MachineMachine /stream - tagged with faith en-us LifePress <![CDATA[Interview with a writer: John Gray » Spectator Blogs]]>

In his new book The Silence of Animals, the philosopher John Gray explores why human beings continue to use myth to give purpose to their lives. Drawing from the material of writers such as J.G.

Fri, 08 Mar 2013 03:54:02 -0800
<![CDATA[Humanism: not an ‘impossible dream’]]>

Andrew Brown, at The Guardian‘s ‘Comment is Free’ (CIF) wrote an article a couple of weeks ago now rubbishing humanism and the British Humanist Association. I’ve responded today on the Huffington Post. Why has it taken so long? Well, I originally asked CIF if I could do a response. I was told yes but when I sent it to them they changed their mind and said it was too positive about humanism. I went back to them and said that this wasn’t quite fair and so they said okay, I could do a piece but it would have to be more general and not a response as such. So, I worked on another version, but then was told that it didn’t make sense. (You can judge that for yourself – I’ve pasted it below the Huffington Post one below).

The Huffington Post one:

Andrew Brown, in his blog last week, criticised the British Humanist Association (BHA) for promoting humanism as an essentially negative approach to life defined by what it isn’t and for being on an incoherent and self-defeating mission to eliminate

Mon, 31 Dec 2012 06:57:00 -0800
<![CDATA[An extended breakdown of the Christian symbolism in Prometheus]]>

Prometheus contains such a huge amount of mythic resonance that it effectively obscures a more conventional plot. I'd like to draw your attention to the use of motifs and callbacks in the film that not only enrich it, but offer possible hints as to what was going on in otherwise confusing scenes.

Let's begin with the eponymous titan himself, Prometheus. He was a wise and benevolent entity who created mankind in the first place, forming the first humans from clay. The Gods were more or less okay with that, until Prometheus gave them fire. This was a big no-no, as fire was supposed to be the exclusive property of the Gods. As punishment, Prometheus was chained to a rock and condemned to have his liver ripped out and eaten every day by an eagle. (His liver magically grew back, in case you were wondering.)

Fix that image in your mind, please: the giver of life, with his abdomen torn open. We'll be co

Wed, 27 Jun 2012 15:31:00 -0700
<![CDATA[Philip K. Dick, Sci-Fi Philosopher, (Part 3) : Adventures in the Dream Factory]]>

Philip K. Dick’s admittedly peculiar but passionately held worldview and the gnosticism it embodies does more than explain what some call the dystopian turn in science fiction from the 1960s onward, it also gives us what has arguably become the dominant mode of understanding of fiction in our time, whether literary, artistic or cinematic. This is the idea that reality is a pernicious illusion, a repressive and authoritarian matrix generated in a dream factory we need to tear down in order to see things aright and have access to the truth. And let’s be honest: it is simply immensely pleasurable to give oneself over to the idea that one has torn aside the veil of illusion and seen the truth — “I am one of the elect, one of the few in the know, in the gnosis.”

Wed, 23 May 2012 10:00:42 -0700
<![CDATA[A challenge to God-guided mutations]]>

The renowned philosopher of science Elliott Sober has, in recent weeks, given a talk and written a paper that both make the same points: Evolution is totally silent on the idea and actions of God and, further, that evolutionists have neglected the logical possibility that God could have been involved in creating some of the mutations involved in evolution. (These mutations are presumably adaptive—God wouldn’t make all those nasty mutations that cause muscular dystrophy and cancer!)

I see this exercise—of demonstrating the logical compatibility of a rarely-acting God with evolution, and, by extension, with all of science—as a trivial exercise and a waste of time. No evolutionary biologist argues that evolution logically entails the non-existence of a God who can tweak the process. Or, if there are a few misguided individuals who do, they’re not important enough to contest in this way.

Thu, 17 May 2012 03:35:18 -0700
<![CDATA[Buying the Body of Christ]]>

“We’re proud to put our name on what will become the body of Jesus.”

The wafers I bought were manufactured by the Cavanagh Company of Greenville, Rhode Island, which now makes 80 percent of the “altar breads” consumed in the US. The automation in Cavanagh’s facility is on par with that of Pepperidge Farm or Frito-Lay: they use custom-converted versions of the wafer ovens that turn out cream-filled vanilla wafers, and bake according to a patent-protected process that gives their wafers a sealed edge—to avoid crumbs. Cavanagh’s engraving plates stamp crosses and Christian lambs in their dough, while other companies use the same equipment to emboss their wheaten products with trademarks and brand-unique tessellations. Their batter is tested with an electronic viscometer. Their flour blend is a trade secret.

Sun, 08 Apr 2012 01:06:18 -0700
<![CDATA[Does It Matter Whether God Exists?]]>

Discussions of religion are typically about God. Atheists reject religion because they don’t believe in God; Jews, Christians and Muslims take belief in God as fundamental to their religious commitment. The philosopher John Gray, however, has recently been arguing that belief in God should have little or nothing to do with religion. He points out that in many cases — for instance, “polytheism, Hinduism and Buddhism, Daoism and Shinto, many strands of Judaism and some Christian and Muslim traditions” — belief is of little or no importance. Rather, “practice — ritual, meditation, a way of life — is what counts.” He goes on to say that “it’s only religious fundamentalists and ignorant rationalists who think the myths we live by are literal truths” and that “what we believe doesn’t in the end matter very much. What matters is how we live.”

