Re: Debunk All Religiosity Equally (D.A.R.E.)

From: J. R. Molloy (
Date: Sun Jul 08 2001 - 12:51:33 MDT

From: "M. E. Smith" <>
> Arrg. Where to start?

Hi M. E.,

Well, if you don't want to start at the beginning, we can start at the end:

> It is funny (to me) that this argument about religion
> recurs on a yearly
> basis on this list. "Methinks he doth protest too much."

Sounds like a personal problem (and probably not just to me), but not a
particularly funny one. I protest that you do think too little. This argument
about religiosity recurs annually (or more often) because religiosity is a
perennial weed in the gardens of extropy and transhumanism. To prevent this
noxious weed taking over and strangling the useful plants, application of some
industrial strength weed killer does not seem inappropriate.

> I admit that the book in question ("Why God Won't Go
> Away") is
> annoying in the sense that it frequently goes out of
> its way to present
> its findings in the language of Western religion (the
> title being an
> example of this), but I assume you actually did more
> than read the title.

Right, the dangerous and irresponsible nature of religiosity, causing (as it
has) over five thousand wars in the last three thousand years, requires more
than reading. That's why "drastic measures" are appropriate. When dealing with
brain dysfunction, medication does a better job.

Religious fanatics are dishonest if they are not mentally ill, because only
psychologically disturbed people could believe the childish mythology of
miracles and fantasy that makes up religionism.

> I put it to you that the findings of the authors of
> WGWGA support
> this bit of "religiosity". Therefore, your mentioning
> of this book,
> in the context of "Debunk All Religiosity Equally", is
> wierd to me.

Yes, I suppose dealing with reason does feel "weird" to religious fanatics. It
would be irrational to think that religiosity can be debunked sufficiently to
remove it from the ailing brain in which it resides. Therefore, one can even
imagine brains addled by religion hallucinating that the authors of
_Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief_,
by Andrew Newberg, Eugene D'Aquili, and Vince Rause
Ballantine, New York, 2001. 234 pp. $24.95, C$37.95. ISBN: 0-345-44033-1
in any way "support" religiosity.

> It is arguably a central premise of certain religions
> that it is
> nice to be rid of "the whole darn tormenting thing"
> that is our
> sense of being a separate "Self", and that furthermore
> such
> freedom is possible.

Unless you are arguing with your "Self," the sense of separation is neither a
premise nor arguable. Anyone with enough courage and honesty can conduct this
experiment right now. It has _nothing_ to do with religionism. It has to do
with direct experience of reality. Simply allow all imagination and words to
cease and desist, to fall out of view, to precipitate away from your
attention, while you remain wide awake and alert, and suddenly it becomes
clear that you are the world, all at once the constraints of dogma and
doctrine evaporate and you are free, and the walls that belief systems have
put together fall down to reveal endless liberation in all directions. It is
more a matter of seeing than of thinking. Religiosity, in stark contrast to
this, is the first and last psychological prison of humanity.

> It's very wierd (to me) that you even brought up this
> (excellent)
> book in this context.

Yes, it is the context which matters most. In the context of a world mad with
religious wars, where religionists are willing to die for the memes that have
infected their brains, where the security of the entire planet is threatened
by zealouts who deliberately attempt to fulfill the apocalyptic prophecies of
their sacred scriptures (at the expense of anyone who gets in their way),
where Inquisitions and witchhunts seek to silence every voice of reason, where
infallible popery masquerades as compassion, where innocent children are
taught to hate and kill anyone who does not embrace their parents pious
fanaticism, where parochialism and provincialism spawn divisiveness in the
name of diversity, where nearly the whole human race is cognitively crippled
and lives in fear of tyrants who threaten damnation and eternal hell for
disobeying asinine religious edicts, where ceremony and tradition stifle
original ideas and new solutions, it becomes clear why the phrase "to make a
religion out of it" means to alienate from freedom something that was once
beautiful and to deform it into an ugly form of psychological death.

> However, on this list, not less than Mr. Max More
> himself has
> expressed the desire to be able to temporarily turn
> off his sex drive,
> a desire I fully understand. It would be nice to be
> free of the
> whole darn tormenting thing.

Easily done. Try Paxil, Celexa, Zoloft, Prozac, or some other SSRI.

> The "usual" sense of self no doubt won out in a
> Darwinian sense
> because it drives us to actions which ultimately
> result in more
> offspring, but then, obviously, so does the "usual"
> state of our sex
> drives.

