If we evolved, then we evolved the ability to be religious for a reason. To live without religion, is actually unnatural and contrary to the way we were designed as a species. Science has recently however, cast doubt on the accuracy of most religious doctrines. This leads to a conflict of either A) accepting a religious doctrine that science shows to be false B) living without religion and thus living contrary to the way we were designed and being more miserable as a result.
Studies consistently show that religious people are happier, healthier, have better social connections, and live longer than the non-religious. Now, it is true that not everything we evolved is useful. Wisdom teeth or the appendix are featured in humans without much purpose, leftover from ancient lineages that were once useful millions of years ago but are no longer. Religion is unique to the human species though. It's not a trait that was useful for ancient monkeys and then suddenly lost it's usefulness in humans. If it hadn't aided our survival, it would not be a widespread characteristic of human society.
What is religion? At it's core, religion is the bending of reality in order to increase a person's happiness or otherwise alter human behavior, presumably for the good of the community. Atheists commonly criticize religion for being fantasy, but what they fail to understand is that the bending of reality is preciously the point. The religious being unable to counter atheists with this argument, otherwise it would unravel the alternative reality that they've created.
Do you remember Santa Clause? This is a basic example of bending reality in order to increase someone's happiness. To see the look of a child's face on Christmas morning. Maybe you had stock in Bernie Madoff's hedge fund? For years, you thought you were wealthy, and these feelings of wealth made you happy. But it was all based on a false reality, the wealth didn't actually exist.
There seem to be two conflicting forces at work with regard to religion. A) happy people tend to outperform unhappy people. B) People who base their actions on reality tend to outperform those who base their actions on a false reality.
Religion therefore has upsides and downsides. It can increase one's happiness and thus their performance, health, life expectancy, etc. But it can also lead to destructive behavior by embracing an alternative reality.
You may have noticed a lot of people convert to Christianity or Islam while in prison? If one is in prison, it makes sense to bend reality in order to increase one's happiness. The upsides outweigh the downsides. If a person is struggling in their life or facing difficult times, they'll be more susceptible to conversion because the costs are often outweighed by the benefits. In our pre-modern environment, the challenges of surviving in times of famine, disease, and war would have been formidible.
What if you could have the best of both worlds? The increased health, performance, happiness and social connections associated with religion, without the destructive behavior that results from an alternative realty?
What is the purpose of life?
This is the most elementary question that religion tries to answer. In order to minimize the downsides associated with basing our actions on a bent reality, we have to use science to try and decipher the answer.
Why does evolution want us to maximize our performance? So that we can reproduce and multiply.
Ah, but here we encounter a problem. Existing merely for the purpose of reproducing doesn't feel satisfying. I'd rather be happy and have less children, than be miserable with ten kids. It seems pursuing this goal in and of itself, would lead to massive overpopulation until we stripped our natural resources and everyone was left miserable by the resulting poverty.
Thus our three purposes for existing can potentially conflict with one another.
Why does evolution want us to survive and reproduce? What is the grander purpose beyond this? This leads us to a fourth reason.
Because reason 3 potentially conflicts with reason 1, and reason 4 is unknown, our main focus in life should thereby be reason 2:
Maximizing One's Performance
This is the purpose behind Evolution-X's philosophy, while also taking into account reasons 1, 3, and 4. We can talk more about reason 4 later.
Everyone is born with certain inherit traits. Not everyone can be a rocket scientist or NFL football player. You can't change the cards you were dealt, you simply want to play them the best that you can. The problem with maximizing one's performance is that our pursuit of happiness (reason 1) often interferes. Just like a computer has flaws in it's programming and is prone to crashing, so to, are there flaws in our pleasure/reward system.
The most basic example is the problem of obesity. Our reward system gives us incentive to eat because this aided survival, but in modern abundance, we eat ourselves to the point of self destruction. Maybe a person wants to stop smoking but can't, or wants to exercise more, come to work on time, go to bed at a reasonable hour, have better hygiene, be more organized, or any other laundry list of items that one desires but cannot due to limitations in free will.
I would like to propose a theory, which certainly isn't new, that the flaws in our brains reward system can be substantially reduced or overridden through bending reality and the use of religion. In other words, besides increasing one's happiness, religion is a powerful tool to change behavior. A primary concept of Christianity for example, is to avoid sin, with sin being any behavior beneath the likeness of God.
Now, when someone tries to stop smoking, this desire is within their conscious mind, and the desire to continue smoking often lies in the subconscious mind, with the subconscious urge overpowering the conscious one. If a person believes in God, and that God doesn't want them to smoke, if this urge can somehow be embedded into one's subconscious desires, then this can counter act the urge to smoke, thus allowing a person greater free will to stop smoking.