Fri, 23 Mar 2012 01:51:43 -0700
<![CDATA[The God wars]]>

Atheism is just one-third of this exotic ideological cocktail. Secularism, the political wing of the movement, is another third. Neo-atheists often assume that the two are the same thing; in fact, atheism is a metaphysical position and secularism is a view of how society should be organised. So a Christian can easily be a secularist - indeed, even Christ was being one when he said, "Render unto Caesar" - and an atheist can be anti-secularist if he happens to believe that religious views should be taken into account. But, in some muddled way, the two ideas have been combined by the cultists.

Wed, 07 Mar 2012 14:42:54 -0800
<![CDATA[The Exegete]]>

When Philip K. Dick died in 1982 of a series of strokes brought on by years of overwork and amphetamine abuse, he was seen within the science fiction genre as a cult author of idiosyncratic works treating themes of synthetic selfhood and near-future dystopia, an intriguing if essentially second-rank talent. At the time, he was more popular in France and Japan, which have always had a taste for America’s pop culture detritus, than he was in his native country. Thirty years later, Dick — known to his most avid fans simply by his initials “PKD” — has developed a reputation as, among other things: a baleful chronicler of Bay Area working-class angst, thanks to a series of previously unpublished realist works written during the 1950s and early 1960s, such as Humpty Dumpty in Oakland; a postmodernist avant la lettre, due to his delirious explorations of deliquescent mindscapes in novels like Eye in the Sky and Martian Time-Slip, which Vintage began reprinting in imposing trade paperback editions in 1991; a godfather of cyberpunk via Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner, adapted from Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; and a kind of Gnostic magus gifted with quasi-divine revelations that came to inform his final novels, beginning with VALIS in 1981. During the last decade of his life, Dick produced an 8,000-page opus of theological speculation known simply as the Exegesis, which struggled to come to grips with what seemed to be mystical experiences, and which editors Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem have now culled into Houghton Mifflin’s massive doorstop of a book.

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 05:22:56 -0800
<![CDATA[No secularism please, we're British]]>

This is what always happens with religion: it is meant to make people behave better, but when they get too serious about it, it ends up making them behave much, much worse. Britain is in the thick of an acrimonious, debate about secularism and religion. Religious belief and church attendance have been shrinking for decades, yet religion continues to play an important part in our national life. Prayers before council meetings may have been banned last week by a judge, and an increasing number of our city churches are put to sound secular use as indoor ski slopes or apartments. But there are still bishops in the House of Lords, prayers are said at the Cenotaph, and the communal celebrations of Christmas and Easter have yet to become completely taboo.

Wed, 15 Feb 2012 03:20:20 -0800
<![CDATA[A Conversation with film-maker Adam Curtis]]>

Since the early 1990s Adam Curtis has made a number of serial documentaries and films for the BBC using a playful mix of journalistic reportage and a wide range of avant-garde filmmaking techniques. The films are linked through their interest in using and reassembling the fragments of the past—recorded on film and video―to try and make sense of the chaotic events of the present. I first met Adam Curtis at the Manchester International Festival thanks to Alex Poots, and while Curtis himself is not an artist, many artists over the last decade have become increasingly interested in how his films break down the divide between art and modern political reportage, opening up a dialogue between the two.

Sun, 12 Feb 2012 04:36:52 -0800
<![CDATA[The meaning of monsters, magic and miracles]]>

Monsters demonstrate, monsters alert us: whether or not the etymologies relating the word to both “monstro” (I show) and “moneo” (I warn), are correct, monsters act as a moral compass. The physical prodigy becomes a test of ethics and, in the move between literal and figurative, displays the crucial role fictions play in the establishment of value and the common sense. Or, one might say in the era when the Humanities are under such stress, thinking with monsters shows how an understanding of Nature, and of medicine, law and custom is impossible without cultural expression.

Thu, 09 Feb 2012 10:33:07 -0800
<![CDATA[The God gap]]>

Religion may have lost much of its power to explain our modern world but we still crave its emotional satisfactions

Sat, 28 Jan 2012 10:35:55 -0800
<![CDATA[It's time for science to move on from materialism]]>

Today we live in the 21st century, and it seems that we are still stuck with this narrow and rigid view of the things. As Rupert Sheldrake puts it in his new book, published this week, The Science Delusion: "The belief system that governs conventional scientific thinking is an act of faith, grounded in a 19th-century ideology."

That's provocative rhetoric. Science an act of faith? Science a belief system? But then how else to explain the grip of the mechanistic, physicalist, purposeless cosmology? As Heisenberg explained, physicists among themselves have long stopped thinking of atoms as things. They exist as potentialities or possibilities, not objects or facts. And yet, materialism persists.

