A Few Thoughts on Religions and on Belief Systems

I am not an expert on Religions or on Belief Systems, but I am often struck by a couple of things:

1. How much the various secular belief systems have in common with religious belief systems.

2. How important aspects other than beliefs are to the systems.

Examples of Belief Systems

It seems like we encounter quite a number of secular belief systems, such as:

1. The Oil Drum, and our message

2. Contemporary economic theory (several different flavors)

3. He who dies with the most toys wins.

4. Beautiful bodies are everything.

5. Technology will solve all problems.

6. Anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

7. Beliefs of a political party.

8. Permaculture can save the world.

Role of a god

I have been taught that a god is anything that one attaches supreme importance to. Money can be a god. In fact, in "contemporary economic theory" and in "he who dies with the most toys wins," money becomes a god. In "technology will solve all problems," science becomes a god. In "beautiful bodies are everything," perfect bodies become a god.

I don't think that a belief system necessarily has to have a god, although it will have some articles of faith. On The Oil Drum, it is an article of faith that geological limits are of supreme importance in determining the future flow of oil. When someone (like me) suggests that this may be trumped by the indirect influence of the financial system, this is viewed as a form of heresy by some.

Anthropogenic global warming has as its central belief, the belief that man caused recent changes in climate. There are different flavors of this belief system, depending on whether one believes that one can change the course of events, and if so, what needs to be done.

Writings or stories underlying the belief system.

The Oil Drum has its series of posts. There are also related writings by people at the various ASPO organizations, and by people like Matt Simmons.

Not all of these writings would be viewed as being equally true by Oil Drum readers; some are even contradictory. The Oil Drum belief system is constantly being refined and added to.

Each of the other belief systems, as well as the religions, has its own set of stories or writings, generally by several authors. Not all are viewed equally true or important. In the "He who dies with the most toys wins" belief system, additional chapters are added each week in slick magazines advertising the things that a person must have to impress others. With enough repetition, those who adhere to a belief system consider the belief system's major points to be true and important.

Filter for viewing what happens in the world

The world is a mysterious place. Since ancient times, people have been putting together stories to try to explain their understanding of how the world operates and what it truly important. In many ways, each of these (and other) belief systems provides a way of viewing the world and determining what is truly important to our existence. To some extent, these belief systems also provide a view as to what future outcome is likely. This outcome may vary depending on what actions we take (reduce carbon dioxide emissions; increase fuel efficiency; initiate free trade; fund enough scientific research; perform the right rituals).

The belief systems also provide sayings and understandings that filter how we view the world. "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want," can be viewed in many ways. It can be taken to mean that there is a God who will stop AGW and will stop any problem with oil supply (as well as any other problem). I personally don't consider this be a valid interpretation, since clearly the world is full of problems, and so far, no being has intervened to stop them, even for the very religious. The Lord is my shepherd statement can also be taken as a way of viewing the world: there is no need for concern about tomorrow, because we each have the resources we need to face the challenges ahead. We need not waste our energy on worry.

View of how we treat others

Religions probably excel in this area, with lots of sayings like, "Love your neighbor as yourself," "Honor your father and mother," and "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Modern economic theory gives another view of how we treat each other. Whatever provides the most profits is "best." If this can be done by reducing the wages of workers, so be it.

Even at The Oil Drum, we have both a written and an unwritten code of how we treat each other. There is a precedent for civil discussions, and everyone knows that Leanan (or someone else) will delete their posts, if they start behaving in too abusive a manner.

Circle of friendships

Each group has its own organizations, where one gets together with other like-minded people. If one is concerned about AGW, one can joint the local Sierra Club, and work together with like-mined individuals. If one believes a beautiful body is all important, there are gyms and health food stores that one can become associated with.

In a business community, one is likely to encounter a huge number of people believing contemporary economic theory. If a person raises doubts about its truth, one risks ostracism from the group.

The Oil Drum has its own online circle of friendships. Staff members particularly communicate frequently with each other. We also have quite a number of regular commenters, whom all of us look forward to hearing from.

It is this circle of friendships that is part of the reason that adopting new belief systems is difficult. If all of our friends believe one way, it is difficult to change our belief system.

Reconciling different belief systems

Each of us is likely to end up adopting at least some parts of different belief systems. Sometimes there are conflicts--what is important to one, is not necessarily as important to another. The friendship groups may be different. The way of acting may be different.

Probably the first step in reconciling belief systems is stopping to realize that there are a multitude of different belief systems "out there". One could quite easily come to the belief that He who dies with the most toys wins is such a statement of truth, that one need not even question it. It isn't a religion, is it? So what is there to question?

At the same time, it is easy to disregard religions, because they seem to be carry-overs from a pre-scientific era. We all know the world most likely wasn't created in seven days, and that "be fruitful and multiply" doesn't make sense is a day of modern medical treatment and overpopulation. But the unlimited growth preached by economists doesn't make any more sense, and it was developed much more recently.

Each of us needs to make his or her own choices regarding belief systems and religions. I am probably one of the few religious folks on The Oil Drum staff--not necessarily because I believe that the church's teachings are "true" in a scientific sense. I come from the liberal end of religious belief--the Bible (and religious books of other religions) have worthwhile things we can learn, especially with respect to how we treat others and how we view the world. The collection of writings is not literally true. It is more a collection of stories that have been passed down through the ages, that we can learn from.

In the next few years, it is likely that some form of relocalization will be needed. In the USA, churches may be good centers for this type of activity, because many people are already members of a church, and have many friends there. (In Europe, I would expect the situation to be different.) This reason, apart from any other, might be a reason why some Oil Drum members might want to join a church (or other local religious group), even if a person doesn't agree with all of the beliefs. I personally would have difficulty with the more conservative religious groups, because I would have difficulty with many of their teachings. But even these groups have value for their members, providing a network of friendships and shared values.

8. Permaculture can save the world.

One belief has the richness of the Amazon the result of humans practicing permaculture.

(Alas, I could not find a link to this belief system)

In the USA, churches may be good centers for this type of activity

History had The Masons as a group to join. The standard US State system excludes females/atheists. The French system has been known to allow such.

I wanted to hijack your comment to add a reference to a study done at Emory that a reader sent me.

Emory Study Lights Up the Political Brain

When it comes to forming opinions and making judgments on hot political issues, partisans of both parties don't let facts get in the way of their decision-making, according to a new Emory University study. The research sheds light on why staunch Democrats and Republicans can hear the same information, but walk away with opposite conclusions.

The investigators used functional neuroimaging (fMRI) to study a sample of committed Democrats and Republicans during the three months prior to the U.S. Presidential election of 2004. The Democrats and Republicans were given a reasoning task in which they had to evaluate threatening information about their own candidate. During the task, the subjects underwent fMRI to see what parts of their brain were active. What the researchers found was striking.

"We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," says Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory who led the study. "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts." Westen and his colleagues will present their findings at the Annual Conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Jan. 28.

Once partisans had come to completely biased conclusions — essentially finding ways to ignore information that could not be rationally discounted — not only did circuits that mediate negative emotions like sadness and disgust turn off, but subjects got a blast of activation in circuits involved in reward — similar to what addicts receive when they get their fix, Westen explains.

"None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged," says Westen. "Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones."

The staunch representives of both parties seem to want the other party to fail at something big, no matter the damage.


The folks at Integral life did two videos which try to explain the prevalent belief systems in American life, which they characterize as
Traditional Conservatives, Modern Conservatives, Modern Liberals, and Post-Modern Liberals, as well as three dimensions of politics: Externalist vs. Internalist, Individualistic vs. Collectivistic, and Progressive vs. Conservative.


Their second video is analyzes how McCain and Obama sought to "light up" voters' political circuits by appealing to these belief systems in their respective acceptance speeches:


Some sad sci-fi fans like me might add.

9) Battlestar Galactica

The entire new series was pretty much about "Thoughts on Religions and on Belief Systems"




Through its newly established Creative Community Outreach Initiative, the United Nations Department of Public Information and the SCI FI Channel will co-host a panel discussion in connection with the final episode of the Battlestar Galactica television series at 7 p.m., tomorrow, 17 March in the Economic and Social Council Chamber. The discussion will explore some of the themes that are of importance to both the United Nations and the critically acclaimed television show: human rights; terrorism; children and armed conflict; and reconciliation and dialogue among civilizations and faiths.

Battlestar Galactica at the United Nations (short video clip)

Jump Complete. FTL offline.

I find this post interesting as my Wife and Daughter head off to church. My Wife asked me this morning, "so why is it that you don't go?" I had to state that I wasn't interested in being part of a system where the core fundamental principle is belief in the teachings of a guy who I don't think was actually anything special. All that aside I'm thinking I might give it a try. The value of the social network might be worth it. I behave ethically, I don't need any all-powerful threats to do so but I'm thinking my boys might benefit from a few more examples as well. I like the idea of the post, it seems well considered.

If one believes that the purpose of life is to serve others, nothing can take it away--not even peak oil or AGW. If the purpose of life is accumulating more toys, peak oil is a real threat. It can change a person's outlook on life.

Interesting --- needless to say, there is so much you can do and so much you can go about against the mad crowd. Jesus was nailed on the cross for some reason.

New Orleans post Katrina showed us of what to come. People will form groups to "maximize" their chance of survival. It's probably better to start thinking of forming some group now instead of when TSHTF -- like someone mentioned of start going to church to begin this threading process.

"If one believes that the purpose of life is to serve others, nothing can take it away--not even peak oil or AGW. If the purpose of life is accumulating more toys, peak oil is a real threat."

Wow, Gail; that's beautiful. I've added it to the collection from which a random signature goes on the end of my email.

Would you like to come live on our island?

...in the teachings of a guy who I don't think was actually anything special.

Whether or not he was special should not influence whether or not any of his alleged teachings have any value. (This is a distinction based on the idea of separating the sin from the sinner, or the author from the words.)

If you take a look at the Sermon on the Mount, for example, it may have some useful ideas, like Blessed are the Peacemakers (or mediators).

Having said that, I must say that I am one of those who thinks that it is highly likely that there was no such creature, that Jesus Christ is the evolutionary result of an imaginary god called Hesu Krishna invented by Constantine. (Look at religious history to see how distorted are our current belief system origins and claims.) I also find the Sermon on the Mount to be a confused mishmash of a number of entirely different belief systems, theistic and pagan, that were extant around the time it was compiled (300AD or so?).

Hi Nate,

I'd like to relate a story to you. My father was an abused child, who would have been killed by his stepfather, had he not been saved by Dorothea, his high school English teacher. She recognized a child in distress and he lived with her until he graduated from Stanford. She also rescued may other creatures both men and beasts. The men included Derry who became the editor of Stanford’s Mark Twain collection; Ted who helped design project Mercury’s heat shield; Morey, whose hard-scramble parents thought school was for suckers, but when to college because of her and became one of the principal designers of modern satellite communications, Chief engineer for Voice of America, and later Director of Whitehouse Communications; and my father, who went into television.

Raised by Dorothea with a strong sense of moral and social duty, he felt that broadcasting was a privilege, and that TV stations had an obligation to help the less fortunate. As a result, he hired the first woman newscaster (KPIX), read the first on-air editorial and asked for public response, hired the first black TV anchor man and woman in the nation (WTOP, DC.), pioneered children’s educational shows, and produced the first TV documentary on urban blight and decay. One night, while returning from a TV conference, he found himself sitting next to the producer of "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau", who was under enormous pressure to cut it because its ratings were below expectations. He spent the entire flight lobbying him to keep it, because it was a moral responsibility. Fortunately, the producer decided to keep the show, which became a springboard for the Cousteau Society and a large portion of the environmental movement.

The reason I mention all of this is because Dorothea referred to herself as a Christina woman, and went to church every Sunday. I don't recall her every telling a story or a quote from the Bible, she certainly lived the best parts of it. She said it gave her guidance and the strength to do what was right. Sometimes the stars align so that good things happen, and Dorothea was one of these.

Mark Anthony’s eulogy for Julius Caesar is often quoted as representative of today’s society, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”. I disagree. Disasters and violence grab our attention because they are dramatic, but they are not what lasts. Every day I see Dorothea’s influence on the world, and so to for the thousands of other men and women like her whose kindness and dedication is reflected in the good deeds we do to help each other and why society and civility, against all odds, perseveres.

Thank you Pragmatic, that was lovely. We may not, as a species, be able to creatively address the global predicaments that confront us, but we can, as individuals, make a difference in each other's lives.

Hi Pragmatic,

Yes, thank you for sharing this. Has anyone written up this account? (It sounds a little bit familiar.)

It also reminds me I want to try to get in touch with a woman I met a year ago at a social gathering. People were talking about "what they did", and she said something along the lines of "I had one son, and then I raised 7 boys." (i.e, not her own.) Somebody asked her why, and she said "Because they needed raising."

I've often wondered how amazing it is that there can be such a wide range of people in the world. What I'm thinking of...is people I've met who are like Dorothea. I mean, just so compassionate and giving. And, doing this in situations where no one would ever know, for example, taking care of an elderly person in a nursing home or something. Just in situations where no one sees, and pretty much no one cares.

And then, there are people who live so much the opposite kind of lives, and probably themselves don't know that the other kind even exists.

People are not good because they are religious, but good people often turn to religion because it gives expression to their ideals, and enables them to contact other good people
From a more pragmatic point of view, a society where people are accustomed to help each other is a stronger society than one where everyone is out for themselves and the devil take the hindmost. This is shown up in natural disasters; very few people died in Cuba because of the hurricanes that have battered the country in recent years, but we can see the results of a selfish society in Katrina in our country, and the disasters in Haiti. Unfortunately in our society, what is good for society (cooperation) is often not rewarded as much as selfishness is. IMO, this is the result of our system of ruthless capitalist competition.

From the same religion came the Inquisition, justification for slavery, religious wars of all sorts etc. Dorothea internalized the best of Christianity, just as some internalize the best of the Muslim faith or Buddhism, or Communist philosophy. When I stopped being a Christian I did not change any value of behavior towards other people. Why there are Dorthea's and also Hitler's in the world is not explained by religion as both the good and the evil can be found within or without religion. It was the good in Dorthea that let her select the good in the Bible and it was the evil in the hearts of the slave owners that let them select the biblical justification for slavery.

Hi Oxidatedgem,

Excellent observations and I completely agree. When John Dean (Nixon's lawyer who told congress what had happened in the Watergate scandal) was attacked and vilified by the up and coming Neocon's, he was confused. Like Jason Bourne in the movie series, he had fallen off of the map, and was not involved in politics or anything that could be perceived as threatening. In determining why he had been singled out by them, he discovered a branch of psychology that deals with authoritarian personalities.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authoritarian_personality

He found that the Neocon’s had many of the characteristics of Super Authoritarians and social dominators. This group uses words like “Predator” to describe themselves and “weak, pathetic” to describe those they dominate. While they tend to be conservative, they can be leftist too (Stalin, Mao, Ceauşescu), and uses any philosophy they can to control others. While religion is one of the primary ones, various political and social ones are used as well. A reformed Super Authoritarian once told me that in her prime, if she was not in charge, someone was going to get hurt. She also said she was as sensitive to the slightest perceived loss in power as any of us would be to being unable to breath.

This cycles back to Gail’s central theme, which is the balance between our guiding beliefs (theories) and principals. We must persevere in our beliefs (peak oil, resource limitations, global warming, achieving sustainability, etc.) to achieve results. However if perseverance becomes dogmatism, and our theories become unassailable internal realities, then we will eventually be wrong. However, if our principals are to continually reevaluate our beliefs against external realities, then what we believe will (more closely) reflect the real world.

You do realize that historically the greatest reason for the end of slavery was Christianity? Men like Wilberforce, Gordon and Livingstone to name just a few struggled and frequently died to outlaw slavery. Slavery in historic times was practiced by all societies (including athiest societies such as under Hitler and Stalin).
BTW the typical Western view of slavery was the African slave trade of the 15th to 20th centuries but this involved Christians taking slaves in fewer than 5% of the total. The main 2 groups taking slaves were tribalists (inter tribal wars and local chiefs selling off excess stock) and Arab slave raiders. Whoever was involved (Christian, Muslim, animist, athiest) the trade was abhorrent; the example I always think of was 2 men in upper Egypt in the 1840's who worked for Mohammed Ali, in just a few years their work involved crushing the nuts of 40,000 freshly taken Sudanese men by banging 2 rocks together.

The Bible doesn't speak out against slavery. Paul even exhorts slaves to be obedient to their masters. People of good heart who were Christian helped stop slavery. They had to infer from the life of Jesus that slavery was wrong as the Bible was not guide here and was easily put to use to endorse slavery, apartheid, genocide of American Indians etc etc etc.

"Passages from the Christian Scriptures which Sanction Slavery.

Neither Jesus nor St. Paul, nor any other Biblical figure is recorded as saying anything in opposition to the institution of slavery. Slavery was very much a part of life in Palestine and in the rest of the Roman Empire during New Testament times. Quoting Rabbi M.J. Raphall, circa 1861, "Receiving slavery as one of the conditions of society, the New Testament nowhere interferes with or contradicts the slave code of Moses; it even preserves a letter [to Philemon] written by one of the most eminent Christian teachers [St. Paul] to a slave owner on sending back to him his runaway slave." 1"


Their is a hospital for the mentally ill in Raleigh, NC. Its named Dorothea Dix. Or once was some time back when I lived there.

Any connection?


Not that I am aware of. Her last name was Kauffman, and she grew up in the hill surrounding San Francisco.

The Unitarian Universalists get to claim Dorothea Dix, the pathbreaker in establishing the beginning of American mental health hospital/treatment programs.

Ahhh...I often wondered. It was as I recall rather well thought of at the time.

Thanks for that info.


Such a huge and interesting topic, and one I'm involved with, sometimes to the point of obsession.

I've striven to avoid "beliefs" altogether. By "belief" I mean "to hold something to be the case in spite of or even in the absence of any evidence." When the evidence warrants accepting something as true, "belief" is no longer a requirement.

For example, I don't "believe" in evolution: but I do hold it to be the case. The evidence arrived to me via several years of college courses in biology and geology.

I also don't "believe" in peak oil, but a course I took in '81 called "Geology and Human Affairs" showed me early on what to expect. Then there was another professor whose courses I took, Craig Bond Hatfield, whose early writings on the subject convinced me that the evidence was pretty clear--oil supply problems will arrive sometime in the early twenty-first century.

I've held and outgrown many beliefs in life, starting with church dogmas.

As an adult, I've been disillusioned by, in succession, psychoanalysis/psychotherapy; AA/AlAnon substance abuse "treatments"; and the spurious claims of "organic" farming. Some good places to get a handle on what are beliefs and what are valid, scientifically-sound phenomena are the skeptics' sites, such as The Skeptic's Dictionary, Bad Science, and No Beliefs. (Unfortunately, the editor at the latter site is completely inured to peak oil arguments, holding that "because no one knows how much oil is in the earth's crust, peak oil is therefore a myth," or words to that effect.)

It's funny how we think we know something to be the case, without having looked at the evidence. I used to know that talk therapy cured mental "problems"; that cultish "anon" groups "work" as "cures" for substance abuse problems; and that "organically-grown" food is "safer, and more nutritious" than foods grown conventionally. Each disillusionment is painful to acknowledge--especially when one wastes a considerable amount of time indulging such beliefs.

In each case, it came down to "who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?" I've seen people spend years in therapy, only to be misdiagnosed and later go on to taking medications--and they STILL attribute improvement to therapists! I have a brother who has been in and out of substance abuse programs--that is, AA--for fifteen years now, only to see him continue drinking and crashing cars--and going right back to AA. I've seen two generations of my family having grown up eating ONLY conventionally grown food with no adverse effects--indeed, my nieces and nephews, fed only "unsafe, nutrition-lacking" factory-farm food, are some of the best athletes you'd ever want to meet.

Each of us needs to make his or her own choices regarding belief systems and religions. I am probably one of the few religious folks on The Oil Drum staff--not necessarily because I believe that the church's teachings are "true" in a scientific sense. I come from the liberal end of religious belief--the Bible (and religious books of other religions) have worthwhile things we can learn, especially with respect to how we treat others and how we view the world. The collection of writings is not literally true. It is more a collection of stories that have been passed down through the ages, that we can learn from.

The bible issue is one that I'm pretty wrapped up in. Nothing has been more fascinating and liberating than looking at the history of the composition of biblical documents. Everyone "knows" Moses wrote the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, etc.). But it turns out these early books contain the evidence themselves needed to overturn the belief in Mosaic authorship. Just read Genesis chapters one through three, and you encounter two separate creations stories, in two different styles, from two separate traditions, centuries apart.

Everyone "knows" eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. Yet by reading them "horizontally"--that is, reading them scene-by-scene, from gospel to gospel--one discovers that "Mark" is the original document, written by an unknown scribe, and the gospels of Matthew and Luke, also anonymous, are revised, expanded and corrected version of Mark's text. Today, we'd call this "plagiarism," but in the ancient world this is the way things were done.

Not only have the stories "been passed down through the ages," but they have EVOLVED. The bible evolved through a succession of scribes.

Now, that's one "belief" I can dig--Universal Darwinism.

Mike, a really great post. Thanks.

Another quality most religious people have, and especially liberal religious people, is tha ability to believe two contridictory things at once. Things like; the Bible contains a lot of nonsense but can and should be a guide for our lives. Or things like; the Bible is true and evolution is also true. Our humble minds simply cannot understand these apparent contridictions between science and the Bible. Those who believe the latter are a little less liberal than those who believe the former. ;-)

Ron P.

I would have agreed with both of you at one time. IMHO, you both, along with Bill Maher, totally miss the point on this one. Religion is a tool (no different than a hammer or a gun) to improve your life. If it doesn't then it is of no use, however, if it does, no matter how absurd the belief system would appear on the surface, it is of great value. The bottom line is getting what you want, not pointing out the obvious logical flaws in all these religions IMO. If you were a lousy car salesman and some sales trainer said chant "I am King Kong" ten times every morning and it will make more sales for you IMO both you guys would start arguing "but you don't understand, I am NOT King Kong" rather than just spend the lousy 10 seconds and see if it puts any money in your pocket.

One could assert that individuals in various different religions making themselves feel good does not correlate to society making appropriate choices and individuals exhibiting appropriate behaviors to support the long-tern sustainability of the human species and the environment in which it lives. In my opinion, organized religion has not thus far not promoted the long-term sustainability of humanity. Individuals can sleep soundly at night secure in the comfy blankets of their personal 'Matrix' but that does not change objective reality.

Brian, I would have agreed with you at one time. went down the same path. Raised catholic, I eventually discovered evolutionary biology/anthropology etc. and that caused me to be repelled by the dogma and ignorance of modern religions. But then I went a step beyond and realized that religion DOES improve peoples lives. It allows them to think about the future, via better social relationships and lower discount rates, among other things. So I became much less antagonistic towards religion and recognized its power/worth - which is where you are. However, if everyone says 'I am King Kong' 10 times each morning, and is happier for it, we are still faced with natural resource and human demand drive constraints. Strong reciprocity locally and regionally is going to be a big deal - but a 'don't worry - be happy' -rapture meme would be a barrier to change. Unless the religious message (as EO Wilson is attempting to do), is melded into an ecological systems worldview, religion as is, will help many but hurt all.

True, individual "success" does not equate to societal success, but IMO when discussing resource limitations the reality of inter-society competition cannot be downplayed. Again IMO the USA is very different culturally from Japan or Sweden or France and when things get really tough individuals and various groups will to a certain extent be competing with each other to advance-the common good isn't valued very highly in the USA and again IMO won't be valued hardly at all in the future USA so individuals are going to be looking for every possible edge or competitive advantage over fellow Americans.

the common good isn't valued very highly in the USA

This may be the most substantial understatement of the day.

I agree with Bryant. So many people selflessly spent their entire weekend, working free of charge, at the Seattle Green Festival. For every "greenwashed" product, in counterpart there was a real, tangible sense of community, sharing, and activism.

And very different this year was a sense of urgency :-) At the risk of sounding New Age-ish, lots of waves building and cresting out there in the collective consciousness....

From PZ on religion:

The difference is not in intelligence. It's on the foundation of their education. Intelligent people who are indoctrinated into a faith can build marvelously intricate palaces of rationalization atop the shoddy vapor of their beliefs about gods and the supernatural; what scientists and atheists must do is build their logic on top of a more solid basis of empirical evidence and relentless self-examination. The difference isn't their ability to reason, it is what they are reasoning about.

This is one of the reasons we godless need to be militant in expressing our ideas: there are children out there right now who have the potential for genius, but their talents are being shunted into the futile wasteland of religiosity. Yes, there are a lot of atheists in the topmost ranks of successful scientists, but it's not because they are intrinsically smarter than someone who believes in gods — it's because they more easily embrace the mode of thinking that is most productive and successful in scientific fields, and are less burdened with absurd presuppositions. Let's stop handicapping our kids.

that is really a great quote - who is PZ?


When Ben Stein's movie Expelled had the private screenings a web site where you could sign up for the showing leaked and PZ signed up there, and for some guest tickets also. When he was standing in line for the showing guards came and escorted him away. A guest of his wasn't recognized (PZ only had to use his name when signing up) and was permitted to enter. His guest was Richard Dawkins.

I signed up myself for a screening near me and got the confirmation e-mail, later I got a notice that it was cancelled. I later saw in the local news some reporters interviewing people coming out of the showing for which I was sent a notice that it was cancelled.

This quote is annoying and condescending. I am a successful scientist who is also religious (and who, by the way, believes in and studies evolution as his research subject). I don't think I'm at any disadvantage as a scientist due to the fact that I hold clearly absurd viewpoints (e.g. that a loving God exists). In fact, my guess is that the same thing that makes me open to nonempirical truth also lends me creativity within an empirical context. And it makes people like me a puzzle to many atheists. But maybe rather than ask, as many have in this discussion, why liberal religious people are able to believe two contradictory things at once, you should look in the mirror and ask whether your own mind is really as open to truth as you think it is.

But maybe rather than ask, as many have in this discussion, why liberal religious people are able to believe two contradictory things at once, you should look in the mirror and ask whether your own mind is really as open to truth as you think it is.

I loved the hightrekker quote from PZ but I can understand how a thin skinned deeply religious person would find it annoying. The truth is always annoying to the deeply religious. But the question you ask is whether my own mind is really as open to truth as I think it is? That is a very good question.

I was raised in a deeply fundamentally religious family. My dad believed that every word of the Bible was the literal truth. He believed in the six day creation and that the world flood/Noah's ark story actually happened. Had my mind not been open to truth I would still believe such nonsense, as I once did believe it.

My dad was a poor sharecropper. Everyone in my family and everyone for miles around believed the Bible was literally the absolute word of God. And so far, I am the only member of my very large extended family, or even in the general vicinity of the rural neighborhood I grew up in, who now disbelieves the Bible. I would say Lean-To, that I was open to something else I would still believe that crap.

I think it is you who needs to look in the mirror.

Ron P.

hi ron,

if defending religion against what i regard as specious generalizations makes me thin-skinned, then i guess i'm thin-skinned. but i don't want to get into a row with you, nor do i really want to get into an argument over who is more open-minded, the tone of my post notwithstanding. indeed, i feel that the argument over who is open-minded and who isn't is a big part of the problem, though obviously i'm not immune to becoming defensive and joining the fray. i do think that some atheists like Dawkins are on a pretty high horse, and i'm tired of it. i'd prefer a truce.

in any case, clearly you had a lot of guts to break away from something pervasive (and apparently oppressive) in your upbringing. my own story is partly opposite in direction and not as stark in contrast...i was raised in a family of more-or-less agnostic middle-class scientists a generation off the farm. we did go to unitarian church when i was a kid, but all i learned there was how to play bridge. i was pretty much a confirmed atheist or agnostic for the rest of my childhood, and returned to unitarian church (as a "doubter") during college. after a while, i came to realize that i didn't find it very nourishing, and within a few years i'd gotten baptized and become a mainline Christian. i am now one of the only people in my own family and circle of acquaintances who believes in the christian God. so you and i have something in common in that sense...we both ventured away from what we were taught and what we were used to, to reach something that seemed truer and richer to us. in some sense, it estranged us from what was around us.

what it all makes me wonder, and i would ask this not just of you or of myself, but of anyone interested in exploring it in themselves, is how much of our belief system is 'reactive', i.e. a response to something we see as negative or limiting, and how much 'creative'. Through what lens are we seeing life?


what it all makes me wonder, and i would ask this not just of you or of myself, but of anyone interested in exploring it in themselves, is how much of our belief system is 'reactive', i.e. a response to something we see as negative or limiting, and how much 'creative'. Through what lens are we seeing life?

Lean To, I am a determinist. A determinist is one who believes we are the sole product of our heredity and enviornment, because there is nothing else. What we were born with and everything we have experienced since then, including our prenatal enviornment, is all there is, nothing more. Therefore we are all victims of circumstance. We were made, brick by brick, from the foundation up, by our heredity and our enviornment.

Of course, you can argue with the proposition that all we are is knobs and turnings, genes and environment. You can insist that there’s something...something MORE. But if you try to visualize the form this something would take, or articulate it clearly, you’ll find the task impossible, for any force that is not in the genes or the environment is outside of physical reality as we perceive it. It’s beyond scientific discourse.
Robert Wright, "The Moral Animal"

I realize that my position is held by a tiny minority of people. But among those to hold it were Darwin, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Kant and a host of other philosophers. I cannot explain it, it can only be understood via long hours of contemplation.

Be that as it may I cannot possibly believe in any religion or philosophy that grants rewards or punishment for any belief or behavior, for obvious reasons. Other than that, I cannot explain it.

Ron P.

I was going to respond to your comment above, but this is an even better place to do so.

I am a scientist who works in genomics and evolution. I was agnostic with a strong atheist bent until recently, and now have come to believe in a form of "God" that is independent of most standard religious teachings. I won't go into detail here about how I've worked out the "conflict" that people like you point out, instead, I am writing a book. And there isn't a conflict. My "belief" has come from wide-ranging reading on the subject, including on topics like philosophy, evolution, consciousness, quantum physics, and many more. I am uninterested in organized religion, BTW.