In the ten steps program to help recovering alcoholics, the method of using God as a means to prevent future alcohol consumption seems to be a significant tool for example.
How does one bend reality?
You might be asking yourself how one can successfully bend reality? No matter what anyone tells me, or how hard I try, I won't be able to believe in Santa Claus again.
I'd like to point out that in the movie the Matrix, a world built on computer code, the subjects in this virtual world were able to bend the rules of their physical existence in order to do things they normally couldn't. Although it can be done, bending reality is not exactly easy. It requires a lot of practice. You may notice that religions frequently meet up multiple times a week to reinforce and practice the bent reality or “faith.” If a person stops practicing for a significant amount of time, their reality is likely to unwind and revert back to normal.
The Faith Bubble
In order to successfully bend reality, it's important to surround oneself with other people that also conform to that reality. By interacting with other people that do not confirm, it undermines the alternative reality and requires greater strength on the part of the person to sustain the bent reality.
To give an example, I moved to England in 2008 and didn't know anyone. It wasn't exactly easy to befriend people, and not knowing what to do or how to meet people, I started going to church every week. Pretty soon, everyone I knew and interacted with was from the church, and although I wasn't Christian, I soon felt my reality starting to warp towards the new Christian worldview. When I flew home and was back in my old environment and amongst old friends, this Christian worldview quickly unraveled.
Religions tend to be inflexible and have difficulty co-existing with other worldviews. It's a common attribute that frequently results in criticism by atheists. Other viewpoints threaten the legitimacy of the alternative reality and can pop the “faith bubble.” The greater the proximity of other viewpoints, the more strength it might require for members to sustain the alternative reality. Christianity and Islam strive to be all encompassing, with the goal of members to convert the entire world. A driving motivation behind the Spanish colonization of the New World for example, was to convert the new world to Christianity. This sort of aggressive expansion/recruitment method, seems to be a necessary attribute in helping to sustain the faith and keep the bent reality from unraveling. The faith bubble in essence, has a sort of gravitational pull, and is constantly seeking to pull in new members, as well as keep current members from leaving/losing their faith.
Besides surrounding oneself with other members of the faith, repetition of the faith's beliefs over and over, continual reinforcement, and learning to refrain from any critical or rational thought that the faith could possibly be false, seem to be important in sustaining the alternative reality.
I would like to point out that, Evolution-X's philosophy lacks many of these characteristics, since it does not entail bending reality in a destructive manner, but is based on science.
The Opium of the People
Although a lot of people disagree with me, from my experience in England, I can describe religion as being more than just a means of increasing a person's happiness, but in fact, being very similar in principle and qualities to a drug.
“Religion is the opium of the people.” ~ Karl Marx.
I think it partially depends on the level at which reality is bent, or should I say the “dosage.” The greater the bending of reality, the more fundamental the doctrine, the greater the increase in happiness, and also the greater potential for destructive or positive behavior based on this bent reality.
One of the characteristics of a drug is that it can drastically alter behavior on the subconscious level, and it would appear, that a potent dose of religion can alter subconscious behavior in a variety of ways. Russel Brand, a heroin addict and ex-husband to Katy Perry, described in an interview once that using heroin made him feel as if he were “touching God.”
A key difference between drugs and religion, is that religion is a natural and evolved mechanism that we were designed to have, whereas drugs are unnatural and can have bad side effects. Atheists and a significant part of the population use recreational drugs to increase their happiness, whereas they might be better served by getting high on God instead, a completely natural alternative.
If we are trying to improve a person's behavior, and reduce the flaws in a person's pleasure reward system, that is to say, we are trying to get a person to stop smoking, overeating, exercise more, work harder, less sloth, be more sociable, show up on time, be more organized, etc.....maybe it's possible to design a “drug” that can alter a person's behavior for the better?
Does God exist? What is God?
In chemistry, if you breakdown substances to their smallest possible level, the atom is the basic building block of everything. In philosophy, I like to ask the question why, and then proceed to breakdown the why's to their lowest possible level.
If we are trying to determine whether God exists, we must first come up with some sort of definition as to what God is. I took a camera and went to a variety of churches asking people for the definition of God. Christians gave a wide variety of answers. An all powerful being was the general consensus, but beyond that, there wasn't much uniformity.
What exactly does God want? Everyone seemed to have a different opinion. The problem with having a vague definition of God, is that in the Christian religion, one is supposed to serve God and put God number one in their life.
If the definition isn't clear, then people get confused about how to serve God and it becomes open to individual interpretation. This individual interpretation allows people to twist the meaning and purpose of God to their own ends and can lead to conflict with others who are trying to follow God.
