The Relevance of the Concept of God

Discussion in 'Religion' started by Syne, Oct 15, 2013.

  1. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    Maybe you should read my whole post, and the OP while you are at it. But even in just that post, I make a clear distinction between religion and the concept of god. All human institutions, including churches and secular ones, are inadequate for the purpose of developing conscience.

    But anything that promotes prosocial behavior is a good thing.
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  3. Capracus Valued Senior Member

    There really is no distinction between the concept of god and religion. Human ethical standards will be formed in conjunction with contemporary cultural conditions regardless the degree of religiosity. A rational basis for god as a governing element of conscience has weakened to the point of irrelevancy in a rational cosmology. Do we still need to coddle the less rational for the sake of cultural functionality? In the near term yes, until such time they are conditioned otherwise or the condition is resolved through attrition. Technological oversight and better understanding of social dynamics can, and do, supplant the role of the imagined divine overseer.
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  5. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I am too. What precisely is supposed to be evolving here?

    The suggestion seems to be that it's ideas that are evolving, particularly the idea of "God" (imagined as a universal witness and judge).

    I'm not convinced that the history of ideas is best understood in Darwinian-style natural selection terms.

    Biological natural selection operates in genomes, gradually changing gene frequencies in populations. And I don't think that there's any direct correlation between gene frequencies and particular ideas. Where biological evolution might be relevant to thinking is in selecting for particular sorts of fetal neural development that in turn are associated with modes of thinking that might have survival value. In other words, biological evolution selects for abilities such as greater facility with linguistic signalling, but it doesn't select for the precise things that people say.

    It has never been universal around the world. It's only become as widespread as it is today as a result of the medieval spread of Islam and then the modern spread of Christianity associated with with European colonialism.

    Certainly not in a biological gene-frequency sense.
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  7. Balerion Banned Banned

    Unfortunately, not Syne's poor understanding of evolutionary biology. I don't claim to be a professor, but the idea that the concept of God has been selected is absurd.

    But there's really no use explaining it to him.
  8. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    The world as a whole isn't a Christian-majority environment. It isn't even uniformly monotheist. Nevertheless, I think that the human propensity to behave ethically (or not) is pretty much equal around the planet. It's not like the world is divided into the good-people (Christians or monotheists) and the bad-people (everyone else).
  9. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    The survival value of being a pop rock star like the Beatles or Elvis, at most having been around for only 60 years, has certainly not had enough time to encode itself into the human genome. A brooding sensitve artistic type in fact would not have been selected for in prehistoric times due to his lacking the basic hunter skills of the average male caveman. At most he might have found a niche in the community as a shaman painting cavewalls and setting up stone idols. But then who wants to mate with the crazy shaman who lives by himself and talks to trees? Not many I'd wager..
  10. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Then where did it come from?
  11. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    How else then?
    What alternative is there?

    What about the monotheistic Hindus?
  12. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    "...glaring lack in all other such institutions"? "None offer..."? "Only the concept of god..."? The universal generalizations need justification.

    The phrase "an objective view of themselves" seems to refer to how people appear to others, where the identity of 'others' is left unspecified. Imagining some kind of universal omniscient witness just seems to be a personalization of that abstract idea, putting a hypothetical supernatural person's face on it.

    I do agree that human beings might have an innate propensity to personalize abstractions.

    Do "all other human institutions" besides monotheism really imply that "something is only wrong if you get caught"? I think that's just false.

    And why doesn't the monotheists' theory of a universal witness suffer from precisely that same shortcoming? It just seems to be adding the additional assertion that wrongdoers will always get caught. It doesn't seem to be addressing the problem of developing conscience. Conscience after all is what typically makes us feel that particular sorts of acts are wrong even when nobody else can see us doing them.

    It might increase somebody's fear of getting caught, particularly in situations where their actions are unseen by other human beings. But would it strengthen people's innate sense of fairness, reciprocity and right and wrong?

    I think that I'm inclined to favor some sort of virtue ethics in those kind of situations. Good actions should ideally be the result of virtuous qualities in the actor. So perhaps our emphasis should be on identifying, instilling and strengthening virtuous qualities in people.

    Not readily apparent to you, perhaps. (Are you really arguing for theists' social prejudice against atheists?)

