enforce the “invisible man hand”, and the belief that church leaders must sacrifice having sex and families, then it hardly looks like a gross power grab. Oh, and there’s something about Mary…

    Of course, if you impute to them the absence of the foundations of their moral equality, that of the real existence of a real afterlife after all are equally judged — that is, if you talk about their beliefs while stripping them of most of them, then yeah, it looks a tad unbalanced.

    However, the point is you’re more likely to get a liberal democratic society out of Christianity than Islam. or Shintoism. or Judaism. That is, in fact, what happened.

    Nice rhetoric, but not really followed through.

    The point is that the inalienability of rights is closely tied with a grantor of those rights – an origin and a final enforcer. Is it really surprising that many of those who were pushing to liberate the slaves did so on religious grounds?

  286. #286 Hyperon
    February 12, 2010

    Feynmaniac @ 264,

    Thanks for that. I don’t have the latest edition of the book, apparently. And the Einstein quotation is interesting. Seems I was probably very much mistaken, and as I said, I was only speaking from “intuition” anyway.

  287. #287 Jadehawk, OM
    February 12, 2010

    But hey, there was nothing forcing Carlie to have kids.

    the question is, do men have to make choices between successful careers (especially in fields that require one to sacrifice a lot of free time) and having children like that? the answer is: no.

    and don’t think I didn’t notice you shifting back and forth between things you’re talking about. You’re talking about getting pregnant and not needing to do anything on the one hand, and on the other you’re attempting to dismiss the statements made by people here that getting pregnant doesn’t have negative effects on one’s career. you do this either by being too stupid, or being an ass, but either way you’re pretending like “getting pregnant” really just means the pregnancy itself; as if the resulting kids would take care of themselves once they plop out.

  288. #288 Jadehawk, OM
    February 12, 2010

    actually, i’m done with this conversation. having two racist, sexist defenders of their undeserved privilege parade their cluelessness and distaste for even the slightest whiff of others getting access to the world they take for granted is making me nauseous.

  289. #289 David Marjanovi?
    February 12, 2010

    Many hunter-gatherer tribes are/were fairly egalitarian.

    This extends to the agricultural villages of the highland of New Guinea ? they’ve been agricultural for 10,000 years and never developed a stratified society, not even the concept of “chief”.

    I believe he’s postulating that a person’s priorities [...]

    Makes sense. :-)

    kind of like I’m semi-voluntarily poor, because attempting middle-class income levels via middle-income-type jobs would result in me going postal sooner or later

    :-) I can sympathize. I don’t think I’m seriously capable of being pretty much anything but a full-time scientist.

    but i will admit that study contradicts what i said about what the studies say. So point-counterpoint time:

    May I be so blunt as to suggest that PNAS trumps Scientific American Mind?

    But if not, let me at least quote the very page you link to:

    Although it has drawn little media coverage, dramatic changes have been occurring among these junior math wizards: the relative number of girls among them has been soaring. The ratio of boys to girls, first observed at 13 to 1 in the 1980s, has been dropping steadily and is now only about 3 to 1. During the same period the number of women in a few other scientific fields has surged. In the U.S., women now make up half of new medical school graduates and 75 percent of recent veterinary school graduates. We cannot identify any single cause for the increase in the number of women entering these formerly male-dominated fields, because multiple changes have occurred in society over the past several decades.

    Suggest a couple of causes. Go ahead, we’re waiting.

    Of course, the dropping ratio is exactly what the studies Jadehawk cited find…

    it’s fucking embarrassing to watch.

    Repeated for truth.

    BTW, Hyperon, do you have any younger siblings? I do; I know to some extent what it’s like when my mother is pregnant. Especially with the last child, who was so heavy she had to lie for months.

    the factors you mention are only loosely related to pregnancy

    <headdesk>

    But hey, there was nothing forcing Carlie to have kids.

    Should I really comment this?

  290. #290 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    the question is, do men have to make choices between successful careers (especially in fields that require one to sacrifice a lot of free time) and having children like that? the answer is: no.

    no, they have to choose between getting a succesful career that makes them work 90 hours a week and drinking themselves to death when they aren’t selected for one.