Since I'm against bending reality in a destructive manner, I have to use science and actual evidence to try and define my existence. I cannot define God as an omnipotent powerful being, because I see no evidence to support this. The closest thing that I can come to defining God, is that God is some sort of abstract concept of perfection.
Perfection is a useful definition, because it can theoretically exist on scientific level and because it allows for greater uniformity in interpretation. If I look at this chair, and the purpose of this chair is to allow a person to sit comfortably, then I can say with reasonable certainty that this chair is close to perfection because it fulfills that which it was designed to do.
If a person's purpose in life is to maximize one's performance, and this person is a drug addict who robs and steals from the community to support themselves, then I can reasonably say that this person isn't close to perfection but is in fact, far from perfection.
If A2 + B2 = C2, and God = X, and X = Perfection perhaps we can use an algebraic equation to answer some important questions about God.
Do not ask whether God exists, but ask whether perfection exists? Can perfection be proven or disproved? Do you believe perfection is possible or is it not possible? Do my actions bring me closer or further away from perfection? If a political leader is citing God as his reason for a political action, does this action bring us closer or further away from perfection?
When Philip II of Spain launched the Spanish Armada in 1588, he cited God's will as one of the reasons for the invasion and war against England. Under the Christian interpretation of God, it's difficult for us to refute this with certainty. However, if God is interpreted as perfection, we can reasonably assume that God did not want Philip II to invade England. The Spanish Armada was by all accounts, a disaster and quite the opposite of a perfect campaign.
The Thirty Years War was a religious conflict, fought largely between the forces of the Protestant reformation vs. the Catholic counter-reformation. It destroyed large areas of Europe including killing about 1/3rd of the German population. Although the war was fought in the name of God, post reflection allows us to clearly see that it resulted in bringing Europe much further from perfection and thus God was in fact against the war.
For God to justify war, it would seem the temporary destructive nature of war, would need to be offset by the greater benefits in the long term as a result of the war. The American Revolutionary War might be one war that God supported. Although it temporarily brought America and Britain further from perfection, in the long term, it may have allowed America to develop a superior form of government that brought the American continent closer to perfection.
After Brian David Mitchell kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, he cited God's will as the reason to the interrogating officers. Without a clear definition of God, refuting arguments like this is simply a game of he said/she said. The counter argument is merely that God did not actually want him to kidnap her, which is what the officers claimed, but beyond that, I don't know how to counter such a claim about God's will.
With a clearer definition of God, we can argue with relative certainty that God did not want Brian Mitchell to kidnapp Elizabeth, because kidnap and rape are very distant from perfection.
Joan of Arc claimed to be representing God's will in her divine mission to drive the English out of France in the hundred years war. Based on her effective results, perhaps she did represent God. Muhammad also achieved great and lasting results. The Arabian pennusla had been divided by warring tribes for centuries. He united the Arabian pennsula and within a century of his death, his kingdom spanned not just Arabia, but from Spain all the way to Persia.
Christianity initially was less successful when compared to Islam. Within 3 decades of the Roman Empire officially adopting Christianity, Rome fell and Western Europe descended into the dark ages from which it would be many centuries before civilization returned to it's former level. The Eastern Roman Empire that survived, was eventually destroyed by the 4th crusade. The irony is that the crusade's specific purpose was to stop the spread of Islam, but ended up destroying the Christian nation most capable of stopping Islam's advance into Europe.
While there are countless examples of the effective use of religion in politics, having a leader that bases his/her actions on a false reality can be dangerous. The demise of monarchy as a political system, for example Czar Nikolas II and the Russian Empire, has much to do with the inevitable problems that arise when a leader bases their actions on a bent reality. This is why separation of church and state has been particularly effective in the United States and elsewhere.
If we applied our algebraic equation to the church, it would show that church is meant to worship Perfection and bring it’s members closer to Perfection. Different denominations are simply different interpretations on how to get closer to Perfection. The bible is interpreted by Christians as Perfection’s guide on how to get to Perfection, with Christ being the only Perfect person to have lived.
Now here's where I encounter a problem. The people inside the church often don't seem any closer to Perfection than the people outside the church. If the point of the philosophy is to bring people closer to God, it doesn't seem to be particularly effective.