I will give you a hint about my premis: you claim strict determinism. But maybe you are unaware of an important component of biology termed "bistability." Bistability is a condition where cell fate can be driven to two completely different phenotypes, simply due to "noise." (identical genetics and identical epigenetics, with different outcomes). Ok, so what is noise? Noise is randomness. What is randomness - well, if you are truly a strict determinist, then there is no randomness, it is all essentially a pre-determined program, and there is no free will. If you are not a true determinist at this level, then randomness has to come from somewhere - and the only place it can come from is the quantum world, which we are far from understanding.

It just so happens that there is increasing evidence piling up about the important links between quantum effects and biology (for a good layperson article, see the latest issue of Discover).

As much as I am a firm adherent of natural selection, there is a lot we don't yet know about the process of evolution (primarily, the second component of evolution, "randomness").

Mcgurme, I am a determinist but not in the sense you suggest. I am a determinist only as the term applies to the human will, not as it applies to the physical world. I agree with Spinoza who wrote:

There is no such thing as free will. The mind is induced to wish this or that by some cause and that cause is determined by another cause, and so back to infinity.

There may be true randomness in the physical world but that does not concern me. I am only concerned with acts of the human will. My point is that every act of the human will is determined either by something in your genes or something that happened before in your life or some combination of the two. Genes and environment because that is all there is. Even if some randomness causes this or that to happen in your brain, or genes, that is still a cause. That is, the randomness caused you to wish this or that or even do this or that, it was still not an act of free will.

I am sorry for the confusion, that is probably my fault.

Ron P.

The Universe has infinite precision. Randomness, Noise, Chaos, Nonsense DNA, Dark Matter, are simply concepts and words for things we do not understand. The Razor's edge of any interaction of forces in the universe is infinitely precise. Choice simply, cannot exist.
The Three Fates lead those who will... the rest they drag.

In an infinite world, all things must exist.
however, in an infinite world, every single thing is infinitely unique,
never to be repeated, ever.

One's nature is what it is, and it changes if it is in it's nature to change, or not.

Humans want to limit and map reality. We cannot stomach things out of our "control" so we create belief systems to make the universe finite and manageable. these can be useful, but they are not reality.

the finger pointing at the moon, is not the moon.

the universe will not be controlled by the likes of us.

a teacher of mine once said, "the only purpose of a belief system is to show one how to destroy one's belief systems."

I'm not oblivious to the irony of these things. We have no choice
but to speak through a conceptual language.

I experience the world as a mysterious and fantastical place, and I find the limitations of belief systems that say "only this exists" and "this cannot exist", at their core, rather tragic, for the world
is so much more than we can possibly define.

we can study a honey bee for a thousand years and we'll never truly understand it; dissect it, sequence its dna, make artificial ones, but blind to what BINDS it together.

"To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery."
-Emily Dickinson

We could use a little more reverie on this planet. If it's in our destiny to do so, we'll survive and thrive, if not, something else, possibly better, will eventually replace us.

In the meantime, the Animal Spirits are angry with us. THAT we will have to deal with, because when they leave, we are finished.


John Conway recently coauthored a paper proving that if we have free will, then electrons have it too.

"ask whether your own mind is really as open to truth as you think it is."

If your mind is truly open you should at least consider the possibility that Evolution is one big farce:

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future’s endless stair:
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice in the present,
Joy or sorrow, what are they
While there’s always jam to-morrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we’re going,
We can never go astray.

To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it’s god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature’s simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
Goodness = what comes next.
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.

On then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present
Standards, though it well may be).

Evolutionary Hymn by C. S. Lewis

That's funny...C.S. Lewis always had a great sense of the satirical aspects of humanity, maybe we could go down that path more often, humans as joke?

I once saw an interview with the late, great historian of evolution Stephen Jay Gould (and he was one of the greats) in which a questioner referred to evolution as a tautological argument: "How do you determine what is fit? Because it survives." "How do you determine what survives? Because it is fit." The questioner went on to say that this made evolution essentially a useless argument because it was doing was defining it's own terms and telling us nothing about existence. Mr. Gould became livid, and called the questioners argument crap, saying anyone who knew anything would know better than to even consider such a line of reasoning. Interestingly however he never posed a counter argument! If you think preachers get angry when you question them, try questioning a scientist!

I remember my own reaction to the discussion well. I was a young student, and I was ASTOUNDED. Could evolution be questioned on logical grounds? The only folks who I had ever heard question it were those who questioned it on religious or moral grounds. I was devoted to my own educational gains and proud of the fact that I grasped evolution on logical grounds and accepted it at that time as the be all end all of arguments about the existance of life on earth. Gould's questioner was to me like someone telling a kid that may be no Santa Claus!

In the long run it did me good though. I began to study more, and re-examine my own belief system, as opposed to what I REALLY KNEW. What I found out is that I, and the rest of humanity for that matter, still knew very little.

Again, I came back to the words of a prior teacher, one who told me that anytime I read or hear something or see it in the media, remember to ask myself, "HOW DO THEY KNOW THAT?" This took me naturally to that great French essayist Montaigne "What can I really know?"

The answer is of course, we as humans still KNOW very little.


"How do you determine what is fit? Because it survives." "How do you determine what survives? Because it is fit." The questioner went on to say that this made evolution essentially a useless"

This isn't an attack on evolution, or natural selection, but on the work "fit". Anyone who's bred dogs knows that selection works quite well to make your pool of dogs evolve, but that "fitness" is another thing entirely.

So, just choose another word.

So then, if not "fit", what word would you choose...

it obviously isn't speed, or either the turtle or the cheetah would be gone.

It obvously isn't size, in the world that contains both the titmouse and the elephant.

It can't be just fighting prowess, we see variations inside species of every animal from the large cats to the birds that are both ferocious fighters and cowards.

It can't be honesty, since some animals survive entirely by theft and deception.

We can argue that it is because they "suit their "niche" but almost every niche on earth seems full of variety, from fast to slow, from large to small, from ruthless predator to meek.

What does evolution tell us, other than what the word means itself "change" about the larger picture of existence on Earth?

I do not argue that "evolution" or "change" is not going on, and has from the start of life on earth, in fact it was going on even before with the non-living geological structures of earth as well as in space, but it tells us essentially nothing. I always get a kick out of people who use it as a guide, when you see sentences here and there such as "Our knowledge of evolution indicates we will outgrow our resources and perish as a species." How does our knowledge of "evolution" indicate anything like that? Would you have bet on the tree sloth getting to this point in history? There's the ultimate conserver of energy, lay on your ass in a tree and you can't consume much! On the other hand take the native deer of North America, which tramples and wastes more simply rambling around than it ever eats! Now that's much more humanlike, and we can't get rid of them, they manage pretty well out there except when cars smack them into the ditch (is no one surprised that after seeing other deers get smacked dead again and again they would somehow learn that cars are dangerous? Kind of makes you wonder about Pavlov and that damm bell too...


We can argue that it is because they "suit their "niche" but almost every niche on earth seems full of variety, from fast to slow, from large to small, from ruthless predator to meek.

Gould's frustration was the simplistic use of "fit" as an absolute universal term. It isn't, its dependant on local forces there is no single ultimate fitness peak, there is a wavy landscape with many small humps that changes over time. Your description of a niche is not too bad of a description of what the fitness lanscape is like. It may help compare ecology and niche to economy and job. Cheaters can and do thrive, but above some nominal fraction the selective pressure becomes negative, if there more cheaters than the population can support the population reduces. Below that level there is a local fitness peak that can support some fraction of cheaters so they can't be gotten rid of. If you're a predator in a locality with no fast predators and the prey is fast, then there's positive selection pressure to become a fast predator. If a locality is already awash with fast predators, best to find another niche. Island populations are good examples, insects sometimed get large and fill the niche filled by small mammals in other places. What are weeds in most places can find a niche taken by trees in other places (like the dandelions on Easter Island).

I am surprised that that question was a problem for Gould. Its a no brainer. How do you determine what survives is NOT answered by "because it is fit" but by the fact of its survival. While you can't trace forward you can document it in the present time and trace backward. You can say that dodo birds were once fit in an environment with no humans because we know they survived. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodo They were numerous. The survival of themselves and their progenitors was documented by the fact that the current crop existed when humans arrived on their island. They suddenly became unfit with the arrival of new predators, humans along with dogs, cats and rats. Then they stopped surviving as documented not by their sudden unfitness but by their extinction.

All of us alive today are currently surviving which means that the genes of our ancestors are surviving in us. The proof is not because we deem ourselves fit. The proof that we are surviving is our current existence.

Nothing survives indefinitely, not individuals nor species. But what has survived to date is what is alive now. What gene have survived to date are those that are represented in what is alive now. Their "fitness" depends not on something absolute, but on whether the environment stays the same (same climate, same food, same predators) or changes. Their fitness is not the proof of their survival but rather their embodiment in a currently living being.

We don't know that the "fitness" question was a problem for Gould. All we have here is RC's vague recollection of some such event. There is no context of the situation. Given how much Gould has written on and researched evolution, one would have to surmise that something is missing in RC's recollection.

One of Gould's main themes about evolution, after all, was contingency. He is famous for saying that if the tape of life were replayed, there is no guarantee that any particular species - let alone homo sapiens - would arise.

The utility of evolution is not that it describes the FACT that species change over time, but that it provides MECHANISMs for the those changes. Mechanisms that can be tested, and could be falsified - by evidence - not because someone's religious text said so.

The word fit I think is one of the problems with people's conception of evolution. It may have specific meaning to scientists but it evokes sentiments of "better", "stronger", etc to the general public. In fact what we have with evolution is selective survival based on the environment a creature lives in. Who survives is the survivors - no value laden terms apply. In one environment one day the survivors are dinosaurs, the next day they are not survivors due to a very unexpected change in the environment. They did not change their embodied fitness overnight - the world around them changed when an asteroid hit earth.

Thanks jimjv for reminding us that evolution of species is about the mechanism of selection in self replicating creatures. Therefore to compare evolution of planets etc to the evolution of species is comparing the same word but not the same process and therefore any such comparision is worthless.

"But what has survived to date is what is alive now."

Oh good, just so it's not a tautological argument! :-)

"One of Gould's main themes about evolution, after all, was contingency. He is famous for saying that if the tape of life were replayed, there is no guarantee that any particular species - let alone homo sapiens - would arise."

And I think that was the questioners main interest. He was not refuting that evolution occured, and that the evidence for it was scientifically very strong if not irrefutable, but at the end of the day, was the theory nearly as useful in describing any type of real pattern as it had been made out to be?

We must remember the history of not only biological evolution, but recall the vast number of other sciences who hitched their wagon to it, from social and psychological sciences to political science and ecology. Does evolution provide a sturdy enough framework of useful predictive tools to be a science (and isn't one of the claims of good science be that it has a predictive function, i.e., Newtons physics could be used to protect the behavior of mass and gravity well enough not only to predict the behavior of a falling apple or a rocket to the moon, but also a planet in space, i.e., the predictive function is central to the science)

I think that Gould was a great mind and a great man. He could instantly see in the questioners argument that the predictive function of evolution was being undercut, and thus the science, because science implies predictability. It would be the next logical step, if one undercuts predictability, to ask if evolution was really a science in the true sense (!) We must recall that Gould himself was a noted historian of the scientific method, he was no novice. This is what explained his very vocal annoyance at the question. The questioner was asking once more "What do we really know?"


The argument was "How do you determine what is fit? Because it survives." "How do you determine what survives? Because it is fit."

Since we cannot peer into the future and see what conditions will prevail we can never determine what will survive in the future and therefore what would constitute future "fitness". (for example our telescopes cannot detect all the asteroids that might hit the earth in the future radically altering the environment in which creatures will attempt survival) All we can do is look at what is currently surviving. One shouldn't have to use a tautology to determine what is currently surviving but apparently the author of the argument needs a tautology for straight thinking on the subject.

The argument sounds cute but is just plain stupid and not designed to find anything but rather to try trip people up. A tautology is the correct response IMO to such an argument - some people you just have to hit over the head by saying the same thing more than one way. What survives - that which lives. What gene line survived, that which is represented in what is currently alive. What will survive in the future - we cannot know or predict with any great assurance that we will be right, and since we won't personally survive beyond 100 years or so we won't find out beyond our remaining years.

We DO know that Stephen Jay Gould was Jewish. The petulant rage you noticed is characteristic.

Aw come on Waxwing, I have seen petulant rage in my German ancestry Lutheran father-in-law. I have seen petulant rage in a boss I had who was non-Jewish but uber-feminist. I have seen petulant rage in children of all backgrounds. I have seen petulant rage in anti-semite posters. I have exhibited petulant rage myself. When stupid things are said it provokes petulant rage in many people. In the case of this example I could imagine it provoking petulant rage even if that petulant rage is not admirable.

If you are talking about honesty, there is no way of knowing what anyone "believes" re the existence of "God". Usually your life is easier is you profess to believe certain things-if someone's career or social standing is enhanced by professing a certain belief than for most persons that belief is going to be professed even if there is nothing behind it internally.

And speaking of PZ, He has posted a picture of a sign in front of an Arkansas church that says
"Reason is the Greatest Enemy that Faith Has" He then says that this is an irreconcilable difference...

We aren't going to kiss and make up, sorry

So while I accept that it may be possible for an individual to do good science while still truly believing that the rabbit's foot in her pocket brings her good luck, I would be seriously concerned that she is teetering on the edge of a very slippery slope of cognitive dissonance. What if the compartment is breached and her irrational beliefs should cloud her scientific judgment in some way?

I am an atheist; and became one because I cannot bring myself to believe in God. Not because I do not want to note, but because I cannot. For me, and me alone, the fact that this foundation element of religion is built on sand nullifies their entire argument. And I personally do not need life after death. I am happy to acknowledge that I was dead for billions of years before I was conceived and I shall be identically dead for billions of years after I die. But that is just me. Other people can believe what ever they want.

Nevertheless I respect all religions and their faithful. Intellectually I am inferior to a good many of the faithful and I certainly lay no claim to a better understanding of the world. I am happy to be humble in this respect. Religion is and always has been a key component of the human experience. Religions provide a social network, comfort and support for billions of people. I have no desire to tear that down. An excellent TV program on atheists aired on ABC Australia last night. Check it out here: http://www.abc.net.au/compass/

I do not like religion in one respect though. That is when someone tries to impose their version of the truth on other people. When this problem occurs it is called fundamentalism. Therefore I am also a very strong believer in the secular state and am concerned that a number of governments have moved away from this principle in recent years. It has allowed fundamentalists in to positions of power.

Summing up... religion is undeniably needed by most people and therefore not only can it be an enormous force for good, but atheism is not going to take over anytime soon. We do need to take care that fundamentalism is not allowed to develop; and when it does to stop it. Fundamentalist states need to be discouraged, but that can go too far as well. Invasion, especially when illegal, as with Afghanistan, is wrong and definitely is not helpful. The Afghan issue has probably done more to destabilize Pakistan than anything else. If Pakistan fails, Afghanistan will be looked back on fondly as the easy occupation.

Saildog: You are making a lot of assumptions here which may or may not be valid ones. You cannot believe in the absurd premise of life after death, even though hordes of religious believers easily accept it (in your view). Where is your evidence? Suicide bombers are notable exceptions, but you could just as easily assume that the % of church going Americans that actually believe in life after death approaches 0%. My guesstimate based on very little is that your belief in God or lack thereof is about the same as the average churchgoer, you just take the whole subject way too seriously.

Nice Saildog, "I am happy to acknowledge that I was dead for billions of years before I was conceived and I shall be identically dead for billions of years after I die."

We are basically at the same place, although I phrase it a bit differently. Before I was alive, I was fine, a part of the energy flow of this universe, while I am alive I am also a part of the energy flow of this universe, and when I am dead I expect I will be just as fine, and again a part and parcel of the energy flow of this universe. No fear. Who knows, a molecule in Ghandi's shit, might be a part of me, or a dust particle that was breathed in and out by Hitler.

Drops of water who don't quite comprehend they are parts of the ocean, or a raging stream. I don't assume that I can understand the wholeness, and actually I have no need to. I can experience it each day in the world around me. My old "stars at night and the wind in the trees". The hawk that hovers over me, or the deer that take food from my hand.

Two things about organized religion. First, and foremost I object to the fear mongering, build the fear, the Bush administration doesn't even hold a candle to organized religion for that. Remember
"fire and brimstone" or go way back to excommunication. How many centuries has that worked. Fear is a mainstay of organized religion. The more fear, the better to control. I don't think instilling fear in people is a good and honorable thing. The backdrop, the churches are all to inspire awe and set the stage. To manipulate. Talk to me about tithes or the inquisition.

And do you all really think, that helping the poor or disadvantaged, or the natural disaster victims is out of the goodness in their hearts, it's to reach people when they are hurting the most and add them to the flock.

That said, I was on a webcam that was in Bagdhad when we hit, it was not a coincidence that I was listening to the "call to prayer" as the first bombs dropped, and I cried for all of us. It was haunting, and a new low for the US.

Science brings me a ray of hope, quantum physics. Non-local coherence is a fact. Proven, over and over again. Science tells me we are all connected, even if we do not believe it, we are all a part of a greater energy field. Eastern religions are aware of this, in some fashion, but phrased and articulated in the words of the time. This stuff you can't read you have to breath it in. Sometimes we search for answers that are right in front of us.

Heavy spring T storms rolling through, I have a dog in my lap, and he's really to big for that, but the energy is a little too much for him.


Don in Maine

Re:"Fear is a mainstay of organized religion." so is sexism, for the most part. Why I left the Russian Orthodox church my family founded (nope, sorry, you can't be an altar boy because you are a girl.) and am now happily Unitarian Universalist for exploring.

Russian Orthodox not related in any way to Greek Orthodox?

Guess I could google it. But your info maybe more valid.


I too, tried to believe in God, but was unable.

Ron, there is no contradiction between the Bible being true and evolution being true. The only contradictions occur when straw man arguements are invoked by sections of the various camps (such as if you believe in evolution then you must believe in dragons and other such nonsense). Nobody can prove or disprove that God exists and therefore (based on the logic of Pascals wager and the Biblical meme of the hidden hand of God) if God exists (with presumably omnipotent power) then the world could be created containing all the genetic materials and pathways for that material to evolve from day 6 of creation till now = creation AND evolution.

Ron, there is no contradiction between the Bible being true and evolution being true.

Spoken like a true believer. Yes God created the world in six days six thousand years ago. God made man out of mud and woman from one of his ribs. Adam then later named all the animals. They were originally meant to live forever but a talking snake convinced Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. She convinced Adam to take a bite also. Then they suddenly were aware that they were naked. Some knowledge! Then they were made mortal and driven from the garden and forced to work for a living.

That is in no way a contridiction of evolution and the scientific point of view.

Yeah Right!

The most amazing thing, to me anyway, of the true believer is his/her ability to believe it two totally contridictory points points and to then even argue that the two points are not contridictory at all. I have seen it time and time again and it simply floors me every time. One would think I would be used to it by now but it simply continues to amaze me.

Ron P.

Ron, as I demonstrated how there need not be any contradiction between creation and evolution then please don't insist that there must be a contradiction. To argue along those lines is dogmatic and not scientific (as any debater of religion knows a believer in just about any religion can use both dogma and science in their arguement; the counter view has however lost as soon as they use dogma and not science or logic).

Ron, as I demonstrated how there need not be any contradiction between creation and evolution then please don't insist that there must be a contradiction.

Well no, you did not demonstrate that at all. To make a dogmatic statement, as you did about there being no contridiction between the Bible being true and evolution being true, is not a demonstration of fact but a dogmatic statement of belief. And you simply ignored my assertions as to what the Bible clearly states and their glaring contridiction with evolution and science in general. You simply state that contridictions do not exist while ignoring obvious contidictions. Let me again quote the same passage from Hoffer as I did above:

It is the true believer's ability to "shut his eyes and stop his ears" to the facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacle nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence.

So keep on denying Neal because that is what true believers do.

Ron P

Hi x, too bad these are not part of a Catechism - they could be worked into some kind of a chant for the little children that are being indoctrinated.

I try to avoid these arguments. I learned in high school that there's no point arguing with the religious - they believe what they believe, and that's it.

However, if you truly think there is no contradiction between the Christian creation myth and evolution, they you really do not understand either. Evolution says your (and mine) great-great-great grandmother times umpteen million was something less complex than a bacteria. Intermediate grandmothers include, but are not limited to, fish, reptiles, tiny mammals and apes. All development, including the entirety of the human form and consciousness itself, is the result of essentially random mutation, within a complex, constantly changing web of species in a constantly changing geography and climate. This process took over 3 billion years.

To paraphrase Christopher Walken from True Romance: "Your grandmother's grandmother f*cked a monkey".

I think Christians just have a hard time accepting this.

Sorry that you have a poor grasp of the actual meaning of evolution. All evolution means is that something (it need not even be alive) has evolved. Nothing more, nothing less. The example that you give is of one particular group of theories usually labelled Darwinian evolution and unfortunatly most people only think of Darwinian evolution. Remember that Darwinian evolution is called Darwinian THEORY? Based on scientific principles it can never be proven as fact.
Yes, of course evolution itself is a fact but just because you can observe the descent of living things (like observing breeding programmes) it can never be proven in the other direction due to the well known principles of evidence falsification that can be observed in just about everything that is observed by looking backwards.
Some examples from various fields:
False paper trails in accounting.
False provenance in the art world.
False ancestory records to obtain inheritances, titles or social position (I have seen examples of people with ancestory charts that link up to the genealogy in the Bible, unless you accept the Bible literally then those charts prove evidence falsification has occurred for thousands of years).
False pedigrees in livestock breeding.
False evolution records (Piltdown man and others) for multiple reasons.
False drug testing and medical records for financial gain
False history for societal reasons (rewrite history books).
Remember, if people can do all of the above then how hard would it be for God to lay a false ancestry trail to hide his role and keep mans belief in him based on faith rather than big neon signs on everything saying "made by God".
So ultimatly it comes down to faith on both sides; athiests faith that there is no God hiding his handiwork and believers faith that there is a God.
Btw Simkin, your narrative of the past 3 billion years is also just one of many theories that is out there, other scientists speculate that mans (and other creatures) origins are primarily cosmic in origin (from comets) whilst other theories have evolutionary pathways different to the path you described. With so many competing theories how do you know the ONE that you believe in is the right one?

Remember, if people can do all of the above then how hard would it be for God to lay a false ancestry trail to hide his role and keep mans belief in him based on faith rather than big neon signs on everything saying "made by God".

The issue with the trickster God hypothesis AKA Omphalism AKA Las Thursdayism is the the idea of an pleasant afterlife may also be a deception.

With so many competing theories how do you know the ONE that you believe in is the right one?

There are no competing theories for evolution as described above. The broad history of life is fairly well documented through the fossil record, and has been extensively verified through many disciplines.

There are competing theories for how the very first self-replicating life arose, and you'll note I made no mention of them. There are still differences of opinion as to how mutations arise and spread into a population, and indeed even under what conditions speciation events occur, but really none about how it all fits together.

Of course, if there is a God, and if He has a special sense of humor, it could all be masquerade. But that's not science, nor can it be referred to as a "theory". That's just hedging because you really really don't want to believe your great-grandmother 50000 generations back looked like a monkey. And that's fine. Just stop talking about it like it has anything to do with science.

What does "true" mean?

I would recommend Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment. He was a child psychologist who read lots of fairy tales (Grimm and many more) and said that these fairy tales are really stories which contain deep truths which help children understand the world. For example, "Hansel and Gretel" teaches that children must become independent and manage on their own, that they must confront their fears, not run away from them, that they can't live in an infantile state of eating and receiving, but must be active and thoughtful in their approach to life.

The Biblical story of Genesis perhaps has some deeper truth than the surface one apparent in a summary.

Isn't it true that by consuming the apple Adam and Eve are embodying the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Or perhaps I should say they're enacting it. They're unable to choose to leave it on the tree. Actually, the ancients (as well as us) may have had trouble conceiving of a "Paradise" where apples stay on trees forever. Yet in such a place, the inexorable laws of thermodynamics would have had no sway. And there would be no entropy.

Adam and Eve are helpless in the face of the laws of Thermodynamics, as are we. We must go out and work like Adam (energy is defined as the potential to do work). We must reproduce like Eve, or face extinction, as our own fate individually is to die. Because of entropy.

Time passes and music starts and ends. Seasons come and go. Animals are born and die. The people who wrote Genesis were surely impressed with the power of entropy and wished to underscore its FUNDAMNETAL role in human life. I think they suceeded by the way. That there should be some regrets about the power of entropy is only natural (if only it didn't exist, if only "Eve hadn't eaten the apple!").

You can't take it literally but if you examine Genesis it is all about our fundamental energetic relationship with the universe. Moreover, people unconsciously recognize this. In fact, if you start in on explaining the Laws of Thermodynamics to most people you will get absolutely nowhere. I know many people with PhDs who don't understand laws of Therm. and have no idea what the definition of energy is.

But Genesis makes the process of entropy and thus the second law of T. easy to understand, at least on a visceral level, although not on an intellectual one. It is a powerful myth because it is fundamentally....TRUE.

I agree with you.

Each of the ancient people living at that time had myths describing their view of how the universe came into existence. The myths tell some worthwhile things about how they viewed the world and god, and even their understanding of physics.

One can't expect the myths to explain everything we know with today's science.


At least some people on this forum that talk some sense.

Personally, I think the "religious fanatics" who believe the Bible is the word of god and only to be interpreted literally are full of sh*t and completely mis the point.

The "scientific fanatics" on the other hand who believe the bible is "a piece of crap", because it contains literal contradictions are just as bad, and are also completely missing the point.

The enlightened point of view is that which seeks a middle ground and understands that science and religion are just two different ways of knowing.

Science and religion are both tools we use to understand and explain the world around us and the mystery of our existence. Like a good carpenter you should pick the right tool for the job.

If you attach to one point of view only, you are like a carpenter who's trying to use a hammer for every job (tough if you need to cut a board). Science has its merits. But attaching to scientific thought as the only ultimate way of knowing "the truth" is a very limited way of perceiving the world.

Though I don't believe in the Christian idea of an all powerful omnipotent God. I'm with Gail and Pi on this one. Science and religion both offer explanations for the world around us. From a scientific point of view many religious dogmas may seem rather childish (like a santa clause tale?). But I don't believe that scientific accuracy is the point of these tales... so what? Like the fairy tail (as Pi points out), there is a deeper message/value. The message of *all* religions, in my opinion, is in some way or another about how to live "good" and fulfilling life.

This is a department in which science really doesn't have very much to offer at all. In fact, I dare say that the world is in deep sh*t right now, because science has progressed too rapidly, while our way of understanding how to live "good fulfilling lives" is infantile. Thus we have managed to dig ourselves into a big mess and will probably soon destroy the planet's eco system completely.

So in summary:

If you want to understand how the physical universe works, turn to science for the answer (at least in as far as science has been able to penetrate this question).

If you want to know how to live good and fulfilling life, turn to religion (pick one that suits your own personal temperament... tip: if you are a scientist, you might like Buddhism).

If you want to pick a religion... stay away from

1) fundamental religious nut cases who believe their version of "the truth" is the only right one, and their equivalent of the bible is to be read as literally true, rather than a mythological tale with some deeper lessons.

2) also stay away from scientific fundamentalists who think the only thing worth knowing/believing is discoverable by the scientific method.

Actually, come to think of it number 2 is really just a special case of number 1, isn't it.

But of course a "scientific fundamentalist" will disagree. To him/her the scientific method is "the only true way" of knowing, in that sense scientific fanatics aren't really any different from other fanatics: all fanatics think that they are right and everyone else is wrong.

PS: Not all scientists are fanatics, just like not all religious people are fanatics.

That is a pretty good summary. The Oil Drum probably leans in the direction of the "scientific fundamentalists".

Thank you Gail, Picoday and Pi for bringing some much needed nuance and open-mindedness to this discussion--the fairly frequent and rabid anti-faith attitude that dominates the TOD community is a bit much at times, and hardly productive. It seems fundamentalists on both ends of the debate suffer from the same flaw: they both read the Bible literally, hence the cognitive dissonance and apparent contradictions.

I would like to submit an idea to the TOD community, and since we're talking religion here, sermonize a little ;) : instead of antagonizing 'religious' people with condescension and contempt TODers should view them as an ASSET to TRANSITION and spread their 'gospel' to them. Though I understand certain elements would refuse the PO 'gospel' (well it's good news to me anyway), religious communities are often the only communitarian experience people have and these communities exist WITHIN MUCH LARGER NETWORKS. There is potential for some serious leveraging effect here and some positive change. Imagine some mainline church (or in my wildest dreams, some well-known evangelical pastor) were to understand and embrace PO and mobilize their local communities and their resources to prepare for PO, educate people, become a resource to everyone around them, etc. Beats preaching to the choir!
I think tapping into such pre-existing and well coordinated networks is essential to effect change.
Let's package PO content without the anti-faith rhetoric, let's stop trying to score points against religious people/each other, let's stop trying to always be right and have the last word and let's try to be as constructive as possible. Otherwise all we'll do is put these folks on the defensive, and they'll be unreceptive. My 2 cents.

I agree. It may not work, but a large share of our established networks are churches.

Our myths have a short time- frame or none at all. Icarus flew too close to the Sun - one sunny afternoon. Jesus died for our sins ... then returned a few days later, Odysseus was at sea for seven years, give or take ... the time frames do not allow for millenial or trans- human- lifetime processes to unwind.

This is a real problem ... our problems are defined as short term and solutions are instant. Jericho blows and the walls tumble. Leda becomes a swan. It is judgement day, not a judgement century or even a judgement ten- thousand years.

Myths without drama and a good narrative are not theatrical enough to be useful as myths. 'Lord of the Rings' takes place over thirteen months. to 'destroy evil forever'. Nice story, but completely unrealistic. So is Genesis. Seven days to start the universe? That's moving right along. What's the rush? Maybe that's why everything is so screwed up.

The myth gap makes dealing with longer- term erosive issues very difficult there are no myths for addressing - much less solving - five hundred year problems like climate change. Our national narrative of constant economic growth is more of a moving stage, a subtext. The supporting myths are superimposed un top of it; episodes such as Thomas Edison inventing the light bulb, Ford developing the Model T, J. P. Morgan averting the 'Knickerbocker Trust Panic' in his library, NASA going to the Moon. Our cultural narrative doesn't have room for myths that don't follow the program; Bell invented the telephone, but so did a number of other people at the same time. Who cares about them?