Sat, 28 Jan 2012 10:35:54 -0800
<![CDATA[The accidental universe: Science's crisis of faith]]>

The history of science can be viewed as the recasting of phenomena that were once thought to be accidents as phenomena that can be understood in terms of fundamental causes and principles. One can add to the list of the fully explained: the hue of the sky, the orbits of planets, the angle of the wake of a boat moving through a lake, the six-sided patterns of snowflakes, the weight of a flying bustard, the temperature of boiling water, the size of raindrops, the circular shape of the sun. All these phenomena and many more, once thought to have been fixed at the beginning of time or to be the result of random events thereafter, have been explained as necessary consequences of the fundamental laws of nature—laws discovered by human beings.

Thu, 22 Dec 2011 12:24:04 -0800
<![CDATA[The Mystery of the Five Wounds]]>

Why, though, to begin with, did stigmata materialize in 13th-century Italy? Part of the answer seems to lie in the theological trends of the time. The Catholic Church of St. Francis’s day had begun to place much greater stress on the humanity of Christ, and would soon introduce a new feast day, Corpus Christi, into the calendar to encourage contemplation of his physical sufferings. Religious painters responded by depicting the crucifixion explicitly for the first time, portraying a Jesus who was plainly in agony from wounds that dripped blood. Indeed, the contemporary obsession with the marks of crucifixion may best be demonstrated by an incident that occurred in Oxford, England, two years before St. Francis’s vision: a young man was brought before the Archbishop of Canterbury and charged with the heresy of declaring he was the son of God. In court it was discovered that his body bore the five wounds

Mon, 21 Nov 2011 12:07:55 -0800
<![CDATA[Does Pinker’s “Better Angels” Undermine Religious Morality?]]>

It is often argued that religion makes individuals and the world more just and moral, that it builds character and provides a foundation from which we understand right from wrong, good from evil; if it wasn’t for religion, apologists say, then the world would fall into a Hobbesian state of nature where violence prevails and moral codes fail. To reinforce this contention, they point out that Stalin, Hitler and Mao were atheists to force an illogical causal connection between what they did and what they believed.

One way to answer the question of if religion makes people and the world more moral and better off is to look at the history books. For that, I draw upon Steven Pinker’s latest, The Better Angels of Our Nature, an 800 page giant that examines the decline of violence from prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies to the present.

Wed, 02 Nov 2011 06:58:44 -0700
<![CDATA[Atheists, theists, and gnostics, oh my!]]>

There’s a popular idea that being an atheist involves sharing the exact ideas of all non-believers, a notion I would argue is extremely misguided. Since atheism is a personal philosophical position, there are a wide variety of approaches to the subject. The first question to consider when looking at these approaches is the issue of religion at childbirth. Can you be born an atheist? Without the ability to have communicated to them the idea of God, can a newborn nevertheless hold belief in such?

In a nutshell, no. Atheism, as I’ve argued in other pieces published here (“Beyond a reasonable doubt,” Page 15, December 1, 2010”), is primarily a negative state; without some sort of positive proof suggesting that the case is otherwise, we by default assume that there is no God. Those that cannot consider new evidence to the contrary must be atheists, even if they do not self-identify as such. Animals are a good example here. Since they can’t process an idea as complex as God, they’re atheists. Sorry, Fido.

Mon, 24 Oct 2011 16:36:04 -0700
<![CDATA[The Roots of Religion: Myth, Play and Human Evolution]]>

Robert Bellah, one of America's most distinguished sociologists, caps off his luminous academic career with "Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age" , a near 800-page magnum opus that delves deep into the roots of humankind's encounter with mystery and the search for meaning. Underwritten in part by funding from the John Templeton Foundation, Bellah's book, out this month from Harvard University Press, has been described as “the most important systematic and historical treatment of religion since Hegel, Durkheim, and Weber. It is a page-turner of a bildungsroman of the human spirit on a truly global scale, and should be on every educated person's bookshelves.” Guided by the latest findings in the biological and social sciences, Bellah identifies the roots of the religious sense in human biology and culture — but by no means reduces religion to a mere expression of biological determinism or cultural preference.

Wed, 19 Oct 2011 03:17:49 -0700
<![CDATA[The case for reconciling the scientific with the divine -- and against the anti-religion of Richard Dawkins]]>

As a both a scientist and a humanist myself, I have struggled to understand different claims to knowledge, and I have eventually come to a formulation of the kind of religious belief that would, in my view, be compatible with science. The first step in this journey is to state what I will call the Central Doctrine of science: All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws, and those laws are true at every time and place in the universe. Although scientists do not talk explicitly about this doctrine, and my doctoral thesis advisor never mentioned it once to his graduate students, the Central Doctrine is the invisible oxygen that scientists breathe. We do not, of course, know all the fundamental laws at the present time. But most scientists believe that a complete set of such laws exists and, in principle, is discoverable by human beings, just as 19th-century explorers believed in the North Pole although no one had yet reached it.

Sat, 08 Oct 2011 10:01:04 -0700