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04:30 PM on 12/25/11 
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Esrb99
The Pertinacious Papist
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Rolla, Missouri
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I came across this series of lectures by Religious Studies Professor Dale B. Martin at Yale. His historical analysis of the New Testament is fantastic; I believe both Christians and non-Christians would be fascinated by it.

http://oyc.yale.edu/religious-studie...new-testament/
05:36 PM on 12/25/11 
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dtrzcin
Choose thyself!
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I've watched those Yale lectures. They were great. I'm currently reading Dom Crossan's The Historical Jesus.
08:57 PM on 12/25/11 
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Esrb99
The Pertinacious Papist
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Rolla, Missouri
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I've watched those Yale lectures. They were great. I'm currently reading Dom Crossan's The Historical Jesus.

I got that book a few weeks ago, actually. I've heard it's really good. I'm finishing Pope Benedict's book on the historical Jesus first though.
06:03 PM on 12/27/11 
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Love As Arson
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The Motherland
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Watch the seventeen minute exchange in Hunger, then read about Kierkegaard's "Knight Of Faith". It gives it an oddly secular feel to the latter's formulation.
04:09 AM on 12/29/11 
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bung
Peel slowly and see
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Religion is almost certainly a product of natural selection. Whether religion itself is beneficial to the organism, or merely a side-effect of other evolutionary advantages, is, however, up for debate. When, or if, we can conclude with a reasonable amount of certainty why people choose to follow religions, the question of of any truth pertaining to a specific religion will become negligible, because truth is not a criteria for a naturally selected-induced belief; the criteria is fitness.
02:31 PM on 12/29/11 
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Love As Arson
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The Motherland
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Religion is almost certainly a product of natural selection. Whether religion itself is beneficial to the organism, or merely a side-effect of other evolutionary advantages, is, however, up for debate. When, or if, we can conclude with a reasonable amount of certainty why people choose to follow religions, the question of of any truth pertaining to a specific religion will become negligible, because truth is not a criteria for a naturally selected-induced belief; the criteria is fitness.
I would find it a bit of stretch to say we've evolved to believe in religion; we've evolved to a point where we were able to try to conceptualize how the world around us works. Neuroscientists and others frequently point to research linking religious belief to biology, but I would make a guess and say that one might get similar data from individuals that strongly believe in any type of ideology,e.g., revolutionaries.
08:35 PM on 12/29/11 
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KingsCrossing
What are you waiting for?
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Queens, NY
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Watch the seventeen minute exchange in Hunger, then read about Kierkegaard's "Knight Of Faith". It gives it an oddly secular feel to the latter's formulation.

I've been meaning to start reading Kierkegaard. What are some other good reads to start with?
10:27 PM on 12/29/11 
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bung
Peel slowly and see
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Minneapolis, MN
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I would find it a bit of stretch to say we've evolved to believe in religion; we've evolved to a point where we were able to try to conceptualize how the world around us works. Neuroscientists and others frequently point to research linking religious belief to biology, but I would make a guess and say that one might get similar data from individuals that strongly believe in any type of ideology,e.g., revolutionaries.

I find that there's compelling arguments on both sides. Religion may be an epiphenomenon, sprouting from brain mechanisms originally designed to serve other purposes, or religion itself may have been naturally selected for because it contains (or at one point contained) evolutionarily advantageous elements. Ritualistic procedures, periodical community gatherings, and/or induced feelings of "spirituality," for example, may have served some evolutionary purpose. I'm somewhat agnostic regarding which is the correct position, but I tend to lean toward the former. Of course, it could always be a combination of both, where certain elements of religion were naturally selected for, while others are by-products.

I don't follow the implication of your last statement, however. Every individual belief, and every category of beliefs, is necessarily linked to biology, so what are you implying?
12:09 AM on 12/30/11 
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KingsCrossing
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I thought the link between neuroscience and religion would be interesting to investigate, so I did a little research and found an excellent article that delves into 6 separate facets of the current research and explains it using relatively simple jargon. Below are some snippets from the article. For those who are interested in reading the entire full text, send me a PM and I can e-mail it. Here is a link to the abstract: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/conten...00003/art00004

Altered State of Consciousness

According to d’Aquili and Newberg’s theory, religious experience in rituals and meditation is caused by an overload of the limbic structures involved in emotions and homeostatic regulations, e.g., the hypothalamus and the amygdala. This overload of stimuli blocks perceptual input which in turn causes a deafferentation of the associative areas and eventually leads to an altered state of consciousness. A prominent example of this mechanism is the blocking of input to posterior superior parietal cortex (PSPL) which according to d’Aquili and Newberg induces an experience of absolute unitary being with the world or higher order of reality.