In a commercial setting, religion appears to allow everything, it's like Star Wars' where the action takes place long ago and far away where it cannot be cross- examined. Jesus is like Madden; he healed the sick ... and 'Boom!' ... off to something else. Useful for entertaining the kids, but not so useful to deal with something like credit expansion. Particularly over fifty years.

I don't know if physicists are good at making myths but this group has a long enough timeline horizon. Nuclear scientists and engineers routinely think in terms of thousand and ten- thousand year periods. What is the half- life of U 233? This kind of longer- term thinking transported to mythmaking would be useful in he society at large.

Far more useful that the one where the cow jumped over the Moon, presumeably in an instant.

I don't know about other faiths, but even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals not a short time-frame, but a freakin' long one. Whether it is the promises made to Abraham, or the Jesus event as a culmination and accomplishment of century-old prophecies, the biblical narrative evolves and plays out over very long stretches of time. Intertextuality throughout the Bible reveals that no book can or should be read in isolation from another--they are all part of a 'metanarrative' spanning millenia.

But many myths come close!

Why does Eve want to eat the apple? Because she is curious and intelligent. She wants to see what will happen. She's bored if she can't. Our intelligence is a gift from evolution. I think Genesis hints at our fundamental curious and intelligent nature and in so doing hints at the process of evolution. The process of evolution is the progress of energy-capturing adaptations.......

Ron P., you say,
"The most amazing thing, to me anyway, of the true believer is his/her ability to believe it two totally contridictory points points and to then even argue that the two points are not contridictory at all. I have seen it time and time again and it simply floors me every time. One would think I would be used to it by now but it simply continues to amaze me"

Your right, you should be used to it, it is the history of of human thought on Earth, from the Pre-Socratic Greeks, through the Enlightenment, right up to Stephen Hawking.

The master at "duelism" was Isaac Newton:

Yes that great creator of the universe of "mechanics" was constantly fascinated by the realm of religion, Masonic ideas and even occutism! He actually wrote more on those subjects during his life than he did on science!

Does this tell us anything? Is it possible that the full functioning human mind must retain it's ability to dwell in the realm of mystery, magic, and faith as well in the land of "mechanics" to be able to deliver results that are extraordinary, "outside the box" thinking?

What we now have is a nation of functionaries, technocrats and bureaucrats. We have trained our young out of the ability to dream, to believe in things not yet built, not yet seen. They get that from Hollywood and the comic books now. Why do you think our young are addicted to the graphic novels and to the fantistic stories of wizards, vampires, and anime? This has been the catastrophe of our age, that we have taught our young that only science can provide you with answer, but our scientists are equally empty of imagination and creativity, creating an endless stream of reports refuting other reports. Perhaps we could try BUILDING instead of REFUTING.

Give me a Newton with his superstition and flamboyant imagination, almost certainly as gay as they come, but a scientific mind so creative and broad it opened a new age! Cheers to dualism! IMAGINE a little, imagine things you have not yet seen! It's fun! Just once believe in something!


I was raised a fundy too, left the church and somewhat came back, because I loved reinterpreting the Bible from a "Science" perspective. The ignorant notion that the English King James Version if laughable, but most realize even in fundy churches that the original text was not written in English, so wide latitude may be achieved in the interpretation especially in Genesis. Genesis viewed through the lens of science and genetics can tell a much different story. I will not write volumes but give the highlights.

Gen 2:22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

Rib is derived from the Hebrew word for curve - If I was a Scientist I would uncurl man's curve (DNA) XY and make woman- XX. I love this explanation as it is simple but still brings in genetics too the debate and allows fundies to accept science.

Gen 6:2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they [were] fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.

Gen 6:4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare [children] to them, the same [became] mighty men which [were] of old, men of renown.

This is the beginning of the Noah story which is another one that rips the fundies up because of two things. God has more sons than Jesus as Jesus was god's only Begotten Son and it implies Two Genetic Lines on The Earth. One of pure man and one of the Mixed Races. I can weave this one back to Adam and Eve and imply that Cain is the Offspring of the Devil.....

Gen 4:2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
Gen 4:3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
Gen 4:4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
Gen 4:5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
Gen 4:6 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
Gen 4:7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee [shall be] his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
Gen 4:8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

This passage describes how man should shun Agriculture and merely tend the garden (See Link on the A Farm for the Future Jared Diamond has confirmed this with his contention that Agriculture is the worst invention in the world and Mr. Quinn's Ishmael tells the same story.

I could go on a parse all kinds of verses pull the Hebrew and tell a compelling story that incorporates the latest science into the Bible and have it say that the Book can coexist with Science, which is a step forward for all, IMHO.

My position is that just about everyone has gotten Genesis I wrong. It amazes me that so few see the obvious: IT COULDN'T POSSIBLY HAVE BEEN AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT. So why interpret it as such? It was written sometime after the fact. What was it? An account of a vision or dream; what else could it have been? Look at similar passages recounting other visions or dreams in Daniel or Revelation; the literary style is actually quite similar. What they all have in common is a rather loose approach to time, often compressing large passages of time into small units, often overlapping and not always in chronological order; also lots of symbolism and metaphor. Only an idiot would interpret any of these passages literally, they obviously were not intended to be read that way. They are not historical narratives. They are meant to reassure, to inspire, to expand our consciousness and our imaginations.

Given that, if one is open-minded enough to entertain a basic premise that something (the universe) did not come from nothing (was not self-creating) but was initiated by someone or something that exists "outside" of our universe of space-time, matter and energy, and if one grants a generous dose of artistic license, then as a work of literature, Genesis I can work pretty well as a topical summation of the evolution of the universe and earth, with each "day" being one topical scene in the drama. Those who think that Genesis I teaches a literal 7-day creation totally miss the main point: the story is structured in 7 acts to correspond to the command to measure our time in 7-day increments, with one rest and worship day out of every seven, as a way of acknowledge that time, as well as space, matter, and energy, is part of the created universe (hello, Einstein!), and thus is subordinated to and under the mastery of the Creator (who is not bound by time but exists "outside" of it, and is therefore "eternal").

If one reads it that way, then there is absolutely nothing in Genesis I in conflict with the scientific view that the age of the earth is ~4.5B yrs +/-, nor really even with current scientific understanding of the evolution of life.

I think another basic problem is that both believers and non-believers assume that a transcendent Creator must think like us and go about things the way we would. Thus, the assumption is that this Creator must have "designed" everything just as we would; we then debate whether or not there is any evidence that species or anything else was in fact designed. It is a false assumption. IMHO, any transcendent Creator worth even considering for belief must necessarilly be so utterly, incomprehensively different from ourselves that no assumptions about what such a Creator would do, based upon our character and experience, must be valid. A Creator which exists outside of our space-time continuum, and exists in some form not made of matter and energy, must be totally "other", and must exist outside of any concepts that our earth-shaped minds can form and thus imagine.

Evolution has unfolded in a manner different than we might have expected a Creator to do it; that only proves that the Creator, if one exists, transcends our expectations and imaginations. This, I believe, is a way that one could reconcile Genesis I, at least, with secular science.

Not only have the stories "been passed down through the ages," but they have EVOLVED. The bible evolved through a succession of scribes.

Now, that's one "belief" I can dig--Universal Darwinism.

Hah. Here in Texas, they're pondering a requirement that schools teach the "debate" over Darwinism. Maybe we should legislate "debate" in the Sunday Schools -- King James evolved from Gutenberg, which was translated from Latin, which was translated from Greek and so forth. Then we have the Torah and Koran branches of evolution, a whole taxonomic system of bibles.

By "belief" I mean ...


Good point.
The word "belief" is itself a mind twister and raises all kinds of framing issues depending on what it is coupled with.

If you say, "belief in science", that evokes one set of cognitions.

On the other hand, if you say, "belief in God", that evokes a whole other set of cognitions.

Generally, I prefer to use a modern version of Plato's Allegory of the Cave. The human mind is the inside of the cave. It has numerous cognitive "models" running (like parallel computer programs) to represent its understanding(s) of the outside world.

From an evolutionary point of view, it is advantageous to allow for dissonance (contradiction) between running models. It is good to contemplate several possibilities and choose among competing models as circumstances change.

So a person can easily have one model running in his head that supports "belief in God" and at the same time another model that supports "belief in science". In fact, I've seen a number of news stories about "scientists" who express a devote "belief in God". For my "model" of how the human mind operates, this is not at all a contradiction. It is perfectly OK to have many models running in one's head even though they contradict each other.

Other links related to Platos' Allegory here, here, and here

Everyone "knows" eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. Yet by reading them "horizontally"--that is, reading them scene-by-scene, from gospel to gospel--one discovers that "Mark" is the original document, written by an unknown scribe, and the gospels of Matthew and Luke, also anonymous, are revised, expanded and corrected version of Mark's text. Today, we'd call this "plagiarism," but in the ancient world this is the way things were done.

In the interests of not leaving something half correct stand (and this is waaay off topic, I realise):

  • A lot of Matthew and Luke were derived from Mark, because as Mike (the original poster) pointed out, what we'd call plagiarism was research back then.
  • If you take out the bits which are common to Matthew and Mark or are common to Luke and Mark, you still end up with some common bits. This document is known in academia as "Q" and as far as we can tell is completely lost to history.
  • The original ending for Mark has been lost, too. The version we have now was copied from Matthew.
  • There are passages which talk about the same event but have differences in details (e.g. what time of day Jesus died, or Jesus' ancestry) which suggests that the different gospel writers were getting accounts of what happened from different sources.
  • Luke talked to eye-witnesses: at the end of chapter 2 he subtly name-drops that he had been talking to Mary (Jesus' mother).
  • Matthew threaded some passages from some other document (which might be "Q" or it might be something else) with connecting sentences, some of which don't quite make sense.
  • There might have been another document preceeding Mark which was written in Aramaic because there are passages in Mark which are phrased strangely for someone writing in Greek, but which make sense if they were written by someone translating Aramaic to Greek. (Mental blank at the moment, I can't think of any examples.) But probably not all, because there are passages which are very unlikely to have come from a translation. So Mark was perhaps working from an Aramaic source document, perhaps something else, and probably his own memories. None of these survive either.

So, it's not quite correct to say "Mark was the original author and everything else was copied."

Not only have the stories "been passed down through the ages," but they have EVOLVED. The bible evolved through a succession of scribes.

This is certainly true of the Old Testament, where there was a long period between the original events and anyone writing them down, and co-opting other culture's mythologies and re-interpreting them in your own terms was fairly common practice.

This is less true of the New Testament which was all written in the lifetime of Jesus' contemporaries and written by people who had assimilated Graeco-Roman ideas of history and narrative.

For the New Testament, it's probably better to say that a small amount of "noise" has crept in over time as different copyists made mistakes, made corrections, make wrong corrections, and shifted words around to make a passage clearer for the pressing arguments of the day. They're pretty insignificant; probably the most interesting is Mark 1:41 "Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand" versus what we now think must have been the original text: "Filled with anger, Jesus reached out his hand."

Here ends the nitpicking. Now, back to the discussion...

The original ending for Mark has been lost, too. The version we have now was copied from Matthew.

Indeed, everything after Mark 16:8 is forged, probably cribbed off Matthew. But Mark's original ending is not "lost." It originally ended at 16:8, with the women fleeing the empty tomb. It fits the theme of the messianic secret in Mark, and it implies an imminent Coming: as the tomb is empty, Jesus has risen--and that means the end is near. The delay of the coming was revised into subsequent gospels.

Luke talked to eye-witnesses: at the end of chapter 2 he subtly name-drops that he had been talking to Mary (Jesus' mother).

Well, no. Luke did not talk to "Mary." The gospel wasn't even written by anyone named "Luke." The author is unknown. He claims to have worked with preexisting sources but never names any. By the time Luke was written--around the year 80--Mary would have been, what, about 110 years old?

This is less true of the New Testament which was all written in the lifetime of Jesus' contemporaries and written by people who had assimilated Graeco-Roman ideas of history and narrative.

The earliest gospel, Mark, was written at least 40 years after the crucifixion. The others come decades later. They were not written "in the lifetime of Jesus' contemporaries," unless they lived into their eighties and nineties.

For the New Testament, it's probably better to say that a small amount of "noise" has crept in over time as different copyists made mistakes, made corrections, make wrong corrections, and shifted words around to make a passage clearer for the pressing arguments of the day. They're pretty insignificant

There are very significant differences between the gospels. John reads as a completely different story, although it shares some events with the other three. It's also widely acknowledged that much of the story is made up, and that interpolations have been added by later scribes.

And the synoptic three differ in hundreds of ways. Bart Ehrmann writes extensively about this in "Misquoting Jesus," and "Jesus Interrupted."

I would agree. I have listened to Bart Ehrmann tapes. While you are at it, Paul tells a fairly different message than Matthew, Mark, and Luke--probably a little closer to John.

If you are looking for things to criticize, the birth of Jesus stories don't match up at all between Matthew and Luke. Most people believe they were added later.

One does not have to believe that the Bible is "true" in any sense of the word to find worthwhile things in it. I personally prefer the synoptic view of the Jesus to John's view.

To me, the most precious part of the NT are the core "Q" sayings:

Seeing the crowds, he said to his disciples, "How fortunate are the poor; they have God's kingdom. How fortunate the hungry; they will be fed. How fortunate are those who are crying; they will laugh."

"I am telling you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer your other cheek as well. If anyone grabs your coat, let him have your shirt as well. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone takes away your belongings, do not ask to have them back. As you want people to treat you, do the same to them."

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even tax collectors love those who love them, do they not? And if you embrace only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Doesn't everybody do that? If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even wrongdoers lend to their kind because they expect to be repaid. Instead, love your enemies, do good and lend without expecting anything in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of God. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good; he sends rain on the just and on the unjust."

"Be merciful even as your Father is merciful. Don't judge and you won't be judged. For the standard you use [for judging] will be the standard used against you."


These are judged as being among the most "authentic," but of course we'll never know.

They're profound all the same.

Whether or not they are authentic, they are worthwhile things to listen to and understand for our lives.

One doesn't have to believe most of the story line of the Bible to get useful sayings from the Bible to think about.

I have been teaching Sunday School to three and four year olds. The material has virtually zero Bible stories. It is much more about what the church is (a place where we have friends, a place where volunteers help those in need, a place where we sing and learn), and how we are supposed to treat others--family, friends, etc.

When there is a Bible reference, it is likely to be something from Psalms - "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord", or something similar.

Gail, let me suggest that there is an important function of religion that you should include: that of prayer.

From a traditional point of view, prayer is essential, and little explanation is needed, I think.

From a secular point of view, it can be seen that way as well, via a meditation/personal therapy function. Repetitive prayer provides meditation; oral prayer provides "talk therapy"; silent prayer allows one to listen to one's unconscious, core self. Group prayer amplifies the effectiveness of all forms.

These functions are very important, and tend to get lost as churches try to evolve in the way you're describing.

Well, no. Luke did not talk to "Mary." The gospel wasn't even written by anyone named "Luke." The author is unknown. He claims to have worked with preexisting sources but never names any. By the time Luke was written--around the year 80--Mary would have been, what, about 110 years old?

Of course he didn't talk to Mary as he was writing, LOL! (Yes, unless she was very long-lived). What the author name drops is that he had previously spoken to Mary.

And the synoptic three differ in hundreds of ways. Bart Ehrmann writes extensively about this in "Misquoting Jesus," and "Jesus Interrupted."

Yes, I've read one of his books (can't remember which one, because I was just browsing it in a book shop). Keeping in mind that when I do read the New Testament I read it in Koine Greek, I'm kind of acutely aware of the differences in the texts. I recently helped out a friend of mine by writing a program to match up the textual differences between the texts we use and the ones Athanasius quoted from (to figure out which family of copies Athanasius was reading). That was fun. Anyway, I think I might be able to say with some authority that, yes, having researched the matter fairly carefully, they differ but not in very important ways. ;-)

They were not written "in the lifetime of Jesus' contemporaries," unless they lived into their eighties and nineties.

John almost certainly did live about that long. Many of the early believers wrote about this because they were quite surprised when the second coming didn't happen before John died. ;-)

But Mark's original ending is not "lost." It originally ended at 16:8, with the women fleeing the empty tomb.

Shrug. Maybe, maybe not. Nobody knows. If you assume the resurrection didn't happen, then you would expect Mark to finish at 16:8; if you assume the resurrection did happen, then you would expect Mark to have continued.

Which really is the nub of it; if the resurrection didn't happen, then it doesn't really matter much about how the gospels ended up the way they are because there's no real validity to it all. On the other hand, if it did, then that's kind of, umm, important.

But either way, it's probably only of tangential relevance to our current problems of peak oil and so on.

Having followed this portion of the thread, and others, about the Bible, I would suggest you take some time to read John Shelby Spong. He believes (and I agree) we need to break some paradigms regarding religious beliefs, especially since the Bible is used as a source by many for traditions that the Bible never mentions and were developed elsewhere. His most recent book, Jesus for the Non-Religious, incorporates his chief ideas, many discussed in previous books, and the bibiliography is extensive.

Regarding the New Testatment Spong would take issue with a lot of what you wrote.

At the end of the day believers are ultimately going to be challenged on their must fundamental assumptions. In the case of religion it is the basis for belief in God, as currently expressed. Spong mentions a theologian who asserts that any God that can be killed should be killed. Spong himself does not believe that any God that needs defending is really God. Those are ideas that devout religious believers are not going to readily accept, assuming they even consider them.

Here at the Drum the challenge will be to our beliefs in what we will face once fossil fuels go into permanent decline. I think it is generally accepted that fossil fuel decline is a given, even if the timing is uncertain. At issue is what the outcome will be for humanity. Will our future be darkness and chaos or the dawn of a new era of human development? I have seen both beliefs expressed here, and with vigor.

Eyewitnesses, eh?

This link has an interesting demonstration and explanation as to how the human brain can be visually deluded.

In can only imagine that cognitive delusion in the form of belief systems such as religion must also have such scientific explanations. I can only think of such systems as a sort of mental Ames room distortion in which an otherwise perfectly rational individual distorts his perception to match his indoctrinated assumptions despite the fact that they run contrary to evidence and reality.

"It's funny how we think we know something to be the case, without having looked at the evidence. I used to know that... "organically-grown" food is "safer, and more nutritious" than foods grown conventionally... I've seen two generations of my family having grown up eating ONLY conventionally grown food with no adverse effects--indeed, my nieces and nephews, fed only "unsafe, nutrition-lacking" factory-farm food, are some of the best athletes you'd ever want to meet."

You thought you HAD to eat organic food to be a good athlete and lead a reasonably healthy life? I thought it just helped!

Your conclusion doesn't match your facts. But since you now "know" that organic food is not safer or more nutricious than agri-business food, I'll leave you with this:

A Zen student once quoted an old Buddhist poem whilst out walking with his teacher, "The voices of torrents are from one great tongue. The lions of the hills are the pure body of Buddha. Isn't that right?"

The Zen master replied, "It is... but it's a pity to say so."

Gail, I really don’t know where to start. I think you get a lot of things right in your short essay but a other things wrong. For instance such things as; He who dies with the most toys wins in no way resembles a religion. In fact people who behave as if that is their goal really do not have that as a goal at all, they are, for the most part, simply selfish and greedy. Other things like fishing are often called religions because some people are so devoted to it but fishing, golf, and other such activities lack even the basic requirements of a religion such as a god and belief system based on faith.

Opinions, like Beautiful bodies are everything are not religions even though some believe with the fervor of a religion. Believing with religious fervor does not constitute a religion because it has no god, no devil and does not require worship. The confusion arises because of the words we use to describe such a person: He worships her body. But in this case most are simply confusing lust with worship.

Most of the other things you mentioned sometimes resemble a religion but upon closer examination lack the defining characteristics of a religion. In fact I think religion is not the word you are looking for. A religion requires implies worship of a god as well as a belief system supported by faith rather than empirical evidence. What you are trying to describe could best be described as a ”Mass Movement.”

A mass movement is something believed in with the devotion of a religion usually with an earthly god, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, etc. And as Eric Hoffer wrote: Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without belief in a devil. That devil can take many forms, Capitalism, Communism, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party or just the world as it is.

The best book ever written describing the nature of Mass Movements was Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.

I cannot regard The Oil Drum and our message as a religion in any in any sense of the word. We do not have a god or a devil and most important of all we do not require worship of any kind. Also our message and our beliefs are based on evidence rather than faith.

Ron Patterson

It is the true believer's ability to "shut his eyes and stop his ears" to the facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacle nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence.

Eric Hoffer:
The True Believer.

Darwinian -

Well put!

I agree with you 110% on your distinctions between a genuine religion, a set of attitudes or notions, and a mass movement. While each can be held or pursued with total commitment and fanatical fervor, the distinctions are indeed quite important. The full-blown true believer of almost anything can be a very scary and dangerous person. Most of the truly horrible events in history have been committed by people with a 'cause' who felt absolutely certain that right was on their side.

I was just about to say something about Eric Hoffer's 'The True Believer', but you beat me to it. Hoffer's little book is by far the most lucid treatment on the subject that I have come across. I too highly recommend it.

I would agree almost totally with what you just wrote. It may be a matter of semantics but the only thing that you wrote that is wrong is the term "believer" as some of the most fanatical people that I have met are hard core, militant athiests; the ultimate non believers. Having met some hard core zealots who passionatly believe (ironic!) that all believers in any religion should be oppressed (such as expelling kids from school who wear Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh etc religious symbols as has happened in French schools). Even the ACLU has on occasion had to protect people against such oppression in the US.

neal -

Well, one might argue that militant atheists ARE 'true believers', in that their belief is in the absolute certainty of no god, supreme being, or whatever you want to call it. It is their absolutely certainty that makes some true believers so noxious.

On the other hand, in my view an agnostic would definitely not qualify as a true believer, simply because that person has readily admitted doubts about the whole thing.

I cannot regard The Oil Drum and our message as a religion in any in any sense of the word. We do not have a god or a devil and most important of all we do not require worship of any kind. Also our message and our beliefs are based on evidence rather than faith.


It brings up one of my pet peeves with peak oil "skeptics": the idea that peak oil is an "apocalyptic" cult.

People who make such statements seem not to know much about the "apocalypse" (which, by the way, has come to be misused: the original Greek means "unveiling" or "revelation": hence, The Revelation [Apocalypse] of John.)

I can refute the peak oil/apocalypse connection point-by-point:

1. There is no peak oil god. Apocalyptic beliefs have retribution coming from On High. Peak oil has only geology coupled with evolutionary psychology. Hubbert is hardly viewed as a god.

2. There is no messiah. The belief in a coming "messiach," Hebrew for "anointed" ("christos" in Greek) is central to Apocalypticism. In peak oil, there is no messiah. No biofuel, no fusion, no solar array, no conservation ethic can allow us to escape the inevitability of depletion.

3. The world is not going to end. After peak oil, the world will continue. We don't know how, but the world isn't about to end--though we may wish it had, depending on how bad things get.

4. The "elect" will not be saved. Apocalyptic beliefs are promulgated by those who believe they are among the saved. Their fantasies include the destruction of the sons of darkness by the followers of the messiah, the sons of light. But in peak oil, everyone will be affected, and the effects will be unevenly distributed, and they will have nothing to do with personal virtue, but rather with the vicissitudes of the "market."

5. There are no prophets. Oh, we used that word all the time, but Hubbert and his "acolytes" work from data, not visions.

No rapture here, folks.

So what's left that parallels peak oil with the Apocalypse? Nothing.

mikeB -
I don't necessarily disagree with you, but you may find it useful to read Toby Hemenway's Origins of Peak Oil Doomerism to flesh out your conception of apocalypticism. He runs through a good survey of the apocalyptic genre in this essay, and highlights similarities between that genre and *some* PO-Doomer's presentations of our Dear Little Situation.

Gail -
Great essay. I think Daniel Quinn's run-thru of the concept of "myths" sheds light on the issues you're raising. the human mind runs on stories; everyone has a myth (super-story; meta-story) (or a parallel set of mythologies - to ride on the coattails of the person who brought up the Plato's Cave analogy, and minds running parallel algorithms - sorry, can't see your name right now whilst I'm posting - but this was insightful). Scientists have mythologies which account for the origin and destiny of "facts," investment bankers have mythologies that orient their activities within the cosmos (kind of a sick cosmos some of them are living in), and, of course, the religious folk like you and I have our sets of mythologies. Everybody's in the same boat; not everyone has the same level of awareness of the extent to which mythology is the archetype for our cognition.
The key, then, is now that we know this, what kind of mythologies should we be creating? I hope we're all down for creating some awesome ones. I'm done with boring ones like "science is the sole arbiter of certain knowledge about the world" ... talk about a centuries-old snooze-fest ...

love (in a hippie, David Suzuki sort of way),

For me this is the second most interesting subject concerning peak oil the first being possible solutions and outcomes.It is very clear peak oil rhymes with end times,apocalyptic beliefs and sacrificial rituals based on feast/famine mythology or boom/bust cycles.It feels like we have a deep instinct for this tendency and it may drive us to replay this dance of selfdestruction.It indicates mans' struggle with success,guilt,pleasure and happiness.Illusions of sustainable prosperity for all are not possible except in the afterlife our primative mind tells us.Democracy,capitalism and all other institutions of social ordering fail to control the beast.Dieoff has become the new rapture each reduces the population who will be "Left Behind".Absolutely fascinating and frustrating.

If Gobekli Tepe really was the allegorical Garden of Eden, then we probably have a very strong cultural memory of the self-destructive nature of over-population/resource limits - feast to famine - because the foundations of our religious beliefs were built around it. I'm sure other boom/bust cycles over the ages would have reinforced this cultural memory.


So maybe PO doomerism is attractive to many because of our cultural memory of previous boom/bust cycles. That may be a good survival trait.

How is Gobekli Tepe related to boom/bust cycles?

It was probably the biggest example of boom/bust after the end of the last glacial period (I'm talking about populations moving to a new area, growing, and then having a hard landing because of resource constraints) – and that may well have burned the recognition of such constraints into cultural memory, passed down through religious allegory (the latter part of that statement is highly arguable of course, but is based on a limited understanding of the religious activity that grew up and changed around that site). What is fairly clear is that an abundance of wildlife and natural resources lead hunter-gathers to settle in ever growing numbers, until they reached a point where their needs outstripped those resources and they then had to rely on early agricultural methods to survive. Early agricultural life would have been extremely hard compared to a hunter-gather's existence in a resource rich area.

I can see this as the source of the Out-of-Eden story, but not as a source of apocalyptic myth.

This is all pretty speculative (and the research supporting the hypothesis that agricultural life was harder is pretty thin, IIRC), but our guess here is that population grew with the advent of agriculture. That's not boom/bust at all, and doesn't support the idea of an apocalypse narrative.

I'm going to have to throw my hat in with Gail on this one. I just don't discern any fundamental difference between traditional religions and secular religions, and I don't believe Hoffer did either:

The mass movements discussed in The True Believer include religious mass movements as well as political, including extensive discussions of Islam and Christianity. They also include seemingly benign mass movements which are neither political nor religious. A core principle in the book is Hoffer's insight that mass movements are interchangeable; he notes fanatical Nazis later becoming fanatical Communists, fanatical Communists later becoming fanatical anti-Communists, and Saul, persecutor of Christians, becoming Paul, a fanatical Christian.


Religion is certainly corrutible. But so is science, as the National Socialists more than amply demonstrated.

One can make an argument about comparing and contrasting 'mass movements', but juxtaposing the two words 'secular' and 'religion' and then gluing them together into the term 'secular religion' creates an oxymoron. It is like trying to create new words such as GoStop and OffOn. No one contests that secular 'movements' can be counterproductive or 'bad' or that secular people can make bad choices or do bad things. Very few people would try to make the case that all religions accomplish only negative things either. One does not have to speciously attempt to conflate religion with non-religious movements, clubs, societies, group, people to make that point.

I don't believe the conflation of secular and religious movements is specious at all.

Nominally religion deals with "other-worldly" phenomena and secularism deals with "this-worldly" phenomena. We see this dichotomy expressed in the 2nd-century writings of the Epistle of Clement: "This age and the future are two enemies...we cannot therefore be friends of the two but must bid farewell to the one and hold companionship with the other." Modern-day mainifestations can be found in the frequent attacks on "secular humanism" by a host of Christian fundamentalists.

However, a closer examination of American history and its Puritan underpinnings reveals that, in our culture at least, the difference between the this-worldly and the other-worldly is not nearly so clearcut. As Neibuhr explains:

There were two elements in the Calvinist creed, which transmuted it from a faith which would take prosperity and advrsity in its stride to a religion which became preoccupied with the prosperity of the new community...

The one element was the emphasis upon special providence. The other element was the belief that godliness is profitable in all things, including prosperity in this life...

In Calvinist thought prosperity as a mark of divine favor is closely related to the idea that it must be sought as part of a godly discipline of life. "There is no question," declared Calvin, "that riches should be the portion of the godly rather than the wicked, for godliness hath the promise in this life as well as the life to come." We are long since familiar with Max Weber's thesis in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Captialism that the "intra-mundane aseticism" of Calvinism was responsible for creating the standards of dilignece, honesty and thrift which lie at the foundation of our capitalistic culture.

--Reinhold Neiburh, The Irony of American History

Thus Puritanism does not meet Hoffer's criteria for a mass movement, because it is not predicated on self-sacrifice.

Other Christian movements, however--those that call for suffering and sacrifice in this world because their "reward is in another world"--do satisfy one of Hoffer's key criteria for mass movements.

DownSouth, you are mistaken if you think Hoffer would agree with Gail on this one. I have read "The True Believer" not just once but most parts of it numerous times.

The key word in your Wikipedia quote is "fanatical". Have you ever know a fanatical believer in "The one who dies with the most toys wins"? Is that a masss movement in any sense of the word? What devil do the "dying with toys" religion despise? The same could be said about most of Gail's other "religions". Hoffer would not have regarded The Oil Drum as a fanatical mass movement. Ditto for "beautiful bodies" and AGW.