    And nursing an infant isn’t a full-time job, though it can be and often becomes that. But a person who is organized and motivated enough to climb to the top of mathematics would not be completely burdened by child-rearing on maternity leave. FOr one thing, babies sleep a lot, just not on regular time schedules.

  291. #291 Hyperon
    February 12, 2010

    I do; I know to some extent what it’s like when my mother is pregnant. Especially with the last child, who was so heavy she had to lie for months.

    Hah. My parents aren’t such a good example. My father spent nearly two decades slogging his guts out in a factory for close to minimum wage, while my mother would usually trade gossip on the phone. Since a sector of the British economy is dedicated in almost its entirety to giving women easy jobs, my mother now earns more money despite not being half as skilled. Seems to me as clear an example as any of cultural sexism; however, it is considered “offensive” for me to raise this point.

  292. #292 David Marjanovi?
    February 12, 2010

    you mean the ones that said – you’re a hunter and you’re a gatherer? *point for me*

    There are in fact hunter-gatherer societies where women participate in the hunt. The Agta in the Philippines are one example.

    Oh, and there’s something about Mary…

    I wonder if she’s a sublimation of guilt to some extent.

    She also forms part of the false dichotomy between saint and whore…

    However, the point is you’re more likely to get a liberal democratic society out of Christianity than Islam. or Shintoism. or Judaism. That is, in fact, what happened.

    Is it? First, Martin Luther:

    [...] in a like manner we must endure the authority of the prince. If he misuse or abuse his authority, we are not to entertain a grudge, seek revenge or punishment. Obedience is to be rendered for God’s sake, for the ruler is God’s representative. However they may tax or exact, we must obey and endure patiently.

    An eartly kingdom cannot exist without inequality of persons. Some must be free, some serfs, some rulers, some subjects.

    As to the common people, [?] one has to be hard with them and see that they do their work and that under the threat of the sword and the law they comply with the observance of piety, just as you chain up wild beasts.

    Even though they grow weary and wear themselves out with child- bearing, it does not matter; let them go on bearing children till they die, that is what they are there for.

    Note how he wrote “kingdom” when “state” would have been more appropriate ? he didn’t even get the idea that a state could be anything but a monarchy!

    The concept of equality before God is just as well anchored in Islam as in Christianity and Judaism.

    It’s obvious what happened: once the Enlightenment lightened the stranglehold of Christianity on society, people found themselves free to think about how to organize a society in a less oppressive way. Not the other way around.

    The point is that the inalienability of rights is closely tied with a grantor of those rights – an origin and a final enforcer.

    18th-century deism.

    By New Testament standards, the American Revolution was a sin.

    Is it really surprising that many of those who were pushing to liberate the slaves did so on religious grounds?

    I think the main reason for this is that they thought this was the kind of argument the slaveholders would understand ? the slaveholders who used the Bible to legitimize slavery. Hey, some people still do.

  293. #293 David Marjanovi?
    February 12, 2010

    But a person who is organized and motivated enough to climb to the top of mathematics would not be completely burdened by child-rearing on maternity leave. FOr one thing, babies sleep a lot, just not on regular time schedules.

    <headdesk>

    Try it yourself sometime.

    a sector of the British economy is dedicated in almost its entirety to giving women easy jobs

    Please do elaborate.

  294. #294 Hyperon
    February 12, 2010

    Please do elaborate.

    I had in mind social service, or at least a significant subset thereof. Nearly all of my mother’s coworkers are female. They don’t have to do anything but, well, talk to people. Pay is good, and requires no special expertise or knowledge of any kind.

  295. #295 Feynmaniac
    February 12, 2010

    frankosaurus,

    I don’t deny there have been very cooperative societies. In fact, I would expect that, and it would really alarm me to see a society that systematically oppressed one gender. That’s just asking for the end of the species.

    Actually, part of the reason why women were oppressed was for the continuation of the species. They were seen as baby factories. We don’t have to wonder what it would be like if one gender was oppressed. It has happened in the past and continues to happen in many parts of the world today.

