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Does theism have an inherent advantage due to age?

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  • Does theism have an inherent advantage due to age?

    For most of human history, most of the planet has believed in some sort of God or supernatural reality. Atheism-like views seemed to be restricted to the occasional outlier such as Lucretius or Democritus. Atheism only became widespread with the solidification of the theory of evolution.

    So, lay aside questions of theodicy and of any particular religion. Assume for the sake of argument that the theory of evolution and modern scientific cosmology are true.

    In a state of equivocal evidence, no strong proof for God and no strong proof against- is theism more likely to be true due to age and widespread acceptance?

    Yes, it is true that people of the past believed in many things that we now know to be untrue- the miasma theory of disease, the humors, phlogiston, etc. Where science has indicated that these things are not true, we have rightly discarded them.

    Sometimes traditions also turn out to be supported by science. The use of penicillin, for one, goes back to ancient Egypt where doctors prescribed moldy bread for fevers. And we have to remember that even many traditions and ancient explanations that turned out to be incorrect usually seem to have at least begun as honest attempts to explain something about the observed world. They were searches for truth in their own way. The Torah seems to regard pigs as unclean because they eat garbage. It was an attempt to maintain cleanliness whether ritual or in public health terms. It was an attempt to figure out the best way to live one's life. Geocentrism began with the simple, ground level observation that the sun seems to travel across the sky from east to west while the earth remains stationary.

    So given that pre-modern people as a whole were not completely arbitrary in their adoption of traditions and given that some sort of theism seems to have been held by the majority of people throughout history, does that not give theism the benefit of the doubt over nontheism? Remember, we're using a state of equivocal evidence. No good proof for a God or supernatural reality and no good proof against.

    I am not saying that age and widespread acceptance proves the existence of God or a supernatural reality. That would be two logical fallacies (appeal to tradition and vox populi). But in the absence of strong proof one way or the other, does age and widespread acceptance making theism more likely or count as evidence for it?
    O Gladsome Light of the Holy Glory of the Immortal Father, Heavenly, Holy, Blessed Jesus Christ! Now that we have come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening, we praise God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For meet it is at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise. O Son of God and Giver of Life, therefore all the world doth glorify Thee.

    A neat video of dead languages!

  • #2
    Originally posted by Kelp(p) View Post
    For most of human history, most of the planet has believed in some sort of God or supernatural reality. Atheism-like views seemed to be restricted to the occasional outlier such as Lucretius or Democritus. Atheism only became widespread with the solidification of the theory of evolution.

    So, lay aside questions of theodicy and of any particular religion. Assume for the sake of argument that the theory of evolution and modern scientific cosmology are true.

    In a state of equivocal evidence, no strong proof for God and no strong proof against- is theism more likely to be true due to age and widespread acceptance?
    I don't know if it's more likely to be true but it's almost certainly more likely to be a superior adaptation that has probably been around before Homo Sapiens even existed. Assuming an atheistic universe, or even one where gods are apathetic towards humanity, it's not entirely clear that being right is inherently superior. In Lovecraft's mythos for example it's usually best to get through life as an ignoramus as exposure to occult elements inevitably lead to incomprehensible horror. If I was an atheist I'd probably become a cult leader with the intention of turning my cult into a mainstream religion.

    This question does remind me of an experiment:

    http://www.answers.com/Q/Did_the_mon...ver_take_place

    The Monkey Banana and Water Spray Experiment
    The experiment is real (scientific study cited below). This experiment involved 5 monkeys (10 altogether, including replacements), a cage, a banana, a ladder and, an ice cold water hose.

    The Experiment- Part 1
    5 monkeys are locked in a cage, a banana was hung from the ceiling and a ladder was placed right underneath it.
    As predicted, immediately, one of the monkeys would race towards the ladder, to grab the banana. However, as soon as he would start to climb, the researcher would spray the monkey with ice-cold water.
    but here's the kicker- In addition, he would also spray the other four monkeys…

    When a second monkey tried to climb the ladder, the researcher would, again, spray the monkey with ice-cold water, As well as the other four watching monkeys;
    This was repeated again and again until they learned their lesson
    Climbing equals scary cold water for EVERYONE so No One Climbs the ladder.