They want freedom from "the fearful burden of free choice," freedom from the arduous responsibility of realizing their ineffectual selves and shouldering the blame for the blemished product. They do not want freedom of conscience, but faith--blind, authoritarian faith.

Eric Hoffer: The True Believer

Yes, that describes the fanatical true believer but it hardly describes many members of TOD, nor even the "Permaculture can save the world" group. No, there is a world of difference between what Gail is describing as religious belief system and what Hoffer would consider a fanatical mass movement.

Ron P.

The career success and status trip is definitely a mass movement and failure is the Devil.


Transcendental qualities have been attributed to "beautiful bodies" in both traditional and secular religions:

Just as God implanted Beauty in the physical world, the artist attempts to create the concetto in matter. Beauty in the physical world "awakens in the soul an inner image", and this image is superior to anything in the world, since it is closer to ideal beauty. "The beauty which you see comes truly from your lady; but this beauty grows, since it ascends to a better place when through mortal eyes it passes on to the soul ... There it is made into something divine" (Clements 7).


The male nude was tall and broad-shouldered, with narrow hips. He represented the ideal of the Aryan race, embodying the virtues of the regime: comradeship, discipline, obedience, steeliness, and courage. It was not just an ideal of beauty that the National Socialists postulated but an ideal of being. These powerful messengers dictated men's moral code. "By embracing the beautiful and the harmonious, art lifts man above himself. Reality is transfomed into an ideal world: the experience of the individual becomes the experience of the whole people. If you have seen these works of art, you are bound to feel a nobler person.

--Peter Adam, Art of the Third Reich

Again, this wall between the transcendental and the tangible is not nearly so well defined as you would lead us to believe.

DS, I am really puzzled here. You quote Clement of Alexandria and a book about the Third Reich in an attempt to prove that the admiration of beautiful bodies is not only a belief system but one that Eric Hoffer might have called a mass movement. Then you imply that this has something to do with the differences between the transendental and the tangible! Or, more correctly the lack of differences between them.

Goodness man, I really don't think we are talking about the same thing. I was discussing the difference between fanatical mass movements and ordinary everyday things that people casually believe or do.

Oh, the fact that males admire the beautiful body of a woman is really a Darwinian adaptation. It's in their genes...and jeans. (Pun intended.) It really has nothing to do with belief systems of any sort.

Ron Patterson

Re in their genes I think you might be pushing it somewhat-Art,Architecture, Nature, etc. possess beauty that is appreciated by humans-IMO the appreciation of female beauty is accentuated by horniness yet it is not caused by it-e.g. a beach can be very beautiful but you have to pretty frustrated to start pounding the sand.

There have been secular mass movements. And there have been religious mass movements. Hoffer described both, and he attributed the same doctrinal characteristics to both. He did not discern any great difference between the two.

It is just as easy to become deluded by an iniquitous secular mass movement as it is to become deluded by a pernicious religious mass movement.

The doctrinal characteristic that both secular and religious mass movements share is that the "reward" for which both their converts self-sacrifice must be transcendental. In the case of religion, the imagined reward is a paradaisical "everlasting life" in another world, after death, commonly referred to as "heaven." This is the concept inherent in the quote from the Epistle of Clement.

In the case of secular mass movements, the reward, although secular, must also be transcendental, and equally as imaginary. Thus the quote from Peter Adam: "Reality is transfomed into an ideal world: the experience of the individual becomes the experience of the whole people." In the blond, blue-eyed beauties that populate the art of the Third Reich you find the ideal to which National Socialism asked its adherents to self-sacrifice--the Volk, the "perfect race". But again, the "perfect race" no more exists in this-world than does heaven.

To quote Hoffer:

What Pascal said of an effective religion is true of any effective doctrine: It must be 'contrary to nature, to common sense and to pleasure.'


And to reiterate, what the things I have pointed out demonstrate is that the line between the religous and the secular, between the spirit and the flesh, is not nearly so unambiguous as you postulate.

That said, not all people are the same. And while many may indeed derive spiritual elation from ideal physical beauty, or the perfect house, the perfect car, or the perfect clothes, these things leave other people cold. And living in a society which places so much emphasis on these things leaves them with a sense of spirital emptiness.

beauty is momentary in the mind
the fitful tracing of a portal
but in the flesh it is immortal.
the body dies; the body's beauty lives

Ron, there are many examples of fanatic believers of "he who dies with the most toys wins". Look at the number of megarich people who continue to work long hours until the day they die. Here in Australia the richest man a few years ago (Kerry Packer) was still making deals to amass more toys in his hospital bed. A few months before he died he offered half a million dollars to buy the first megahuge plasma screen TV; he wanted to have the biggest toy before he died.
What stupidity drives people to amass fortunes and still try to amass more in their 70's and 80's? Why do you see examples of people stipulating in their wills that priceless artworks be buried with them?
As far as their devil goes these money worshipping fanatics abhorr people who want the simple life or turn their back on greed. Plenty of rich people have disowned family members that don't follow their creed "greed is good".

I said religions and belief systems have a lot in common. I didn't say they were the same.

Everyone has some values and some things they consider important in life. Some of these come through religions; some come in other ways. Some of them have a scientific basis; some don't. What is important really can't be determined through science.

First adumbrated by the philosophers of the late Renaissance--Bodin in France and Bacon in England--the idea of progress became an article of common faith during the Enlightenment. And progress came to mean not only the technical progress that had preoccupied Bacon but also moral progress. By the 19th century the history of man demonstrated for many an improvement in the very nature of man himself as well as in his tools and weapons. Such optimism, such faith in man's capacity for rational behaviour, was shaken both by discoveries in science and in history as well as by events. By the middle of the 20th century man's irrational drives appeared to be stronger than his intellectual capacities. Freud and Marx laid bare the hollow hypocrisy of so-called rational behavior either in individuals or in society.

--J.H. Plumb, Introduction to The Dutch Seaborn Empire: 1600-1800, C.R. Boxer

I also came to see that liberalism's superficial optimism concerning human nature caused it to overlook the fact that reason is darkened by sin. The more I thought about human nature the more I saw how our tragic inclination for sin causes us to use our minds to rationalize our actions. Liberalism failed to see that reason by itself is little more than an instrument to justify man's defensive ways of thinking. Reason, devoid of purifying power of faith, can never free itself from distortions and rationalizations.

--Martin Luther King, "Pilgrimage to Nonviolence," Christian Century, April 13, 1960

Official economics, in a word, was apologist and unperceptive; it turned its eye away from the excesses and exuberance that were the very essence of the American scene and painted instead a sterotype in formal lines and lusterless color. While it did not lack honesty or courage or intellectual competence, it suffered from what Malthus had once called "the insensible bias of situation and interest." The American economists were too much bound up in the current of these enthusiastic times to back away from their subject and view it coolly and clearly at a distance.

--Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers

Darwinian. I think you're maybe missing Gail's point. If you stretch your definition of religion and its cognates and not narrowly focus on 'god' as a necessary object/subject of religion, you will see most philosophies, systems, mass movements, etc. for what they are. That is, essential religious in nature, since they elicit similar to same behavior, devotion, identity, cohesion, stability just as they require similar/same quantities of faith, trust, hope, etc. to work.

You said:

For instance such things as; He who dies with the most toys wins in no way resembles a religion...Other things like fishing are often called religions because some people are so devoted to it but fishing, golf, and other such activities lack even the basic requirements of a religion such as a god and belief system based on faith.


Most of the other things you mentioned sometimes resemble a religion but upon closer examination lack the defining characteristics of a religion. In fact I think religion is not the word you are looking for. A religion requires implies worship of a god as well as a belief system supported by faith rather than empirical evidence. What you are trying to describe could best be described as a ”Mass Movement.”

Belief in a god and worship as you narrowly define them are not a prerequisite/defining characteristic of religion. Take Buddhism and Taoism as examples. This is a traditional, western conception of religion and a projection of values. Furthermore, such an understanding of religion as a phenomenon is reductionist and obsolete, as it fails to even explain/express contemporary western 'religious' experience, let alone that of oriental civilizations.

If one thinks outside of traditional semantic/cognitive constraints, then mass movements can and are like religions, perhaps without a sacred element. But then again, an expanded understanding of what "sacred" means, can lead us to the conclusion that mass movements/ideologies/philosophies are indeed religious in nature (perhaps because homo sapiens is religious in nature): there are unquestioned foundational beliefs; these beliefs give order to the world and may even explain it; these beliefs also have underlying anthropological and cosmological assumptions which largely determine adherents' values; there is an exaltation of certain ideals, objects, values, etc. and the relentless pursuit of these, or symbols that embody them. Much behavior is ritualized, professions of faith, or at the very least, deference and passive submission/resignation are required; etc. Anyway, all this to say that they shape thoughts, values and largely determine behavior, choices etc. and require devotion in such a way that they are practically religious in nature. Materialism, capitalism or any other -ism, PO, evolution, even friggin' universal home ownership all share these characteristics. I think that foundation of one's religion, whether empirical or not, is of no importance. What matters is the psychological and behavioral impacts and how they play out.

From Merriam-Webster online
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English; akin to Old High German got god
Date: before 12th century

1) capitalized : the supreme or ultimate reality: as (a): the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe.
(b)Christian Science: the incorporeal divine Principle ruling over all as eternal Spirit : infinite Mind (2)a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship; specifically : one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality:
(3)a person or thing of supreme value:
(4)a powerful ruler

From Wikipedia, 'God'

God is a deity in theistic and deistic religions and other belief systems, representing either the sole deity in monotheism, or a principal deity in polytheism.[1]

God is most often conceived of as the supernatural creator and overseer of the universe. Theologians have ascribed a variety of attributes to the many different conceptions of God. The most common among these include omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence. God has also been conceived as being incorporeal, a personal being, the source of all moral obligation, and the "greatest conceivable existent".[1]

A thought-provoking post, indeed.

A few thoughts: 1) You have conflated the primary definition of God (a supreme being, omnipotent, omniscient, believe in it and good things will happen to you/you will be granted access and membership in an eternal paradise/afterlife/etc. with a 'turn of phrase' colloquialism: calling 'God' anything that people find centrally important is their lives, such as bodybuilding, money, fast cars, whatnot. Obviously, these two broad usages of the word 'God' are vastly different concepts, and I do not see the utility in conflating them.

2) Your list of 'belief systems' skates over the intellectual thin ice of conflating things that people value such as money, power, beautiful bodies, etc. with theories about the world based on the scientific method (observe, model, test, refine theory, wash, rinse, spit, repeat, with a healthy dose of peer review and no Deus ex machina) such as AGW and the idea of finite oil leading to a period of time of peak oil per unit of measure per/unit of time extraction.

3) Although not explicitly mentioned in the post, I will address point three preemptively, since for many people it is mantra: Atheism or agnostic is not a religion, and strictly speaking, not a belief system either. a-theism is 'lack of theism' or 'lack of belief in God'...Agnosticism is lack of knowledge of God. Unlike as said by various commentators, lack of religion is not religion...it is intellectually dishonest and/or ignorant to define the lack of something that is the something that is lacked.

There are many fine books on these subjects, but to the point:

A rigorous proper statement by an atheist or agnostic for that matter would be something such as: I do not have evidence to support the hypothesis of God (the Christian God, Zeus, Quetzalcoatl, Shiva, Odin, Xenu, etc). Logical fallacies such as appeals to antiquity, appeals to authority, or appeals to mass/majority beliefs do not hold any water. In this sense, and until some being appears and is subject to peer-reviewed testing and verification, one can no more justify the existence of the Gods I just mentioned any easier than one could justify the existence of elves, fairies, leprechauns, unicorns, or Russell's teapot.

People who state that 'God does not exist' are technically making a logically indefensible statement, since it is not possible to 'prove' a negative. Again, the accepted scientific/logical framework/statement would be: 'I do not have evidence to support this/these theories as accurate representations of reality.' or something to that effect. Since most people are not very scientifically schooled/experienced, most people communicate ideas in this realm using the sloppy vernacular which leads folks with an agenda to skillfully conflate unlike ideas in the public square.

Back to what I perceive to be the goal or point of your post (other than to incite lively comment): 'Humanity's circumstances are going to pot due to our unsustainable lifestyles, so it would be useful to form or join enduring social networks to engage in mutual community support.''Churches already exist and serve this purpose for many people, ergo, they may be relied upon for this purpose to an even greater extent in the impending post-peak world.'

I happen to have seen sufficient evidence and logic to support the idea of peak oil, and of limits to human population and consumption growth wrt numerous other sources and sinks limitations...check.

I can see, based on historical examples, the wisdom in social/community cooperation, based on each person contributing their proper share of effort....check

I have seen historical evidence that membership in certain religious communities has provided such mutual support...check

However, if pretending to adopt someone's fairy tale and mouthing words faking belief in concepts which I have no logical support for is my price of passage to survive or prosper, then no thanks.

For those who do not hold religious beliefs, rather than join a church to effect community support I would recommend starting or joining a 'Community Center', 'Cultural Center', Grange, sewing/knitting/quilting club, farmers' market, woodworking cooperative, plumbers' guild, or something similar. One does not have to 'drink the Kool-Aid' to provide and receive community support, be a good citizen, and 'have values'. The good ideas (Do unto others...etc) that exist in the Christian Bible and in other religious texts were the same good ideas that have existed since humanity started communicating...just wrapped up in creation/afterlife mythology in order to provide carrots and sticks (heaven and hell) to motivate believers to implement these fine rules of thumb for having functional societies.

and is subject to peer-reviewed testing

Precious! I'll have to add that to my list of quotations.

Hi MoonWatcher,

Your posts on this subject certainly gets my vote and I'm humbled by your grasp of the subject. Just a couple of observations:

I would recommend starting or joining a 'Community Center',

I now live in an area that is overrun with Christian churches (mostly fundamentalist) and it saddens me to think how community centers (of which there are few) would do so much more to promote common goodness. I've experienced places that relied more on the community center than churches and found that very refreshing.

Basically, I find this whole discussion kind of depressing and saddening. I guess it has merit to help understand why the vast majority of people are incapable of understanding the real issues facing the planet - but, much of this discussion does not seem to lead in that direction.

The fundamental issue is the belief in a supernatural world beyond the natural world in which we live. Sam Harris makes the point very bluntly: if a person is willing to accept as "true" something for which there is zero evidence (and only the scientific method has any credibility for dealing with the concept of "evidence") then that person's capacity for understanding the truth or falseness of any assertion is severely compromised.

Obviously, I won't change anyone's religious inclination. But, if someone is questioning their "Faith", they might read

I stand by my previous comments on TOD that teaching a particular religion to a young child is a serious form of child abuse. Once their impressionable brains are imprinted with these myths, they will either hold them as true for life or suffer a painful process of separation.


"However, if pretending to adopt someone's fairy tale and mouthing words faking belief in concepts which I have no logical support for is my price of passage to survive or prosper, then no thanks."

I see you have a tremendous respect for intellectual and verbal accuracy. You might consider a scientist of yesteryear may have picked his nose, ass, and teeth without washing his hands. Of course we now have "germ theory" that would indicate this is a no no from any logical point of view, the focal point of the AMA. Now we have peer reviewed arguments against germ theory. The world was influenced by catastrophism, no it was steady state, you get the point. Study the history of science for more details. What does science get wrong now - besides being amoral, disingenuous, self serving, and subjecting scientists to increasingly narrow specialties and viewpoints? OK, I may have gone too far in that description.

As a scientist with some understanding (BS Geology, evolution emphasis) I am not so willing to ignore other forms of knowledge. The "church" said the world was flat, now it's round, go figure - they were probably wrong then and right now.

Truth is something in the making, at least to human minds. I believe in science because it comes close to the truth. I believe in the spiritual because of personal experience, as do some if not most religious people. You probably won't get personal experience strictly from a science belief structure. I laugh to think of my immediate contemporaries seeing me as religious. The works of Emerson and others are specifically about experiences that trump something so subjective as our cognition functions, which are the tools on which everything depends in science. If you wish to argue experience is dependent on cognition I can't defend that other than to say this is not what I mean.

Originally, deep thinkers used both scientific and religious reference, it was called philosophy or "love of wisdom" Wikipedia reference. It is only in the last hundred years you could be considered educated with only science under your belt.

The problem scientists have with religion and the religious have with science stem from "fundamentalist attitudes" as mentioned in other posts. If you buy into the science then the religious is obviously bunk and vise verse. I will be long dead and buried before one or the other has the whole answer. Until then I will seek value where it is found. Admittedly this is mostly in science and the natural world for me, but I KNOW this is not the whole story if believing is knowing.

Faith is the word I use when describing what most are calling belief here. Faith in science or religion is the same, beyond question. Belief, on the other hand, is subject to further refinement over time. This is similar to the concept of competing theories in science.

I bring this all up in response to the original post as the idea of joining the local church has been on my mind for two years, ever since becoming alarmed about serious human problems. I went a few times and since they are my neighbors, some discussion was possible about beliefs and accepting the church with all its flaws. A surprising number of parishioners were of like mind and only were able to deal with the outmoded ideas of the church because of the fellowship with their neighbors.

Unfortunately, the day I last went the preacher added a victory prayer for the US of A and our troops in Iraq - contrary to everything I believe the church to represent and I haven't been back. I'm am afraid I might stand up and start arguing with the preacher. Too bad, the church is the only local institution with the comprehensive cohesion to pull off an organizing role, at least in this po-dunk town I call home.

Steve UP of Michigan

Excellent post.

I do not post much as I am avid lurker but I think Religion should be co opted and not ridiculed as some do on this site. Gail is right it is an established community and may be turned to "good" if the message conforms to the bible teachings. And believe me the Bible can certainly be interpreted to live a simpler life that respects nature and fellow man. Now I am not saying it will be easy to turn the tide, but once it is turned by "respected" clerics of many faiths it could make a vast difference in how "things turn out".

The arguments and data just has to use the Bible as a foundation for making the argument and has to be nuanced for every audience. In other words how you get Catholics to make the choice would be easy, if you had the right Pope. However, the Protesters are a diverse and un organized lot.

Ah yes, "the belief in the belief in religion" argument. This is what we really need to get beyond, as even the liberal left, or some science people (while embarrassed by Talking Snakes and childish creation myths) still believe religion is essentially good.
There is a huge movement of people who are seriously looking at and questioning this "belief".
Dennett sees religion as a natural phenomena (his book Breaking The Spell is an excellent to start).
Gray in Straw Dogs makes a good point Humanism is a religion, and quite convincingly.
Then there are the people who see religions as memes, replicators who use humans a hosts for continuance of their existence, with often toxic effects on the hosts (if you are infected, your replicator will not allow you to see this).


This is an insightful, thought-provoking essay, and I think quite appropriate for TOD.

It's important to identify the bedrock belief that brings us together here on TOD, which you did:

On The Oil Drum, it is an article of faith that geological limits are of supreme importance in determining the future flow of oil.

But I believe there's another article of faith almost as universially accepted on this blog, and that is that oil is of utmost importance, that it cannot easily be replaced, and that as it grows scarcer and more difficult to extract, that this will result in extreme changes in our economic and social organization.

Beyond these two articles of faith, however, I don't discern a great deal of conformity here on TOD. It's a place where, from the fertile soil created by these two underlying core beliefs, a thousand flowers bloom. Some advocate a return to a premodern ways of life--green bioregionalism, new age spirituality, primitive chic, etc. Others seek to preserve and improve on modernism and its imperatives for scientific-rational thought and a national culture/religion. Some hope to construct a new way forward from the ashes of modernism, a new way that has not yet been fully conceptualized. And yet others have embraced nihilism.

It's this ideological diversity that makes TOD an interesting place to be.

I agree with you. The importance of oil is another article of faith. Also, the diversity on The Oil Drum makes the site an interesting place to be. No one came down with tablets of stone, telling us what the way forward is.

"The importance of oil is another article of faith. "

Why is that? Oil has been replaced before - it was the source for lighting in the late 1800's, and then was replaced by electricity.

Is it because of the number of people from the oil industry, who have a hard time imagining a world without their industry?

Oh my, given what I wrote in this same thread this is amusing.

I guess not everyone has actually studied peak oil 101 much. There's a set of peak oil primers on the left frame at TOD, here's one of them:


Jason, you're assuming that I can only disagree with you out of ignorance. I'm confident that I know as much about peak oil as you do.

This is a basic question, and a long discussion. This is a bit off-topic, but it's probably a good idea to support the idea that "the importance of oil" is often exaggerated on TOD. Further there are certainly people reading (lurking) who would be interested. So, here goes - here are a few posts from my site:
Can oil can be replaced?
Would reducing CO2 emissions be that hard, if we really wanted to?
Is there academic support for the idea that declining oil imports mean declining GDP?
How pessimistic should we be?


Now, let's turn back to the question raised by the Original Post. I'd agree that the explanation you provided below supports the idea that "the importance of oil" isn't an article of faith for you. I think others on TOD have stronger opinions. Here are a couple of quotes from TOD that suggest that the importance of oil is an article of faith for many:

"We ARE unavoidably going to becoming materially poorer....The underground physical resources, hydrocarbons in particular, that underpin industrialism are depleting"

And, from Gail's recent article:

"There is nothing Bernanke or Geithner or the G20 meetings can do to fix the lack of growth--it is closely related to the lack of cheap oil and cheap natural gas, now that these have been depleted. Growth is not possible any more..."

Hi Nick,
Thanks for the clarification and sorry I misunderstood you. I actually agree that in theory, if done with enough vigor, we can rapidly kick the fossil fuel habit and have a decent (even better) quality of life afterwards. I believe it would be much different life than the one we have now.

One of the books I really liked that went through some of the potential with respect to climate change (and acknowledging peak oil) was Climate Code Red by Spratt and Sutton.

Would you agree that if the world DOESN'T make the shift to renewables and other modes of transportation and production methods in a timely fashion then the risk of severe social dislocation due to a decline of oil is high?

Appreciate the links, will look into your posts a bit more.

Thanks for your thoughtful response.

"Would you agree that if the world DOESN'T make the shift to renewables and other modes of transportation and production methods in a timely fashion then the risk of severe social dislocation due to a decline of oil is high?"

Sure. There's no question that in the short term, we're highly dependent on oil.

OTOH, you have to define the context of this statement, and what is meant by "severe social dislocation ".

From a "BAU" standpoint, mass forced carpooling for several years (while awaiting very largescale production of plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt) would be "severe social dislocation". From the point of view of many who fear total collapse, such a measure would probably be considered trivial.

From the POV of someone who works in coal mining, mass replacement of coal plants with wind turbines is "severe social dislocation". If you're a GM retiree, then GM dropping pensions in a chapter 11 re-organization is "severe social dislocation". If you work in a Toyota Prius plant in Texas, not so much.

We could easily face more events such as our current credit crunch, and the 79-82 recession, due to oil. Is that "severe social dislocation"? Probably, but it's surely not collapse.

I've been reading McKibben's book Deep Economy: I like a lot of what he has to say. Oddly, I don't yet see any sign of a sharp choice between prosperity and, say, local and better food.

For instance, he discusses the conflict between conventional growth and income distribution, and then says "in fact, there's persuasive evidence that if all you cared about was growth, the best way to speed it up would be to redistribute income more fairly" (Page 14, 2007 paperback edition).

For another instance, he says that low-input farming requires twice as much labor per acre, but then that it produces twice as much food per acre. That sounds like it requires no more labor per unit of food. What's not to like?

As I look things over... It looks like we're kind've saying the same thing, doesn't it?

Bless you Nick!! How nice it is to see informed and rational thought in place of DOOM. Murray


I am not sure I would put "the importance of oil" as an article of faith. I recall examining the uses of oil, its unique properties of energy density and ease of transport, and comparing it to proposed alternatives, e.g., hydrogen and electricity. The "oil replacements" didn't stack up well, so then I really saw that oil was super duper "important" and without some thinking, planning and acting ahead of the depletion curve the world as we know it would be in the lurch.

How's that faith? I would call it a well examined premise that we now tend to accept. Once we "get it" we move on to the implications, which are of course vast and confusing.

“Persons have to keep from going mad by biting off small pieces of reality which they can get some command over and some satisfaction from. This means that their noblest passions are played out in the narrowest and most unreflective ways, and this is what undoes them. From this point of view the main problem for human beings has to be expressed in the following paradox; Men and women must have a fetish in order to survive and to have ‘normal mental health.’ But this shrinkage of vision that permits them to survive also at the same time prevents them from having the overall understanding they need to plan for and control the effects of their shrinkage of experience. A paradox this bitter sends a chill through all reflective people. “Self-knowledge is the hardest human task because it risks revealing to persons how their self-esteem was built; on the powers of others in order to deny their own death.” “Life imagines its own significance and strains to justify its beliefs. It is as though the life force itself needed illusion in order to further itself. Logically, then, the ideal creativity for humans would strain toward the ‘grandest illusion.”
- Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil Page 153.

"...if the message conforms to Biblical teachings."

Which Bible? Which version? How about the 'New New' Testaments as revealed to Joseph Smith in the 1827 and the separate new chapters revealed to the Reverend Sun Young Moon in 1935? The followers of the teaching of both these men claim to be Christians...just ones with the new, improved messages! We have witnessed the birth of new Christian texts and new congregations in our modern times...you can read the microfiche newspaper articles from upstate New York describing what a charlatan Smith was. He is be one of multitudes.

And which teaching in the King James Bible do we hew to to make a more perfect Union? Not Eating shellfish? Treating one's slaves with kindness? Not using bowels and utensils made of wood? Not wearing garments made from two different fabrics?

One can (and people have) used snippets from the Bible, written and re and re-re-written by men, not Gods, over the ages, to justify just about darn anything. The book is a collection of fables and allegories written over a wide range of time, not downloaded from some Godly server into Gutenberg's printing press. It borrows concepts from may pre-existing religions and belief systems and wraps them up in a different bow.

How has religion led us, especially in the U.S., one of the most religious nations, to lead a sustainable life? By outlawing contraception? By being used to promote and justify war and taking other people's resources? By promoting unlimited fertility? By convincing people that the resources of the Earth were given to man to do with what he will, and that we are sinful and imperfect and will make all the wrong choices, but as long as we 'believe', God will ride in on his white steed and renew the Earth in paradise for 1000 years then take all of his believers into eternal heaven?


This is the path to constructing sustainable human societies?

Making statement about religion and one's views as to why one doesn't subscribe does not constitute 'ridicule'. Nice try, but the 'sacred cow' attack is another tired old tactic to nullify discussion of/challenges to one's beliefs. As far as I can tell, this board seems to accept respectful exchanges of facts and opinions.

How many people on this board know what a 'Glory Trip' is?




If the intentional religious/Armageddon imagery in the name for this function doesn't keep you up at nights, go back and take the Blue Pill and go back to your dream world. There are many, many people wishing for prophesy to be fulfilled, and many of these are in critical positions.

BTW, I was a big fan of the new BSG as well...and the religious themes bothered me not a bit...because it is a work of fiction/entertainment.

Some interesting gospel music collected by Alan Lomax. Some of these tracts were reissued by the Smithsonian using a politically correct title. I have long held a greater fondness for religious music than for the religions.



In addition to the other fine comments above, I want to add that I think you are confusing what I call "world view" with "belief system". Your religion is Christian, which finds it's basis in the Bible, a book derived from events thousands of years ago. For many, the Bible is Fundamental Truth (with a capital "T"), unquestionable and absolutely true. Even your so-called "liberal" interpretation does not allow for dissent on the basics of The Book, i.e. the existence of the god thing. The Book defines your world view and your comments are an example of trying to force the rest of the world into your belief system by equating those other world views as if they were based on belief, not evidence and logic.

In contrast, a scientific world view doesn't rest on belief, indeed, science is as much a process as a set of results in the form of theories that appear as dogma. The theories are ultimately tied to facts (as in data) and the theories are often modified as new facts are brought to light. The physics behind what's called Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is not based on belief, but upon considerable investigation of the natural world. In that sense, the problem is not one of religion, i.e., belief. That there are many who do not understand the scientific basis of AGW and thus are placed in the situation where they must believe or deny the science does not change the facts. The same is true for other areas of physics, chemistry, geology or biology. Gravity and the idea that the Earth orbits the Sun is a radical idea which was strongly opposed by the Church when it was first presented. People lost their freedom and even their lives for saying that this was true. Other more recent findings, such as the concepts of electromagnetic radiation and the germ theory of disease, have radically altered the ways in which we interpret what our senses record.

As a consequence, the old Biblical world view is essentially dead in the modern world view. As you point out:

We all know the world most likely wasn't created in seven days...[and]

The collection of writings [in the Bible] is not literally true. It is more a collection of stories that have been passed down through the ages, that we can learn from.

Yet, we find that about 25% of the U.S. population takes the Bible as literal truth. By coincidence, I was asked if I wanted to join a Baptist church last week, as I have been meeting with a local renewable energy group in their building. I didn't want to tell the Fundamentalist pastor that I thought he was exceedingly ignorant with his focus on the Rapture, etc. I would find it almost as difficult to join a so-called "liberal" church, since their basic world view would still be so opposite to that which I hold to. In either situation, I would have little to say to the other members of such a church, as I would likely try to point out the many obvious flaws in their logic. I'm not a hypocrite, which would have been HeyZeus' position as well...

I think that the churches, which provided a sense of unifying community for society as the U.S. began, are now likely to be the cause of much disruption as people who hold the Fundamentalist world view find that they can not accept the secular world views and resort to repression and violence to force their world view on the rest of U.S. There are undercurrents of rebellion out here in the country, much like the days before the War Between the States, which, BTW, had strong religious overtones. Given enough economic stress, the Old South might just decide to bold the Union again, only this time, other states might join in Secession...

E. Swanson

OTOH, at the 25 percentile, what would be the IQ in the USA? 80? 75? and the senile % of the population is also quite high so just looking at the non senile, IQ exceeding say 95 part of the USA population that 25% might drop down to maybe 5% (guesstimate).

This does not fit my experience. The basic intelligence of what we are calling true believers is not related.

I found the inclusion of Anthropogenic climate change as a belief system to be jarring and out of place, although I agree with you that those who do not understand climate science may be forced to take it on faith.