    As you say, how would we know they thought this without written records?

    We can extrapolate based on how current hunter-gatherers live.

    However, the point is you’re more likely to get a liberal democratic society out of Christianity than Islam. or Shintoism. or Judaism.

    Israel and Japan qualify as liberal democratic societies. Conversely, Latin America is largely Roman Catholic and has had no shortage of dictatorships. I don’t think Christianity had much to do with the rise of liberal democratic societies. Again, those democratic societies came about many centuries after the creation of Christianity. In fact Christianity often stood in the way (e.g, women’s suffrage and the feminism of the 60’s). It seems overall that Christianity was at best incidental or at worst counter productive.

    Is it really surprising that many of those who were pushing to liberate the slaves did so on religious grounds?

    Again, many used religious grounds, specifically the curse of Ham, to justify it.

  296. #296 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    This extends to the agricultural villages of the highland of New Guinea ? they’ve been agricultural for 10,000 years and never developed a stratified society, not even the concept of “chief”.

    No science either. But do they have moral equality? It’s a question of substance, not form. (An ant colony, after all, looks remarkably progressive). To support your case, can you provide the specs so we can take a look at what they believe?

    Of course, the dropping ratio is exactly what the studies Jadehawk cited find…

    …and give an exclusively cultural explanation for. Let me hit you with some scenarios:

    -cultural expectations of men performing better than women + innate ability = outperforming women

    -decreased cultural expectations of men performing better + innate ability = outperforming women less

    -decreased cultural expectations of men performing better + innate ability – subsidized female performance = nearing parity (though extreme giftedness still predominantly male).

    All include innate ability in the equation. So what do we do with my demands for rigorous proof to conclusively eliminate innate ability. Call it an instance of personal bias or just good science?

    Suggest a couple of causes

    -more encouragement and scholarships for women in math
    -more pressure for women to take up a career (the ratio of men to women in the workforce also changed)
    -increasing professional requirements for education and nursing
    -because they can do the math assigned
    -because of the increasing stigmatization of “the housewife”
    -curriculum changes
    -because men with gifted mathematical genes dodged the draft and moved to Canada
    -because the data in the article hasn’t been scrutinized
    -because motivation can make up for brains
    -because the males lack motivation

    I am unfortunately equally incapable of finding a “single” cause

    May I be so blunt as to suggest that PNAS trumps Scientific American Mind?

    do what you want, though I’d hate this to be a war over publishers rather than evidence.

  297. #297 Miki Z
    February 12, 2010

    frankosaurus,

    Every source I cited (the article, the book, the studies) considers the ‘innate ability’ argument and statistically dismisses it. Even the source you cite contradicts your assertion that the men do better innately. I said before that I thought you were not just a troll.

    I was wrong. In the face of contradictory evidence, I do what my discipline suggests: I update my belief. You are just a troll.

  298. #298 Feynmaniac
    February 12, 2010

    you mean the ones that said – you’re a hunter and you’re a gatherer? *point for me*

    Not really. As David pointed out there is variations within the “hunter-gatherers” of how labor is divided between the sexes. In any case, my point was that women in many of these societies are not viewed as subordinates to the men.

  299. #299 Feynmaniac
    February 12, 2010

    As you say, how would we know they thought this without written records?

    In addition to observing modern hunter-gatherers we can also see found out a lot through archaeology.

    Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped bring
    another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions. Hunter-gatherers have little or no
    stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an orchard or a herd of cows: they
    live off the wild plants and animals they obtain each day. Therefore, there can be no
    kings, no class of social parasites who grow fat on food seized from others. Only in a
    farming population could a healthy, nonproducing elite set itself above the disease-ridden
    masses. Skeletons from Greek tombs at Mycenae c.1500 B.C. suggest that royals enjoyed
    a better diet than commoners, since the royal skeletons were two or three inches taller and
    had better teeth (on average, one instead of six cavities or missing teeth). Among Chilean
    mummies from c. A.D. 1000, the elite were distinguished not only by ornaments and gold
    hair clips but also by a fourfold lower rate of bone lesions caused by disease.