No, this is not at all "obvious" because our sex drives do not drive
Darwinism, Neo-Darwinian evolution, Deep Evolution, nor our sense of self. The
best way to transcend biological drives is to indulge them to the point of
satiety, when doing so harms no one. The anti-sex facet of religiosity results
in repression, which leads to all sorts of perverse sexual behavior as the
pent-up libido must find an outlet. That may explain why there are so many sex
perverts and pedophiles in monasteries, churches, temples, and mosques. Sexual
liberation threatens religionists because their particular type of bigotry
denies sex and sexuality, and this denial is yet another indication of their
dishonesty and irresponsibility.

> Thus, "unusual" brain states in which the boundaries
> of our "self"
> are radically altered are not neccessarily "less
> accurate
> representations" of reality. Perhaps they are like
> different but
> equally valid reference frames involved when doing
> simple analyses
> of the kinematics of playing tennis on a moving train,
> etc.

Perhaps you need to have a good orgasm to dispel these delusions. Sadly, the
most "unusual" brain state in the world is one completely free of esoteric
speculation about reality. "Different but equally valid reference frames" are
no substitute for the real thing, particularly when analyzing anything about
moving trains. If you ever come to your senses, you'll find that it radically
alters your analyses, etc.

> (Perhaps you should add "the Self" to your list of
> useless hypotheses
> in your signature line.)

Thanks for the suggestion, but "the Self" doesn't qualify for this select
list, because no one really hypothesizes "the Self." Instead, almost everyone
grows up inloading this delusion by cultural osmosis. IOW, it's a product of
evolutionary psychology and emotional conditioning rather than deliberate
hypothesis. Furthermore, you have demonstrated the usefulness of the mirage of
"the Self" in the presentation of your comments here. You have written, "It is
funny (to me) that this argument about religion recurs..." Who is this "me" if
not "the Self" that you pretend to disown? You are quite caught up in the
mirage of "the Self," while admonishing everyone else to dispose of it. A
cunning move, and selfish to boot, but to no avail.

> Are our hearts part of our selves, when they can be
> replaced with
> artifical pumps? Our lungs, are they part of
> ourselves? We need them
> to live, but then, we also need all the plants out
> there that produce
> the oxygen our lungs breathe, and we don't usually
> think of THEM as
> part of our "self". We can't live without our local
> star, the sun,
> (yet); is it part of our "self"? We can live without
> our left hand; is
> it NOT part of our "self"? Just where does our "self"
> end and the
> rest of the universe begin?

Right. Everyone sing with the Beatles:
So, who is asking these questions, and to whom are they directed?
You've got the words down, but you've yet to act on them.

> The fact that, in these same experiences, the sense of
> "Self" is
> radically altered does not obviously relegate such
> brain states to
> the category of undesirable dementia. The notion of
> "self" is really
> a problem logically, as this list frequently
> demonstrates, when the
> subject of "uploading", et cetera, come up.

It's really no "problem" at all. It's merely an illusion that doesn't hurt
anyone else, because there's no one else to hurt. So... get over it.

> Obviously, SOME states can be argued "a less accurate
> representation"
> than others (death; sleep, etc.); but the kinds of
> altered states that
> are the focus of WGWGA involve heightened awareness of
> surroundings,
> improved abilities, greater senses of well-being, and
> other things
> that extropians should find desirable.

I think extropians are capable of deciding for themselves what is desirable,
and have written copiously about this theme. The focus of
_Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief_,
by Andrew Newberg, Eugene D'Aquili, and Vince Rause
Ballantine, New York, 2001. 234 pp. $24.95, C$37.95. ISBN: 0-345-44033-1
can be seen in the words of William Beatty:
"This fascinating and thought-provoking book by two neurologists and a veteran
journalist reflects the two physicians' long-term interests in the role of
religious experience in the mind and its location in the brain. Their studies
were most often done with the aid of single photon emission computed
tomography (SPECT), a process in which the subject need not be in a machine
while it is working. SPECT allows all involved to work in an informal
atmosphere, which has undoubtedly made the results obtained more closely
reflect both religious and neurological reality. Early on, the authors assert
that "biology, in some way, compels the spiritual urge." They know the
literature of their field and of religious experience, as well as the history
of the mind and brain. They write lucidly, analogize effectively and often
strikingly, and delightfully combine science and human interest. Their
arguments are cogent, and their observations and questions should keep readers
seriously involved.

