Monday, January 29, 2007

Faith and Reason

I'm reading two oddly conflicting things today. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. I agree with Natalie Angier, New York Times reviewer, who says, "The End of Faith articulates the dangers and absurdities of organized religion so fiercely and so fearlessly that I felt relieved as I read it, vindicated, almost personally understood." Author, Sam Harris, acknowledges the importance of spiritual experiences, while strongly denouncing the irrational aspects of organized religion. I find myself saying, "Yes!" "Right!" "I'm so glad to hear someone saying this out loud." Face it. The Bible and the Koran were not written by the creator of the Universe.

"There is, of course, much that is wise and consoling and beautiful in our religious books. But words of wisdom and consolation and beauty abound in the pages of Shakespeare, Virgil and Homer as well, and no one ever murdered strangers by the thousands because of the inspiration he found there. The belief that certain books were written by God (who, for reasons difficult to fathom, made Shakespeare a far better writer than himself) leaves us powerless to address the most potent source of human conflict..."

You know me. I'm the guy who deeply believes that logic and facts will prevail. But I picked up last week's issue of Time with its cover article, "The New Map Of The Brain." Turns out our rational process aren't all we think they are.
"Another startling conclusion from the science of consciousness is that the intuitive feeling we have that there's an executive "I" that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion. Consciousness turns out to consist of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain. These events compete for attention, and as one process outshouts the others, the brain rationalizes the outcome after
the fact and concocts the impression that a single self was in charge all along."
It turn out all parts of our brains interact as much as they can and all our perceptions are filtered through prior experiences. One of the few things I can say for sure about this is that in a hundred years, we'll be laughing about how primitive our understanding of consciousness was in 2006.


Simon St.Laurent said...

Wow, Mary Ann. I guess we really don't agree on everything.

I found The End of Faith so wrong-headed and revolting that it drove me the other direction. I gave my copy away to the library book sale, so can't comment specifically on it, but I'm not sure I've ever had that strong a gut rejection of a book.

Mary Ann said...

Simon, I know we don't agree on everything and I'm a little sad about it. I haven't finished the book. And I have some criticisms. But talking about beliefs is so taboo, it's a relief to me to hear someone agree that is's a bad idea to tolerate beliefs that are not only wrong but dangerous.

Let's talk about it sometime. I can't imagine either of us changing the other's religious beliefs (kind of like you and Duane agreeing that you have different sets of facts), but talking about the concepts would be good.

Simon St.Laurent said...

I'd be happy to talk about it, though I should look at the book again before we do.

Most of what I remember was Harris' amazing arrogance, rising to peaks I'm not used to reading in the nonfiction section. His conclusion left me just kind of bored after the earlier blasting rhetoric, but I guess you haven't reached that yet.

More fun over coffee?

Simon St.Laurent said...

Oh, and I have a related book you might find interesting - Freethinkers. I just mentioned it over on Slacktivist, and felt compelled to dredge it out of my frozen attic, so it's readily available for borrowing if you're interested.

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