    Farming may have encouraged inequality between the sexes, as well. Freed from the need to transport their babies during a nomadic existence, and under pressure to produce more hands to till the fields, farming women tended to have more frequent pregnancies than their hunter-gatherer counterparts– with consequent drains on their health. Among the Chilean mummies, for example, more women than men had bone lesions from infectious disease.

    http://anthropology.lbcc.edu/handoutsdocs/mistake.pdf

  300. #300 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 12, 2010

    I see Fucky and Hypy are still battling it out for the most stoopid troll of the thread award. Denseness approaching neutronium going on here. Definitely lights on, nobody home, but the burgled brain. The prize for winning the most stoopid award is a trebuchet load full of chicken by-products on your home. So, if you quit now, the other wins by default.

  301. #301 Carlie
    February 12, 2010

    No, there was nothing forcing me to have children – I was using it as an example of why the comment that pregnancy is a nice leisurely time to sit around and read and contemplate theory was entirely clueless.

    Beyond that, I have no interest in saying anything else, because prior experience indicates that frank and Hyperon are beyond reasoning.

  302. #302 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    Actually, part of the reason why women were oppressed was for the continuation of the species

    If you consider the fact of having many babies itself oppression, then obviously you’ll find a lot of oppression. It’s more oppressive if the women weren’t consenting to the arrangement. But I doubt the men consented either to then work harder to look after them. The societes you speak are probably the one’s that also took the worst views of male abandonment and divorce. So in the end it’s a wash. Unless you have specific examples. (and remember our qualifier – it can’t be societies that ran themselves into extinction).

    We can extrapolate based on how current hunter-gatherers live.

    we certainly can. What are their beliefs about gender? Any good interviews available?

    Israel and Japan qualify as liberal democratic societies

    They certainly are. Israel gets 60 billion dollars a year from the US to stay afloat, and operates one of the most racist regimes in the world. Japan (another paragon of diversity!) has no fundamental attachment to liberal democracy aside from it being good for business. Both, notably, didn’t cook liberal democracy up on their own.

    Latin America is largely Roman Catholic and has had no shortage of dictatorships

    How much of that is from no shortage of marxism? Let’s ask ol’ Pinochet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chile_under_Pinochet.

    In fact Christianity often stood in the way (e.g, women’s suffrage and the feminism of the 60’s)

    if you have premises about liberal democracy that aren’t christian, then you are less likely to see the connection. So if you like the marxist-freudian 60s, then yeah, Christianity isn’t about that.

    Liberal democracy grants rights and rule of law to limit government. Where did this come from, out of the air? How does Locke justify owning property? (God-given labour and god-given resources). Who but a Christian (Hobbes) would say that the legitimacy of sovereignty lies in implied consent – a rational means to achieve a rational end of peace before the final judgment. Where do inalienable rights come from? (Natural law – see theology).

    THen you know the 19th century comes and Christianity diminishes as a political force in favour of liberalism, and things go from there. I’m not saying liberalism is Christian. It’s quite secular now. but it required Christianity to attain some of its fundamental premises.

  303. #303 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    February 12, 2010

    Hyperon says “It’s pretty bad, but there’s not a supermodel’s chance in Comic-Con that Christianity can contend with Islam. Let’s not try not to trivialize burqas, polygamy, honour killings, systematic opposition to education of anyone without a penis, etc.”

    Hey, did somebody mention honor killings?! Christianity’s got you covered, at least up to the 16th century:
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100211/od_nm/us_italy_mystery_odd_1

    So, Islam and Xtianity had about the same “civilizing influence” in the same amoung of time (given Islam dates from ~600 years after Xtianity).

  304. #304 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    Feynmaniac: thanks for the excerpt. But that’s what you expect from anthropology – a materialist approach. we’re looking for moral equality as an idea and value that shapes ideal systems of government, not economic equality as a function of nomadic living.