    The Experiment- Part 2
    Once the 5 monkeys knew the drill, the researcher replaced one of the monkeys with a new inexperienced one. As predicted, the new monkey spots the banana, and goes for the ladder. BUT, the other four monkeys, knowing the drill, jumped on the new monkey and beat him up. The beat up new guy thus Learns- NO going for the ladder and No Banana Period- without even knowing why! and also without ever being sprayed with water!

    These actions get repeated with 3 more times, with a new monkey each time and ASTONISHINGLY each new monkey- who had never received the cold-water Spray himself (and didn't even know anything about it), would Join the beating up of the New guy.

    This is a classic example of Mob Mentality- bystanders and outsiders uninvolved with the fight- join in 'just because'.

    When the researcher replaced a third monkey, the same thing happened; likewise for the fourth until, eventually, all the monkeys had been replaced and none of the original ones are left in the cage (that had been sprayed by water).

    The Experiment- Part 3
    Again, a new monkey was introduced into the cage. It ran toward the ladder only to get beaten up by the others. The monkey turns with a curious face asking "why do you beat me up when I try to get the banana?"
    The other four monkeys stopped and looked at each other puzzled (None of them had been sprayed and so they really had no clue why the new guy can't get the banana) but it didn't matter, it was too late, the rules had been set. And So, although they didn't know WHY, they beat up the monkey just because " that's the way we do things around here"…

    Well, it seems to be true; not in the exact shape that it took here, but close enough,

    Below is a quotation from the experiment, in scientific Jargon: (sources cited below)

    "Stephenson (1967) trained adult male and female rhesus monkeys to avoid manipulating an object and then placed individual naïve animals in a cage with a trained individual of the same age and sex and the object in question. In one case, a trained male actually pulled his naïve partner away from the previously punished manipulandum during their period of interaction, whereas the other two trained males exhibited what were described as "threat facial expressions while in a fear posture" when a naïve animal approached the manipulandum. When placed alone in the cage with the novel object, naïve males that had been paired with trained males showed greatly reduced manipulation of the training object in comparison with controls. Unfortunately, training and testing were not carried out using a discrimination procedure so the nature of the transmitted information cannot be determined, but the data are of considerable interest."

    Sources:
    Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288.

    Mentioned in: Galef, B. G., Jr. (1976). Social Transmission of Acquired Behavior: A Discussion of Tradition and Social Learning in Vertebrates. In: Rosenblatt, J.S., Hinde, R.A., Shaw, E. and Beer, C. (eds.), Advances in the study of behavior, Vol. 6, New York: Academic Press, pp. 87-88:
    Traditions are an effective mechanism for avoiding maladaptive behavior without requiring individuals to work out the reasons for why some things are bad themselves. This allows us to accumulate a much larger body of adaptive knowledge than we would be able to otherwise, particularly in societies with little to no literacy.
    "As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths." Isaiah 3:12

    There is no such thing as innocence, only degrees of guilt.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Kelp(p) View Post
      But in the absence of strong proof one way or the other, does age and widespread acceptance making theism more likely or count as evidence for it?
      I'm not sure that alone is good evidence. But for example if you have various biblical prophecies given at a time when most of the world didn't believe in the God of Israel except for Jews, that because of a Messiah most Gentiles will, and then it turns out that over half of the world's population consisting of Gentile Christians and Muslims believe in the God of Israel and Jesus in one form or another, then I think it's pretty good evidence for the truth of theism in general. In addition for the truth of specific religious ideas. Examples:

      Source: KJV

      Isaiah 11:10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.

      Romans 11:11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.