The Relaxation Response

In an experiment with three experienced Tibetan monks (Benson et al. 1990), Buddhist meditation was shown to correlate with a general decrease in metabolic rate and a hemispheric asymmetry of brain activity with a global increase of beta activity which may be associated with concentration and focused attention. In other words, the participants did not seem to reach a calm state similar to that of sleep, but instead increased their attention during meditation. This description of meditation as a focused state of attention rather than mental rest is supported by other studies of meditation reporting increases of brain activity in regions associated with concentration and focused attention, e.g., the dorsolateral prefrontal areas (Herzog et al. 1990; Jevning et al. 1996).

The God Helmet

Persinger has devised a helmet capable of stimulating the brain through the skull using TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) to see if religious experiences can be induced in normal healthy persons. Participants in Persinger’s experiments do not know when the TMS device is active, and sometimes they are instructed to push a button if they experience a felt pres- ence. The participants are subsequently asked to describe their experience and complete questionnaires. Persinger’s results suggest that the so-called God Helmet works on 80% of the general population. [However] Persinger’s scientific data are controversial.

Cognition or Emotion?

Azari argues that religion develops in a cultural system and that meaning and interpretation are central features in both spiritual experiences and religious feelings (Azari et al. 2001). The prefrontal cortex has been associated with social cognition and interpersonal interaction, and Azari and colleagues use this evidence (e.g., Vogeley et al. 2001) to argue that this region may subserve the personal experience of God (Azari et al. 2005: 274). The results support Azari’s general hypothesis that religious experience is essentially a cultural phenomenon. The finding that Bible recitation activated the prefrontal cortex rather than subcortical regions, Azari argues, suggests that religious experience may take on different expressions in different cultural systems.

Mystical Experiences

In the study fifteen nuns who described a mystical experience as a feeling of unconditional love and oneness with God were instructed to re-experience a past mystical experience in the scanner. Results, which were not corrected for multiple comparisons (thresholded at p<0.001), showed that a mystical expe- rience relative to rest and a non-religious contrast condition (to think of a past happy experience with a human being) activated several brain regions (e.g., the orbitofrontal cortex, temporal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, superior and inferior parietal cortex, caudate nucleus, insula, medial prefrontal cortex, and brain stem).

Formalized and Improvised Prayers

We argue that this pattern of activation in Personal Praying suggests that talking to God who is considered “real” rather than “fictitious” like Santa Claus is comparable to normal interpersonal interaction. This finding is not only interesting for the social cognitive and affective neuroscience and the cognitive science of religion. It also offers important insights to the study of theology in which Christian doctrine on God’s nature includes abstract concepts like God’s omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. Interestingly, in terms of brain function, our results suggest that the Inner Mission [a fraction of the Danish Lutheran Church known for orthodox views] participants mainly think of God as a person rather than as an abstract entity.
03:13 PM on 12/30/11 
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Love As Arson
Resident Marxist
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The Motherland
Male - 29 Years Old
I've been meaning to start reading Kierkegaard. What are some other good reads to start with?
Fear and Trembling is good. The late Robert Solomon had lectures on Kierkegaard which are on Youtube and can give you a good head start on his concepts and ideas.
I find that there's compelling arguments on both sides. Religion may be an epiphenomenon, sprouting from brain mechanisms originally designed to serve other purposes, or religion itself may have been naturally selected for because it contains (or at one point contained) evolutionarily advantageous elements. Ritualistic procedures, periodical community gatherings, and/or induced feelings of "spirituality," for example, may have served some evolutionary purpose. I'm somewhat agnostic regarding which is the correct position, but I tend to lean toward the former. Of course, it could always be a combination of both, where certain elements of religion were naturally selected for, while others are by-products.