When I present the topic of climate change in my classes, I always encounter climate change skeptics among my students from both the right and the left - its either an environmentalist plot to undermine free enterprise and the American way or a corporate plot to control society (go figure). I usually ask them to hold their objection until we look at the topic from various angles.

1. What do we know for sure - certain gases trap infrared radiation, there is a historical correlation between temperature and atmospheric CO2. Burning fossil fuels, deforestation, rice and ruminant production all produce GHGs. These things are provable through repeated tests and other than saying something akin to "God is doing that just to test our faith," they are undeniable.

2. What have we observed - Increase in atmospheric concentration of green house gases, elevation in sea level, retreat of glaciers, lowering of ocean pH etc. Again these are all examples of factual information, one may debate their etiology but not their factual existence.

3. What do we thing will happen - This is based on our understanding of climate and the climate record. Here's where different scientific view can come in. As Physicist Eugene Skonikoff said way back in 1990, "The vision of an inverted pyramid comes to mind, of a steadily broadening basis of implications that rest ultimately on the point of a relatively small band of dedicated scientists who recognize the uncertainties of their work." Of course in the 19 years since he wrote "Gridlock on Global Warming," our understanding has vastly increased as has the small band of dedicated scientists.

4. What should we do about it. This is clearly where belief systems come in and it is dependent on one's political ideology and the way that they view humanities place in the global environment. In response to some pretty overwhelming evidence that something is afoot, the current trend among deniers is "OK its happening but its the result of natural forces so we don't need any changes in behavior."

But to say that accepting a changing climate is like accepting a secular belief system is like saying accepting a heliocentric solar system, germ theory, or plate tectonics is a secular belief system.
In my opinion, lumping them in with the other examples Gail gives is quite inappropriate.

its either an environmentalist plot to undermine free enterprise and the American way or a corporate plot to control society (go figure).

Like most issues, if you seek to control others you can use whatever comes your way as a tool. All depends on framing and what you can 'sell' to your allies/convince others to go along with.

It can be both - one group wants to try and dampen business (and really - is anyone happy with Wall Street at the moment) and controlling the population is always good for the leadership.

Oh and "free enterprise" - emotionally loaded words that mean nothing.

lowering of ocean pH

I've seen the arguments/counter arguments on all but this one - what is the typical counter to the pH change?

Like you, I have never seen any counter-argument. Either it is too arcane for the usual denial (better to focus on a cold winter and polar bear population stats) or no one has been able to come up with a counter explanation. Perhaps it is due to the the implications of a collapse of the lower ocean food chain being just too scary to complicate. The same could be said for melting methane clathrates in permafrost.

Like you, I have never seen any counter-argument.

Ok. As I've not spent years looking into global warming, I'm not up on every counter argument. Thanks for letting me know that I've not missed an argument.

I'm willing to consider solar variance, air particulate/chemtrails or even its another way to tax. Because all but the chemtrails have data one can look at.

Perhaps it is due to the the implications of a collapse of the lower ocean food chain being just too scary to complicate. The same could be said for melting methane clathrates in permafrost.

The kinds of people who need their minds changed are like the local elected reps:
1) Why are you worried about farmland being turned into suburbs? There is no farm crisis - I can go to the store and get all the veggies I want
2) Lets hook up giant electodes at the water intake and electrocute the bacteria (the intake pipe is 12 foot in diameter)
3) When talking about an ethic group the statement was "they are an endangered species" (What? Just because you, the elected rep is Homo Dorkus doesn't mean others of your ethnic group are a ignorant as you.)

Face it - 'lower ocean food chain' or 'clathrates' are beyond their ken.

its either an environmentalist plot to undermine free enterprise and the American way or a corporate plot to control society

Both Libertarians and Socialists have attached Peak Oil for the same reasons. They reject due to the implications, not a study of the evidence. People generally get mad when they are told they can't keep their habits or meet their expectations.

I found the inclusion of Anthropogenic climate change as a belief system to be jarring and out of place, although I agree with you that those who do not understand climate science may be forced to take it on faith.

I take anthropogenic climate change on faith, because I'm not a climatologist. I dont know about ice cores, the exact relationship with CO2 feedback loops, the total effect of water vapor, interconnectedness of ocean acidity, let alone the whole big picture. I take it on faith that most of those who are public figures refered to as climatologists are credible and that those who fall into the climate change denier catagory I find less credible for reasons beyond climate science, which again isn't my area of expertise.

What have we observed - Increase in atmospheric concentration of green house gases, elevation in sea level, retreat of glaciers, lowering of ocean pH etc. Again these are all examples of factual information, one may debate their etiology but not their factual existence.

Corolation vs causation problems perhaps. Not saying I believe that, I believe that the prominent climatologists are more correct. But again, its something I take on faith.

4. What should we do about it. This is clearly where belief systems come in and it is dependent on one's political ideology and the way that they view humanities place in the global environment. In response to some pretty overwhelming evidence that something is afoot, the current trend among deniers is "OK its happening but its the result of natural forces so we don't need any changes in behavior."

Its not inherently obvious that we can do anything about it at all.

It is true that Correlation does not equal causality. But my point was that the observable phenomena are factual. Drawing a causal relationship is based on whether those phenomena "fit" with the hypothesis of anthropogenic climate change, which they do. There remain anomalies that must be explained. If someone comes up with a different explanation that better explains the observed phenomena and existing anomalies then the hypothesis must be altered to reflect that new understanding. So far that has not happened.

As for whether we can do anything about it: that is, indeed, something based on belief - belief in the political will, ingenuity and technological prowess of the global society. Not that I'm very optimistic, mind you.

But my point was that the observable phenomena are factual. Drawing a causal relationship is based on whether those phenomena "fit" with the hypothesis of anthropogenic climate change, which they do.

Oh I believe that, but again, unless you're a climatologist you're forced to take it on faith that this data fits the hypothesis just because theres so much of it and its so complicated that for anyone not working directly in the field they wont be able to evaluate it.

As for whether we can do anything about it: that is, indeed, something based on belief - belief in the political will, ingenuity and technological prowess of the global society. Not that I'm very optimistic, mind you.

Its not inherently obvious that climate change mitigation is worth doing either. If we have to spend x% of our wealth to reduce emissions y% we dont have any data on how that will mitigate climate change and more importantly the damage caused by climate change. We cant know weather we get a return on our investment. It gets even more complicated by discounting. We might, but we're making policy decisions entirely in a vacuum of information.

I am new here. Very interesting posts and points of view. My two cents:

Summary: Beware the broad brush.

Some versions of Christianity view the Bible as a document written by humans to be read and thought about but not literally true. Many important truths are metaphorical, after all. Some religions consider care of creation and also scientific investigation to be very important. Some religions view despoliation of the earth to be wrong and a sign of humanity's arrogance and refusal to recognize and failure to live within limits. Some scientists find it possible to be both scientific and religious.

To me religion is a way of seeing the world and living in it according to non-violent principles, which requires reverence and a desire to live with rather than dominate. Many people confuse this kind of living and practice with forms of organized religion that become authoritarian instruments of control, in reality not much different than mass secular social movements that control and oppress people "outside the pale." Thus the Spanish inquisition and Stalin's murderous activities. Thus religious fundamentalists' efforts to keep women from gaining education or the freedom to control their own reproductive health. Thus extreme scientific fundamentalists' refusal to acknowledge that some things might be beyond human understanding and that religious reverence might be worthwhile and necessary--with consequent prejudice against those who espouse a religion.

Hi quakergardener,
Thanks for the good thoughts and the worthy reminder on avoiding overgeneralization. By the way, your multiple (and correct, in my opinion) use of the term "reverence" brought to mind an interesting book from a few years back by Paul Woodruff, called "Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue". His conception of reverence goes well beyond religion but certainly also includes religious reverence. In any case, I get awfully tired of the indiscriminate trashing of religion, and the treating of religious people like some kind of zoological curiosity to be studied from behind a large window. As someone who works in scientific academia, I see a lot of this, and it strikes me as at least as narrow and poorly considered as a lot what you hear coming out of the mouths of the faithful.

Nice post Quakergardner. A little point, I noticed in what you wrote: "religious fundamentalists efforts to keep women from gaining an education or controlling their reproductive health". This is a all encompassing statement that effectivly means all fundamentalists are tarred with the same brush. Of course we all (myself included) make this same mistake of viewing all others as having a single viewpoint and fail to realize that the other may be composed of multiple points. After all I doubt the Protestant fundamentalist viewpoints are the same as a Catholic fundamentalist or a Salafist or any other fudamentalist and even within a group there would be major differences.
I'm sure there are just as many viewpoints on the atheist side.

"You can't count on God for squat. He pretty much told me so himself."

Bender Bending Rodriguez

The episode in which Bender meets God.

Gail, Thank you so very much for putting The Oil Drum at the head of your list, and for bringing up the topic of belief systems in the context list of traumatic contemporary issues (Peal Oil and global financial meltdown). Engaging in belief systems appears to be intrinsic to the human condition (I believe that Nate, in prior posts, had comments on along this line of thought).

The current cognitive environment for industrial society is highly complex and detailed. Most people approach the problem of validating the multitude of assertions put forth by falling back upon the fundamental cognitive structures of belief. They develop a confidence in the truth or existence of something that is not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof. For highly complex concepts, where excessive and inordinate amounts of effort would be required of any given person to engage in validation, they place their confidence in demonstrated experts who are capable of determining for themselves the validity. Interestingly, given that humanity is a social animal, a group can substitute as the expert -- the old saw of, "everybody says it's so, so it must be that way." When there is a lack of acknowledged experts, perhaps the concepts are novel or the extant social leadership represses development of experts, the group is the sole source of expertise.

Group-think as the foundation of a belief system can suffer from positive feedback. Without external checks and balances, there will arise an echo chamber effect were the loudest or most emphatic voices predominate. I find TOD to be rather interesting in that amongst the many cliques in the TOD camp, there are contrary belief systems founded on the common bifold tenet of Peak oil being real and the consequences of that reality will have dramatic affects on the human condition. One of the most interesting behaviors is that of the TOD staff putting up articles, of their own and of guests, that run counter to beliefs of one or more cliques.

The intentional and repeated perturbation of a self-reinforcing belief system is is one of the actions that keeps TOD from spinning off into the neither regions. Sadly, loud voices, impolite responses, and ad hominin attacks can easily overwhelm and drive away dissenting voices. When a group of believers engages in a common set of practices, then a religion arises. Religions are notorious for stamping out dissenting viewpoints. 'nuf said about that.

Back to PO and the economy. I do not feel that one can actually foretell the future. Once can forecast and, when a sufficiently robust model exists, make predictions based on probabilities. I know that given a constant rate of production and a finite resource that peak oil is a given. However, the uncertainties regarding the fossil fuel industries, and the highly uncertain and rather degenerate models of economics, means that predictions of when and how much impact PO will have must be relegated to the realm of belief. That's OK. Anything of a sufficiently complex nature requires that people use their innate belief system. After all, it's only natural. On the other hand, development of that belief into a religion is cause for concern. So long as there are experts contributing to the TOD discussion AND so long as people are willing to be nice to dissenting or alternative views, TOD will continue to be a useful source.

You make some good points. Thanks for writing.

We sometimes need to define the words use because they can and many times do have multiple meanings.

Religion comes from the ancient word ‘relio’, which means to tie or to bind. From that we can understand why we use the word religion to describe what religious organizations do. But it also can describe what how other groups or thinking might be, those that don’t think their point of view can be wrong and others that don’t study what is wrong about their religion or thinking.

Most people haven’t come to their Religion by studying all of them and then deciding on the best one. They mostly got them from their parents and were raised in them much as Presidential candidate Mitt Romney called ‘The faith of our fathers.’ If his parents were of a different Christian denomination, other than Mormon, so would he.

But then we can also have Religious like thinking, where we are tied or bound to a narrow thinking. But what is non religious thinking? It’s called Freethinking or a Freethinker, who isn’t bound to a certain point of view. Many times this is the person who will change their mind when the evidence changes.

I’d like to tell you my personal thinking and quest for truth that I went though. One of my parents was born in Germany in the 1920’s and went through World War II in Germany as a teenager (near Hamburg.) I remember thinking, what is it that allowed those people to believe what they did and go though what they did? What was it that would allow and hopefully allow a person and society to not go through a 1930’s Germany type thinking?

The answer? To be skeptical and critical of your own thinking and beliefs. To look for evidence against your beliefs.

This means the Christian should read and study the reasons why Christianity might not be true from the best sources. It also means Athiests should figure out why they might be wrong.

It’s been pointed out by Philosophers of Science that what Science does and how it can be good at describing the world is that it doesn’t prove things to be true, but ties to falsify them. That’s the whole purpose of experimentation and peer review, that ideas are looked and discussed to find mistakes and wrongness and for reasons why they are not true.

Everything we talk about has some elements of faith and they have some elements of reason. And what we need to examine things using faith and reason is to do it Honestly.

I think therefore I am. Something Descarte said a few hundred years ago. What makes it what many people think is the first thing that we can think is true is because it is the first Honest thing we can say. And then try to build from there.

What organized Religions do. Imagine if you were put into a windowless room with the door closed (lights on.) Someone pointed at things in the room and said “is that in the room?” Yes. “is that in the room?” Yes. “is that in the room?” Yes. And keep asking that question a hundred, a thousand, a million times and everytime the answer is yes. And then they can say “well, that means everything is in this room.” Well, what about walking thru the door and finding other things, then that question would be found out to be not true. But if you are in an organized Religion or have religious thinking, you are encouraged to not criticize the organizations beliefs. ‘To believe is virtue, to doubt is sin.’

But humans want to have good opinions of ourselves and we want help in life, so we have a God, the biggest, strongest being in the universe, who if God is for us, who can be against us.

Better to be a sober Christian than a drunk Atheist even if there isn’t a God. Strong beliefs help some people phychologically.
So we need to criticize our beliefs so we don’t become like 1930’s Germany. But some may need beliefs of wonderful things so we can get through life which can be very difficult at times.

I will take issue with one comment made by the original author. The author says that Anthorpogenic Global Warming (AGW) is a secular belief. (Actually that may be the entire reason for the article) But to say that AGW isn’t true is also a belief with much much less evidence and reason to think is true than AGW being true. Science, which has reviewed the evidence and has had peer review, has concluded that Human machines and land use is affecting our climate. I think it is completely reasonable to hold to the conclusions of the largest Science organizations on our planet and that continuing to release carbon dioxide into our atmosphere will lead to a less livable planet for humans.

Human culture, that which has been passed own to us (many cultures disappeared traceless), builds upon itself in a gradual manner. The Torah and law written in babylonian captivity were a summary of traditions, like a US constituion in comparison to a British "cosntituion"( colleciton of precedents and customs). The new testament Chrisitanity takes a similar role towards Judaism that synagogue Judaism took ot tribal jewish semitic culture, a sort of quick and dirty method to bring over the basics in a few books, to the whole population. Ideological simplicity and clarity and not passed on tradition became more and more pronounced an dimportant to hold followers due to "globalization" adn competing ideologies. Yahweh against Baal in OT for example. esus against Greco-Roman pantheon. In India a similar process took place with the formation of "hinduism" which was thn simplified into Buddhism.

Historicity and similar concepts came into being along with various philosophical schools during the high cultures in China, India, Greco-Roman empires. Dark ages lost and later recovered much of this "knowledge". Occult=East asian esoteric (not religion) holistic philosophical concepts and practices are much more inclusive than western science / relgion / philosophy in toto. The west slowly catches up as with fractals, chaos theory and similar, putting belief and experience on a solid footing together so that how we experience life subjectively can be expressed mathematically/scientifically. The west reinvents the wheel, i.e. recreates the knowledge base using objective tools of mathematics, etc. to replace the purely subjective introspection techniques described by patanjali in the yoga sutras to acheive enlightenment and superficial "magical" powers, i.e. scientific control over the various elemental powers.

At any rate in culture there seems to be an evolutionary progress of ideas takking place from similar traditional practice to systematization and simplification of ideas into ideologies, religion, science or philosophy, name it what you will. Patanjali is obviously no atheist but such techniques described in the sutras are a "subjective science". Western scientists believing that exclusion of the subjective observer is possible are very anive as 20th centruy scientists ahve discovered. Our beliefs effect our environment and then change our beliefs in a constant feedback loop. So understanding ourselves seems to be the critical element. Self observation of oneself individually of humanity collecitvely, our systems and ideologies is key to survival, if that is so desired, in supposed balance with "nature" or in rule over that same, which latter seems unlikely. The ruling of one's own nature is well known to be the most difficult of tasks. Introspeciton is not known from men of action however. How do we in The West known for our culture of Action learn to introspect on our way of life and relationship with nature and one another without losing hope and decsiveness of action. Usually a crisis forces one into introspection and fundamental change. Perhaps most people are incapable of this and only death will allow change. So PO and accompanying economic crisis will force introspection and change in society. They will do until they can't anymore.

So yeah, traditional religion is good in forcing introspection into human relations; science is good in forcing introspection into physical facts, "subjective science" is important to synthesize the two to force an objective view of the role of the subjective and vice-versa on a continual developing basis so that "right action" is taken or "wrong actions" omitted. Buddhism is not equal to passivity or simple self control. At higher levels this can be quite "magical" to modern westerners in the same sense that our technology is "magical" to simple primitives. For example tibetan monks who can visualize a picture in their mind for hours without interruption is deemed impossible in western science. Similarly we can accept or not telepathic and similar concepts claimed by such esoteric practitioners. These are not simple introspective techniques to impove ethical behaviour. How can we become a better society without fulfilling our potential? We will keep going in circles like every civilization before and after us that has died out and restarted.

The oildrum just gets more and more fascinating. Yesterday Nate's piece - what do we know? today Gail's - what do we believe? We go from statistical analysis to epistemology. Thanks, keep it up.

Geology has shown there was no worldwide flood of Noah. Darwin showed the natural selection of species as opposed to all species being made in a day. Jericho was destroyed at a time different from other cities Joshua was supposed to have destroyed or taken over that were not inhabited at the time.

The errors of the Bible do not prove there is no supernatural omnipotent life, only that there were errors in the Bible. The Iron Age, Babylonian, and Persian cultures near Israel also suffered some superstition and myth. Some of the laws in the Bible were used by cultures before Israel and are being used to this day. One may not want to do away with a law merely because it is in the Bible, nor to use it merely because it was in the Bible.

Jesus acts of mercy and teachings are more popular than the teachings of Mao Tsetung. Even the brutal Chinese Communist authorities have turned towards capitalism, but have not trusted as much in religious freedom for their people.

Mind-blowing post & comments (as we 60s people say).

I'd like to expand on a point made in a few comments: There are big differences among belief systems. For example:

1. Belief systems vary in their capacity for self-criticism and self-correction. Science has a high capacity, fundamentalist religion a low capacity.

2. Belief systems vary in their survival value, in their ability to adapt to changing conditions. Capitalism has been very flexible over the last 200 years; will it continue to do so?

Christianity also has changed dramatically even over the last few decades. When I was growing up, fundamentalist Christianity occuped a small niche. Now it crowds out the traditional churches.

3. Belief systems vary in their openness to other belief systems. Christianity was hung up on evolution and modern science for a couple of centuries, whereas Islam and Buddhism never had that problem. Eastern religions in general are more tolerant of other beliefs than Judaism-Christianity-Islam.

4. Belief systems can play different roles in society - preserving the status quo, providing a neutral zone in times of conflict, serving as a flag for warring interests.

I think these are important characteristics to keep in mind, as we return to Gail's comments about peak oil and climate beliefs.

For example, in my mind, peak oil and climate (AGW) are much more allied to science than their opponents. The opponents seem to have much more in common with fundamentalism and as preservers of the status quo.

Energy Bulletin

The belief system that has been most interesting to me since I started reading The Oil Drum is economics. It would like to ally itself with science, but there is not really not as much science behind it as people would suppose. Our business leaders have great faith that the economic system is self-healing, but I see little reason to expect this to be the case.

Having been a member of a church which accepts the Book of Mormon and contemporary inspired documents as an equal testimony as the Bible (Community Of Christ) for nearly 40 years I do believe that religions grow out of the society of its time. People of all ages have been challenged to explain certain persistent questions like where did the world come from, where did people come from, and natural phenomenon like earthquakes, weather, or why do most stars stay in a constant formation while a few wander around the sky. As new data becomes available then old beliefs are challenged and subject to new interpretations. It is this ability to reinterpret which is the core of a living religion. Even science is based on a belief that reality doesn't change but our understanding of reality does. The ancients knew this and as mentioned above that there are multiple creation stories within the first few chapters of Genesis. From the start the editors of the Torah knew that the stories are not a literal account of what happened. It was later generations who were trying to maintain an orderly society that insisted on a literal interpretation.
Somewhere in the writings of M. Scott Peck is a description of four stages of spiritual growth that persons may or may not go through. 1st stage is one of total disregard for other people which is present in infants and psychopaths. 2nd stage is one of adherence to strict unquestioned rules and beliefs. It is the "because I said so" phase which toddlers accept from their parents. In adults this stage is seen in career military and fundamentalists. These people crave order in their lives and are loyal to leaders even to the point of killing those who the leaders say to kill even if it involves a suicide mission. There is considerable overlap between soldiers and police officers and their adherence to fundamentalist branches of religions. 3rd stage is the questioning of authority which adolescents go through and what some call the "dark night of the soul". Here we find agnostics, some atheists, and the searchers who bounce from religion to religion, different forms of psychotherapy, and assorted New Age cults. From here rise the few who go on to the 4th stage of the mystical experience where the connectedness of all persons and the universe is synthesized. These few see the transcendent principles of divine love as that which controls their lives. They see the purpose of prayer as not a way to change God's mind but as a way to change their own perceptions of reality. Rituals and rules may be followed but not because some authority said so but because they see the good it does for themselves and society. They may see the need to change the rules and therefore bring on the contempt of those in power which leads to their martyrdom. Such has been the fate of many prophets.

May I recommend my just-published book Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse. It is indeed an emotional and spiritual roadmap for the unprecedented transitions that lie ahead. It may be ordered at my website at www.carolynbaker.net.


"In some senses "Sacred Demise" covers familiar territory. Like all books in the genre of peak oil literature, it must cover the basic ground of our situation. But at no time does this look like just another peak oil or end of the world book. Instead, Baker asks her readers to think seriously about defining the end of the society they know in new terms - thus far, most books have no asked us to imagine collapse both as inevitable and as contextualized as a moral journey.

The stories we tell ourselves about the future will, in the end, define it more than our technologies or our practices. In the end, practices are vulnerable to shift in meaning - one can see poverty or wealth in a simple, subsistence life, for example. Fixing meaning is the only way to sustain ethical practice - modern society at its root transforms things that are good and sustainable into things that are backwards and impoverished. Few other books that I know of on our coming triple crisis - the end of economic growth, peak oil and climate change - has begun to answer the deeply important question "how shall we view this, how shall we speak of it."

I often joke "I'm not spiritual, I'm religious." That is, I am something of a skeptic about spiritual approaches that pick and choose appealing bits from faiths, without addressing or fully dealing with the whole structure of religious belief that underlies them. I worry about the lack of rigor of such an approach, and so when Baker sent me a copy of her book, I was afraid I'd struggle to find something good to say. I was thus, favorably impressed by the way that Baker uses her raw material to speak about spiritual life in ways that are not pallid or empty, but are deep, rigorous and complex.

Baker is unflinching in her diagnosis of our situation, and never pulls her punches. She does not offer false hope or false reassurance. What she offers is a deeply complex and valuable narrative in which to contextualize our experience, a great deal of personal wisdom, and a long historical view of our present state. It might seem that these things are small in comparison to what we lose when we look honestly at our situation, but they turn out not to be.

Perhaps the best and most useful thing I can say about Carolyn Baker's book is this - it manages to leave you consoled, sustained and in new ways prepared to face the future. Despite the fact that its unflinching honesty takes away denial as a choice, it leaves us better off than before. And what more can one say about a book?"

I read much of this thread to see if it would go where i thought it would. Down numerous rat holes. When it comes to discussions of "religion"
"religions" "secular" etc. I have only found two truths. Some people believe and some don't. All the rest of the discussion is esoteric bullshit.

Hi treeman,

I would like to disagree with you, but I'm hard pressed to fault your observation given much of this discussion. It seems that many of us enjoy posting our own POV and supporting birds of the feather (I'm guilty) - we did get several inches of snow here today and this is better than shoveling.

But, I'd welcome a real discussion about how the "belief" in a supernatual world, human superority, life after death, etc, contributes to the destruction of the planet by humans.

I made no statement about the veracity of Gail's arguments. I personally believe religion does more good than harm. The extreme religious excesses would happen with or without the religion associated with them. People would find another reason to kill their neighbor and take what they had. What I do think is true is that cheap energy has allowed members of mankind to be generous to other members of mankind. The largess thus supplied could be shared without adversely affecting the generous individual. Take away that cheap energy, ala peak oil and the subsequent social ramifications, and as George Montbiot says " We'll go back to fighting like cats in a sack". Religion will still serve a purpose to help bind the community together as it has for millenniums. IMHO arguing about whether it should is akin to pissing into the wind.

Peak oil would fit well into "stewardship" discussions at many churches I've attended. Lutheran and Episcopal congregations (and many other denominations as well) often have a strong thread of caring for and conserving the creation. I think that Christianity can be a major player for the good in spreading awareness and preparing people psychologically for the necessity of societal change to adapt to energy scarcity. In fact, I think it's about as well positioned as any institution to do so.

My background is Lutheran and my husband's is Episcopalian. We belong to a Lutheran church, and the Episcopal Church is similar. You are right that there is a strong thread of caring and conserving the creation. Also, a thread of care for the poor and those less fortunate.

The "sending" at the end of the service is, "Go in Peace. Feed the poor."

The words 'belief', 'faith', 'knowledge', etc. are used fairly loosely by most people, but I think it leads to a lot of confusion. Rather than get all pedantic on ya'll, I'll just drop that clarification of how we are using these words (loaded meanings, often) would really help discussions.

Take 'certainty' for example. People claim to 'know' something and are 'certain' of the veracity of their 'belief'. Certainty turns out to be a 'feeling' (in the sense described by Antonio Damasio). I just finished a really enlightening book (complete with a feeling of certainty that the author has hit the nail on the head!) On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not, by Robert Burton. A good read.

Here is the Amazon.com product description:

You recognize when you know something for certain, right? You "know" the sky is blue, or that the traffic light had turned green, or where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001--you know these things, well, because you just do.

In On Being Certain, neurologist Robert Burton shows that feeling certain—feeling that we know something--- is a mental sensation, rather than evidence of fact. An increasing body of evidence suggests that feelings such as certainty stem from primitive areas of the brain and are independent of active, conscious reflection and reasoning. In other words, the feeling of knowing happens to us; we cannot make it happen.

Bringing together cutting-edge neuroscience, experimental data, and fascinating anecdotes, Robert Burton explores the inconsistent and sometimes paradoxical relationship between our thoughts and what we actually know. Provocative and groundbreaking, On Being Certain challenges what we know (or think we know) about the mind, knowledge, and reason.

Philosophers say knowledge is justified true belief. They assert that the only thing that can be rattling around in your noggin is just a belief. Neuroscience seems to concur. How it got there (many paths) and how you came to hold it with some certainty determines how close to some sort of objective knowledge you hold. In general, beliefs in xyz based on observations and causal correlations (evidence), even if produced by others (like scientists!) serve best.

In other words: Question Everything

Religion is not science and science is not religion.

The most important thing I have learned so far in life, besides things like remembering not to let the spinning chain bite my fingers or making sure I'm hooked in before running off a cliff with the hangglider(otherwise known as making sure the force of evolution doesn't evolve me away), is that we are all artists.

We are all "painting a picture" of ourselves by means of the facts we select to share and the stories we use to build an image of ourself for others to enjoy. This form of art is a process and therefore has milestones(ever look back on those funny pictures of yourself from the 1960s that celebrate the image of ourself frozen in a milestone?) and not destinations. The process of creating an image for others to enjoy can be celebrated by anyone who develops an awareness of this view of reality.

For me, understanding that at best, all I "know" about any other person, a wife, child, best friend, politician, celebrity, spiritual master, economist or oil industry "expert," is the story they create and share with me. This explains for me why we can never truly get to know somebody else and therefore relieves me of the pain of disappointment when people don't live up to my expectations. This also provides me with a "well" of tolerance and acceptance for others, no matter how odd their "beliefs" and behavior may seem.

Tolerance and acceptance are warm and fuzzy but at times life takes courage and some of us have to step up and speak up as leaders and help those who don't have what it takes to recognize the asteroid of Peak Oil that is bearing down upon us.

I recently gave a Peak Oil powerpoint presentation to a religious group and afterwords one of the members was anxious to let me know that he thought the story of it all was "consistent with scripture." Whether it was or it wasn't I don't know, but it was interesting that I got a sense that this very religious gentleman was straining to give himself permission to listen to the message, especially about the "dieoff" concept and doing his polite best to avoid attacking the geologist in me, at least in public.

I consider it a moral imperative to share the Peak Oil story with as many as I can get to listen, even if that means interrupting their inane parroting about the "global economic crisis" and explaining that the crisis is actually energy-based.

About religious and secular systems it's noticeable the similarity between Roman Catholicism and Communism. That's why communism had it's highest levels of support in catholic countries like France and Italy. Switching from a pope in Rome to a pope in Moscow wasn't such a leap.

To link communism and catholicism is at best a poor understanding of the various groups within the Christian church. The most obvious thing to point out is that Russia is an Orthodox country and not Catholic! As far as popes go the Orthodox churches are not subject to the Catholic pope.
The answer to the silly question "is the pope catholic?" is no, he is Orthodox and he is more than one. Pope Shenoudah is currently the 117th Pope in the Holy See of St Mark (Coptic Church) also popes in other orthodox churches.

I was talking about popular support. In Russia the communists seized power in the chaos caused by revolution and defeat in war. They were never that popular. In France and Italy the communists were the main parties of the left. millions of people voted for them

MUST.... EAT.... BRAINS....

Starting discussions comparing reality-based accumulative-knowledge with mythology-based belief systems is akin to beating on a beehive with a stick, and expecting the bees to meet you halfway in some sort of compromise.