    You seem to have identified conscience with the idea of what other people think, then argue that only imagining an all-seeing imaginary person as a universal witness will keep people behaving properly when other humans aren't around. You seem to think of that as "developing" conscience.

    I'm more inclined to think that you're fundamentally misunderstanding conscience. Conscience is what makes us think that some actions are wrong, even if nobody else is around to observe us doing them. Conscience is basically instinctive in my opinion, part of our human social instincts. The way to best develop it might be to work on developing qualities such as self-control in the face of desire and empathy and compassion for others.

    Ideally, our good behavior should arise from our own deepest motivations, not from our fear of being seen, caught and punished if we behave as we truly and secretly want to behave.
  13. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Logic, rhetoric, speculation, persuasion, credulity, wishful thinking, education, extrapolation, discussion, social pressure, analysis, indoctrination...

    I don't think that the monotheistic sorts of Hinduism have spread beyond India and converted large parts of the globe in the same way that Islam and Christianity have.

    It's interesting to speculate about the influence that the monotheisms to the West had on the development of monotheistic Hinduism. Certainly in the Vedic period the Indians (or at least the Brahmins whose lore the Vedas were) were polytheists. Polytheism seems to have still been the common popular assumption in the time of the Buddha. There do seem to have been increasing monistic tendencies evident in the Upanishads around that time.

    Then we start to see figures like Vishnu, Shiva and Krishna (who may not even always be strictly Vedic) rising into monotheistic status, until today most Indians seem to be monotheists of some sort or other.

    Seeing as how this was the period of the rise of Christianity in the Roman world, the ascendency of Zoroastrianism in Sassanid Persia, the rise of Islam and its establishment in the Indus valley in the 7th century and and then Islam's conquest of the rest of northern India around 1100, it's tempting to speculate that the West's assumption of monotheistic superiority was likely spreading east into India, that Indians felt some need to respond to it, and the popularity of native Indian monotheisms grew as a result.
  14. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    If we accept TOE, then theists' social prejudice against atheists is just another fact of evolution, just another evolutionary development.
    Accepting TOE and extending/applying it to psychological and sociological phenomena means one cannot justifiedly criticize anyone - because it's all just evolution ...

    But this view appears to assume a kind of absolute morality, one that disregards both purpose and circumstance - a morality for morality's sake.

    Otherwise, notions of right and wrong only make sense in relation to a particular purpose within particular circumstances.

    Here's an overview of stages of moral development according to Kohlberg:

    Level 1 (Pre-Conventional)
    1. Obedience and punishment orientation
    (How can I avoid punishment?)
    2. Self-interest orientation
    (What's in it for me?)
    (Paying for a benefit)

    Level 2 (Conventional)
    3. Interpersonal accord and conformity
    (Social norms)
    (The good boy/good girl attitude)
    4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation
    (Law and order morality)

    Level 3 (Post-Conventional)
    5. Social contract orientation
    6. Universal ethical principles
    (Principled conscience)

    Fear of punishment is just one stage in the development.
    The concept of God (in relation to developing conscience) can come in in all stages of moral development, in different ways.
  15. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    How are these separate from evolution?

    Sure, but the issue was about the concept of the modern omniscient god, and I'm pointing out that they had the notion of God being omniscient in the East as well.

    But the many gods in Hinduism are not like the many gods in ancient Greece.
    At least in some schools of Hinduism, the idea is that God is one, but can incarnate Himself in many forms. Then there are the many demigods, who are positioned by God, subordinate to God. These are not typical forms of polytheism.

    Says Wiki: "Hinduism is sometimes included in this listing; but despite the presence of polytheistic elements it is contains pantheistic and monotheism ones as well and has been classed as a "pantheism with polytheistic elements"."

    Or it's simply that monotheism, by virtue of its content, was/is bound to become the most prevalent, being logically the simplest one.