  305. #305 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    Even the source you cite contradicts your assertion that the men do better innately

    my source says…

    “”Imaging studies assessing brain function support the notion that females perform better on tasks such as language processing that call on more symmetric activation of brain hemispheres, whereas males excel in tasks requiring activation of the visual cortex.”

    …and then the authors put a lid on its implications. But it speaks to innateness, doesn’t it

  306. #306 Feynmaniac
    February 12, 2010

    If you consider the fact of having many babies itself oppression, then obviously you’ll find a lot of oppression. It’s more oppressive if the women weren’t consenting to the arrangement. But I doubt the men consented either to then work harder to look after them. The societes you speak are probably the one’s that also took the worst views of male abandonment and divorce. So in the end it’s a wash. Unless you have specific examples. (and remember our qualifier – it can’t be societies that ran themselves into extinction).

    See last quote of #299

    Israel gets 60 billion dollars a year from the US to stay afloat, and operates one of the most racist regimes in the world.

    I don’t see how the money is relevent. As for racist regime, if you consider that a disqualification for liberal democracy then the US has only been one for a few decades.

    Japan (another paragon of diversity!)

    Japan is by not means perfect, but what relevence does their cultural homogeneity have? You could go about listing all the faults of “liberal democracies” that are also overwhelmingly Christian (including the US) and they wouldn’t look so good either.

    How much of that is from no shortage of marxism? Let’s ask ol’ Pinochet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chile_under_Pinochet.

    I don’t understand what’s your point.

    Liberal democracy grants rights and rule of law to limit government.Where did this come from, out of the air?

    Aristotle: “[I]t is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.”

    The idea was around before Christianity.

    How does Locke justify owning property? (God-given labour and god-given resources). Who but a Christian (Hobbes) would say that the legitimacy of sovereignty lies in implied consent – a rational means to achieve a rational end of peace before the final judgment. Where do inalienable rights come from? (Natural law – see theology).

    So what if Chrisitan thinkers thought it through a Christian perspective? Alhazen wrote that he was influenced by Islam to produce the scientific method. In his mind the Quran endorsed empiricism. It doesn’t mean Islam was necessary for science.

    but it required Christianity to attain some of its fundamental premises.

    I think it more likely that people have an innate an idea of equality and justice. Liberal democracy came from a lot of hard work from down-trodden lessening the inequality. Any attributions to religion as a source for morality or political freedom are an after-the-fact rationalization.

  307. #307 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 12, 2010

    F, your deity doesn’t exist, no physical evidence for one. That makes your babble nothing but myth/fiction. Which makes any dogma based upon it even more fiction. You, your church, and your deity have no place in any argument on morals, which derive out of evolution and group cooperation. Once you understand your imaginary deity and religious dogma have no place in rational evidence based discussion, you will finally show a soupcon of intelligence.

    Unless, of course, you have conclusive (by our standards, not yours) physical evidence otherwise.

  308. #308 Feynmaniac
    February 12, 2010

    Feynmaniac: thanks for the excerpt. But that’s what you expect from anthropology – a materialist approach.

    How else do you plan to study people who have been dead for millenia and haven’t left any written records?

  309. #309 frankosaurus
    February 12, 2010

    (in reverse order)

    How else do you plan to study people who have been dead for millenia and haven’t left any written records?

    I would observe this to be itself conclusive that such a people were not influential in handing down the concept of moral equality.

    F, your deity doesn’t exist, no physical evidence for one

    who said it did?

    Japan is by not means perfect, but what relevence does their cultural homogeneity have

    It goes to establishing their commitment to liberal democracy. They are a less individualistic bunch (though that’s changing) which works very well for imperial rule. Western imperialism in this case. Compare with Christianity – a religion with steady individualistic currents – love God love others, the rest is pretty much up to you. Very fitting for a polity that is protective of individual freedoms.

    I don’t understand what’s your point.

    It’s marxism that introduced disorder that gave rise to the military dictatorship. The Catholic Church was very critical of what was happening.

    The idea was around before Christianity.