However, when surrounded by organized legions of the insane, there is an undeniable pragmatism to trying to blend in, at least outwardly.

URK! ::slobber:: BRAINS HERE???... [thumpa-crash]

Excuse me, there's someone at the door. I think I'll go eat some brains with the neighbors. Localization really IS key to our future.


Finally... someone I can relate to.... Thank God. oh.... wait a sec...

I guess I'll have to thank someone else' God... I don't have one... or however many is required to qualify.

I hope someone else' God has a sense of humor tho I understand it does have some anger management issues. wrath of god/ smiting the unworthy and such.... oh well...I suppose I will be smoted...

I wonder if I will have time to go thru the five stages of being smoted.... I can only remember 3 stages anyway so .... smote away!!!!

Of course god has a sense of humour.

A favourite quote is: "When God created Man, She was only joking!!"

I think one should distinguish between belief systems and knowledge systems.

A belief system is something that is imposed, something you receive without being truly conscious of what is happening.

A knowledge system is what you construct from the debris of the collision between belief and reality.

A belief system consists of traditional and usual answers to questions. Questioning those answers is not required nor wanted.

A knowledge system begins when one separates the wheat from the chaff, when confirmation is required before an answer can be considered for inclusion in The Truth, and The Truth requires confirmation beyond doubt.

As a Catholic child, I was taught bad girls like sex and good girls don't. That was part of the belief system I grew up in.
I found out that girls who like sex are often very nice people, whereas girls who don't like it can be quite unpleasant.
My belief system broke down and died.
My knowledge system remains agnostic about the correlation between liking sex and good or evil. I do know chastity does not make you a good person, just as lubricity does not make you a bad person. Not being Casanova, I do not have the statistical base to pronounce on either side of the question.

I acknowledge that it is impossible for any one person to accumulate certain knowledge about everything. I am quite incapable of following the more abstruse reasonings of Steve Hawkins, for example. It is however quite feasible to build a knowledge system on a scientific basis; only confirmed observations are allowed for The Truth - the rest must remain conjecture, at best of high probability.

In part, one can refer to the science and technical literature, for which the oil drum is an excellent source, among others. In part, one has to rely on the horse sense that got knocked into one when ones belief system died. A healthy skepticism will help you navigate the relative trustworthiness of any sources of information. Provenance, context and confirmation are essential, if one wants to determine the true 'value' of any message.


Now we're getting to the crux of the matter: "Peak Oil" is as much a spiritual problem as a material one. If the dominant religion of techno-progress can't deliver several miracles rather quickly, it may become an entirely spiritual problem as we face the unavoidable fact that "growth" and "progress" have led us to the abyss of self-destruction. I see the Peak Oil movement as somewhat analogous to the early Christians--amidst the collapse of Rome, they carried the message of an inverted order, a new belief system that could redress the evils of the bankrupt Empire. Just as Christianity gradually converted the Roman elites, it will be interesting to see how quickly our own leaders embrace this new way of thinking as the failure of their mythology becomes difficult to deny. The point is, if you're looking for a new religion for a post-peak world look no further; the prophets and apostles of the new faith are right here, and the ranks of the faithful grow larger every day.

I agree with mistergrinch on this. I would say that the belief system(s) of limitless growth, inexorable historical progress and the gradual perfection of human society through technology are incredibly pervasive in America and many other countries. They are so ingrained now that they almost aren't even noticed as belief systems. And they are held dear by members of the left and right wing alike, albeit clothed somewhat differently. They constitute a sort of secular faith, though one that also often rears its head within organized religions as well.

I would have thought that the disastrous wars/genocides etc of the twentieth century would actually have put these ideas in major jeopardy, coming as they did amidst (and sometimes linked to) major technological progress. Instead, many people seem to perceive a failure of "ideology". I think this is a grave misreading of the situation of the human race.

At any rate, as mistergrinch points out, peak oil symbolizes the failure of these belief systems in a very powerful way. Indeed, it will put it right in people's faces to the point where they can't look away. I like the comparison of the Peak Oil movement to the early Christians in Rome.

Surprised 'Personal defense through fire-arms' doesn't show on the list - given the degree to which people are arming themselves now in the US. Ammo sales at an all time high. At least something isn't suffering YET during the downturn.

Anthropogenic global warming has as its central belief, the belief that man caused recent changes in climate. There are different flavors of this belief system, depending on whether one believes that one can change the course of events, and if so, what needs to be done.

First two disclaimers, 1) Im not a climate scientist so I can't really speak to the validity of this particular scientific theory, but that is not what is important here.
2) I think this is a good example of what many lay people may indeed refer to as a belief but I do not "BELIEVE", (pun intended) that climate scientists think of this as such, any more so than for example, evolutionary biologists believe in the theory of evolution or physicists believe in gravitational theory.

There is not supposed to be (granted scientists are human) any belief involved in the way scientists think about and apply these theories. If there is then they are doing it wrong and not practicing science.


Hypothesis: This is an educated guess based upon observation. It is a rational explanation of a single event or phenomenon based upon what is observed, but which has not been proved. Most hypotheses can be supported or refuted by experimentation or continued observation.

Theory: A theory is more like a scientific law than a hypothesis. A theory is an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers. One scientist cannot create a theory; he can only create a hypothesis.

In general, both a scientific theory and a scientific law are accepted to be true by the scientific community as a whole. Both are used to make predictions of events. Both are used to advance technology.

In fact, some laws, such as the law of gravity, can also be theories when taken more generally. The law of gravity is expressed as a single mathematical expression and is presumed to be true all over the universe and all through time. Without such an assumption, we can do no science based on gravity's effects. But from the law, we derived Einstein's General Theory of Relativity in which gravity plays a crucial role. The basic law is intact, but the theory expands it to include various and complex situations involving space and time.

The biggest difference between a law and a theory is that a theory is much more complex and dynamic. A law describes a single action, whereas a theory explains an entire group of related phenomena.

I appreciate the points made in the post itself, but today don't have the energy to plunge into the ensuing melee.

In the next few years, it is likely that some form of relocalization will be needed. In the USA, churches may be good centers for this type of activity, because many people are already members of a church, and have many friends there. (In Europe, I would expect the situation to be different.) This reason, apart from any other, might be a reason why some Oil Drum members might want to join a church (or other local religious group), even if a person doesn't agree with all of the beliefs.

I think this is perhaps the central point of Gail's essay, and I both agree with its practicality and cringe from it.

A substantially similar case could be made for becoming well-placed to join an organized crime syndicate pending the breakdown of civil order; I think Orlov has implied that if not said it outright.

My grandfather wasn't religious, but belonged to the local church, and the Elks. And to increase his fitness in Illinois still further, the KKK. My mom remembers the Klan as an organization which held picnics. It wasn't really about black people; couldn't have been, since there weren't any in her town. Just a bunch of happy people sharing beliefs.

It's so easy, practical, and logical.

You sure say a lot in a few lines.

Jay Hanson has recommended to his readers for years that they join a church, lodge or community group of some sort for protection during the coming anarchy. Personally I find the idea of compromising my beliefs in order to maybe survive for a few more years not really worth the effort.

yeah, and if Hanson has become my spiritual advisor, I pretty much figure the gig is up anyway...:-)


Hi Greenish,

I wondered what happened to you! Although a few bright spots (like MoonWatcher comments), overall I find this thread depressing. As usual, you have great insight. All the happy talk about the good deeds done in the name of religion demonstrates the depth of the delusion and the collective amnesia of the destructive power of religion.

Hi Bicycle Dave,

Just a friendly note to refer you to my comment which is "happy talk", well, let me change that to..."musing" (not happy, not sad, just curious)...about good deeds done *for their own sake*.

Or, maybe I just like the idea of raising a bunch of kids nobody else wants. The deed is so much more amazing than talking about it.

Hi Aniya,

I see by the time stamp that you've been up late again ;-)

I always admire people who provide assistance in times of need to other humans and other species. But, I've not seen a strong correlation between that idea and Christianity. One person's idea of "good deeds" may be a "bad deed" for someone else. In this regard, I would trust a humanist/evironmentalist more than a person who is primarily more interested in getting a better seat at the table in their afterlife. The former is less likely to "liberate" Iraq than the latter. George Bush is a good Christian.

Do you folks realize that if we moved this string over here

It would fit right in!


I have refrained from posting a comment on this debate. Its almost over though so.....

I will only say a few things though about the KJV Bible, the Old Testament and taking a literal view of the KJV Bible.

First the KJV is incomplete. It does not contain the apocrypha. Its in most other bibles. In the Catholic versions as well. I read that when it was being made available way way back in this countries early times that the Quakers wanted the apocrypha deleted from the American version and so it was. And was in the original KJV.

Next. The New Testament has errors. This is ackknowledged. The genealogy of Christ is one that is admitted to. There are others as well.

Next. There is no J in Hebrew. There is no J in Greek. There is no J in Latin. There used to be no J in English until a couple three hundred years ago. We got it from the French. Or so I have read and others may disagree but here is some valid proof:
On the cross Pilate had a sign made and nailed to it above the one he cruicified. It was this:INRI..and in a Catholic Church you will see that sign and those letters. They translate as Ieous Nazarezum Rex Iudea(might have misspelled Narazerum but it means this in english Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. NOTE noooo J. His name in Hebrew would have been Yeshuoa Ben Yosef...perhaps what we translate as Joshua. Not Jesus. And Christ in Greek means Messiah or so I read.

So where did that Jesus word come from? From our tampering with the documents.

Next. The chapter names of the Old Testament are all Greek. Not Hebrew. And they are NOT in the same layout as our Old Testament shows them. They are divided quite differently. Berashith is the first part of Genesis..because that is the first word in that beginning. Berashith means In The Beginning...

Like wise the portion about Moses starts as Moshe..since Moses of course is not Moses name. Its Moshe. and so forth and so on and concluding in that we have altered the hell out of those books and documents.

Lastly. The Torah(first five books attributed to Moses as author) was given and written as one continous stream of Hebrew words. No spaces and no vowels and no other puncutation marks. The Jewish Rabbis and others believe it to be a 'living' entity that can alter itself as time and other events dictate. And it can there fore be translated in many different ways.

Its said that the very first verse of Genesis can be translated 16 different ways and all valid.

And one last point. The first verse in KJV says:
In the beginning Gods created the heavens and the universe.

GODS? Plural. Elohim is plural. The im ending means plural.
So what exactly can this mean? More than one God? Perhaps one know as Ein Sof? The limitless one,the undefinabe one, the unknowable one? Etc..Since God is undifferentiated He cannot really be KNOWN?
And I might add that Elohim is not Gods name. Its the tetragramaton .
A word that the Jews will not pronouce but instead say Ha Shem..meaning 'the name' or they might say Adoni.. which we translate as Lord. ...and then never can be sure who anyone means when they say LORD...???? I asked a preacher.."who are you referring to when you say Lord???" He became very upset and claimed I was LOST!
He was the one lost.

I studied this one verse(the first verse) and pondered it for about 3 weeks solid one cold winter as I started my long long trek into the world of Hebrew and the bible in search of what it REALLY SAID or MEANT. I had given up on lots of words from the 'pulpit' and some what out and out stupidity at that.

So I studied and studied and started translating the Hebrew and found an entirely different aspect to the God of the bible and the God of the Jews and what was stated and what was really there,,,along with copious readings of ancient and mystical Hebrew belief systems. Such as the numerous books of the Kabbalah. BTW the word Jews comes from Judea and since no J its really Iudea and I believe the Romans first stated using that word for the Hebrews. (Judah)

Translation is a devil. So much of our language changes over and over and truth is trampled and beliefs are changed and many are confused.
I would guess the bible has been through several translations and thats why I started with the Old Testament for in every synagogue there is a Torah scroll and every one has to be dead letter perfect and not one single jot changed ever. Same in all synagogues and since it is most definitely THEIR old testament then I preferred to translate slowly and more accurately.

I have many many books gathered during my years of study. I find a spiritual insight I never would have gained in all my many many years of sitting in chruches of various denominations.In fact outright lies and bullshit.

Many may not be able or care to go this route. I chose it and found it worth the effort for to me the truth has been my journey all thru my life here on this earth. I have untruths. Fabrications and lies.

I say to each his own. I find amazing events that transpire in my day to day life as I seek further to the spiritual aspect of man. Some I could almost label as miracles. Events that synchronize in amazing manners. To me its the spirit that speaks. I don't care it the Holy Spirit. I just call it spirit and sacred.

To me its as real as the trees that surround my farm. The quality of plain soil and what comes out of the ground. The sun in my face and the moon over my shoulder. I find comfort in this. I seek it and do find it.

My way is just my way. If someone asks I tell them it. I try not to preach it...But as a once popular show slogan went;
The Truth Is Out There. I agree. You will only find it if you search with an open mind and forget the pulpits of this world. Nature and the earth will show you. If you don't try to destroy it or trash it and respect it.

I call it Transcendentalism I suppose, much as Thoreau and Emerson might have espoused it.

So try not to listen to other than your own spirit. Study what has been written and try to find enlightment. Or not as you chose.
But its not an easy path. It is a path though. We each will walk our own as we feel led.

Airdale-enough preachy stuff from me

PS. If any errros above? Get back to me. I might have stated something wrong. Its late and I am famished and tired. And I know what works for Airdale. I don't know what will work for you..but thats my story and I am sticking to it..well it might be all I have in the not too distant murky future.

PPS. Little pithy sayings on Church billboards outside near the driveways? Drives me crazy. Things like God loves YOU!. God wants you to do this and that.??? How the hell do 'they' know the mind of GOD? Really? This is utter bullshit. They can study and postulate. They can recommend but to say they speak for GOD? Nonsense. That God told them to tell us this and that? Quakery. They can preach what is in the bible but that don't mean THEY are right. They can lead but they can't demand anyone follow. This is what makes people leery of organized religion. And the POPE? Don't get me started. The Vicar of Christ on earth? Rubbish. Unfalliable? I don't buy it.

Hi airdale,

Glad to see that the old dog is still able to howl (at the moon?).

Here's hoping that you will again find the time to comment more frequently, now that last winter's mess is melting away...

E. Swanson

By the way, I have a younger sister Lois Tverberg who writes religious books. A book from a few years ago is Listening to the Language of the Bible. It is about how Hebrew words don't translate well, and what they really mean.

She also has a new book out called Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus. I haven't read it yet--I think it is about Jewish customs of the time of Jesus.

Hi Gail,

Here is one area that I have a conflict with.

Its said by many , and many preachers do preach this. That 'The Jews Killed Jesus'. Well at that time there were huge numbers of Jews living in other countries. Also this was more like a rabble that the High Priest, Anianias(sp) had managed to sway in Jerusalem. What about all the jews not in Jerusalem? Those thousands that Jesus had 'saved' by his oral sermons.

In fact what I read is that since the time of the Greek(Alexander) that the high priest was then 'appointed' as a political position by whom ever was in control of Palestine(as the Romans referred to it).
And that the current High Priest was not a true member of the Levitical priesthood. More like an Hasomonean. That the real Levite priesthood had left to found Qumran and rebelled against the Sanhedrin.

So did the Procureator of Palestine who was Pontias Pilate and with the full strength of the legions of Rome behind him have to bow to the wishes of a rabble crowd? No. It was the Romans who crucified Jesus.

The same romans who later declared Christianity a part of the state and assumed the role of Pope. This became the Holy Roman Empire.

They then spread the gospel of the Jews being the culprits so that they could absolve themselves of their bloody hands.

Quite a trick. And further if they were so innocent why did they also crucify thousands of Christians and line the roads with them upon stakes? Or put them in the arenas to be devoured by animals?

The romans have clean hands? I have an older Catechism prior to the 60's that states the attitude of the Catholic Church towards Jews.
It wasn't until the 2nd Vatican in the 60's that they started to recant a bit.

History paints a different story of those events. For this I read Josephus and others. Including the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi plus others unearthed more recently.


Airdale, as you are interested in the language of the bible, you might want to read Everett Fox's translation of the Torah. He tries to stick to the poetry and cadence of the Hebrew. It's not the easiest version to read, but an interesting one.

I stqrted with Atler's "The Five Books of Moses".

For this reason. He is a very learned scholar and head of Hebraic studies at a university, which I forget, but his view and I agree is that far far more is known presently of Biblical Hebrew than at any other time.

It is not a complete translation but he calls on many expert Rabbis for interpretations and most generally I agree that he is breaking new ground in better understanding the panoramic view of the Torah.

I learned an enormous amount. Mostly what I learned is very distorted by todays clergy. To the extent that they are many times creating fiction.

I recommend it.
I think I have viewed Fox's material. I don't believe I found it worth purchasing.

For most people who try to take the Old Testament literally they do it mostly to bash religion. Most of the early chapters are somewhat symbolic and many have deep hidden meanings.

For instance the Tree of Life. This is symbolic. It relates to some very esoteric knowledge that was never made public until very recently.

Airdale--I would suggest Leonora Leet who has written a large number of books in this area. A Phd from Columbia and head of Medieval English at a noted university,again I can't recall and too lazy to go look in my library. Again this is esoteric Jewish Mysticism at its deepest level. Has to be understood that the Jews have studied this for thousands of years. Our Protestant preachers for only a very very short time and they want to tell us how it is? ???? I don't think so!!! If you wish to understand better this area then I suggest one needs to go to the Hebrew material.

Thanks for the advice and I will revisit Fox once more.

I am sure my sister's book has nothing at all to do with Jews killing Jesus.

She is a student of Jewish customs, and is trying to interpret some of the things in the BIble in terms of the customs of the day. She is not Jewish (she is of Norwegian ancestry, as I am), but has studied in Israel and also in some synagogs here. Some of the Jewish men thought it was interesting that a blonde woman wanted to come and learn more about Jewish customs and history.

I know with Lois' earlier book she sold copies to a very wide group, including Unitarian Universalists and Bob Jones University and practically every kind of group in between. She is more of a researcher than anything else. He early book comes across as very fact-based. The later one is still fact based, but I think the publisher wanted it to have more of a story-like feel to it, so it would appeal to women as well as men. (The early book was especially popular with men.)

Don't know if you will read this reply or not but I was not trying to impugn your sister's works or books in any way.

What I was trying to uncover was that the Jews are many times charged with the death of Christ and this leads to an enormous amount of hypocrisy and hate fostered by Christian religions against the Jews
and Israel.

Prejudice that never seems to go away even though they were slaughtered by the Nazis by the millions.

I will look up her book/s on the net and perhaps order a copy via Amazon. Thanks for this topic post. It has been most illuminating.


Hi Gail

Many of these "beliefs" are worded as absolute statements that create a false dichotomy. As such, it makes partial agreement difficult.

For example:

He who dies with the most toys wins.
Sometimes being able to pay the rent is pretty cool. A certain amount of material comfort is a positive thing. It's not necessary to be an ascetic.

Beautiful bodies are everything.
There's nothing wrong with being attractive or attracted to the physical appearance of people. We are all objects of some sort, but we are also more than objects. The statement again creates a stark divide between two absolutes. Regardless, one can enjoy pornography and still believe in ecological limits,

Technology will solve all problems.
What about technology will solve some problems, or even many problems. Even a shovel is a type of technology.

There are many shades of grey in all of this. Ideologies are not helpful. I agree with many of the ideas here, but to make Peak Oil into a religion is a huge mistake.

I didn't say it was. I just listed what I call "belief systems". The thing they have in common is that for any one of them, there are some people who think they are wrong. There are a lot of people who refuse to consider the idea of peak oil. Some people lead their lives as if "He who dies with the most toys wins" is really true. There are a lot of others who believe it not true at all, or only a little.

Capitalism, especially as currently being practiced by the USA, is the source of more dogmatism and religious fervor than any church.

For most, Capital is God, and The Free Market Is the chosen path, agreed..
However, I believe Gail is pointing out people getting together to acknowledge the Psychopathic Space Daddy, and other such creation myths from bronze and iron age fiction. In the US, the Cosmic Jewish Zombie is and important fictional character.
Until people find this a form of psychosis, this will be a reference point to base reality, and the world as we observe it will continue it's downward spiral toward human extinction.

Wouldn't this imply, then, that it is HOW we hold our beliefs or hypotheses, not WHAT we hold, that is the key to belief systems?

A hypothesis that can be corroborated on the basis of empirical evidence and has no disconfirming evidence is rational and scientific.

A hypothesis for which everything is evidence and nothing is counter-evidence is a religious belief and thus irrational and non-scientific.

If, then, you hold Anthropogenic Global Warming in an irrational way, where no counter-evidence is accepted or sought for or considered, then it is a religious belief and not a scientific assertion. If you actively seek counter-evidence, are willing to accept probabilistic verification, accept that there is no certainty, then you hold AGW in a scientific sense.

Every perception and conception seems to have certain underlying presuppositions about the nature of reality. There are numerous "sayings" that could upon analysis be shown to presuppose a "materialist" or a "spiritualist" worldview, for example, so we could dispense with discussing specific instances of a worldview and discuss the general idea (for example, the body beautiful, he with the most toys wins, money is everything, etc. could probably be classed as materialistic).

Consider cosmology. We can classify a finite number of basic cosmologies based on fundamental presuppositions, of space and time. Any two terms can be related in n2 ways. Consider space and time as finite or infinite. We can have four basic categories: finite time and space, infinite time and space, finite time and infinite space, infinite time and finite space.

Finite time and space obviously needs a beginning, a start, and an end, so maybe a creator. Time begins and at some point ends; space or matter or mass has a finite time to configure itself in various ways. This is likely the basic presupposition of Christianity and of the Big Bang.

Infinite time and infinite space obviously do not need or have any "beginning" or any end: matter spins into endless configurations eternally. Fred Hoyle's infinite universe.

Finite time and infinite space implies a beginning in time, but "what" begins is but one of many possible configurations, so many configurations that are possible never have the time to be actualized. The Big Bang could also fit here.

Infinite time and finite space means that a finite mass is configured and re-configured endlessly in time, so the same thing happens over and over again. This is Nietzsche's eternal recurrence.

All of our belief systems could be similarly categorized. For example, we have monotheism, dualism (the eternal fight between good and evil, found in Zoroasterism, for example), and polytheism, if we use a numerical categorization. Islam is monotheistic, while Christianity is polytheistic.

With these "hypotheses" formed from a small number of presuppositions, we could then discuss the evidence for each. Clearly there is evidence for each, but is there preponderant evidence? Not just empirical evidence, but logical, aesthetic, and so on. Buckminster Fuller was one who held that if a theory wasn't beautiful (simple, elegant), it couldn't possibly be true, no matter the empirical evidence.

(or geesh, this apocalypse is so tiring...)

Let us pause for a moment and talk about another religion, since we probably should find a way to bring the subject back to the oil drum, and that is the religion of OIL.

A long time ago (probably 2 or more years) I posted on TOD that I was seeing a real fixation on the god of OIL. Not peak oil, mind you, not energy, but OIL, the absoute central deity of The Oil Drum doctrine.

I was familiar with this fixation of OIL as god because I had suffered from it in my youth. We must recall that we have been somewhat through this emergency before, and the end time was declared by the prophets in those days too.

In the 1970's I was a junior high school student and high school student when the first of two major oil crisis struck.

It altered my thinking for the rest of my years to this date. I was certain that oil and automobiles were finished. You must understand what an astounding shock this was to a child who was the son of an auto mechanic. One of my uncles was also a car mechanic, and another was an aircraft mechanic.

I was raised in a home that believed in automobiles and engines as works of art. My first job was in an auto service shop at the age of 15.

Our family dinner conversations involved the merits of high speed short stroke engines vs. long stroke slower speed engines, the problem of too much carburetor for the camshaft to be able to handle and the value of a high vacuum signal in the induction of the engine.

I used my spare cash to buy books, books on Ferrari, Lotus, vintage sports car racing, the great American road couse races, European Formula 1, the absolute HIGH PRIESTHOOD of the car culture.

And OIL, the heart of the faith! How could you not deify this substance!? It was the miracle substance, one gallon could hurtle you along for miles, make the greatest sounds and made possible the elegance of Ferrari, the mechancical purposefulness of the Porsches, the classy beauty of the British Aston Martins, Jaguars, Rolls Royces. It had made possbile America's great car age, the Packards and the Lincoln V-16 engines right in the heart of the depression, the stunning Corvettes of the 1950's, all possible because of OIL, The font of not only power but beauty as well.

And just as I came of driving age, the age of OIL would end. The end time was near.

I had listed on a sheet in which I was asked to plan my career goals. My dream was that of all red blooded boys of the car culture if they wanted to be truly parth of the faith, to rival the greats, Enzo Ferrari, Colin Chapman of Lotus (engineers I still admire), Jim Hall of Chapparal, king of the sports racing cars of the age, cars that are still collected as relics, restored, cleaned, put in glass rooms, the truly pure relics from the age of the great faith.

Do you not believe it? Do you dare to feast your eyes on a religious relic? Listen not only to the relic but to the reaction of the people present:

And it was to end, before I could even take part. Can you imagine such a shattering of faith? The god of OIL was abandoning us.

And then a funny thing happened. It didn't happen. We held on, and said, those of us who had given up the faith, "don't worry, it will", like the Adventists who waited on the hill for the end of the world, we knew it was coming. Sure, maybe the exact timing was a bit off, but it was coming, just you wait and see!

But it didn't happen. A new decade began, and growth and prosperity finally took off. THIS WILL DO IT we thought, sure it didn't happen in a recession, but now with growth, we will hit the wall fast!

It didn't happen. Another decade rolled by. The age of consumption, and the age of OIL started sucking in everyone, the East Europeans, the Chinese, the Russians! This will do it, there is NO WAY we can provide that much OIL! OIL began to conquer the world, maybe it really was the god and we had showed our lack of faith, our weakness by ever doubting it. Could it be?

I began to study this OIL, this god of ours while still in high school, and what the teachers didn't provide I found and studied on my own.
At first I was even more awed. It was MAGIC, it was this long molecules of carbon and hydrogen, perfectly packed for power! It took nature millions of years to create under pressure, it was a geological work of art!

And so it was. But, I also learned it was made of the two most common elements in existence, carbon and hydrogen, and that these two elements actually fused together rather easily. How did I know this? Because it happened every day in my gut, and in the guts of everything from termites to elephants. In fact it happened everyday everywhere, from the sewers of the cities to the swamps, a clean "hydrocarbon" was producing itself everyday! It is called methane of course, and the force driving its creation is the sun and the living creatures of the earth. It could also be driven in "digesters" human built devices that were rather simple.

Suddenly, the god OIL did not seem so godlike after all. Becuase for a god to be god, its actions and abilities cannot be so easily copied or replaced.

My faith was shaken again, but not because I was scared that the god of OIL would leave us, but because I was not so certain it would matter if it did.

As the years went by, I learned more. I learned about heat, and about solar, and about wind, and about various ways to handle energy including how much we simply wasted away with ever even extracting work from, how much was flared off, how much was THROWN AWAY! That was the sin!

But mostly I learned about people.

I learned that there are those who love the relics of the great OIL age, and see the best ot them as works of art, as demostrations of human ability and human effort, and there are those who hate them, and see them as evil, the false path, and demonstrations of the evil at work in the world.

I learned that there are those who are fearful of losing the god of OIL because it is all they have ever known, and there are others who are fearful of losing the god of OIL because they always must be fearful of something.

There are also those who rejoice at the prospect of the end of the age of oil because they believe it will at last bring the golden age, the shining city when humans will at last begin to go to the right path.

Most importantly, I now know that humans, all of us, are very easily frightened, and if the terms are worded in language we accepts as valid, we can be convinced of almost anything.

If a person is highly spiritual, then they can be frightened if the threat is placed in spiritual terms, as a threat to their soul or their spiritual purity.

If a person is highly "scientific" or "rational" then all that is needed to frighten them is to use layer upon layer of rationalizations upon the argument, and use as many facts and as much math as you can find. If you can make the argument relatively internally self consistent, whether or not it has any real connection to the real world, they must accept it as a truth and it will frighten them.

As for me, I try to stay a bit less frightened these days. I don't always succeed, but I try. And yes, I still try to find a way to look at the relics and icons of the glory days of the faith when we were such true believers, just for old times sake:


Provacatvie comment.

I was thinking along the same lines, that those who take a great interest in peak oil fall into two camps--those who love our secular, materialistic culture and those who hate it: those who mourn its passing and those who celebrate its demise.

As I was leafing through the pages of Peter Adam's Art of the Third Reich, purusing the images of the blond, blue-eyed beauties, all superb specimens of health and physical fitness, I was wondering just how this ideal of the "perfect race" differs from the ideals we are sold by Hollywood and Madison Avenue: the ideal beautiful body, the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect clothes. And how many people can live up to those ideals?

And a few people do strike back, either due to resentment to ideals that are out-of-reach to the vast majority, or a quest to relieve spiritual emptiness. I went to a photography exhibition in San Antonio a few years back called Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes. This from the catalog:

These extraordinary photographs of powerful and beautiful fat women will change your image of beauty forever. The pictures and text combine to send the strongest possible message: We will no longer let society define beauty!

--Debbie Notkin, Women en Large: Images of Fat Nudes

Foucault writ large?

I can relate to a lot of your upbringing regarding autos.

As I had left the farm and we moved to the area of St. Louis and the beginning of suburbia and came into my teens most all my time was spent tinkering with cars.

My friends and I were to be found most of the time underneath a car. Working on it. Finally drag racing. Going to real drag races. Customizing those cars.

A 53 Dodge Red Ram, A 1941 Ford turtle back, a 32 Ford, a 56 Chevy. The list is lengthy.

In those cars we 'souped up' and dragged with we spent the rest of our time 'cruising for girls' to pickup or cruising the local Steak n Shakes.

This was a golden time. We started dating and dancing and going to drive-ins in our rods. There was no better time in America to my way of thinking that coming of age in the 50s and 60s.

Todays youth? I hardly recognize. I have three VW bugs in my barn awaiting my touch. Three engines in crates.

Airdale-wondering where those days went to

Gail--Nice post; knowledge and belief systems are potentially fruitful points of study for Peak Oilers, if they are trying to make a difference in what others believe. A couple of thoughts:

There was an interesting article a few years back:
Jacobs, S. 2003. Two Sources of Michael Polanyi's Prototypal Notion of Incommensurability: Evans-Pritchard on Azande Witchcraft and St Augustine on Conversion. History of the Human Sciences 16:57-76.