My definition of God = Perfection is incomplete. I'm not saying that it's correct. God is likely something more/other than Perfection. Based on our current knowledge of the universe, it's impossible to define God exactly. I'm simply arguing that this is the closest to a definition that we can come based on the facts and on science. Using this definition seems superior than using other definitions to which there is less scientific evidence to support. Since we were designed as a species to be religious, following God seems to be a way to help us fulfill our purpose in life:
Maximizing One's Performance
The only way we can maximize our performance, is to overcome the limitations in our pleasure/reward system. This can most effectively be done, I believe, through the use of God and bending reality. Drugs could also possibly work, but I'm not aware of any effective drugs at this time. Reason 4, which was unknown, I propose, is to serve God and put God as number one in a person's life.
If serving God were to be our purpose in life, superseding reasons 1, 2, and 3, then it potentially changes many things.
Diet, exercise, social dynamics, government, education, spending habits, relationships, charity, and many, many other things.
You previously did things that made you feel good, living for reason 1) to be happy. Going to McDonald’s for lunch for example. I enjoy eating a large fry and coke. It tastes good. It makes me happy.
Because it's not nutritious, it works against reason 2) to maximize our performance. I'll regret having eaten McDonald’s tomorrow. But I need to be happy now, so I eat McDonald’s.
If our primary goal is to serve God and God equals Perfection, then eating unhealthy is against God's will. The purpose of eating is to sustain nutrients, not to make us happy. Our pleasure/reward system is flawed. If we can maintain a connection with God, then displeasing God will make us unhappy. Eating a large fry and Coke will now taste horrible. Brocolli, fruits, vegetables, the healthy things that we used to force ourselves to eat, will suddenly taste as good as Mcdonald's used to. Mcdonald's on the contrary, will taste horrible and we'll wonder how we possibly ever ate it at all.
Is such a thing possible? I mentioned previously that Russell Brand's heroin use made him feel as though he were “touching God.” Connecting with God is a form of high. It affects one's dopamine levels. Our brains desire for pleasure, always seeking dopamine, is one reason we constantly crave things like Mcdonald's and lack the free will to resist it.
If we become dependent on God for sustenance, and it's the center of our satisfaction and reason for living, then displeasing God will reduce/harm our dopamine levels. Eating Mcdonald's will have the opposite of it's intended affect, and no matter how hard we try, we won't be able to make it taste good. You will lose your free will to eat Mcdonald's, just as you previously lacked the free will to stop. Even if you previously resisted Mcdonald's through shear will power, with a proper connection to God, it won't require any will power.
3) Exercise. If God equals Perfection, then God wants us to be healthy. This requires exercise. Most people struggle to get enough exercise because of the flaws in our pleasure/reward system. If God is number one in our life, and our dopamine levels are attached to God, then we're required to exercise regularly or this will displease God, and we'll be unhappy. Instead of having to force ourselves to workout regularly, we'll instead reap great pleasure from the activity and look forward to it.
4) Social Dynamics. This is more important than any other section. Christians, Muslims, and Jews are fortunate in that they're able to sustain their connection with God directly without any intermediaries. Though this may be possible for the gifted, I don't believe it's practical, nor from an evolutionary perspective does it make sense. Religion is meant to be a group activity. In this philosophy, one sustain's a connection to God through positive social connections to those around us. If we lose our positive social connections, then it weakens our connection to God. Thus, good social dynamics are of particular importance.
Despite all of our progress in advancing technology, I would argue that socially we have become backwards. Ancient hunter gatherers from thousands of years ago, likely had better social lives than we do today. A good social life, is often important for one's happiness and well being. Yet today, mental illness, depression, and other similar disorders are at higher levels than they've ever been. People seem to be more isolated from one another in modern society, than they used to be.
Why have we become so isolated? Human social bonds tighten as a survival mechanism. A tribal community might be tightly knit and socially cohesive because it was needed for survival. The greater our wealth and technology, the weaker our social bonds become, and the more detached we become from one another. Individualism has been a characteristic in Western Culture for some time, but it seems to have taken on a more radical form over the last 50 years. Essentially, we're a victim of our own success. With modern television, computers, Ipods, etc, we have less need for friendship. Why settle for average friends when you can hangout with the beautiful ones on TV?
Prior to the dark ages, there was a period of time called the Pax Romana or Roman Peace, when the Roman Empire was at the height of it's power. It was a unique time in history, because merchants and trade could travel from one end of the empire to the other, in relative safety. From an economic perspective, this is important because it allows for both economies of scale and specialization.
I wrote an essay trying to solve another philosophical question that I had been debating for sometime.
The game I described in the essay above, is difficult to implement without some form of central authority of control. Picture a group of nations signing a trade agreement. Each individual nation is trying to represent their own interests while also maximizing the benefit of the group. We can organize ourselves into social groups to implement the game, whereby each member will have to follow a set of rules to ensure the game functions properly.