    This is about Aristotle. I think I mentioned something about natural law theology, didn’t I? Well you need more than religion to account for the rise of the West, but you can see how these things harmonized. But if you think that moral equality is foundational to liberal democracies as they emerged, was that provided by Aristotle? No. This, by the way, isn’t to say that moral equality always played out as it purported, but to ask what initially grounded its value.

    So what if Chrisitan thinkers thought it through a Christian perspective?

    So what is that this is the world we live in. It could have been different, you’re right.

    I think it more likely that people have an innate an idea of equality and justice

    which is why you’ve seen it flourish so often in the past? Which is why it has always persisted as an enduring goal?

    May I introduce you to my friend? His name is history.

  310. #310 Feynmaniac
    February 13, 2010

    I would observe this to be itself conclusive that such a people were not influential in handing down the concept of moral equality.

    The question wasn’t who was the most influential in spreading the idea of equality. It was where does it come from. The fact that fairly egalitarian societies existed before Christianity shows that the idea didn’t come from there. Also, why was it that the idea of equality (at least in the rhetoric) appealed to many?

    The fact that egalitarianism has been observed in many independent hunter-gatherer groups adds weight to the idea of equality comes naturally. However, only under certain conditions does it flourish.

    Well you need more than religion to account for the rise of the West, but you can see how these things harmonized.

    Guns, Germs and Steel provides a good account for the rise of the West.

    which is why you’ve seen it flourish so often in the past? Which is why it has always persisted as an enduring goal?

    May I introduce you to my friend? His name is history.

    Morality and sense of justice aren’t the only factor at play. History is complicated. There are many factors: self-interest of individuals, morality, social order, tribalism, technology, geography etc. With the advent of agriculture came concentrated wealth, class division and greater gender inequality*. In the last 200 years the conditions changed so that “liberal democracy” could take hold. They’re far from perfect, but they are better than the systems they replaced and (at least nationally) reduced inequality.
    ___

    * I am not advocate of the “noble savage” idea. These societies are from perfect. However, humans lived sort of like they do/did for a long time while agriculture has only been around ~10,000 years. I think their lifestyle is more “natural” (for lack of a better word) than agricultural societies.

  311. #311 frankosaurus
    February 13, 2010

    The question wasn’t who was the most influential in spreading the idea of equality. It was where does it come from

    seems like a moot point from your perspective whether we’re talking about influence or ultimate origin, as they both, presumably, would have naturalistic explanations anyway, but I’ll go along…

    Obviously when I talk of moral equality, i mean of equality as an “ought.” I grant you that under certain circumstances there is great utility in forms of equality – economic distribution, political participation, religious recognition, etc. And as you mention, hierarchies require power, and without scarcity or centralised force (imaginary or real), it may be that hierarchies don’t develop. We don’t know from these tribes though whether they thought of equality as an “ought”. (Do we know from today’s hunter-gatherers?). I honestly don’t think they’d be too reflective about it. It’s reasonable to suppose that these “original affluent societies” would not have the motivation to parse through grand moral or existential dilemmas, and so probably didn’t.

    then again, i should also say that when i say moral equality, I mean “universal” moral equality. These same hunter-gatherers may look to neighbouring tribes with low esteems, or not blink at the prospect of killing them. Now there has been some moral equality. we know from Judaism that they had the whole “love your neighbour as yourself bit” but we also know that really only applied to Jews. No one needed to love a Midianite. The love your enemies stuff is pretty unique in history. (Now that doesn’t mean Christians made a practice of loving one’s enemies. They sure did execute a lot of people in their day. The difference is that they thought who they killed would still be held under the same standard of judgment that God gives anyone else – hence universal. So if they goofed and killed an “innocent”, God would straighten it out in the end. No problem killing witches or muslims though, acting as they did in direct defiance of Christianity, Christian leaders could confidently just play God and issue a pre-emptive smite). Get rid of the “equal access to same judgment after death” basis, though, and christian universal moral equality starts looking a lot like human rights.