Polanyi had discussed the idea that different paradigms of how the world works are separated by a "logical gap"--that within any one system there is internal coherence, but that different belief/knowledge systems seem illogical from the outside. Jacobs' idea is that Polanyi had pulled from both Evans-Pritchard (who looked at alternate systems of logic) and St. Augustine (who wrote on conversion). This might be a good starting place for further exploration--are POers interested in converting others? Or just interested in understanding other points of view?

On another note, when I think of knowledge/belief systems, I think of the Marxist idea of "worldview" and Gramsci's description of hegemony (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_hegemony for a summary). Essentially, the worldview of the dominant economic system (world capitalism, in our case) is encoded in every aspect of everyday life--from churches and schools to hospitals, TV, and family structure. If that is true, then religion (in the sense of organized religion) and economics are not two separate domains, but are fused together; our categorization of them as separate in effect helps to perpetuate the dominance of the system.

Belief systems are also tied to governance--see Foucault's ideas of governmentality, of knowledge about what it is to govern and be governed. What you call a belief, others may call knowledge or fact, and differences in knowledge from one group or person to another always carry with them differences in power. That power is not necessarily demonstrated through dictate--it may be evidenced by controlling the agenda, or even more subtly by controlling the ways that people view their own self-interest: by perpetuating belief systems that may make people happily act toward their own destruction...

I love that!

"Gail--Nice post; knowledge and belief systems are potentially fruitful points of study for Peak Oilers, if they are trying to make a difference in what others believe."

Now notice it would never occur that knowledge and belief systems are never considered to be useful in rationalizing and asking ourselves questions about what we ourselves believe! Only to try to convert others! Astounding.

I once said that the one thing the cornucopians and the doomers have in common is the absolute conviction that they are right. Everything else they may differ on, but both camps are absolutely convinced of their own corrctness of thought.



Roger, you state:

"I once said that the one thing the cornucopians and the doomers have in common is the absolute conviction that they are right. Everything else they may differ on, but both camps are absolutely convinced of their own corrctness of thought."

I would have to strongly disagree with this postulate.

As a super-doomer, I am convinced that the probability of collapse and major dieoff is almost absolute. However I have a tiny remnant hope that the technocopians might make a significant breakthrough that can save some portion of civilisation. I suspect that this would be true of most doomers, no matter how strongly they argue their case.

I also suspect that even the most extreme cornucopians are sometimes subject to a niggling doubt about the wonderful future. You can see the brief worry on their faces when you point out unpleasant facts.

Had you made the above statement about fundamentalists and atheists, rather than cornucopians and doomers, then your claim would be much more valid. Neither of these (fundies/atheists) has any room for doubt, but the cornu's and doomers have at least some chinks in their armour.

James Lovelock is generally considered to be solidly in the doomer camp, but even he can put forward the possibility that a rapid and extensive switch to nuclear power could lessen the future problems.


More on the religious front:

"A horrible little cult in Baltimore committed an ugly crime.

…they denied a 16-month-old boy food and water because he did not say "Amen" at mealtimes. After he died, they prayed over his body for days, expecting a resurrection, then packed it into a suitcase with mothballs. They left it in a shed in Philadelphia, where it remained for a year before detectives found it last spring.

The child's mother, Ria Ramkissoon, and others are on trial for murder, reasonably enough. Here's the kicker, though:

Psychiatrists who evaluated Ramkissoon at the request of a judge concluded that she was not criminally insane. Her attorney, Steven Silverman, said the doctors found that her beliefs were indistinguishable from religious beliefs, in part because they were shared by those around her.

"She wasn't delusional, because she was following a religion," Silverman said, describing the findings of the doctors' psychiatric evaluation.

Well. Why should the religion label excuse delusional beliefs?"

Hi hightrekker,

Would you have a link?

(Not that I'd like to follow it. Sounds like it would give me nightmares to read it.)

Sure: Link

More from our religious friends:

Ramkissoon's attorney, Steven D. Silverman, said Ramkissoon believes the resurrection will occur. She agreed to plead guilty only after prosecutors said they would drop the charges if the child comes back to life, Silverman said.

As far as I'm concerned people and groups can believe in whatever they like as long as it doesn't work to impose various arbitary economic and social controls on me and the public at large. Anthropogenic Global Warming(AGW) is at the top of that list. Its use of social control mechanisms such as blame, shame and the heresy of "denial" are revealing. For all practical purposes it is a "state-sponsored" religion, much as the Church of England, supported by my tax dollars with more on the way in the form of mandatory "tithes" called cap&trade fees, green and carbon offset taxes. It is a violation of the rule and the spirit of the US Constitution. Religious profit, Al Gore, is in clear violation of the RICO ACT for running and profiting from a fraudulent protection racket. "Pay a carbon tax and change the climate, or die." It's hell on earth. His right hand high priest, James Hansen, is a government employee political activist in violation of the Hatch Act and obviously guilty of adulterating NASA's weather data, for which he is professionally responsible, to get the political results someone(s) in government dearly wants. The government's failure to take legal action against either one of these pious martyrs tells the real story.

Here is a belief system for the times -

Lo,though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil,
For I am the evilest son of a bitch in the valley.

Thx, Gail! Very nice and sober reasoning!

So many comments... Do TODer sleep at all?

The Bible says: The root of evil is money. We all more or less are trying to find an ideal way of life we would be delighted with. O.k. we can buy many things like pleasure (i.e. we buy satisfaction), but can we purchase true joy and happiness?

I think that each thinking person should "repent" incessantly, i.e. modify his/her manners or methodology of his/her life (thoughts, deeds etc.) in such a way to pursue this ultimate or final goal of life - to be truly HAPPY.

Yes, it's difficult, and we know that all valuable things do have "a price", but shouldn't we at least try to be good? Shouldn't we all at least try to be less selfish and egoistic, try to respect the people around us and become athletes of virtues?

For start maybe this book The Ladder of Divine Ascent would fascinate you... It's very old and above all non-political and autobiographic. Worth reading.


What the Bible says is the love of money is the root of all evil. Money is a necessity ( or at least, very helpful).

I think the goal of happiness can only be pursued indirectly--through serving others, less emphasis on self.

I believe this post by Gail, and all of the other posts I have read by her, represent her willingness to share her knowledge and insight in times of great challenges. I very much appreciate her efforts to inspire hope and action based on good evidence.

I am the founder and outreach coordinator for The Interfaith Peacebuilding and Community Revitalization (IPCR) Initiative. The challenges The IPCR Initiative recognizes include: global warming and reducing carbon emissions; peak oil and reducing dependence on petroleum based products; global inequities and the tragic cycles of malnutrition, disease, and death; an increasing number of people using resources and ecological services indiscriminately; and the need for more proactive and preventative peacebuilding.

On the subject of belief systems, I believe that the challenges of our times are such that it is now critical for us to access the storehouses of wisdom which have accumulated over the many centuries of human experience, and which have been confirmed again and again as essential to individual well-being and social harmony by the saints, sages, spiritual leaders, and sincere practitioners of all religious, spiritual, and moral “world views”.

And yet… much of the real treasured wisdom of religious, spiritual, and moral traditions now seems to be hidden—and thus in need of being re-discovered.

These “hidden” resources include teachings which inspire and encourage people to

a) place a high priority on the development of truth, virtue, love, and peace—and live disciplined lives for the purpose of adhering to truth, cultivating virtue and love, and maintaining the pathways to enduring peace
b) sacrifice personal desires for the greater good of the whole
c) find contentment and quality of life while consuming less material goods and ecological services
d) prefer peacebuilding which supports and actualizes mutually beneficial understandings, forgiveness, and reconciliation—and which abstains from violent conflict resolution—as a way of bringing cycles of violence to an end
e) use resources carefully, so that there is surplus available for emergency assistance
f) support community life and cultural traditions which ‘… bring to the fore what is often hidden: how many good people there are, how many ways there are to do good, and how much happiness comes to those who extend help, as well as to those who receive it.’”

The IPCR Initiative is an effort to apply the accumulated wisdom now accessible to us towards the general goal of integrating spiritual wisdom into the everyday circumstances of community life—and towards the specific goal of generating practical responses to the challenges of our times.

What can we do—at this particular point in time—in the everyday circumstances of our lives, to bring the best ideas from the storehouses of accumulated wisdom now accessible to us and “through the mist”, so that our community building processes will be most effective in helping us overcome the challenges of our times?

One suggestion which could assist in bringing to light many solutions is a 161 page proposal by this writer titled “1000Communities2”. “1000Communities2” (“1000CommunitiesSquared”) advocates for Community Visioning Initiatives, “Community Teaching and Learning Centers” with ongoing workshops, and “sister community” relationships, as a way of generating an exponential increase in our collective capacity to overcome the challenges of our times.

In 1984, the non-profit organization Chattanooga Venture [Chattanooga, Tennessee (USA)] organized a Community Visioning Initiative (“Vision 2000”) that attracted more than 1700 participants, and produced 40 community goals—which resulted in the implementation of 223 projects and programs, the creation of 1,300 permanent jobs, and a total financial investment of 793 million dollars.

One of the most persistent ironies in life is that with so many opportunities to provide real assistance to fellow human beings—and with the potential for such assistance to result in happiness “to those who extend help as well as to those who receive it”—there are still many, many people in this world who
cannot find a “way to earn a living” providing such assistance.

Sometimes intuition must suggest conclusions which cannot be proved by rational intellectual analysis.

With hope for a peaceful and sustainable future,


As I said to Gail above,

Let me suggest that there is an important function of religion that you should include: that of prayer.

From a traditional point of view, prayer is essential, and little explanation is needed, I think.

From a secular point of view, it can be seen that way as well, via a meditation/personal therapy function. Repetitive prayer provides meditation; oral prayer provides "talk therapy"; silent prayer allows one to listen to one's unconscious, core self. Group prayer amplifies the effectiveness of all forms.

These functions are very important, and tend to get lost as churches try to evolve in the way you're describing.

Does this make sense to you?

Thanks to Gail the Actuary for "A few Thoughts...."

I've been swamped with my offline life -- good to come back to this.

I've read through the many and varied responses -- plenty of good and passionate discussion.

Which brings me to my own point. The things that really light up our brains with passion, that really get the dopamine flowing -- that is what is our religion in practical terms.

Our brains are wired to find or create patterns. This is science and religion as well.

We all operate according to Meta-narratives which give meaning to our lives. Quite often we are unaware of these huge meta-narratives.

Our own Meta-narratives are buried beneath all kinds of confusing rationalizations that come from the intensity of powerful life experiences and powerful internal contradictions that we might never admit to if confronted with them.

I think that E. O. Wilson addresses this well as one who grew up in the South in the USA in a rather fundamentalist Christian context, then became a secular humanist as an adult.

I also grew up as an American Christian Fundamentalist, in a particular twisted cul-de-sac (spelling?) from which I spent much of my life extracting myself.

At one time I thought that science and religion were very different and opposed. I also thought that faith and reason were opposed and irreconcilable.

Now I believe -- note -- believe -- that whatever knowledge we have is a shifting little island of sand amidst an infinite, inscrutable mystery. This is not a bad thing. We live our lives just the way that bacteria and yeast and flowers in the field and goats on the mountainsides live their lives.

We do what we do and then we die -- and we really do not know what that is, anymore than we know what life actually is. We seem to be sentient little bundles of energy and matter that come together for a time and then disintegrate back into the flow of energy and matter that seems to us now to not be sentient or self-aware .. as far as we can tell.

What is the purpose of our lives? Of course, those who have read my posts will tire of hearing dear old late Kurt Vonnegut's answer, given to him, he said, by "My son, the doctor!"

"We are here to help each other through whatever this is."

Thanks! Glad to have you back!

I like your conclusion,"We are here to help each other through whatever this is."

Thanks, Gail.

I've been over and over arguments for various religious and spiritual beliefs, from old traditional religions and catechisms to various ideas and beliefs of various atheists and agnostics and folks who believe in "Reason" or "The Scientific Method" with the same sort of passion and dogmatic certainty of any other religious fundamentalist.

One book that I've liked very much is "The Dancing Wu Li Masters." This and few other readings along the way have persuaded me that Reason and Religion or Spirituality, Scientific Method and Mysticism are wedded together and not opposed or irreconcilable.

Atheists and Theists, Deists, Animists, Agnostics, Scientists, and Mystics all believe in absurdities unawares, and so commit atrocities unawares. That is part of what it means to be human.

From reading "Dancing Wu Li Masters" and other books, I am actually amazed at how some physicists are more mystical the more they experiment with quantum physics.

Do electrons respond to our moods and desires and beliefs -- why not? We really perceive a tiny slice of reality. It is like we are searching through infinite space wearing thick gloves, ear plugs, and a welders dark mask.

I have no wish to engage in argument about all of this anymore.

All that really matters is kindness. The rest can be interesting and helpful, but also can be distracting and a barrier to evolving creatively into kndness.

My sense is that our species has already sealed its fate and will devolve into blind blood lust rather than evolve into cooperative creativity.

Even so, I try to talk myself into being optimistic. One really cannot predict the future, even if it actually is pre-determined!

Our brains are wired to find [and] create patterns.

There is nothing uniquely human about this.

A science story in the New York Times not long ago chronicled the daily "plannings" of a chimpanzee at a zoo as he stocked up on rocks to throw at the daily onslaught of human tormentors.

Essentially all animals with brains try to find patterns and to develop predictive models for the purpose of improving their chance of survival.

A hunting animal (i.e. lioness) has to make plans for being down wind of the prey and stealthily creeping up into striking distance of the prey. A hunted animal has to make plans for alarming the herd in case a predator is detected.

In the complex human brain there are many "memes", "paradigms", "models", "beliefs" --call it what you want, running all the time in the background. The brain is constantly testing current inputs against running models so as to verify the applicability of the models to current circumstances. (Is this model valid, or should I switch to a new one?)

As herd animals, we humans often try to "validate" or current models by comparing against the models running in our friends heads. What do they "believe" at this moment? Is Peak Oil real or just a hoax? Is AGW real or just a hoax? Is Obama for real or just another hoax perpetrated by TPTB?

Depending on who our current, trusted "friends" are, we may come up with totally different answers. In one crowd (the "wise" TOD crowd) the answers from fellow modelers might be: Yes, Peak Oil is real and Westexas' ELM model is a reasonable one; Yes, Global Warming is real and Hansen's model is a reasonable one; but as for Obama, the jury is still out.

If you validate against another crowd (the "not so wise" Cornucopian crowd), you may come up with validation for totally different models: Yes, Peak Oil is a hoax and the market will save us; .... etc.

Same thing for religions. If you hang out with Muslims all day, then Allah is your answer. If all your friends are Southern Baptists, well then ... And so on. It is very difficult to deviate from the crowd because then you don't trust your own sanity. Am I a psychotic "deviant" or are all the rest of them crazy? Very few people are able to think for themselves. And then for those that do, some really are crazy.

Not all beliefs are the same: "I believe oil has peaked"- because I think I have had a good look around many different sources of evidence, but could be persuaded otherwise should new evidence arise.
This is not the case with religious beliefs- secular or otherwise. It is quite false to equate science with religion in this sense- GOOD science is aware of the vagaries of the human mind, and takes steps to avoid observer bias etc because the purpose is to find out what is actually true. If there is insufficient evidence, good science does not pretend that we know the answer.
Also, science tends to deal with percentages and probabilities, not with certainties- another big difference between science and religion. The former is all about following the evidence wherever it leads; the latter has no interest in evidence, tending instead to praise belief and faith for its own sake a sort of "belief in belief".
And this is fundamentally the issue: we have an evolutionary legacy of a preponderance to religion and faith-based (as opposed to evidence-based) beliefs which are surely redundant and threaten our very survival as a species. It is essential to challenge this wherever possible.
Beliefs without evidence are not harmless and cannot be justified or defended by appealing to the supposed good that belonging to a church can do for community, or claims that religion contains (sometimes) some moral wisdom of worth: any moral lessons here occur despite, not because of the religious context.
Beliefs have real effects in the real world, but what is striking about this thread is the apparent (I didnt read every last comment) Christian bias in the discussion: where are the Muslims? The Jews?
The Jains?
In Ireland, I have debates like this all the time, not with any of the above, but with New Agers who feel certain that their religion is the religion of choice for the environmental movement- and claim it is in some way supported by Quantum Physics etc.. Along with this goes unquestioned a faith in alternative medicine for example, and an anti-vaccination stance which may be contributing to a measles epidemic:
Many of these issues are explored by Dan Dennett in "Breaking the Spell" and also by Dawkins in the God Delusion, and I would like the faithful to respond to this issue which is often ignored: a tolerance for and a defense of religion and irrational beliefs, however apparently mild and harmless, inevitably ends up supporting tacitly much more extreme beliefs. See also Sam Harris "Letter to a Christisn nation".
For an alternative theory on why some beliefs prevail see Susan Blackmore "The Meme Machine".

"In Ireland, I have debates like this all the time,"

Have you had success in communicating new ideas to those who strongly believe? What strategies have you found effective?

And this is fundamentally the issue: we have an evolutionary legacy of a preponderance to religion and faith-based (as opposed to evidence-based) beliefs which are surely redundant and threaten our very survival as a species. It is essential to challenge this wherever possible.

Evolutionary legacy to religion? So, how come that's a bad thing? If Evolution gave that to us, the questions are 1) can you even get rid of it and 2)what is your power to "challenge it" and 3) if that type of "species-with-faith" would not survive, your desire would be accomplished anyway and 4)why are you even so afraid of it? What's so bad about a species that believes? If it is as you say a miscreant of the evolutionary process, I wouldn't worry as those mishaps will be weeded out through Natural Selection anyway.

Now, if there is reason to speculate that the "supernatural" exists, then you have religion. (as per your author of "breaking the spell" definition. I think there are perhaps not many scientists left out there, who think that matter has eternally existed (as did the old Greeks, etc.) If scientists believe (and there are quite a few) that there was a beginning of the universe at some point, then they may actually be quite close at believing in something before that: the supernatural. So, they would be religious too, per your author's definition. And then also, "religion" would precede everything rather than being the fruit of some "memetic" evolutionary process.

So, if religion is just a (by-)product of the evolutionary process and a fluke, don't worry it will get purged out because it will not be able to harmonize with "a better reality to come": survival of the fittest.
If on the other hand, religion relates to what could have brought forth all reality, having stood at the crib of the universe, we might expect it to survive.

Either way, we would not be able to have much influence on these two scenarios: you'll get washed away by Natural Selection of Supernatural Selection. (unless of course somehow you get retained by Supernatural Selection as the result of Denett"s: "agents whose approval is to be sought".)

To say that the Supernatural does not or cannot exist, wouldn't be much of a scientific statement at all. Whether you believe in it or not, is religion either way.

So, if religion is just a (by-)product of the evolutionary process and a fluke, don't worry it will get purged out because it will not be able to harmonize with "a better reality to come": survival of the fittest.

This may well be true. However, problem is, this "purging out" process may well involve the unhappy end of most of humanity and quite a few other species to boot. E.g., the slow resource-depletion death spiral coupled with population overhsoot that we're all so familiar with at TOD. Not to mention the spectre of nuclear war started by some fanatical lunatic who's convinced that an invisible anthropomorphic "God" is on his/her side. Those are the scenarios I "worry about", b/c they will directly impact me and my family.

I can't believe in a post on religion here at TOD, there hasn't been one comment on Cornucopianism or "Cargo Cult". After all, Cornucopianism is the dominant world "religion" that got us where we are today, no? In fact, this particular "religion" cuts across all ethnic and cultural boundaries, and largely encompasses (or supercedes?) most other religions.

Case in point: Prosperity Gospel (near all major proponents are televangelists in the U.S. --no big surprise there) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosperity_theology

I think I was equating "Technology will solve all of our problems" with Cornucopianism. I suppose there are other ways of getting there. Our economists assume supply will be there, if demand is there.

Well, if you look at the "discussion" on my blog that starts here:
and continues here:
and here:
and here:
you will find that i actually claim victory in the end:
But really, it is like beating one's head against a brick wall. "Religious" faith-based beliefs have an ingenious built-in self-defence mechanism which makes them very hard to challenge: our culture currently seems to consider it impolite to challenge them, even when they claim "scientific" respectability. Clearly there is a lot of vested interest, especially in alternative medicine; in the end, I think it is better to just call a spade a spade when people are trying to pull the wool over others' eyes.
I would say though that my girlfriend, though still sympathetic towards "spiritual" beliefs is certainly a lot more skeptical of things like homeopathy than when she first started hanging out with me- but she should be- she's a pharmacist!
So no I don't really make any headway in changing people's beliefs, but I think I might make it a little more acceptable for others to do the same, which is exactly the most important thing about Dawkins, Harris and Dennet.

Well, stated. It is not about changing religious peoples mind, it is about "Breaking The Spell," and not to put up with cultural censorship that enforces any open questioning or examination of a phenomena that is extremely toxic, and one of the major factors threatening the mass extinction of many beings.

It's actually quite simple really. Worship is an involuntary function of the human experience, like breathing. It is going on with everybody all the time regardless as to what one does or does not believe. What it all comes down to is this: Does one have God as the object of their worship, or do they have their self as the object of their worship. Much of the religious confusion that characterizes this generation lies in the assumption that one worships God when in fact, it is their self that they worship.

'On The Oil Drum, it is an article of faith that geological limits are of supreme importance in determining the future flow of oil. When someone (like me) suggests that this may be trumped by the indirect influence of the financial system, this is viewed as a form of heresy by some.'

I thought it was your position that PO caused the current recession rather than the financial crisis. So, either I was mistaken or this is an example of changing one's beliefs as a result of new information.

I had the belief that the US NG production had peaked in 2001, but have now accepted that there is plenty shale gas available at a reasonable price whenever we want it. I also had thought that PO was here, and that price might get expensive again once OPEC's spare capacity is once again exhausted. Now it seems that Thai will trump PO, at least for several years and maybe even decades... IMO more threads on these points would be worth while no matter what one's belief system is or was.

PO->Financial crisis->Recession, so all are connected.

There is a lot of oil/gas/uranium that theoretically should be there, but at this point there is no evidence that the economy can support the high price needed to extract the supply. The financial system needs growth to keep the system operating. I am having a hard time seeing that we will be able to extract enough energy resources (of whatever type) to keep adequate growth to keep the financial system going. Because of this, many of what look to be great resources will be extracted slowly, because society cannot afford funds for investment (because financial problems tied to lack of growth).

Belief is the enemy of truth.

Absolute truth, i.e. "the" truth, either simply does not exist, or at the very least it can never be known. So how can belief be its enemy? Actually, lacking the ability to every know "the absolute truth" belief in relative truths is all you can ever really hope for!

Even scientists understand this. Read here:


Scientist don't know "the truth", and they understand (perhaps like no one else) that they can never hope to really know it!

Every scientific theory is "falsifiable". This means that it is a hypothesis that can be tested by experimentation. However, the "test" can only prove that the theory is false (hence the term "falsifiable"). A "successful" test is one that doesn't produce falsifying evidence even though in theory it could have done so. Such a test may strengthen your belief that the hypothesis *may* be true (your belief is strengthened by failing to prove its "untruth"). However, no matter how many experiments you do, there can never be absolute certainty that any scientific theory is "the truth".

So science is a belief system, it is literally a system/method for formulating and testing beliefs, with a built in assumption that "the truth" can never be known or proven.

Also your statement "belief is the enemy of truth" shows that you hold the belief that there is an "absolute truth" (as in "the truth" is out there :-)

That in itself is a belief, one that is not even falsifiable and therefore not even scientific. The only way to hold such a belief would be based purely on faith.

Believing in the existence of an "absolute truth" is no different from believing in an "almighty god". Neither propositions can ever be proven or disproven.

It is actually kind of funny: you don't even realize your way of thinking at its deepest level is conditioned by this belief up to a point where you make statements like "belief is the enemy of truth". This statement at the same time says "I believe in the existence of an absolute truth" and "I think I am better than people who take things purely on faith".

Fair comment.
So I would amend it to - Any belief is a waste of time.

I know I am sitting in front of a screen.
I think you are doing something similar.
Belief doesn't come into it.

Tony Blair never said he thought that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
That would have been a lie.
He said that he believed it.
We respect belief.

I'm quite happy with knowing some things and thinking others. If something's a bit fuzzy I might guess or suppose or imagine.
If we take the B-word out of our vocabulary we might know better what we think.

Fair comment.
So I would amend it to - Any belief is a waste of time.

So science is a waste of time? Or you didn't get my point that science is a system of developing and honing a system of beliefs, by formulating hypotheses, experimenting, rejecting some hypothesis, formulating more hypothesis, experimenting some more etc.

Hypothesis is really just a fancy word for "belief". Because a hypothesis is something which you accept to be true, without real proof that it is, and you chose to accept it as a "working model" of reality until it has been proven false.

The more evidence you have for a hypothesis (and this evidence is only evidence that failed to prove it false) the more it strengthens your belief in the hypothesis, so the less you have to take it on faith alone.

I know I am sitting in front of a screen.

I believe so, but even that simple fact can not really be proven. It is also possible that you are in some elaborate simulation (ala "Matrix") with a wire plugged directly into your brain. Or maybe your entire consciousness is just a simulation program running in a giant mainframe computer.

Not that I mean to imply that these two theories are very likely, but how can you really rule them out? Thus there is chance, even if very small, that you were in fact not sitting in front of a screen at all.

What you (and me and everyone else) do is construct a model of what you think is "reality" in your head. This model helps you function and make sense of things. But the model is not itself reality and you can never prove that it is. All you can hope for is that one day you might find definite proof that your model is in fact *not* reality (your model is then falsified).

Until that happens it is rational to pick the simplest model that explains the data you have been able to observe. But that in no sense proves the model to be "true".

I think you are doing something similar.

This is even harder for you to prove. I might well be an AI running on some internet connected computer, so you can only *assume* I'm sitting in front of a computer and typing. You can't really prove it.

Belief doesn't come into it.

Isn't your use of "think" also a word like "believe"?

If you say "think" or "hypothesize" or "assume" instead, still doesn't change the fact that there is really not very much (if anything at all) you can ever know is absolutely "true".

I'm quite happy with knowing some things and thinking others. If something's a bit fuzzy I might guess or suppose or imagine.
If we take the B-word out of our vocabulary we might know better what we think.

OK, I see, you object to the word "belief" because you think it has certain undesirable connotations (the blair example :-). Maybe you are right.

On the other hand:

"think", "suppose", "imagine", "guess" and "believe" are all really just different words that we might use to express that we are not certain that something is actually true. Each word conveys a different level of confidence in our "working model of reality". Even the word "know" should be taken with a grain of salt. Even the things you think know 100% for sure may in fact not be true at all.

In a way that we have so many words for dealing with degrees of certainty in our beliefs only strengthens my point that there is little if anything we really truly "know". That's why we need so many different words to communicate that what we are expressing is a "belief" for which we have varying degrees of evidence and reasons for believing it.

Perhaps why you object so much to the use of the word "belief" is because you equate it with "blind faith". One poster made a rather clear posting distinguishing between "faith" and "belief". He defined "faith" as meaning that one choses to believe something without any actual evidence.

To me that is not what the word "believe" means. When I say I believe something, it means I made a choice based on evidence that I think the likelihood of it being true is reasonable but there is also still a good chance that it is not true.

And it is understood in my own use of the word belief, that there are degrees of belief, some things I believe more strongly in than others, because based on my model of reality (hopefully it is based on evidence :-) I consider them to be more likely than others.

For example I would say "I believe sea levels will rise substantially in the next decade". This means that I think it is probably true, but still, I can't really be sure because climate science is a complex field and I don't understand it all, and there are a lot of factors to consider, most of which even the climate scientists haven't completely figured out. But I've read enough about the matter to think the sea level rise more than just a remote possibility so I "believe" it.

Anyhow, I think we are essentially in agreement, and we are merely haggling over the semantics of words.

I just wanted to point out that we all make assumptions, many of which might be so ingrained in our way of thinking we don't even realize that we are making them while they may in fact not even be true at all.

I contend that everything we think we know is ultimately at some level based on some degree of belief and contingent on uncertain assumptions. So far from being useless, belief is necessary, without it we would not be able to function in a world where we can never truly know anything 100% for sure. Being able to hold different beliefs with different subjective levels of certainty is necessary for us to to be able to think in a world where "nothing is for sure".

I contend that everything we think we know is ultimately at some level based on some degree of belief and contingent on uncertain assumptions. So far from being useless, belief is necessary, without it we would not be able to function in a world where we can never truly know anything 100% for sure.

This is gold and absolutely profound in so many different ways. I've been thinking the same while reading through the posts here.

Willem Verkerk:
You misunderstand the scientific position entirely: what do you mean by "The Supernatural" ? Until you define it and give it a shape of some form it really just means "the unknown"- I think scientists would agree you can't say much about that!
Religions of their many different kinds, as well of course secular beliefs such as cornucopias or unending growth, make specific claims which, as such, can be subjected to testing and a critical examination of the evidence.
So, that is all there is to it: if you make a specific claim of something you believe in, show us the evidence.If you dont have any, why believe it? Or why, rather, believe that specific belief rather than another? Why believe in the Christian God, say, rather than the Muslim?
But the is no such thing as "Christian" science or "Muslim" science- there is just science, which is not a belief system, but a method of inquiry.
And yes perhaps the most remarkable thing is our emerging ability of being able to use this very method to critically investigate our own beliefs, the nature of cognition and such things. So I agree, this is what would be more interesting to explore; if we could learn more about this aspect of ourselves we might make progress towards freeing ourselves of the burden of irrational beliefs, surely one of the most worthy projects of our time.
I think this website does a good job:

I would think it to be easy to define the Supernatural: all that is not natural. And since that cannot be proven in scientific way (being NOT natural) you're asking the impossible: if by "evidence" you mean that it can be tested in a laboratory and such.

But to say that "it isn't there" is just as much a problem: you can't prove that either (in a scientific way).

It's something like being in love: you can't prove it scientifically, (you may see some bloodrush here and there, but that is rather the effect than the cause), nevertheless it is a widespread phenomenon in the human race and at least very evident to some and not irrational at all.

