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Empathy

In related news J. D. Trout's The Empathy Gap: Building Bridges to the Good Life and the Good Society is the best non-fiction book I've read this year, perhaps the best in the last five years. It is currently an excellent bargain on Amazon. I'd snap one up for yourself, and get extras for all your conservative friends. Disclaimer: I do get a cut on Amazon purchases made through the links here at onegoodmove, and want to thank those of you who make your purchases through the links here, it's appreciated.


 

Comments

If I add this to an existing shopping cart, will you get your share for the other items too?

I'm not sure but probably if you use either that link or the sidebar link to get there and add the item. Try it, I'll look for it and let you know if they all make it through.

OK, I'll do it in a day or two. I'm waiting for my Amazon discount to kick in on my account.

Professor Duwal (sp?) asks "what does religion contribute to human society?" But that question has long since been answered. Religion answers (or attempts to answer) three basic questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?

Also, religion may indeed be useful for encouraging morality. Or put more accurately, any mechanism in which members of the community get together to tell stories and sing songs and discuss their problems (preferably with an "elder" or someone with wisdom and/or training) and otherwise bond with one another will encourage morality, at least among themselves.

A lot has been said about the evolutionary advantage of religion (I suppose that's what you mean). I tend to agree with the skeptics, that there's no evidence for it and it is a "just-so" story.

It is more reasonable and likely in my opinion that religion just evolved as a cultural meme, and made more sophisticated from other crasser superstitions and beliefs.

I don't think you understand what I'm driving at. Perhaps I wasn't clear when I said "any mechanism in which members of the community get together..."

The superstitions and beliefs aren't useful in encouraging morality; the sense of community is what's useful in encouraging morality. In other words, Unitarians gain this benefit as much as, say, Presbyterians.

The chimps and monkeys who shared their treats did so because of a sense of community, not because of superstitions and beliefs. Similarly, people who get together once a week or so have a sense of community and therefore, I suspect, a shared sense of morality. It's just unfortunate that our only mechanism for doing that seems to be Church.

It's just unfortunate that our only mechanism for doing that seems to be Church.

I disagree! The Church junk is far outnumbered by secular colleges and universities and clubs and conventions and organizations and art studios and message boards and blogs...

The only thing the religious communities have going for them is the strong hierarchy, strict minimization of dissenting members, and early indoctrination of children... that is to say, they're a big sticky blob of totalitarianism.

The only thing the religious communities have going for them is the strong hierarchy, strict minimization of dissenting members, and early indoctrination of children... that is to say, they're a big sticky blob of totalitarianism.

I disagree!

There is lots of dissent in the various churches. A couple years ago, the Episcopalians voted to allow gays and women to be ordained, which caused a schism among the ranks. There is also a movement among Catholics to allow women to be ordained and to allow priests to marry. During the antebellum days, the Methodists split over the issue of slavery. They then attempted to mend the rift after the Civil War, which is why you see "United Methodist" signs all over.

And what secular clubs? I don't know of any. And colleges and universities are expensive...and not places of community gathering, but places of structured learning.

Frankly, I think you are reacting strangely to my comment. I grew up in a secular household and have only attended church a handful of times, either to appease girlfriends (or their parents) or to accompany my Unitarian sister, so I am definitely not advocating any supernatural hokum. But credit where credit is due. Churches provide a sense of community for many people.

I think that's what he meant. Whenever there's significant dissent, schism happens and the separate groups all go in their merry non-dissenting way.

But pretty much all that survive share the same belief that faith = good and doubt = various degrees of less good.

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First, to reply to the original respondent, his name is Frans De Waal (it's a Dutch surname from Noord-Holland).

Second, to Frenetic - While I am 'on your side' I have to disagree with your suggestion there's nothing special about religious groups to differentiate them from secular alternatives. There is a lot of reinforcement of group identity which goes on with religious groupings which goes on on a social basis. Now while we might well not want to emulate that aspect if we were to set up some kind of secular alternative it does make it a perfect environment for moral indoctrination. I should specify I use the term in a way which might be unfamiliar to some; by saying the church engages in moral instruction or indoctrination I'm not thereby endorsing the attitudes thereby instructed as 'moral', merely noting that if e.g. Shaun Nichols, Steve Stich and the like are correct (contra Jesse Prinz etc) that there is a distinctively moral kind of conditioning, that is the kind of conditioned response which is involved - so moral is being used as a description of the cognitive process in attitude formation not as an evaluation of the attitudes. This happens most obviously in cults and in extreme evangelical groups, but it happens to a milder extent with more moderate religious groups and you cannot hope to understand religion as a natural phenomenon unless you appreciate the important role which non-authoritarian, community control though shared-identity plays within it.

Thanks for the recommendation Norm. You should definitely read Richard Joyce's The Evolution of Morality, if you haven't already, for some of the impact this sort of search has for moral philosophy.

And "what is the best way to have sex?"

I think it's plausible that religion arises very easily as a side effect of evolutionarily selected traits, but it's not clear that religion itself has so evolved. Or to put it differently, I don't know of any benefit to religion that's unique or almost unique to it, so it seems more appropriate to think of religion as a meme "riding" on or taking advantage of a bunch of evolutionarily beneficial traits than to think of religious behavior specifically being selected for.

Though it gets a bit muddy when you ask what specifically constitutes "religion". If you use a broader definition, it's easier to identify religion with useful traits. If you define it more narrowly in terms of certain types of belief and/or social structure, it's less likely that that particular thing conveys an evolutionary benefit.

I think it's plausible that religion arises very easily as a side effect of evolutionarily selected traits, but it's not clear that religion itself has so evolved. Or to put it differently, I don't know of any benefit to religion that's unique or almost unique to it, so it seems more appropriate to think of religion as a meme "riding" on or taking advantage of a bunch of evolutionarily beneficial traits than to think of religious behavior specifically being selected for.

That's exactly what I wanted to say; you articulated it better.

A friend shared a link to this, with the caption: "why do these chimps seem more human than some people we know?". I was a little tempted to reply something like "why do some humans think we are anything more than just primates?"

I'm trying to figure out why the narrator said that De Waal's work and ideas ere angering both the religious and atheists alike.

Cause the religious are having their sacred beliefs shaken, and we atheists are just angry, loveless bastards.

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