      © Copyright Original Source

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Kelp(p) View Post
        Sometimes traditions also turn out to be supported by science. The use of penicillin, for one, goes back to ancient Egypt where doctors prescribed moldy bread for fevers. And we have to remember that even many traditions and ancient explanations that turned out to be incorrect usually seem to have at least begun as honest attempts to explain something about the observed world.
        I am sure this is true. Read the Genesis creation account and you can see people are trying to explain how God created the world, but it is the world as they understood it at the time (flat, with the sun and moon traveling across a solid firmament).

        When ancient man wondered what caused lightning or earthquakes, he assumed gods. People are good at seeing patterns, even when patterns are absent, and especially when they relate to people. A good example is seeing a face in the moon. Similarly with lightning, he looked for a pattern, and saw a man. Of course, not just any man can throw around lightning, so it must have been a super powerful man; Thor or Zeus or whatever. It is only comparatively recently that we have determined that there is no man in the moon, and that lightning is due to a build up of static electricity in clouds.
        My Blog: http://oncreationism.blogspot.co.uk/

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by The Pixie View Post
          I am sure this is true. Read the Genesis creation account and you can see people are trying to explain how God created the world, but it is the world as they understood it at the time (flat, with the sun and moon traveling across a solid firmament).

          When ancient man wondered what caused lightning or earthquakes, he assumed gods. People are good at seeing patterns, even when patterns are absent, and especially when they relate to people. A good example is seeing a face in the moon. Similarly with lightning, he looked for a pattern, and saw a man. Of course, not just any man can throw around lightning, so it must have been a super powerful man; Thor or Zeus or whatever. It is only comparatively recently that we have determined that there is no man in the moon, and that lightning is due to a build up of static electricity in clouds.
          Right. But we haven't determined, and can't really, that the laws of nature that form our universe got here without a Creator(s). Even if the ancients were being too anthropomorphic in their conception of one, they still might have been on to something. The idea that since the gods do not literally hurl lightning therefore there are likely no gods at all is a newcomer. And it seems to me that in the absence of other evidence, it might be a good idea to be skeptical of the new.
          O Gladsome Light of the Holy Glory of the Immortal Father, Heavenly, Holy, Blessed Jesus Christ! Now that we have come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening, we praise God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For meet it is at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise. O Son of God and Giver of Life, therefore all the world doth glorify Thee.

          A neat video of dead languages!

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Kelp(p) View Post
            Right. But we haven't determined, and can't really, that the laws of nature that form our universe got here without a Creator(s). Even if the ancients were being too anthropomorphic in their conception of one, they still might have been on to something. The idea that since the gods do not literally hurl lightning therefore there are likely no gods at all is a newcomer. And it seems to me that in the absence of other evidence, it might be a good idea to be skeptical of the new.
            What the ancients called gods bears little relationship to what modern Christianity calls god. The ancient Hebrews only worshipped one god (usually), but even he was more like Zeus than the Christian God (jealous of other gods, walking around, etc.). You might find that the creator of the universe is as different again. We just do not know, which is a very good reason to be skeptical of all claims about the start of the universe.
            My Blog: http://oncreationism.blogspot.co.uk/

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Kelp(p) View Post
              .... , does age and widespread acceptance making theism more likely or count as evidence for it?
              Popularity is not equivalent to truth. Religions are progressive to an extent but their main fault is that they have lost the facility for successfully updating their foundational scripture and so they tend to fragment and are inevitably overtaken by knowledge systems that do update rapidly. This stagnation is what feeds destructive reactionary elements and ultimately destroys obsolete religions. The next big religions to go are the ones that are now causing trouble – Christianity and Islam.
              “I think God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.” ― Oscar Wilde
              “And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence” ― Bertrand Russell
              “not all there” - you know who you are

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Kelp(p) View Post
                I am not saying that age and widespread acceptance proves the existence of God or a supernatural reality. That would be two logical fallacies (appeal to tradition and vox populi). But in the absence of strong proof one way or the other, does age and widespread acceptance making theism more likely or count as evidence for it?
                I don't think it is "evidence" but it is an interesting question. Most men, for most of history (even in this scientific age) believe in some sort of god or gods. And an afterlife. Atheism was and still is a minority. So as I see it we have two possibilities: 1) We intuitively know that something "other" exists or 2) The evolutionary process created us to be religious. That a common religious belief offers social cohesion, an evolutionary advantage. In either case I think it would be foolhardy to try and undermine religious convictions.
                Last edited by seer; 11-12-2014, 09:12 AM.
                Atheism is the cult of death, the death of hope. The universe is doomed, you are doomed, the only thing that remains is to await your execution...