Unless you want to speculate like Comte that "only what your senses can perceive" exists. But that theory was abandoned long time ago on the grounds that then even your own brainwork may not exist either... or at least that is not reliable (objective) enough. I think the Dennetts, Dawkins and Blackmores of today may have retrograded a few centuries back.

[quote]I would think it to be easy to define the Supernatural: all that is not natural.[/quote]

Hmmm... that's not a definition, unless you first define "natural".

My sense of the word "supernatural" is that it isn't very well defined at all. Those things we think we understand are "natural" and the rest isn't.

But that seems to be changing all the time.

However, I do believe it is wise to keep an open mind and acknowledge there is much more that we don't understand, compared to what we do, and that much of that which we don't understand may not be knowable if we limit ourselves strictly to "scientific methods of inquiry".

My moto is, whatever you think you know or believe in... everything should be open for questioning.

It is a great moto, but it is hard to live by... because the worst person to know what kind of implicit beliefs you subconsciously hold is yourself.

Our deeply ingrained beliefs give us particular "blind spots", things we simply can't understand because they are so radically different from the way we've come to look at the world that we almost literally "can't see them".

Because these are indeed "blind spots", it is pretty hard to see your own blind spots (by definition, you can't see them :-). Making yourself aware of your own selective blindness, is a good way to be more open minded to other people's ideas/beliefs. Just consider they may in fact be pointing at some of your own blind spots.

I am going to try an experiment. I believe that the following series of nine quotations are relevant to the discussion here about belief systems, and especially relevant to assessments of how particular belief systems are creating—or helping to resolve—the challenges of our times. Including all nine quotations will make for a long post, but maybe the conclusion drawn by quotation #9 will be relevant enough for editors to refrain from editing this post out of the discussion. That is the experiment. [These quotations are section F from a document titled “Spiritual Peacebuilding: 47 Quotes and Proverbs” (compiled by this writer), which is accessible at the website of The IPCR Initiative, at www.ipcri.net Readers who would like to discover the source of the quotations can refer to that document.]

F. “The smaller the circumference, the more accurately can we guage the results of our actions….”

1) “A wise person notices that inner harmony is disturbed when the mind lets itself be lured into indiscriminately sampling the world of phenomena.”

2) “The energy invested in a particular thing, during its life from cradle to grave, is called the ‘embodied energy’ of that object. The amount of embodied energy that an item contains depends on the technology used to create it (the origin of materials inputs, how they were created and transported, etc.), the nature of the production system, and the distance the item travels from inception to purchase.”

3) “… every article in the bazaar has moral and spiritual values attached to it… hence it behooves us to enquire into the antecedents of every article we buy…. (Yet this) is an arduous task, and it becomes almost impossible for ordinary persons to undertake it when the article comes from far off countries.”

4) “If we feel it is beyond us to guarantee the concomitant results of all our transactions, it necessarily follows that we must limit our transactions to a circle well within our control. This is the bed rock of swadeshi. The smaller the circumference, the more accurately can we guage the results of our actions, and (the) more conscientiously shall we be able to fulfill our obligations as trustees.”

5) “By supporting items and processes that have lower embodied energy, as well as the companies that produce them, consumers can significantly reduce society’s energy use.”

6) The second law of thermodynamics efficiency is often defined as follows: ‘the efficiency is equal to the ratio of the least available work that could have done the job to the actual available work used to do the job.’”

7) “Therefore the sage says:
I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and people become rich.
I have no desires and people return to the good and simple life.”

8) “Were I to have the least bit of knowledge, in walking on a Great Road,
it’s only going astray that I would fear.
The Great Way is very level;
but people greatly delight in tortuous paths.”

9) “If many people can learn to find contentment and quality of life while consuming much less, this limiting of desires at the ‘root’ will save much trouble trying to respond to the symptoms as they materialize worldwide. This is part of the ‘spiritual teachings’ element which often gets overlooked….”

With hope for a peaceful and sustainable future,


I think I know the author:
The Talking Snake?
Maybe Mohammed's Flying Horse?
How about Rams Army of Monkeys? (They built a bridge to Sri Lanka!)
I give up, who was it?

It is an almost perfect system, with one serious exception...#9 starts the sentence with these words...

“If many people can learn to find contentment and quality of life while consuming much less"

"If many people can learn" is a very dangerous table of shifting sand to build your philosophy upon.

"If" is always a dangerous word..."If "if's" and "buts" were candy and nuts, no child would cry at Christmas" :-)


Scientific method is a development of the rational mind to separate itself from the irrational or emotional “mind”, i.e our feelings. This is similar to Buddhist or Greek analytical, or self-analytical technique. The westerner has not applied or accepted the application of such pure detached observation towards the internal world, i.e. feelings, etc. This level of technique is called personal psychology or religion. Natural Science is only applicable where a physical experiment can be measured with instruments and the results laid out before a public group as evidence.

Now lately measurement techniques can see brain waves for examples or when someone dreams or not. Monks can then be measured as to pulse and body temperature control or they stop their breath or heartbeat in “miraculous, supernatural, impossible” ways. However the method to achieve such states is not achieved with outside “machines” so the results are “unscientific”. However if in a low tech world the monk says “use such and such a technique to become warm when it is cold or to change brain wave patterns or achieve a vision or to stop breath or heart beat or transmit thoughts or energy when necessary” and it is achievable by all diligent practitioners then this is repeatable science in a broader sense than acceptable in western circles. The proof demanded of western science as in “measuring the weight of the soul” or similar is absurd. If any reasonable practitioner can achieve a certain state after X years of intense practice then it is fact and not religion as the techniques are repeatable and the results as well.

There is certain crossover in this are as when I use meditation CDs to lower my brain waves. I doubt whether my thoughts or dreams could be transmitted by physical machines on a “screen” for a movie or “broadcast” across the world so that the concept of telepathy or telekinesis remain unverifiable (guessing symbols behind a screen and such nonsense waste of time). Telephones are 100% reliable. If we were all trained to do telepathy then perhaps we could do without them. It seems to me that the potential is there but the culture is not ready for such a step. If one were to believe on such a capacity and train children form childhood in such techniques as a matter of course then one could do without a lot of electronic entertainment and misunderstanding and even written works. Suppose that primitives in their development, learned to talk, thereby losing such ability as their logical mind developed towards symbolism and away from visual transmission. We have then perhaps experienced a certain regression due to language. However the next step would be the synthesis of our older innate ability of visual and oral telepathy with our logical symbolic language abilities, speech and writing. In a low tech, low energy world the use of computers and internet will disappear but the scientific method will remain. However if we are to advance and not go extinct on earth, then the dominance of the western paradigm, limiting science to externally measurable phenomena, must give way to a fusion with the eastern scientific methods which allow the alteration of consciousness and manipulation of inner sensory organs which exist parallel to the outer sensory organs. The third eye, etc. which allow seeing, hearing, etc. on a quantum-mechanical level the thought patterns sent by our fellow humans and other living creatures instantaneously. The Western Man is a living person trapped in the cage of his body similar to the old saying about the atheist corpse “all dressed up and no place to go”.

Once the alternative sensory organs, chakras, etc. in the energy body come alive for the human population we enter a golden age where understanding of self and others and environment is higher and immediate (less room for misunderstanding due to use of purely symbolic language and time wastage) but energy use is very low due to higher satisfaction levels due to a natural self understanding as chakras are open and oneness with nature and self is self evident leading to less or no neurosis (energy/information blockages in self and between self and environment). The ultimate efficiency is when the body, our ultimate housing is used to its ultimate effect. We are only using a very small part of its capacity now, on average. If we were to use its whole capacity we could more than likely produce energy like small power stations. At any rate neurosis is due to energy blockage and this results in the common patterns which end in environmental destruction and war. The western scientific method alone is rational and elegant but limited and therefore must be expanded to accept older methods, which were unfortunately undemocratic, not expanded to the masses. We must hope that the society which uses such techniques will not be dominated by evil manipulators as the present day is. “I got a thought ad today for a new thought movie and new clothes”.

Fact is we can never really go backwards as knowledge is cumulative. Once the genie is out of the bottle, Pandora’s box is opened, we can’t go back. Perhaps the ancients were wise to restrict such methods to the few. However the time is past for this and what is left of humanity after the coming disasters must press on in new synthesized knowledge from the modern and ancient cultures. This is inevitable. BAU is over, a technopian alternative future is impossible and the stone age beneath our knowledge level. New roads must be tested if we are not to be an “evolutionary dead end”.

Hi Gail,

Interesting post - very difficult subject to broach - the ultimate in bootstrapping one might say!

For my ten-penneth:

1. How much the various secular belief systems have in common with religious belief systems.
2. How important aspects other than beliefs are to the systems.

The nature of belief is itself worthy of investigation. Ultimately belief is a thought system that is attached to – often emotionally. Even scientists are ‘passioante’ about their ‘subject’ to the point of being extremely attached to particular view of reality even when the holy god of data says otherwise. As David Bohm points out in his 'Thought as a System' (1994) - the human mind-thought system tends to work at the level of automatic knee-jerk responses - that is the hard wired conditioned response of the human being having lived in a society that is often biased towards a certain type of deliberate conditioning. He suggests a system of Dialogue to confront these often hidden knee-jerk responses to situations, and to better understand the processes involved and to challenge them - and in so doing actually come to a much deeper understanding of ourselves. (See: http://www.david-bohm.net/dialogue/)

I have been taught that a god is anything that one attaches supreme importance to. Money can be a god. In fact, in "contemporary economic theory" and in "he who dies with the most toys wins," money becomes a god. In "technology will solve all problems," science becomes a god. In "beautiful bodies are everything," perfect bodies become a god.

A perfect example of societal conditioning, dependant upon which particular ‘desire’ has been cultivated either through chance or deliberately in the person.

To some extent, these belief systems also provide a view as to what future outcome is likely.

Or rather, the belief system gives a path to the fulfilment of ‘desire’ whether that be more toys, or eternal salvation.

The belief systems also provide sayings and understandings that filter how we view the world. "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want," can be viewed in many ways.

Thus the systemic reality replicates and replaces, filtering out actual Reality:


"where Ro equals the amount of Reality which fails to reach the Control Unit, and Rs equals the total amount of Reality presented to the system. The fraction Ro/Rs varies from zero (full awareness of outside reality) to unity (no reality getting through)." (From: "The Systems Bible: the Beginners Guide to systems large and small", John Gall, 2006. P.46-7)

In the next few years, it is likely that some form of relocalization will be needed. In the USA, churches may be good centers for this type of activity, because many people are already members of a church, and have many friends there.

Depending upon the above Ro/Rs function, this could be of immense benefit or immense hindrance:

Lao Tzu - “Through return to simple living Comes control of desires. In control of desires Stillness is attained. In stillness the world is restored.”

Lao Tzu - “Greed for enlightenment and immortality is no different than greed for material wealth. It is self-centered and dualistic, and thus an obstacle to true attainment. Therefore these states are never achieved by those who covet them; rather, they are the reward of the virtuous.”

From here

To change society, we must first change ourselves.


"To change society, we must first change ourselves."

Ah, but how? I think this is generally neglected. Let me suggest that there is an important function of religion that has been generally lost by organized religion, without which it's an empty shell - a social organization: prayer.

From a traditional point of view, prayer was essential.

From a secular point of view, it can be seen that way as well, via a meditation/personal therapy function. Repetitive prayer provides meditation; oral prayer provides "talk therapy"; silent prayer allows one to listen to one's unconscious, core self. Group prayer amplifies the effectiveness of all forms.

These functions are very important, and tend to get lost as churches try to evolve. Even in traditional churches, prayer tends to shrink into a petty asking for things - healing, success, etc.

Does this make sense to you?

Does this make sense to you?

Absolutely. I meditate every day and I can tell you from personal experience that it makes a big difference in my overall state of mind.

It is funny in this day and age how so many people are quite fanatical about taking care of the fitness of their bodies through a daily physical exercise program. But how few people do the same for their mental fitness?

I believe that if more people would take up some kind of meditative practice on a regular basis, the world would be a better place. Any kind of change must start from changing people's mind, meditation is one way to work on changing your own mind for the better (towards a less selfish and more grounded and more naturally compassionate state of mind).

This may be hard to believe for somebody who has not experienced this for themselves. But hey, if you (and I don't mean you, Nick, but anybody reading this) are sceptical, you don't have to take this one on faith, you can just give it a try and make up your own mind about the value of meditation.

Group prayer/meditation is a wonderful bonding activity. So it can also provide a kind of "social glue".

Group prayer/meditation is a wonderful bonding activity. So it can also provide a kind of "social glue".

Been there, and done that. In Promise Keepers quite a bit. In 'accountability group' meetings a very large amount.

Yet..yet..there is this. It can become very very rote.

If you are memorizing a prayer or aping others then you are losing everything and I found that in a very large measure and then it all comes off as egotistical and meaningless.

Egotistical? Ohhhh listen to me and my so blessed prayers. Look at me. I am so humble and great.

This I find most often. Mostly in churches where someone in the congregation is called upon to close, open or just say a prayer.

The ego and memorized rote prayer then becomes the order of the day.

I find it tedious and worthless. Either say it from the heart and soul or shut your mouth.

Promise Keepers fell apart rapidly. A sliver of a vestige hangs on I am told. For a bit it was great then the leaders got money hungry and were cheating on their wifes. The men were ready but the leaders were not.

So I no longer do group prayer. I prayer quietly but actually I do not pray. I just meditate. Mostly while working in my garden.

Sorry to come of as like a rant but again I say "Organized relgion is dead and dying." I think the clergy realize this. They are just doing a rope-a-dope for now.

When new members finally realize the fakery and man behind the curtain aspect? They leave worse than when they came.


Airdale, I understand how you feel.

People do have a tendency to make everything into an ego trip. Meditation is (or should be) a tool to diminish that tendency.

However, you are correct. Like anything else, prayer and religion can be perverted by people to turn it into a tool to manipulate others and bolster their own egos.

If you experience this, you are right to leave.

But if you have a "spiritual drive", which I figure you must have, since you've at least "dabled" in that area, I hope you will not give up so easily. Maybe find another group. Or even think of starting your own. Or maybe just meditate by yourself (working in your garden :-)

To start a group all you really need is to find a few like minded people.

If you spot an "ego trip" in yourself or others, then you are right to understand this is not "correct". But remember people are only human, so compassionately acknowledge it (in yourself and others) and try to correct this attitude ever so gently.

I sincerely hope you will find "your way".


Thanks for your response and understanding.

Tonight I went to my church's revival. Ate a great fellowship supper. BBQ and all the great baptist women cooking.

Then and old timey preacher who was the revival preacher and a real hell fire and brimstone type. One of a vanishing breed.

I liked to hear him preach. He was on very convicted dude. From a nearby county.

Yet I more or less went for the fellowship and once more to chat with my kinfolks and neighbors.

I love this kind of thing but sometimes bad messages and preaching sorta tend to make me go less and less.

So I have long searched for something more fulfilling. I find it more internally that externally. I read and think and mediate.

As a cancer survivor and doing well so far I do Thank God for my health. I will never give up my search for the truth. The way.

Good luck to you and may your road wind ever upward with the wind at your back,


Hi Nick,

Even in traditional churches, prayer tends to shrink into a petty asking for things - healing, success, etc.

I.e. Ro/Rs tends to unity.

Does this make sense to you?

If Ro/Rs tends to Zero then Yes.

Does IT make sense to YOU?


In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies (Figures 1-9). The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the U.S. as a “shining city on the hill” to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health. Youth suicide is an exception to the general trend because there is not a significant relationship between it and religious or secular factors. No democracy is known to have combined strong religiosity and popular denial of evolution with high rates of societal health. Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional. None of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction. In some cases the highly religious U.S. is an outlier in terms of societal dysfunction from less theistic but otherwise socially comparable secular developed democracies. In other cases, the correlations are strongly graded, sometimes outstandingly so.


Oh, evolution is our Savior now? You better believe it....

That study you mentioned claims that Japan is one of the most secular (non-religious) countries. I would beg to differ. See for example wiki article: "The country has an area of 145,884 square miles (377,840 km2) and a population of 128 million. The Government does not require religious groups to report their membership, so it was difficult to accurately determine the number of adherents to different religious groups. The Agency for Cultural Affairs reported in 2005 that membership claims by religious groups totaled 211 million persons. This number, which is nearly twice Japan's population, reflects many citizens' affiliation with multiple religions. For example, it is very common for Japanese to practice both Buddhist and Shinto rites."

And so goes down a lot of the credibility of the article.... Might they just have had some kind of an agenda?

But I could argue that since the idea of Evolution has gained ground in the world (and since all the nifty "progress" the human species has undergone), we have seen more killings (WWI and WWII and a slew of others) and now faced with (if you listen to some of the folks here on TOD) with even much bigger disasters and gloom. And (again according to some here) a die-off of the world population would be the only way out such doom and gloom. Figures advanced for such prescribed die-off would make all wars and disasters of all times pale in comparison..... Of course for the "betterment" of man-kind. So, what good has Evolution brought you lately?

The data stands, if you have viewed it. As someone who has traveled to Japan 10+ times, and worked in the dive industry in Micronesia (with Japanese being my primary clients), I can say from first hand experience, Japan is very secular, with religion playing a minor role in comparison with a country like the US.

Japan is very religious. If you have been to Japan, it couldn't have escaped you. And there is plenty of stuff published about it. But if you asked them (like your cited flawed study) questions that are not at all congruent with their experience, no wonder you get different results. Questions like:
I know God really exists and I have no doubt about it
attend religious services at least several times a month
the Bible is the actual word of God and it is to be taken literally, word for word
human beings [have] developed from earlier species of animals
I don’t know whether there is a God and I don’t believe there is a way to find out

are questions that a Japanese would not know what to do with, but that doesn't mean they are non religious!

Oh really-- What color is the planet of the sky you live on?
20 least religious countrie in the World.
Not only is in the top 20, it is in the top five.

Bad Link:
Here is the data:
The 20 least religious countries in the world

Here's a list of the 20 least religious countries (article) in the world. This is from an encyclopedia chapter summarizing survey data from various countries. Obviously the quality of surveys varies widely across countries, so the author, Phil Zuckerman of Claremont College, gives ranges for each country.

1. Sweden (up to 85% non-believer, atheist, agnostic)
2. Vietnam
3. Denmark
4. Norway
5. Japan
6. Czech Republic
7. Finland
8. France
9. South Korea
10. Estonia (up to 49% non-believer, atheist, agnostic)
11. Germany
12. Russia
13. Hungry
14. Netherlands
15. Britain
16. Belgium
17. Bulgaria
18. Slovenia
19. Israel
20. Canada (up to 30% non-believer, atheist, agnostic)

Whoever put that list together is blatantly ignorant of Japans religion, and you yourself could do much better by doing a simple search on the internet, where over and over again, the total number of people in the different religions is reported to be even higher than the population. (see previous quote on wiki and here below:

"The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 145,884 square miles and a population of 128 million. It was difficult to accurately determine the number of adherents of different religious groups. While academics estimated that 20 to 30 percent of adults actively practiced a faith, the Agency for Cultural Affairs reported in 2004 that 213,826,661 citizens claimed a religion. That number, which is nearly twice Japan's population, reflected many citizens' affiliation with multiple religions, particularly Shintoism and Buddhism. Many citizens practiced both Buddhist and Shinto rites. Furthermore, membership statistics kept by the agency were based on self-reports from various religious organizations." {http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2006/71342.htm}

"The following is the more accurate listing of Buddhists around the world with the inclusion of the above-mentioned people (percentage of the total population who are Buddhist is shown in parentheses):
China, liberal estimate (80.00%) 1,070,019,251
China, conservative estimate (50.00%) 668,762,032
Japan (96.00%) 122,196,882
Thailand (95.00%) 62,218,633

Now, if you still want to argue that Japan is a "healthy society" (point that your first article wanted to make) look at their suicide numbers:

"Japan's grim reputation as one of the world's suicide nations has been confirmed by statistics that show more than 30,000 people a year have taken their own lives since figures first began to rise in 1998. In 2006, there were 32,115 suicides - 25 per 100,000 people; nearly 100 people a day; one every 15 minutes. The most common hour of death is 5am for men and noon for women, after their families have left for work or school.

Japan has roughly half the population of the US, yet the same number of suicides. There were 5,554 suicides of people aged 15 and over in the UK in 2006; three quarters involved men." {http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/feb/24/japan.mentalhealth}

Now Willeum it may be time to face reality.
Here is a visual Link maybe it's a visual thing that will finally admit you are misinformed on this.
But then again------

Ah, Mr. Hightrekker, now you show yourself that you were misreading a graph. Because although Japanese may be considered atheist for the most part, they are very religious (your graph shows a very small portion as "non-religious"). And that was exactly the claim of the flawed study you cited earlier, where it says and I quote from it:
"Japan, Scandinavia, and France are the most secular nations in the west, the United States is the only prosperous first world nation to retain rates of religiosity otherwise limited to the second and third worlds (Bishop; PEW)."

I could not find the numeric source of your graph, but the graph itself explains the misconception you have of Japan. And others say there are almost twice the entire population who adhere to a religion, the explanation being that most adhere to one or more religions. Enough said on that one.

However, this Zuckerman says: "that residents of these countries (Sweden and Denmark) score at the very top of the happiness index, and that their societies have very low rates of violent crime and corruption, excellent educational systems, strong economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social policies, outstanding bike paths and great beer."

But is their happiness because of their "non-religiosity" or because of the beer quality and bike-paths? To explore a possible connection between happiness and "godlessness" Zuckerman interviewed 150 people in 14 months (I guess he must have been busy trying the beer and the bike-paths too, otherwise 10 interviews per months is an absolute non-performance, although later it is called: "extensive research"!?).
And "Zuckerman found that nearly all of his interviewees live their lives without much fear of the Grim Reaper or worries about the hereafter." And this would go against "Christians who argue that a society without God would be hell on earth."

Now, I think the Christian religion says that hell will come in the hereafter, and that people would be eating and drinking and having a good time till that moment or something to that effect. So, Zuck (or rather Pitzer college) in this article is misrepresenting the Christian beliefs. So, the comparison between happy living now without fear of the hereafter and "hell on earth without God" now is simply wrong. (Or to bring the comparison in balance, he should at the very least need to interview those Christians who claim such a thing, and maybe he could then find a few for whom life used to be "hell on earth" when they were still without God.)

It's just sloppy research. Maybe the good beer had something to do with it.

I read: http://www.pitzer.edu/news_center/press_releases/08-09/2008_09_22-zucker...

I give up. You will only see what you believe.
Why don't we both have a good beer!

Hi Folks,

For those who think Darwin's evolution conflicts with theories of God check out this interesting program on BBCi player:
Did Darwin Kill God?

In the film, it points out that opposition to evolution only really got going in 1961 via Christian fundamentalists, and that Richard Dawkin supports an extreme view of Darwinian evolution that is no longer tenable given the more recent developments in epigenetics that contradict the idea of genetic determinism. That and the fact fact that the average rice plant has more genes than a human.


I clicked on the link but all I got was this

Currently BBC iPlayer TV programmes are available to play in the UK only

I have a problem with the concept of atheist. There is no label for people who don't believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. The burden of proof is (or should) always be on the person who proposes a concept, framework, or ideology. Darwinism and evolution have been hammered at for over a hundred years and have withstood the scrutiny of thousands of researchers. Christianity does not meet this criteria. No one has ever provided me with a convincing verbal argument for the existence of Yahweh, much less any physical evidence. Similarly, there is no evidence that Jesus was the Son of God, that Mary gave virgin birth, that Jesus turned water into wine, etc.

I like Richard Dawkins thinking on this. Christians don't believe in Zeus, The Great Turtle, etc. In fact, they don't believe in any other higher power except their single god, making them atheists vis a vis every other religion except their own. We don't have a name for people who don't believe in Zeus. Similarly, the label atheist is for Christians to smear people whose belief systems threatens theirs.

As far as "militant atheist", this is complete hogwash. Christian pastors get to stand up every Sunday and say the gays are going to hell, people in Africa shouldn't use condoms, and on and on. Yet the non-believer is somehow an extremist because they call a spade a spade. Right. Seems to me that Christians need to look in the mirror rather than tarring and feathering anyone who doesn't agree with their anachronistic, unsupported worldview.

I agree that religion can help people, but so what? I might believe that I'm the King of Egypt, and maybe this helps me get through life. But it says nothing about whether the belief is true or not. Anyways, plenty of other groups and activities offer the same substance (community, helping others, etc.) without the ridiculous dogma.

Salient comment.

Just as the Klan has been a "christian" organization dedicated to ethnic cleansing, there's no shortage of old testament exhortations to kill the unbelievers. These seem remote to us now, but the fundamentalist flavors of religion which become more virulent in adverse situations may seize upon them.

We will, after all, soon be playing a game of musical chairs with not enough resources to go around. A sorting mechanism will be necessary. The fastest-growing religions are not big on tolerance of unbelievers.

The best reason to consider engaging in the hypocrisy of feigned belief may simply be to escape coming pogroms.

Glen Beck: "The truth is that they don’t surround us at all. We surround them." He doesn't say who "them" is, but it creeped me out anyhow.

"Atheist" may become a dangerous word sooner than we think. When asked, I generally say I'm a Bokononist, but the day may come when I shout hallelujah. Not because the inside of a religion is wholesome, but because the outside of it may be perilous.

"We will, after all, soon be playing a game of musical chairs with not enough resources to go around. "

Greenish, if you're talking about oil...it can be replaced: http://energyfaq.blogspot.com/2008/09/can-everything-be-electrified.html

Thanks for the note, Nick, but who's just talking about oil? We currently depend on overlapping systems held up by one another's bootstraps.

For instance, if a flawless mechanical heart could in principle be invented - let's say it can - that would still not mean immortality to a 90-year-old who received it. It'd simply mean that his kidneys, his vascular system, his prostate cancer, his aging lungs, his liver, or something else would knock him off.

The system itself is in overshoot along with our population. Fisheries are largely destroyed, we're in a mass extinction event, the patterns of rain and show that feed billions are changing to patterns different than what we depend on, phosphorus and other stuff is very finite, and etc etc.

Moreover, oil may be qualitatively but not quantitatively replaced by other stuff, as this site and its excellent links have established pretty well.

Now if you merge that with the fact that something like 80% of humans are primarily interested in how this all jibes with the ostensible autobiographies/manifestos of invisible sky spooks, it ain't a pretty picture.

Joel 1:10
The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up ; the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails.

Haggai 1:11
I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands."

Matthew 25:8
The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'

Matthew 25:9
" 'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'

and so on...


I'm not sure about food related topics, but I do know energy, and I think it's useful to be clear about what we know and don't know.

"oil may be qualitatively but not quantitatively replaced by other stuff, as this site and its excellent links have established pretty well. "

I really don't think so. I've been following TOD closely for over 3 years, and there really hasn't been a good demonstration that wind and solar (and nuclear, if that's your thing) can't scale up.

I invite you to go back through TOD and try to find it. It's not there, and for a good reason: wind and solar really can scale up. The resources are there; the E-ROI is high; wind is now competitive in cost to FF (and nuclear); and solar is clearly on track to get there soon.

Nick, not to beat this to death on the end of an old thread, but there's a vast difference between what's physically/thermodynamically possible and what is evolutionarily/sociopolitically possible. I think that's why so many engineers are upbeat: narrow focus on what is not physically impossible, when that is only one of many salient and simultaneous constraints.

We have no serious disagreement on whether wind, solar, and nuclear can "scale up" to some degree for some period of time. I'd agree it's a darn good idea to try.

Whether a civilization primarily powered by solar and wind and nukes could keep a complex extractive and materials infrastructure going sufficient to indefinitely replicate itself at anything like current scale is a tougher question. I doubt it, but it should probably be tried.

Whether such an undertaking can be efficiently carried out in the context of infrastructural and political collapse, in democracies in which 80% of the voters are religiously delusional, addicted to free entitlements, and ignorant of even basic limits, is dubious.

I'll help, but my original point stands.

"there's a vast difference between what's physically/thermodynamically possible and what is evolutionarily/sociopolitically possible."

Of course. If it was a matter of the technical possibilities, we would have fixed our problems decades ago.

"narrow focus on what is not physically impossible"

"not physically impossible" is very different from "pretty easy". When it comes right down to it, our energy problems are pretty easy to solve. While we agree that it's the social problems that are hard, the fact that the technical/physical obstacles are "pretty easy" really does make a difference.

"Whether a civilization primarily powered by solar and wind and nukes could keep a complex extractive and materials infrastructure going sufficient to indefinitely replicate itself at anything like current scale is a tougher question. I doubt it,"

But, why? Really, our only problems at the moment are that legacy industries, and the people in them, don't want to be obsolete. That's a big obstacle, but it's not impossible. Wind and solar could power us just fine.

"Whether such an undertaking can be efficiently carried out in the context of infrastructural and political collapse"

Well, see, there's part of the problem. To suggest that our current bank panic is "collapse" is unrealistic.

Further, we're already getting there: wind was 32% of new electrical generation in the US last year, and wind is still growing quickly by historical standards, despite the current economic problems. PHEV/EVs are doing the same.

Q: What do an Atheist, a Christian and a Satanist have in common?

A: They are all attached to "God".

The Christian is attached to the idea of an omnipotent, supreme being he calls God. He will fight fiercely when his faith is challenged. So he is very much attached to this idea.

The Satanist and the Atheist are both reacting against the Christian, but in a different way.

The Satanist reacts by believing in "the opposite". But believing in Satan implies believing in God. So the Satanist is just as attached to God as the Christian against which he rebels.

The Atheist reacts by rejecting the belief in any kind of God. A lot of his thinking, time and energy is spent on considering and defending his not believing. So the atheist too in his explicit and fierce non-believing is very much attached to this idea of "God" as well.

Now a Buddhist comes along and sees the Christian, the Atheist and Satanist arguing about God. He wonders why these people are getting so worked up, arguing about an abstract concept.

Failing to calm the fighting parties or convince them that their arguments are really pointless, he moves on.

Looking around... The sky is blue. The grass is green. A few white clouds are floating by. Ah what a beautiful day it is today!

The Christian, the Satanist and the Atheist continue arguing.