Desmond’s response to Richard’s post:

Richard:

Someone once said that there is a  “God shaped hole in humans aching to be filled”. Maybe they were right. I think this is relevant to the genesis of the current madness that seems to be afflicting Western society and I would like to start a debate.

Desmond:

I’m with you, Richard, on that “current madness”. Indeed I think we are witnessing the breakdown of the Western “Civilisation” that has imposed itself across the Globe.

Richard:

At some point in our evolution something happened that we are still unable to quite define. Whether it was the acquisition of consciousness, self-awareness, the ability to recognise our personal individuality or personal freedom, no one seems to have managed to define what it is that separates us from the animals.

Desmond:

I think this is incorrect. What separates our species from others is our special gift of Language(s). I think that many individuals have said something like that. But, it is a mistake to think that language alone “separates us from the animals”, because many/all animal species have their very own gift of Language, notably whales and birds.

We humans have made our many languages special by using them (correctly) for predicting the local futures of individuals, like you and me, and also (incorrectly) for the “objective” reasoning that we call “Logic”. The many ways that we use purpose-specific languages to predict our local futures are called sciences. Here that “local” is limited to you, a particular individual, and those (including me!) near to you in the sense that they somewhat share the way you think about the Reality in which you find your self. And I find my self!

When you play, say, tennis, you are engaging the ability you have to predict your immediate/local future. To be a good player is to do that very well.

A way of thinking may reasonably be called a philosophy. The now-immense problems of the Western “Civilisation” to which we belong began with the “Philosophy” of Aristotle and have been recursively elaborated ever since by the (mainly) men who call themselves “Philosophers”.

Richard:

The thing about animals is that they have instincts that determine a behaviour that allows them to function in a community. Whether it’s mating ritual or pecking order or symbolic surrender signals that avoid a fight to the death over food, they come into the world equipped with ironclad instincts for functioning within their group.

Now as soon as these proto-humans, by some evolutionary quirk, gained the power of independent thought and free will, they are in a position to override instinctive behaviour. 

Desmond:

Do you think, though, that many animals engage in altruistic behaviours?

Richard:

This is a fatal trait with potentially fatal consequences.

And this is where God comes in.

I am suggesting that rather than being an afterthought, religion co-evolved with the development of what we consider human characteristics and is inseparable from the human condition. All religions have at their centre a complex set of rules which are administered by an all seeing and all knowing spiritual entity, and widespread fear of God has allowed the human race to prosper.

Desmond:

I think that our “prospering” assumes the false values that have been with us since Aristotle. Those values today are supported by the pseudo-science of Economics. We would really have prospered more and more easily if we had seen what was wrong with Aristotle’s “Philosophy” 2,300 years ago, and realised back then the subjectivist values of truth-telling and trust — values that are so plainly needed now, while “Philosophers” and those brain-washed by “Philosophy” seriously argue about the relative merits of the fantasy stories/theories that constitute Economics. It is clear to subjectivists that both Capitalism and Communism are incorrect/wrong.

Richard:

However atheism is on the rise, particularly in the West. The reason for this is the spectacular advance of science, particularly the work of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, the influence of Marxism, and the rising prosperity and associated improvements in education and consequent rationalist thought. The rise of the educated middle class corresponds to atheism becoming the new religion of the state. The result is that we seem to be turning more and more to the legal system to police matters that were the province of personal morality, ethics, and manners. The establishment of human rights commissions and various bodies to defend perceived persecuted groups from discrimination, unfair treatment, and constrained access to prosperity, attempt to replace the role previously occupied by rule-books like the Bible and the Koran.

Desmond:

To disentangle this, I must refer you to the longish essay on Reality that you will find at my web site

sceptical.org

I’m trying to persuade a few people to read that and tell me what is wrong with it. Briefly, I think that

1 Newton’s objectivist account of motion is incorrect, and so is Einstein’s.

2 Natural selection has produced brain/minds like yours and mine

3 People who thought those rule books were “true” have generated much of the evil in this world

4 The one and only correct story of Reality that the one and only Reality allows/requires is easy to believe for any one who makes the considerable effort needed to assimilate the definitions, of Science and sciences in my essay.

5 The way is open to a subjectivist view of Reality, based upon individuals “telling the truth” and hence “trusting one another.”

Desmond: I agree pretty much with Admin’s comments on Russell, but where he says

I would replace “atheism” with “Scientific Materialism”.

the subjectivism I preach asks us to replace objectivist language like that with the unique personal declarations of belief that individuals are able truthfully to make. For me that would be summed up by saying that I am no longer the atheist I was from age 14 to (about!) age 74.