    Guns, Germs and Steel provides a good account for the rise of the West.

    yeah, it’s not without its charm. I think he says that geography, climate, population, etc was more a determinant in shaping the course of history than anything else. And I somewhat agree. It’s a little ahistorical though, thinking that humans are basically the same wherever you find them, and then stuff happens to them. That’s different from someone like Thomas Kuhn who, if we extrapolate from science into history more generally, would say we work within paradigms and thus cannot recover the past with anything like objectivity, trapped as we are within our own paradigms. Hence the need to explore the movement of paradigms, or systems of thought, that have shaped who we are.

    If you can get your hands on Phillipe Nemo’s “What is the West” (a short primer) then there’s a greater focus on the role of Big currents in thought and culture from the Greeks on bringing about our own understanding as more than a geographic anomaly. The danger, I suppose, is that if one vests too much meaning with “the West” then that’s how the slide to neo-conservatism happens. But it’s a good read.

    In the last 200 years the conditions changed so that “liberal democracy” could take hold

    oh yeah, there’s all sorts of things that had to occur, and distilling history to the influence of one or two big ideas is horribly reductive. But if one wants a great exposition of how an idea can mould the character and industry of a people rather than vice versa, then De Tocqueville is always a good go-to guy.

  312. #312 Feynmaniac
    February 13, 2010

    then again, i should also say that when i say moral equality, I mean “universal” moral equality…..Get rid of the “equal access to same judgment after death” basis, though, and christian universal moral equality starts looking a lot like human rights.

    The same can be said of Zoroastrianism’s Chinvat Bridge or of Islam.
    _ _ _

    I’m off to bed and will respond to some other points later.

  313. #313 frankosaurus
    February 13, 2010

    can’t say I know much about Zoroastrianism. And Islam comes after Xianity. But here’s an article:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/equality/#MorEqu

    I notice they root the concept in the stoics in addition to xians. I can see that.

  314. #314 Feynmaniac
    February 14, 2010

    seems like a moot point from your perspective whether we’re talking about influence or ultimate origin, as they both, presumably, would have naturalistic explanations anyway, but I’ll go along…

    I was reseponding to your claimg that equality “comes from Christianity”.

    We don’t know from these tribes though whether they thought of equality as an “ought”. (Do we know from today’s hunter-gatherers?).

    Anthropology is far from my my field of expertise. From what I have read from experts is the so called “hunter-gatherers” tend to be fairly egalitarian (though there is variation). Moral Minds outlines indigenous peoples answering some thought experiments with regarding morality. Even if they don’t have an explicit idea on universal equality (I don’t know if any do or don’t) many seem to practice it to some degree. The book is a good argument for the idea of a universal moral faculty. That, the fact that Christianity existed for a long time before the the rise of liberal democracy, and that Christianity hardly practiced equality in the past makes me doubt the idea came from there. That liberal democracies first arose in some Christian countries was a historical accident.

  315. #315 frankosaurus
    February 14, 2010

    That liberal democracies first arose in some Christian countries was a historical accident

    I suppose if we were good investigators, the best thing to do would be to run that sentence by an historian. Though I understand the impulse, if one takes a pretty dim view of religions, to give as little credit as possible.

  316. #316 ConcernedJoe
    February 14, 2010

    Feynmaniac and frankosaurus very interesting

    The topic on hand is: Religion: adaptation or by-product?. I believe a by-product as I stated in #144.

    You all seem to extend discussion to its structural influences (and morals?). To which I say: “of course the powerful institution of religion will have powerful influences on social structures” – nothing earthshaking there to me.

    Again the issue is Religion: adaptation or by-product? and just maybe Morals: adaptation or by-product? as an extension. I fall on the side of by-product. But then the form of ancient and pre-science religion once it takes root dictates a lot about the form of society.

    So for instance while I feel strongly that the Protestant Reformation was one of the biggest factors in the opening up of the middle class and more modern egalitarian societies I do not see it as the driver because of its instilling of morals so much as it freeing the lending of money and thus ushering in more modern financing to “all”.

    Everything is connected .. especially structurally. But to me deistic religions are by products (perhaps the most natural ones at given primitive times) driven from the innate needs we have for order, security, and understanding.

