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I try to live gently on this Earth but, in the face of all this human nature, I sometimes think 'for what reason am I bothering?'.
All I do, or don't do, is undone somewhere else, by someone else.
My actions are insignificant in the face of this.
Why not jump on with the rest of them and ride the bomb all the way down to the ground?
Why not indeed?

Dave Cohen


Major Kong


-- Dave


You had better recheck your facts about religion in the U.S. In my state of Washington, approximately 30% of it citizens consider themselves religious. That is clearly not the "most" that you refer to. I am not an atheist, but I support many of their positions. I am a scientist, however, and object to your comments concerning "scientism". There is a major difference between faith and fact. A lot of people had faith that the Titanic was unsinkable. They were wrong.

Our Constitution separates politics from religion, and quite rightly so. I would prefer that you do the same.

T E Cho


Good people need to wake up and prepare themselves for what's coming. But most can't accept it.

And the problem with liberals is they can't recognize or even define 'good' because it means the opposite - evil - must exist. It's all been beliefs and human's software and 'education' and societys fault. Oh, and everyone is basically the same. And when someone does something bad they throw up their hands and essentially say 'that's human nature' , effectively implying everyone would or could do that under similar circumstances. I'm tired of being lumped in to the same group as so many of the rotten jerks out there.

Once they can see themselves different from the rotten jerks, they can begin to think and act accordingly.

A more useful model of humanity is 'everyone's different'. Then you begin to see individuals and groups in higher resolution. Then humanity ceases to be this big grey amorphous fuzzy blob and begins to have outlines and structure.

The good/better people need to recognize that they are indeed better than the selfish, greedy, rotten ones - as a first step. This goes across liberal or conservative boundaries, the way the world defines it (and not Using Daves definition).

Dave Cohen


I'm glad you said what you said.

I want it to stand there for everyone to read, a testimonial to your utter confusion about what I was saying in this post, and all the things I have said on DOTE over the last 2 years.

You truly are a man of religious faith, and Progress is your religion.

And when the Earth finally becomes uninhabitable due to all this progress, that will be the pinnacle of human achievement, humankind's finest moment.

And didn't I say something about not shooting the messenger?

-- Dave

Bill Hicks

Sadly, the idea of "progress" became intertwined with materialism, even among so-called "liberals." The advancement of any society or country is measured by "standard of living" rather than "quality of life," as if the two terms are interchangeable.

I think about Joe Bageant's descriptions in his book, Rainbow Pie, of life on his family's farm when he was growing up. They had virtually no money, but still had an excellent quality of life and were largely self sufficient. And yet the policies of their country in the postwar years were designed to drive them off of their land and into the cities, where they would get jobs and supposedly have a higher living standard (and, not coincidentally, the corporations could sell them copious quantities of consumer products).

So instead of a nation in which a large percentage of the population lived a low energy-consumption lifestyle and could mostly fend for themselves, we created a society in which about 99% of the people are utterly dependent on corporations and the government for their survival. That was "progress?" Sadly, most people today would say yes, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.


I am an atheist, Dave. I can see where you are coming from. Alain de Botton can too, apparently.


Almost all of the comments from atheists on that video are what you, Dave, might stereotypically expect. Ultra rationality, as if humanity's only limit to intelligence and morality is religion, and by removing it, utopia can come about.

IMHO religion serves a purpose of ethics and community, as well as tradition. But the minute you start to ask questions, the basis for all those good things falls apart. How do you have ethics, community, and tradition without turning off your intellect?

Are you religious Dave in the sense of participating in organized services?

Dave Cohen


I am not a religious man in any way. Period.

But I can see what is right in front of my eyes. And if other people are religious, that does no harm unless freedom of religion is not respected. Then things can (and will) spin out of control.

Religion and intellect are not mutually exclusive. Ask a Jesuit.

The idea that religion is the source of every human calamity is a pernicious lie spread by inferior thinkers like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins, who I called out in this post.

Many comedians got this wrong, including George Carlin, which is understandable because religion is so easy to make fun of. And frankly, I find almost all of it ridiculous. But I don't think moral/ethical frameworks which guide the behavior of people who will never be intellectually "sophisticated" -- as so many people think they are -- are ridiculous. That's a sign of insecurity.

Plainly, religious beliefs have lots of value for many, if not most, human beings. I would never ridicule that because that's just the way it is, and it's time some people learned to accept it.

-- Dave

Dave Cohen

And for the general audience here, I should point out that people are always going to worship something. If not God, then Mammon (money). Or they'll worship technology, as so many of the "optimists" I feature on this blog do. Or they'll worship reason itself, as Dawkins does. Or they'll worship something else.

That's how human beings are designed. That arose out of the evolution of our species. That's what being fundamentally irrational is all about in the sense that I meant in this post and others I've written.

-- Dave

A Natural Mystic

Dave, have you read John N. Gray's Straw Dogs? It is a series of small, reflective pieces on the folly of the human faith in progress, and other delusions of the human animal.

The author is also an atheist who takes a very nuanced view of religion. The title of the book comes from a line in the Tao Te Ching which is rather appropriate for our times.