Friendship, from an evolutionary perspective, if you break it down to the lowest level possible as you might the atom in chemistry, what is the purpose of friendship? To share resources. Yet, most friendships today are flawed and inefficient in the sense of sharing resources. To illustrate this point, I would like to look at an episode of South Park called All About Mormons.
South Park is about four friends: Kyle, Stan, Kenny, and Cartman. These four friends frequently insult, humiliate, compete against, and refuse to share resources with one another. If something bad happens to one friend, the other friends, instead of helping their friend, will often laugh and take pleasure in the others misfortune. This might be an extreme example, but these kind of social dynamics are fairly common, particularly among adolescence.
A mormon kid named Gary moves to South Park and tries to befriend the group. Gary is unusually friendly and kind. In response to Gary's kindness and attempts to befriend the group, the South Park kids conspire to beat him up. Gary responds by offering to allow Stan to beat him, in the hopes that they can still be friends afterwards. Stan, baffled by the kids weird response, refrains from beating him up and instead reluctantly accepts Gary's invitation for dinner.
Upon going to dinner, Stan is dumbfounded by the way Gary's mormon family acts. They love and care for one another, and their awkward behavior contrasts sharpy with Stan's family, whose members fight and argue at the dinner table instead of caring and loving each other. When Stan loses his wallet, Gary makes Stan a new one, which Cartman, Kyle, and Kenny find odd.
Although the friendship of Kyle, Stan, Kenny, and Cartman are real friendships, they're inefficient friendships. They fall short considering the true purpose behind friendship is to share resources. In our evolutionary environment, as hunter gather tribes, if I break my leg while hunting, who is going to take care of me while my leg heals? Humans have a deep rooted psychological need to be popular, to have social connections, and to be loved. Those less popular had less access to resources and were more likely not to survive. When Gary replaced Stan's lost wallet, this is also indicative that he would help Stan if they were both caveman 10,000 years ago and one broke their leg. The contempt that Kyle, Stan, Cartman, and Kenny show for helping one another, also illustrates that they'd be less likely to help one another, if they were caveman 10,000 years ago.
The cause of inefficient friendships, might also be caused by the struggle to survive. No one in the adolescent South Park group wants to show weakness, and helping others or needing someone else's help, demonstrates weakness. The weakest member of their group, Butters, is frequently taken advantage of and exploited by the other members. Prison social dynamics, which also might be described as a “struggle to survive,” frequently stress the importance of not showing weakness, and the open willingness to help others can be interpreted as weakness.
Regardless of the cause of inefficient friendships, if we're trying to maximize utility, universal healthcare or social security, isn't going to replace the human psychological need for friends who will take care of you if it was 10,000 years ago and you were a caveman.
This is where I advocate bending reality. First of all, I'd like to clarify that I am not arguing that God exists. When I look around my neighborhood, my work, school, the news and television, friends, family members, well, it's a long way from perfection. There is a strong argument that perfection is impossible. It does not exist. I merely argue that perfection can exist, and that our goal is to bring it closer to existence.
The idea that God love's us, is required to achieve this goal. Since being loved is one of humans most deep rooted psychological needs, only through God's love can we break ourselves free from the pleasure/reward system that limits our free will, thereby limiting our ability to maximize our performance and bring us closer to God.
In essence, my argument for God's love, is equivalent to the idea behind paper money. Why does paper money have any value at all? The only reason it has intrinsic value, is because you can pay your taxes with it. If our purpose in life is to maximize our performance, and this can only be done through God's love, then God must love us, since not loving us would be less than perfect, and undermines the reason for our existance.
The reason God love's us, is because of God's strong desire to exist, and through this connection we can bring God closer to existence.
While some might claim that this is bending reality, and that bending reality is contrary to God since it is in and of itself, a form of imperfection, since this belief is needed to get close to God, on this basis, I argue that it must be true, since it being untrue would be less than perfect, and is therefore not a form of bending reality.
This site/concept is still under construction. I just kind of work on it as a hobby in my spare time.
But the goal is as follows:
1) Build a tribal community with superior social dynamics and greater sharing of resources. The goal being to convince our subconscious mind that if it was 10,000 years ago and we broke our leg, other people would help us: this being a pre-requisite for human happiness. Most people today seem to be either socially isolated or if they are part of a community, it's a community with inferior or degenerate social dynamics.
Generally the dissipation of stress tends to coincide with momentary loss of control or a loss of free will. The point is that if we can dissipate stress by connecting to God, this can help revitalize our minds so that we can increase our performance and better reduce degenerate vices.
3) Offer a religious community that doesn't involve bending reality in a destructive manner, which is my principle objection to Christianity, Islam, and other established religions.
written by Cody Good
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