Michael Battalio


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Serious conversations... (part 3)

A bit of a disclaimer, this is the third in series of serious blog posts about religion and philosophy. If you have ever chatted with me about philosophy and religion and very much disagree, be prepared for that to continue.
 These are my responses (Edited, of course, to offend as few people as possible; although offense is inevitable with me.) from a conversation I am having with an atheist friend of mine about the meaning of life, consciousness, physics, the kitchen sink, religion and a couple of moral issues thrown in to boot. 
 Before every single religious person starts chomping at the bit, let me say this is not an argument about whether there is a God. This is more philosophical in nature. Also let me say that my unnamed friend is one of the most moral, responsible and decent people I have ever met, so no one take the high ground until you’ve read the entire series, and still don’t take it then either. This third entry consists of some of my thoughts on organized religion. (As a kind of editor’s note, one paragraph doesn’t necessarily flow with they next. They can be read independently.)

Prepare to be offended. Sorry. Religion has the tendency to make people deny the scientific truth. (Before everyone gets up in arms let me provide an example: it took the deaths and imprisonment of many scientists [e.g. Galileo, although he specifically wasn’t killed by the Church] before the Catholic Church would admit the earth went around the sun. Same too with evolution. [I can’t think of anyone killed because of it though.]) Whether this critical skepticism (I’m not saying skepticism of science is a bad thing; I’m saying the reason for the skepticism could be misguided.) is an unconscious, learned response or something someone chooses to do depends on the person. I am not saying most people blindly accept religion but possibly.
Religion also does a good job of making sure people don't question its validity. Religion says it's good for people to question their faith, but most religious people I know don't act that way. (In my quest for an understanding of faith, I am about to read a book by an atheist about why religion is nonsense. I think I've read enough books about why there should be a God, I think it's time to view the other side. I'll let you know if it's any good.) I believe this stems from the fact that those with religious power do not want to give up that power because in the not so distant past religious power meant you had political power. And the way to keep political power is to keep the masses stupid or at least unquestioning.
People have a tendency to mix religion with everything (By that I mean use religion to influence decisions that have nothing to do with religion.) under the assumption that religion is always right simply because it was ordained by God. (Before you get up in arms with that statement let me say that just because God ordained specific people to “manage” his followers doesn’t mean they can’t still screw the religion up. [Anyone heard of the Avignon Antipapacy?])
Most people worry about religion being injected into science, where it really does not belong. I’m not concerned with that. Science can do a very good job of defending itself against purely religious ideals. The thing that worries me most is people confusing religion and politics. Politics has no defense against religion, and one need only look at the president to see some of the consequences of religion dominating political decisions. It seems every day we get closer and closer to a theocracy. That does worry me. (And just because it’s a theocracy of my own religion doesn’t make me worry less. Just because the Taliban was an Islamic government didn’t mean those with that faith liked it there.)
Humanity's need to believe in something greater than itself is very strong, and I have no idea where it comes from. Religion would say that is God trying to "bring us home." I don't blindly subscribe to that; I hope. I think it has to do with there not really seeming to be an obvious purpose to existence. One has to find it. And religion is the easy way out, because let's face it, most people are too lazy to figure out a purpose, and religion is a convenient, easy way to have a purpose to life. (Don't take that to mean I think all religious people are lazy, unintelligent people. I don't, but some people actually are.) I think that's why so many people accept a religion without understanding it. (As an aside, I think that's where the majority of problems concerning religion come from, people not really understanding what they believe.)
The only thing I can say about organized religion demanding that other organized religions are wrong is that I hope I've picked the correct religion. I know that must be unsettling to you. It is to me as well. The truth is, there is no way to know which is actually right (if any) until you die, so there is no use in worrying about it.
The interesting thing about organized religion is that if you don’t already subscribe to one, and you don’t see one you like, you can start your own. There are so many Christian denominations alone, who would notice another. And besides, I would argue that you don't need to belong to an organized religion to be religious. Organized religion is a forum and a place for people to celebrate what they believe as a community. And community is what humanity is all about. That’s purpose enough right there.

Next, let’s move onto the meaning of life…

Monday, July 09, 2007

Serious conversations… (part 2)

A bit of a disclaimer, this is the first in series of serious blog posts about religion and philosophy. If you have ever chatted with me about philosophy and religion and very much disagree, be prepared for that to continue.
These are my responses (Edited, of course, to offend as few people as possible; although offense is inevitable with me.) from a conversation I am having with an atheist friend of mine about the meaning of life, consciousness, physics, the kitchen sink, religion and a couple of moral issues thrown in to boot.
Before every single religious person starts chomping at the bit, let me say this is not an argument about whether there is a God. This is more philosophical in nature. Also let me say that my unnamed friend is one of the most moral, responsible and decent people I have ever met, so no one take the high ground until you’ve read the entire series, and still don’t take it then either. This second entry is about the use of profanity.

