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This post was edited by Ulexite at 2013-3-26 17:35|
Reason 10: Religion's psychological origins: Many years ago, the famous Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner did an experiment on what he called "the development of superstition in pigeons." Religion, of course, falls underthis rubric -- as J.B.R. Yant said in his Mortal Words, "Religion is just superstitionwhich has been around long enough to have become respectable." What Skinner did was the following: He wouldput a hungry pigeon in a so- called "Skinner box",which had an opening through which food could be introduced. Food pellets were then dropped into the box at random times. Theresult of this setup, when done with a large number of pigeons,was that each one of the pigeons were found to be repeating asingle behavior over and over: Some would continually repeat acertain type of preening, some a certain type of stretching, somea certain type of walking, and so on. The reason for thesedifferent continually-repeated behaviors was as follows: Pigeonsnormally are continually engaged in one or another type of behavior -- preening, stretching, etc. If they are engaged in oneof these behaviors when a food pellet is dropped into their box,they form an association between their behavior and theappearance of the food pellet, i.e., (in mentalistic terms) they are caused to think that there is possibly some cause-effectrelation between their behavior and the appearance of the pellet.This, then, encourages them to try the behavior again, perhapsseveral times -- i.e., this behavior has been"reinforced". But since this behavior has now becomemore likely, there is a greater chance that a food pellet willdrop into the box at the time that the pigeon is engaged in thisbehavior. Which means that this behavior will be"reinforced" more. Which means that it will be morelikely to be performed again, and get reinforced again, and so onand on, until the hungry pigeon has developed a"superstition" about what "causes" a foodpellet to appear -- a superstition that it will practice whenever it is hungry. The parallel with the Skinner experiments andreligion is obvious -- a person is taught how to pray, so thiscauses him to pray occasionally "at random" merely outof habit. Then one day after he has prayed, something he hasprayed for comes about. So he is "reinforced" -- eventho there was no relation between his prayer and the happy event.So this encourages him to pray again. And occasionally it will happen that what he wishes for actually occurs following aprayer. So he is reinforced again. And so on, until like abird-brain pigeon, he has developed a full-blown superstition, i.e., a religion.
Reason 11: The argument from the multiplicity ofreligions: There are dozens, and perhapseven hundreds or thousands of religions, all of which claim to be'absolutely true', and all of which contradict one another infundamental ways. The only reasonable conclusion that can bedrawn from this is that all of them are absolutely false. In recognizing the above facts,those of an ecuminist bent have argued that, while all religionsare probably false in some ways, the fact that all (or at leastmost) have the same core beliefs about God and morality imply that the true religion is constituted of these core beliefs.While this argument has a superficial appeal, it does not in factprove the truth of the core beliefs, but only -- at most -- theirusefulness: It proves that human beings are similar in the basicmoral rules and mental props (god-belief) needed for a stablesociety.
Reason 12: The argument from impudence: The following is a quote from my book The Mortal Words of J.B.R. Yant: It is the simplest of simple things to prove that God does not exist. Just look toward the sky, raise your middle finger, and say,"Hey, you son- of-a-bitch mother-fucker up there, if you'reso God-damned all-powerful, then let's see if you can strike down little old me, you big over-praised, over-blown ass-hole."When nothing happens, the proposition is proved, Q.E.D.
Further arguments on the non-existence of God will be found in the author's book Systems Theory and ScientificPhilosophy, especially chapter 1. The following is a relevant excerpt from chapter 3 of that book:
Systems Theory and Religion
The cause of religious belief in human beings isintimately related to the desire on the part of individuals tohave an explanation for various phenomena, and in fact, if nature possessed easy, simply-discoverable laws, it is doubtful thatreligion would have ever developed. As it happens, however,natural law is by no means simple, and thus it undoubtedlyappeared to the primitive mind that the forces of nature werechaotic and unpredictable. From this point of view, however, itwas but a short step to attributing an anthropomorphic characterto nature: Unpredictability became whimsicalness; the raging storm became the work of an angry god who, like an angry man,will become calm again in time; the personal calamity became thepunishment of evil-doers; the occurrence of an unusual eventbecame a sign that the deity was engaged in something specialthat would affect his minions; and so on. Accordingly, primitivescame to view nature as the Great Man, and those actions known toplease man became, with certain modifications, the sets offormulas that were thought most efficacious for getting into theGreat Man's good graces. This, however, meant that religionbecame the Theory of Divine Psychology, since it was anelucidation of those inputs by which the Great System in the Skycould be made to give certain outputs. Most modern-day religions,of course, usually prescribe that a constant input of morallycorrect behavior, scripture reading, and contribution to thechurch's coffers will be certain to yield, in the end, thatoutput which will reserve for the doer eternal grace in thefirmament; while if the input includes such things as copulatingwithout the specific intention of adding to the populationproblem, or wondering how the dictum of "love they neighbor" requires the church to expend huge sums of moneyfor business investments, stock purchases, and ornate bric-a-bracwhile the poor go hungry, then the output is certain to behellfire, brimstone and everlasting damnation.
In contrast to present-day religions, thestock-in-trade of the more primitive of man's faiths has usuallybeen a description of those inputs that will stimulate The GreatSystem to produce outputs useful in day-to- day affairs -- therain dance, the war dance, and the fertility rite being among thebest known of these. Nowadays, however, science has largely takenover this most ancient function of religion: If a man wants rain for his crops, he seeds the clouds or rents an ion generator; ifhe wants to win at war he builds big bombs and develops test-tube plagues; and in order to insure that the harvest will beabundant, he no longer feels the need to fornicate in the middle of his fields -- he simply has his hired hand spade on somemanure. All this is not, of course, to say that religion does nothave any influence where it was once the prime mover -- theBible-reading of the astronauts from the moon is a case in point-- it is just that the hegemony has changed hands. Religion, I amafraid, will die very hard. But if it is true, as we havesuggested above, that from a functional standpoint God is nothingmore than a (markovian) System, it may be asked how man presumedhimself to have discovered its laws. The answer to this, Ibelieve, is given by a famous experiment of B.F. Skinner, whoplaced hungry pigeons in individual cages rigged in such a manner that food pellets would automatically drop in the cage every 10seconds. The result of this situation was that some of thepigeons began practicing certain rituals, such as turning incircles, stretching their necks and fluttering their wings. The generally-accepted explanation of these rituals is that on one ormore occasions when the food pellet was dropped, a particularbird would be performing a particular act, and the appearance offood at that time "reinforced" the act, i.e., (inmentalistic terms) the appearance of food at that time caused thebird to assume that the performance of the act in question wouldbe efficacious in causing the appearance of more food. In short, the birds in question acquired what, at least in functionalterms, amounted to superstition. The conclusion to be drawn from this, of course, is that the probable origin of religious beliefsis accidental reinforcement of peculiar behavior.
Now in conclusion, it seems appropriate to remark thatthe prayer wheel -- each revolution of which is believed bydevotees of certain Eastern religions to send a prayer to the Deity, and from which derives the concept of "spinning one'swheels" -- is a mechanism which seems to fit quite well into the analysis we have given here of Deus admachina. We can only wonder whether thecountries in which prayer-wheel religions predominate, as theyare drawn kicking and screaming into the machine age, willconvert imported Western machinery into dual-tasking deviceswhose combined effects serve not only to do their initially-designed tasks, but in addition produce as anepiphenomenon the continual massaging of the great underbelly of God's mind.