    And the more noble scriptures come from where – MEN!! As do the more ignoble! All by products of human needs, wants, desires evolved through the ages.

    We have our “democratic” structures as we do because we are products of structures (Greek, Roman, others) that formed more philosophically attuned to those democratic structures – religion of course was both driver of and driven by the structural philosophy of the times. So – duh!

  317. #317 frankosaurus
    February 15, 2010

    what I’m taking more specific issue with, concerned Joe, is that the idea of equality is innate. I don’t think it is, at least our conception of it, and there are many instances in history to show just how unnatural equality is. I should add we even see that today. Look at this blog, for example. THere is frequent jostling for superiority based upon perceived intelligence, even if it is mostly harmless.

    To rebut, Feymaniac was pointing towards the egalitarianism of primitive societies. I said that this distributionist equality should be distinguished from moral equality.

    This, by the way, is the source of much of my disagreement on this blog, if and when I disagree. The majority hold equality to be rooted in empathy or some other evolutionary mechanism, whereas I see it as rooted in enforcement by authority. (So, for example, I notice even the kindliest people naturally segregate themselves into groups of preference. If we took a poll of people who visit pharyngula, just how much diversity would we find?My guess would be predominantly white, lower middle class, university-educated 20-40 somethings with a male-female ratio of 3-1. This isn’t saying the blog tries to be exclusionary, but the only way you’d attract people here so that all groups are as represented as they are in society is to do so by force).

    The majority see the protection of equal rights as a fulfillment of our innate moral reason, whereas I see them perilously anchored in a liberal dream.

  318. #318 John Morales
    February 15, 2010

    F:

    what I’m taking more specific issue with, concerned Joe, is that the idea of equality is innate. I don’t think it is, at least our conception of it, and there are many instances in history to show just how unnatural equality is.

    Equality can mean multiple things, depending on the comparative criteria.

    I should add we even see that today. Look at this blog, for example. THere is frequent jostling for superiority based upon perceived intelligence, even if it is mostly harmless.

    So you are speaking of equality in status within a group, something not perceivable by outsiders without background. Not a great example.

    We are all equal as commenters in the important aspects; I have no more and no less access or commenting privileges than you, nor has any other commenter.

    As for jostling for superiority based upon perceived intelligence, I think you’re fantasising. Relevance and honesty are much more important.

    If status is what you seek, then I suggest you should concern yourself more with addressing that which brings negative karma than with jostling for superiority based upon perceived intelligence.

    The majority see the protection of equal rights as a fulfillment of our innate moral reason, whereas I see them perilously anchored in a liberal dream.

    You don’t notice that this “liberal dream” is no dream at all, but is instantiated in this very thread in which you comment? Wow.

    Again: you and I both have the same rights and the same privileges under the Tentacled One. As does $NewbieDelurker$.

  319. #319 frankosaurus
    February 15, 2010

    Thanks for that. Lets never fight again.
    *hugs John Morales*

  320. #320 ConcernedJoe
    February 15, 2010

    F thanks for comment thoughtful and JM thanks for writting my rebuttal. I’ll add 2 things:

    1. F I fit profile except I am probably closer to what people may say is upper-MC and I certainly am way way – LOL – way past your stated age range. There is a reason for my garbled writings.

    2. I agree with JM the way he casts it – but I agree with you (re: natural non-equality) if I can cast it a bit differently. Survival has always had striking a proper balance between competition and cooperation in the equation. We are not all born equal and those that have an advantage (evolutionary speaking) will “dominate” in some way. And “likes” tend toward tribes and competition between tribes happens and dominance happens. But as I said it is a balance. A virus that completely dominates and subdues hosts tout de suite generally is at a viral disadvantage in long run. There is a tendency toward a symbiosis and in higher level species empathy and cooperation. Our natural empathy and also our ability to intellectualize accelerate us toward egalitarianism but we are on the string of our competitive and also RWA natures. So round and round we go. Equality naturally happens but is locked in some moment of inertia equation.

    I warned you I am old and ramble!

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