14th July 2008

“One needs to see what the benefits of being a member of a religion are, in order to see what is at stake. A religious adherent can appeal to co-religionists for aid and succour. This is a classic case of reciprocal altruism, in which the religion acts as an honest advertisement of commitment, or 'costly signalling', which is why religions require acceptance by their adherents of absurd ideas, like the 'fact' that the communion wafer is literally the flesh of Jesus. So when these costly signals are challenged, the reactions get heated. There's a lot at stake here – the unity of the entire community and the reciprocal altruism that it provides. Obviously one must forcibly protect this.”

John S. Wilkins

8 Responses to “14th July 2008”

  1. Nefari Says:

    That’s rather interesting. What’s the source?

  2. Admin Says:

    It’s from John Wilkins’ Evolving Thoughts blog

  3. Critic Says:

    Two interesting observations made by others in Myers’ and Wilkins’ blogs regarding the dust-up last week over “host desecration” that I think need reiterating.

    1) Belief is not to be respected by non-believers. Only the right to believe should be respected.

    2) Blasphemy can only be committed by believers.

    The godbots out there certainly want to force us to respect their superstitious beliefs and want to be able to persecute us when we don’t. This cannot be allowed in an enlightened society.

    As to the quote above, I think Wilkins is correct in his assessment. It underlines how important it for religions to maintain their silly beliefs, forcibly if necessary, in an attempt to keep religious control over a portion of society.

  4. Chris Says:

    Good thought provoking quote and additions by critic. I’ve been thinking about this topic over the last few days but I’ll withhold any claims of precognition.

    The idea of religion as the only source for reciprocal altruism is something that, very frankly, pisses me off. How much more smug, self-congratulatory and arrogant can a person be than when they assert, despite clear and compelling evidence to the contrary, that only believers of X can be moral? There are 25-30 million people in America, for example, that are atheist, agnostic or hold no religious conviction. Something on the order of 10%. And yet, these free thinkers are vastly underrepresented in our prisons. If the religious assertion was true wouldn’t the obvious result be the flip flopping of those numbers?

    “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” — Steven Weinberg, New York Times, April 20, 1999

    I believe one of the most valuable things I can do as a more or less vocal atheist is to promote the fact that reciprocal altruism is innate to humans, a result of natural selection that likely came about as a survival strategy. Putting up religion as its source is deleterious to the underlying instinct that we are all born with. And it is insulting.

    In John Allen Paulos’ little book IRRELIGION he discusses a study done on children playing an engaging game. Left alone, they will play. If you reward them for playing, they will play more. If you then take away the reward, they stop playing altogether. This is the danger of corrupting a self sustaining system by introducing an unnecessary (and false!) reward into the mix.

  5. Chris Says:

    P.S. – Admin – I like your “God” thumbnail. Very appropriate. When can we upload our own?

  6. Admin Says:

    I like your “God” thumbnail. Very appropriate. When can we upload our own?

    This is a new WordPress feature. You can associate an email address with an image at gravatar. Then any WordPress blog where you’ve registered using that email address will show the image.

    Personally, I wouldn’t use an email address I cared about because if someone tried hard enough they might be able to hack the MD5 checksum (which is in the image URL) and recover the address.

  7. Chris Says:

    Thanks, Admin! Testing…

  8. CaptainZero1969 Says:

    Duh…you’ve gotta be logged in! I hope this works!