                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jbnueb2OI4o&t=3s

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by seer View Post
                  ... And an afterlife. ...
                  It is interesting that the Hebrews only adopted an afterlife after contact with the Babylonians!
                  My Blog: http://oncreationism.blogspot.co.uk/

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by The Pixie View Post
                    It is interesting that the Hebrews only adopted an afterlife after contact with the Babylonians!
                    The belief existed prior, example Samuel admonished Saul from the dead during the Witch of Endor episode, 1 Samuel 28.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by The Pixie View Post
                      It is interesting that the Hebrews only adopted an afterlife after contact with the Babylonians!
                      I'm not sure there's any evidence that far back. We don't really have much ancient Hebrew text other than the Tanakh, which shows Babylonian influence, yes. But the statements about the afterlife in the Book of Job, for example, are almost identical with those in the Epic of Gilgamesh- ie. the dead are in a land of shadow, they cannot entreat the gods, the living will never see them again (presumably with exceptions a la the fascinating "zombie plague" verse in Gilgamesh or apparently the Witch of Endor pericope), etc.
                      Last edited by Kelp(p); 11-12-2014, 03:02 PM. Reason: clarification
                      O Gladsome Light of the Holy Glory of the Immortal Father, Heavenly, Holy, Blessed Jesus Christ! Now that we have come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening, we praise God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For meet it is at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise. O Son of God and Giver of Life, therefore all the world doth glorify Thee.

                      A neat video of dead languages!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by firstfloor View Post
                        Popularity is not equivalent to truth. Religions are progressive to an extent but their main fault is that they have lost the facility for successfully updating their foundational scripture and so they tend to fragment and are inevitably overtaken by knowledge systems that do update rapidly. This stagnation is what feeds destructive reactionary elements and ultimately destroys obsolete religions. The next big religions to go are the ones that are now causing trouble – Christianity and Islam.
                        I didn't say proof. I'd be guilty of vox populi. I agree, popularity proves nothing. I just said it might be a practical indication of the prudence of being skeptical of the minority position.

                        When investigating a matter, science usually begins by testing the old explanations and either excepting or rejecting them. Since science cannot test theism, it remains silent about it. I take that silence as an interesting implication as to the possibility of theism being true.

                        As for flexibility, I agree. All truth is God's truth and it's up to us to adapt accordingly. The fall of "Christendom" will bring as much good to the world of true spirituality as it will loss (as a liturgy-whore, I can't help but shed a tear at the passing of the great cathedrals as houses of worship, God forgive my weakness).
                        O Gladsome Light of the Holy Glory of the Immortal Father, Heavenly, Holy, Blessed Jesus Christ! Now that we have come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening, we praise God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For meet it is at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise. O Son of God and Giver of Life, therefore all the world doth glorify Thee.

                        A neat video of dead languages!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I've been gone for a few months, so you'll have to forgive me somewhat for resurrecting old threads.


                          Originally posted by Kelp(p) View Post
                          In a state of equivocal evidence, no strong proof for God and no strong proof against- is theism more likely to be true due to age and widespread acceptance?
                          I would like to propose two challenges. You're free to do these or not, and it's up to you if you choose to bring back the results in any format. In fact, I extend these challenges to any reader who holds that the age of a belief potentially supports, however thinly, the belief's validity. These are going to be very subjective challenges, but I think they will at least serve to ensure some level of internal consistency in a person's reasoning.