    (Compare "the god of the philosophers" - why didn't the philosophers propose a polytheistic system, why a monotheistic one? One reason may be indeed that they were relating to Christianity. Another one that it is simply simpler to posit just one god.)
  16. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

    What other forms of life on earth have conceptualized gods other than humans? In fact, there is no evidence that even Neanderthals had any concept of gods and only learned about it once they began socializing with humans.
  17. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    Conflation occurs when the identities of two or more individuals, concepts, or places, sharing some characteristics of one another, seem to be a single identity — the differences appear to become lost. In logic, it is the practice of treating two distinct concepts as if they were one, which produces errors or misunderstandings as a fusion of distinct subjects tends to obscure analysis of relationships which are emphasized by contrasts. -

    If there were no distinction then a Buddhist would necessarily be a theist, even though it is a nontheistic religion.

    You can debate this further with Yazata:

    I never said anything even vaguely like "god was a governing element of conscience." Why is it those who do not understand a god concept have a strictly relative morality?

    You have your way, I have my way. As for the right way, it does not exist. - Friedrich Nietzsche

    Humans have always wondered about the meaning of has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. - Richard Dawkins​

    Basically, in the right circumstances or culture anything may be morally defensible.

    No, I have not suggested anything about ideas evolving. Only that the concept is useful in the evolution of conscience, and that is persists (in whatever form) for that purpose. Conscience was selected for. The concept of god can be considered a means to that end.

    As I have already said, there is such a thing as social evolution.

    Yet I have already demonstrated a better understanding, while you keep conflating biological with social evolution.

    And commenting about me is not remaining silent. I called that one.

    It is merely common sense that human institutions, on their own, can only instill a sense of "don't get caught". People only think they can do more because humans are smart enough to learn from their mistakes. But it is just a fear/threat response, in lieu of actual conscience.

    It is also fairly trivial that a fully developed conscience must involve a high internalized and objective sense of oneself. The problem with abstracting this objectivity from other humans is the same liability that human institutions have.

    And again, I have assumed a god does not exist, so no "supernatural person's face" necessary.

    I never specified a "monotheistic" concept of god, and actually included "human-like gods, nature spirits, devils and angels, karma, ancestors or a universal consciousness".

    Again, not necessarily monotheistic and not necessarily actually existing to witness anything at all. I have already said that it serves as a pattern for personally internalized objectivity.

    How? And especially, in what way that it is not merely a reward-seeking mechanism?

    Relative morality, that assumes anything can be "moral" given the right circumstances or culture, is detrimental, especially to a society that is becoming increasingly global (not only "for theists").

    You miss the point entirely. Fully developed conscience is seeing oneself as the final arbiter of your actions in fully confident objectivity (which is beyond self-assured justification). For some people a god concept will remain necessary. For others a concept of higher self, personal divinity, or selflessness will suffice.

    Yet those who dismiss a god concept usually espouse a relative morality. If conscience were a natural, innate instinct there would be no need for such relativism. Instinct, developed by all the organisms of a species being subject to the same evolutionary pressures, would inform morality much more similarly than not.
  18. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    Good find, Wynn, and valid point.
  19. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member


    Not so, Freud surmised that the first concept of god was that of a father to a child, which is a sentiment repeated in several modern concepts of god. And it is trivial that conscience would not be apparent prior to the social sophistication to articulate it.
  20. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

    So what? LOL.
  21. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Thanks for confirming that "obedience and punishment orientation" (ie. God) and "a principled conscience" are at entirely opposite ends of the moral spectrum. Sort of blows the OP completely out of the water. Only a sociopath could think "being watched" has anything to do with having a conscience.
  22. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    As argument.

    Actually, in an increasingly absentee-father/single-mother society, it would be expected that the concept of god would be weaker.

    Apparently you do not remember what thread spawned this one (hint, it was your own thread). Remember when I told you that your description of god was childish? Yeah, that would be the one that has an "obedience and punishment orientation."

    And not coincidentally, Universal ethical principles (Principled conscience) is the opposite of the moral relativism most atheists espouse. Moral relativism tends to fall between 2. Self-interest orientation and, at best, 4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation (Law and order morality) or 5. Social contract orientation (both social benefit motivated).

    I have yet to hear any atheist claim any sort of "universal ethical principles." Most commonly, they say that good and bad do not exist, or that they exist solely as circumstances or culture dictate.
  23. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

    Is that so? Fascinating. LOL.

    Oh, I'm sure you have heard atheists talk about morals and ethics, but since religion doesn't teach them, you wouldn't have recognized them.

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