Here's some more from
Mona Lisa Schulz, M.D., Ph.D., Author of Awakening Intuition
This is one of the most exciting books I have read in my entire career in
Neuropsychiatry and Intuition!

Mona Lisa Schulz, M.D., Ph.D., Author of Awakening Intuition
...shows how one key area in our brain biologically wires us to be connected
to each other, the universe and God.

Larry Dossey, M.D., Author of Reinventing Medicine and Healing Words
A thrilling exploration of the intersection of modern brain science and
religious experience by one of the leading researchers...

Kirkus Reviews
Science meets religion meets good writing...An intriguing study for skeptics
and believers alike.

Kirkus Reviews
[The authors] examine the issues in prose clear enough so that even the most
science-phobic reader will feel at ease.

Book Description
Why have we humans always longed to connect with something larger than
ourselves? Why does consciousness inevitably involve us in a spiritual quest?
Why, in short, won't God go away? Theologians, philosophers, and psychologists
have debated this question through the ages, arriving at a range of
contradictory and ultimately unprovable answers. But in this brilliant,
groundbreaking new book, researchers Andrew Newberg and Eugene d'Aquili offer
an explanation that is at once profoundly simple and scientifically precise:
the religious impulse is rooted in the biology of the brain.
Newberg and d'Aquili base this revolutionary conclusion on a long-term
investigation of brain function and behavior as well as studies they conducted
using high-tech imaging techniques to examine the brains of meditating
Buddhists and Franciscan nuns at prayer. What they discovered was that
intensely focused spiritual contemplation triggers an alteration in the
activity of the brain that leads us to perceive transcendent religious
experiences as solid and tangibly real. In other words, the sensation that
Buddhists call "oneness with the universe" and the Franciscans attribute to
the palpable presence of God is not a delusion or a manifestation of wishful
thinking but rather a chain of neurological events that can be objectively
observed, recorded, and actually photographed.
The inescapable conclusion is that God is hard-wired into the human brain.
In Why God Won't Go Away, Newberg and d'Aquili document their pioneering
explorations in the field of neurotheology, an emerging discipline dedicated
to understanding the complex relationship between spirituality and the brain.
Along the way, they delve into such essential questions as whether humans are
biologically compelled to make myths; what is the evolutionary connection
between religious ecstasy and sexual orgasm; what do Near Death Experiences
reveal about the nature of spiritual phenomena; and how does ritual create its
own neurological environment. As their journey unfolds, Newberg and d'Aquili
realize that a single, overarching question lies at the heart of their
pursuit: Is religion merely a product of biology or has the human brain been
mysteriously endowed with the unique capacity to reach and know God?
Blending cutting-edge science with illuminating insights into the nature of
consciousness and spirituality, Why God Won't Go Away bridges faith and
reason, mysticism and empirical data. The neurological basis of how the brain
identifies the "real" is nothing short of miraculous. This fascinating,
eye-opening book dares to explore both the miracle and the biology of our
enduring relationship with God.
>From the Back Cover
"This is one of the most exciting books I have read in my entire career in
Neuropsychiatry and Intuition! Why God Won't Go Away shows how one key area in
our brain biologically wires us to be connected to each other, the universe
and God. Truly brilliant."
Mona Lisa Schulz, M.D., Ph.D., Author of Awakening Intuition
Over the centuries, theories have abounded as to why human beings have a
seemingly irrational attraction to God and religious experiences. In Why God
Won't Go Away authors Andrew Newberg, M.D., Eugene D'Aquili, M.D., and Vince
Rause offer a startlingly simple, yet scientifically plausible opinion: humans
seek God because our brains are biologically programmed to do so.
Researchers Newberg and D'Aquili used high-tech imaging devices to peer into
the brains of meditating Buddhists and Franciscan nuns. As the data and brain
photographs flowed in, the researchers began to find solid evidence that the
mystical experiences of the subjects "were not the result of some fabrication,
or simple wishful thinking, but were associated instead with a series of
observable neurological events," explains Newberg. "In other words, mystical
experience is biologically, observably, and scientifically real.... Gradually,
we shaped a hypothesis that suggests that spiritual experience, at its very
root, is intimately interwoven with human biology." Lay readers should be
warned that although the topic is fascinating, the writing is geared toward
scientific documentation that defends the authors' hypothesis. For a more
palatable discussion, seek out Deepak Chopra's How to Know God, in which he
also explores this fascinating evidence of spiritual hard-wiring. --Gail

So, my point is that if we can locate the area of the brain responsible for
religious ecstasy, perhaps we can also locate the area of the brain
responsible for violent religious zealotry... and remove it like a wart or a

> What is important to realize is that the brain, in a
> very real sense,
> defines our experience of reality. All of our
> experience with "reality"
> is mediated by the systems of the brain. That the
> brain can be in
> different "states" at different times is obvious; what
> is not obvious
> is why one "state" should be considered "a more
> accurate representation
> of reality" than another.