                          Challenge 1:
                          1. Choose a length of time for which you believe the statement "People have believed in this for so long that it might have some grain of truth to it" is true.
                          2. Determine what you consider 'widespread acceptance'.
                          3. Make a list of things that have been believed for at least as long as your answer to Step One. For this challenge, we're going to keep things broad. Content yourself with things that fall roughly under the same umbrella. Hence, 'gods' is valid, as might be unicorns, dragons, fairies, etc. To be done right, this step should involve at least cursory investigation into how long things have been believed.
                          4. Note on the list from Step Three which items also enjoy(ed) 'widespread acceptance'.
                          5. Rate the strength of your belief in each item on the list from Step Three. For the moment, we're not interested in why you do or don't believe in something (that comes next). This step is just concerned with level of belief.
                          6. For each item on the list from Step Three, write down a few reasons why you do or don't believe in the thing.
                          7. For each item on the list from Step Three, see if the length of time factors into your level of belief.
                          8. For each item on the list from Step Three, see if 'widespread acceptance' factors into your level of belief.
                          9. Compare your notes about each item on the list. Ask yourself a few follow-up questions like "Could my reasoning for belief/disbelief in X also be applied to Y?" or "Do I feel that my reasons are sufficient?"
                          10. Repeat Steps 3-9, but this time only list those things which have been believed for less time than determined in Step One.

                          I think you'll find that 'widespread acceptance' and 'age of belief' don't actually mean anything in practice. I strongly suspect, given your OP, that you already know this.


                          Originally posted by Kelp(p) View Post
                          So, lay aside questions of theodicy and of any particular religion.
                          I don't think you can do this. I've granted it for the sake of argument in my first challenge, but this is where my second challenge comes into play. Fair warning, this one is going to take some reading, but the level of detail is up to you.

                          Challenge 2:
                          1. Write down five to ten major cultures that have existed. (Greeks, Egyptians, Jews, Romans, Babylonians...all obvious examples. Bonus points for picking some from the Far East or Central/South America.)
                          2. For each culture, make a list with the following information: a) Type of Belief (monotheism, polytheism, animism, pantheism, etc.); b) Primary Tenet(s) (if any); c) Major Characters (including gods); d) Founding Myths
                          3. Compare notes. Ask yourself if these beliefs are similar enough to possibly have a core origin. Ask yourself if these beliefs are similar enough to point to a central truth or truths.

                          This one looks shorter, but it's much longer in practice. Again, level of detail is up to whoever undertakes the idea. You could content yourself, if you chose, with reading some Wikipedia articles on Comparative religion and Comparative mythology, or even better, reading the entries on East Asian religions, Abrahamic religions, and Indian religions.

                          Assuming you undertake the challenge, ask yourself if it's remotely realistic to lay aside questions of theodicy and particular religions when asking if theism has an inherent advantage. They're too different in nature to really be lumped into 'belief in gods' like I allowed in the first challenge. I realize you're trying to avoid this part of it in this thread, but I don't think it's possible even in theory.
                          Last edited by Carrikature; 12-17-2014, 11:46 AM.
                          I'm not here anymore.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by firstfloor View Post
                            Popularity is not equivalent to truth. Religions are progressive to an extent but their main fault is that they have lost the facility for successfully updating their foundational scripture and so they tend to fragment and are inevitably overtaken by knowledge systems that do update rapidly. This stagnation is what feeds destructive reactionary elements and ultimately destroys obsolete religions. The next big religions to go are the ones that are now causing trouble – Christianity and Islam.
                            I like this, but depends on humans being rational.
                            Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
                            Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
                            But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

                            go with the flow the river knows . . .

                            Frank

                            I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by JohnnyP View Post
                              The belief existed prior, example Samuel admonished Saul from the dead during the Witch of Endor episode, 1 Samuel 28.
                              There is no evidence that this existed prior . . .
                              Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
                              Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
                              But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

                              go with the flow the river knows . . .

                              Frank

                              I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

                              Comment

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