A discussion of cussing can become very complicated because it has to do with religion, emotion, etymology, culture and an assortment of other disciplines I can't come up with off the top of my head. I think I've been able to get away with never cussing because I'm not a very angry person. There have only been a couple of times in my life where I've been really angry. I have just never had the need to cuss. I find it worrisome, though, that society finds it more and more necessary to use cussing as filler words. It's really odd though; even I'll admit that a joke becomes funnier if a couple of cuss words are thrown in the right places. I have no idea why that is. (Does anyone out there have a reason for this phenomena?)
I really can't find anything that makes cussing improper other than religion, and that can be tied to culture again. I know the Catholic church believes cussing to be any phrase that demeans a person, so if I call you stupid, that’s cussing. It’s an extreme that I’m sure everyone finds difficult.
I still can’t figure out why it is I don’t cuss. (in the societal sense, not the Catholic church sense; I call people stupid all the time) There are many times where the word will pop into my head to use as filler for a joke, and I know the joke will be funnier if I put it in. I simply can’t make myself say the word. It isn’t family influences; my mom and dad cuss just as much as any other adults. I have even caught my little brother cussing from time to time. All of my close friends cuss. Most of the teachers I’m friends with cuss. And I can’t think of a single person whom I look up to in a religious sense that doesn’t have the occasional (not sometimes not occasional) profanity slip, including many a priest. If it isn’t religion and it isn’t culture or family, what is it? The best reason I can come up with is two fold. Most of the adults in my life when I was very little did a very good job instilling the “badness” of cussing. Being an impressionable child I took it as truth. The reason everyone else eventually figured out there is nothing wrong with cussing and I didn’t is because I had, or have as the case may be, a twisted, almost grotesque, need to be different and better than everyone else. Since from childhood I “knew” cussing was bad, my inner desire to be better than everyone else filled in the gap where I would have given up on keeping a cussless vocabulary. And now it has become force of habbit.
Before I end I’d like to comment on the meaning behind the word. It is not the meaning of a cuss word more than it’s feeling represented by the word that is to some degree reprehensible. It’s the feeling inside the person that gives the word meaning. This is the reason that as society progress and regresses “improper” words change. For instance, not so long ago children’s ears would be covered if someone said dang, shoot, heck, or darn or any of a number of other words that people, including myself, use to replace their “stronger” (by today’s standards at least) counterparts. Language continues to evolve and grow as the society driving it grows as well. It wouldn’t surprise me if before I die I end up saying words that are currently bleeped on tv simply because no one considers them cuss words anymore. As for now, there is no point in trying to do something that I don’t really want to do, so cuss words still are still left out of my reach.

Next, a bit of talk on organized religion…

Monday, July 02, 2007

Serious conversations... (part 1)

A bit of a disclaimer, this is the first in series of serious blog posts about religion and philosophy. If you have ever chatted with me about philosophy and religion and very much disagree, be prepared for that to continue.
These are my responses (Edited, of course, to offend as few people as possible; although offense is inevitable with me.) from a conversation I am having with an atheist friend of mine about the meaning of life, consciousness, physics, the kitchen sink, religion and a couple of moral issues thrown in to boot.
Before every single religious person starts chomping at the bit, let me say this is not an argument about whether there is a God. This is more philosophical in nature. Also let me say that my unnamed friend is one of the most moral, responsible and decent people I have ever met, so no one take the high ground until you’ve read the entire series, and still don’t take it then either. This first entry is about consciousness and religion, kind of.

My friend had just had a conversation about consciousness with a group of neuroscientists and chemists. Everyone, except my friend, agreed that even if one could describe to the last atom the entire human body, one still wouldn’t have a description of the person. In essence, a human consciousness is more than the sum of its parts. Consciousness transcends the physical even though it is common knowledge that imbalances in brain chemistry can dramatically affect one’s personality (consciousness), and thought is simply electricity jumping across neurons in the brain. My friend was astonished that even without religion being mentioned there seemed to be some implication of it, and my friend asked for my insight. (And some lovely insight I have.)

Here is my response:
Christianity, and probably most other religions, forgets that there are other religions, other philosophies, other points of view, and so the faith doesn’t realize what would be common sense to someone with a similar religious background is crazy to someone with another way of viewing the world. Just because religion wasn’t mentioned in the conversation doesn’t mean that’s what everyone implied. This being America, and America being rather self centered, they might have assumed you realized it was in some sense a religious conversation.
It comes down to this. Assume religion is right, assume a soul exists. If they were referring to the soul of a person and not just their consciousness in your conversation, then they are right. I think we would agree that despite all those crazy people on tv, there is no way to quantitatively describe the spiritual realm, assuming it exists at all. Now assume religion is wrong, and they were talking about a soul. You were right. This argument is purely religious and not what we are talking about.
Now assume they were talking about human consciousness. This is certainly philosophy and has nothing to do with religious faith. I am thinking right now; I have consciousness; I exist. No religion there. I would, the next time you speak with them, ask them this: does human consciousness, not the soul, transcend the physical? Does human thought amount to more than some endorphins and electricity? Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? That makes sure you are both talking about the same thing, nothing religious about it. (Keep in mind Christianity takes the human consciousness and soul to be two completely different things. You can screw up one and save the other for instance. This is why there is ambiguity in your conversation.)
I assume you want me to answer those questions I just asked. Well, I can answer them in one word, maybe. It’s something that would have to be tested. You would have to describe every smallest unit of the human brain (molecule, atom, quark, whatever the fundamental particles end up being), run a model, and see if the human brain you just modeled did the exact same thing as the model a percentage of the time that could be attributed to quantum fluctuations. (I would assume that by the time we come up with that much computing power we will be able to also predict what percentage quantum mechanics would skew results by.)
Do I believe it could be possible to completely map out a brain’s neural pathways and reproduce my consciousness exactly without any more input? Yes, I see no reason it wouldn’t be possible. Might it be impossible? Yes to that as well. In actuality, I’ve come to accept that there is no way to know until it’s tested. It isn’t common sense to me either way. Might personality differences arise out of quantum mechanics? Certainly. (That might be a really interesting thing to do research on actually.) Do I believe the soul transcends physical description? Yes, but I am a religious person, and I don’t think that’s what you are talking about.

[So, we concluded that consciousness doesn’t necessarily transcend the physical, but it might. I would need a bit more proof one way or another to persuade me, but it would be cool to talk to a computerized version of myself.]

Next, look for a discussion of profanity in society.
 
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