An important thing to understand is that the brain is the part of reality that
has mistakenly considered itself a mystical essence instead of the organ of
perception. If it is not obvious to you why an accurate representation of
reality requires a dynamic and pancritical rationalism, it is thankfully
understandble to those who have tried to make it more obvious.

> The book in question ("Why God Won't Go Away..." =
> WGWGA) reveals
> how under certain circumstances (meditation, etc.)
> certain subsystems
> of the brain temporarily "shut down" (and some others
> work more
> actively), and some of the subsystems that "shut down"
> are associated
> with defining the border between "the Self" and the
> rest of the
> universe. The authors propose that this explains why
> the subject
> experiences "oneness with the universe", etc, yadda
> yadda.

Meditation does _not_ mean the same thing as religiosity. It is religiosity
that needs debunking, not meditation. When neuroscience can pinpoint the area
of the brain that causes the dangerous and all too often violent behavior
associated with religious fanaticism, then it will have rendered a more
beneficial service than locating areas of the brain which are active during
supposed meditation.

> This tends to "debunk" the premise of "Debunk All
> Religiosity Equally",
> but that should be obvious. (Would you propose to
> attack all
> philosophies equally? How about economic systems; are
> they all
> equally bad?)

It may be "obvious" or seem that way to you, but I doubt it. I rather think
you know better, and that you're just trolling for a flame war. You are
probably not stupid enough to believe that I'd propose anything of the sort
you mention. Your implication that I would do so belies your dishonesty and
attempted deception.

> Revealing that mystical experiences occur because this
> or that
> section of the brain temporarily does this or that
> unusual thing
> DOES arguably "debunk" CERTAIN aspects of CERTAIN
> "religious" beliefs,
> but it just as arguably ALSO does REINFORCE OTHER
> aspects of OTHER
> "religious" beliefs.

Thank you for conceding that which is self-evident to any reasonable observer
(the first part of your rant), but this does not logically lead to the
conclusion of the last part of your rant. That fact that religious experience
resides in a part of the human brain in no way excuses the mass murders and
mayhem inflicted upon the human population by religious fanatics and zealots
(the Crusades and the Inquistion to mention just two). One might as well try
to excuse the actions of rapists on the grounds that sexual gratification
operates in a particular area of the brain. The real value of Newberg's and
d'Aquili's book is to demystify rather than to debunk the subject under
investigation. Debunking will, as I've mentioned, require stronger research
methods and correctional action. To conflate meditative experience with
religious fanaticism is a cheap trick of the lowest kind. Shame on you.

> The book in question is in the same general genre as
> Austin's "Zen
> and the Brain".

The two books are in the same general category because they were both written
by authors who did not themselves directly experience the epiphenomenon of
which they write. While this seems laudable in that it appears to preserve
scientific objectivity, it corresponds to someone who has never had an orgasm
writing a book about love and sex.

> You're argument has generally been that all religions
> are bad and
> should be wiped out (through force?), and then you
> turn around and
> recommend a book which presents "mystical experiences"
> in a positive
> light, revealing how they have their basis in actual
> occurrences
> in the brain.

Please re-read the subject line. It reads "Debunk All Religiosity..." Your
over-reaction and defensiveness shows how weak you must feel. It shows in the
way you twist this into "wiped out (through force?)." To reiterate, "mystical
experiences" do not equate to religiosity. Debunk means "to render ineffective
 by exposing the false pretensions of," according to my dictionary... which is
what I've done about you. Since you are a troll, go back to lurking. Welcome
to my "Blocked Senders" list.

--J. R.

Useless hypotheses, etc.:
 consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
analog computing, cultural relativism, GAC, CYC, and ELIZA

     Everything that can happen has already happened, not just once,
     but an infinite number of times, and will continue to do so forever.
     (Everything that can happen = more than anyone can imagine.)

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