Don Levit

Dave is correct that humans are designed to worship something.
For example, one who is absolutely certain their religion is the best and the way to eternal life are just as misguided as the atheist who is certain there is no God.
This you can trust: humans are rational, only to an extent.
And, the more important the questions, the more important decisions that pit the community versus the individual - the more subjective we become.
So, keep offering your opinions on matters that are gray, for they are the most important decisions of our day.
Don Levit


Viable systems will need to be ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially just. We're going to need to reorganize quite a bit to reach those goals?


Dave, this blog entry made me very emotional, confused, and sad. The way you describe things is powerful. In my opinion this is your best blog entry. Thank you very much.

Mike Roberts

I think there was an article in Scientific American, in recent years about the god gene. Maybe there is an urge to believe in some higher power. However, we certainly don't come into this world with any kind of belief, so it must be, to some extent, instilled into us, even if it works on a willing gene.

It's odd that some countries maintain a high level of belief in a god, whilst others are somewhat lower - my own country, New Zealand, is about 75% and declining. So maybe that shows that it may not be a majority human trait for ever. And I often wonder how many people who profess to having a religious faith don't seem to act in accordance with that faith. Morality and ethics may be influenced by the belief in a god but there are many other factors also, otherwise atheists and agnostics would be amoral and you'd be saying nice things about Mitt Romney.

But, yes, we have lost those things you mentioned. However, I feel they will make a comeback in those communities that make it through the bottleneck. I suppose that's a faith of some kind.

Good Old Days

Don't make the mistake of imagining that today's ubiquitous salvationist religions, both eastern and western, are somehow "traditional." They're about as "traditional" as, say, a Model T.

A short excerpt:

"Signs of distress: 1400-0 B.C.E.

"It’s impossible to overstate the novelty of this idea of salvation. Religion had been around in our culture for thousands of years, of course, but it had never been about salvation as we understand it or as the people of this period began to understand it. Earlier gods had been talismanic gods of kitchen and crop, mining and mist, house painting and herding, stroked at need like lucky charms, and earlier religions had been state religions, part of the apparatus of sovereignty and governance (as is apparent from their temples, built for royal ceremonies, not for popular public devotions).

"Judaism, Brahmanism, Hinduism, Shintoism, and Buddhism all came into being during this period and had no existence before it. Quite suddenly, after six thousand years of totalitarian agriculture and civilization building, the people of our culture — East and West, twins of a single birth — were beginning to wonder if their lives made sense, were beginning to perceive a void in themselves that economic success and civil esteem could not fill, were beginning to imagine that something was profoundly, even innately, wrong with them."

by Daniel Quinn
Excerpt from the book, “The Story of B”


There are a few noted examples of non-human apes behaving strangley in the face of such things as waterfalls, or storms.


What this behaviour says about our need to worship something can never be known clearly but it shows that some sort of fascination with some kind of 'otherness' may be inherent in our species.


Dave - I've copied both posts for careful reading over the weekend.
In the meantime, here are a couple of comments on the comments:

I visit The Guardian frequently and like reading John Gray. This recent piece dovetails nicely with the reference to Alain de Botton:

And this one, titled "Folly of the progressive fairytale" (2008), offers an interesting perspective:

For a far larger "matryoshka doll" view of Daniel Quinn's ideas, I most highly recommend reading "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" by Julian Jaynes. It is - along with very few others - foundational in my own understanding of religion and history and, well, pretty much everything. Really worth the effort:



Diogenes - I hope you see Jaynes as a reason why humans need and can be taken in by the idea of an 'invisible man living in the sky', as George Carlin put it, and not as a scientific theory to be taken seriously, in any way?

Mister Roboto

Good on you for observing that fanatic atheist-skeptics are just another species of True Believer. And when you call them on it, the response is something along the lines of, "It's impossible that *we* could be fanatics because we're absolutely right about everything." (Frequently followed by a volley of insults and mindgames that are supposed to be "clever" but really just scream "mommy-and-daddy-issues" at top volume.) It's like, "Hell-o-o, do you *hear* yourself *at* *all*?"



As "scientific theory", many in cognitive science take Jaynes seriously - many don't. I don't care about that - I'm after insight and he offers plenty. Science can be important to knowledge but plays a small part in understanding. I "see" his ideas - and writing - as inspired and way outside the box where understanding usually is found. The book is remarkable and rewarding - I wish he had lived to continue his work.



Diogenes - that would be the former, I take it?




If you read and understand Jaynes, "god" is not an idea that "humans need and can be taken in by". "god" is a vestige of an earlier level of consciousness that provided the basic human need to know what to do. Before it became god it was the king or chief (to hear is to obey). Way back before that it was the alpha male. It's not the "invisible man in the sky". It's the invisible man in our heads.

Look...the only reason I brought up Jaynes was to point to a larger perspective on David Quinn's emphasis on agriculture's importance in human development. Jaynes provides other important factors; particularly language. His views on god and religion are complex and can't be reduced to discussion on a comment thread.


Thanks Diogenes, I should read the book. Sounds interesting at the least.

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