I don't follow the implication of your last statement, however. Every individual belief, and every category of beliefs, is necessarily linked to biology, so what are you implying?
What I was trying to say was that, religious belief isn't particular in eliciting certain types of responses from humans. If we were to examine religious and political beliefs, for example, I am sure there would be overlap between the two.


In any case, I am finding that there is an increasing appreciation of some aspects of religion. The communal nature, as an example, is very appealing. In the absence of secular communalism, religion serves that function and I imagine it can be very engrossing; to know that you are a part of something, to experience the feeling of awe with others, to believe, through your belief and actions, some greater end can be achieved, is something I wish I could be a part of. It is just the god part that throws me off.
12:26 PM on 12/31/11 
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KingsCrossing
What are you waiting for?
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Queens, NY
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Fear and Trembling is good. The late Robert Solomon had lectures on Kierkegaard which are on Youtube and can give you a good head start on his concepts and ideas.

Thanks for the tip. I'll check both of those out.
12:45 PM on 12/31/11 
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bung
Peel slowly and see
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Minneapolis, MN
Male - 26 Years Old
What I was trying to say was that, religious belief isn't particular in eliciting certain types of responses from humans. If we were to examine religious and political beliefs, for example, I am sure there would be overlap between the two.

Assuming the first claim to be true, how does this overlap shed light on the likelihood or non-likelihood of religious belief and practices being naturally selected for?
01:20 PM on 12/31/11 
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Love As Arson
Resident Marxist
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The Motherland
Male - 29 Years Old
Assuming the first claim to be true, how does this overlap shed light on the likelihood or non-likelihood of religious belief and practices being naturally selected for?
It demonstrates that it is frameworks of interpreting the world that is inherited, not religion itself. It just so happens that organized religious belief took hold first, which makes sense given the material conditions humankind was living in early on.
07:37 PM on 12/31/11 
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bung
Peel slowly and see
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Minneapolis, MN
Male - 26 Years Old
It demonstrates that it is frameworks of interpreting the world that is inherited, not religion itself. It just so happens that organized religious belief took hold first, which makes sense given the material conditions humankind was living in early on.

This sounds correct, but it can't be the whole story if we are going to take as a working assumption that religious beliefs and practices are not particular in eliciting certain responses from humans. Namely, certain political beliefs and practices, to take the example used in this discussion, must also be able to elicit the same responses if the argument is going to be valid. In lieu of any scientific evidence otherwise, it would be wise to also assume that these certain responses which overlap in the two arenas are only elicited from practices and beliefs that are similar in kind or structure (same effect, same cause).

Because it didn't seem to cause any dispute earlier, I'll use the same elements of religious belief that appear paramount to me in its definition as it generally is and has been practiced around the world: periodical community gatherings, ritualistic procedures, and feelings of "spirituality." I'll refine the notion of "spirituality" to mean "an object or idea of reverence sufficient in strength of feeling to cause a certain brain region to be activated with some relative frequency." That definition should be general enough not to cause any dispute.

Drawing on the doctrine of "same effect, same cause" referenced above (which we should, I think, employ tentatively unless given reason otherwise), we must assume beliefs and practices in political ideologies similar in kind or structure to those typically found in religious ideologies. So for a political ideology to have the mentioned overlap, it must also have periodical community gatherings, ritualistic procedures, and feelings of "spirituality." All these notions have arguably already been found centered around certain political leaders--Stalin, Mao, various Japanese emperors, etc.

Now what we have are two "frameworks" with content a, b, c, and a1, b1, c1 that are identical in structure. What is inherited, then, are the structures which belief is circumscribed around. As I see it, it makes sense to think of "frameworks" as religious that are defined by the previous structure, largely because of the emotional intensity bound to c. The distinction between the political and the religious here is arbitrary, then, because of their identical structures, and the "frameworks" that are inherited are really religious paradigms.
10:58 PM on 01/05/12 
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MelissaMDaniels
in the disenchantment lane
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Pennsylvania
Female - 26 Years Old
Interesting blog post here on different types of Occupiers. It's concise, but gives great insight into why people would want to be involved without being pretentious or snubby.



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