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The Believing Brain

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About the book

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In this, his magnum opus one of the world’s best known skeptics and critical thinkers Dr. Michael Shermer—founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and perennial monthly columnist (“Skeptic”) for Scientific American—presents his comprehensive theory on how beliefs are born, formed, nourished, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished. This book synthesizes Dr. Shermer’s 30 years of research to answer the questions of how and why we believe what we do in all aspects of our lives, from our suspicions and superstitions to our politics, economics, and social beliefs. In this book Dr. Shermer is interested in more than just why people believe weird things, or why people believe this or that claim, but in why people believe anything at all. His thesis is straightforward:

We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow.

Dr. Shermer also provides the neuroscience behind our beliefs. The brain is a belief engine. From sensory data flowing in through the senses the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning. The first process Dr. Shermer calls patternicity: the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data. The second process he calls agenticity: the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention, and agency.

We can’t help believing. Our brains evolved to connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen. These meaningful patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which adds an emotional boost of further confidence in the beliefs and thereby accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive feedback loop of belief confirmation. Dr. Shermer outlines the numerous cognitive tools our brains engage to reinforce our beliefs as truths and to insure that we are always right.

Interlaced with his theory of belief, Dr. Shermer provides countless real-world examples of belief from all realms of life, and in the end he demonstrates why science is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not a belief matches reality.

Brief Synopsis

The Believing Brain is divided into four parts. Part I, “Journeys of Belief,” includes personal narratives of belief, including that of the author; Part II, “The Biology of Belief,” bores into the brain and explains how the mind works to form beliefs, from thoughts and ideas down to neurons firing across tiny synaptic gaps as they talk to one another chemically; Part III, “Belief in Things Unseen” applies my theory beliefs to the afterlife, God, aliens, and conspiracies; and Part IV, “Belief in Things Seen,” examines the role of beliefs in politics, economics, and ideologies, explains how belief confirmation works to assure that we are always right, and then explores the history of scientific exploration, from the world to the cosmos, and how science works to overcome the power of belief.

The Believing Brain begins with three personal belief stories. The first story is about a man whom you will have never heard of but who had a profound and life-changing experience in the wee hours of the morning many decades ago that still haunts him to this day and drives him to search for ultimate meaning in the cosmos. The second story is about a man whom you will most definitely have heard of as he is one of the greatest scientists of our age, and he too had a life-changing early-morning experience that confirmed his decision to make a religious leap of faith. The third story is Dr. Shermer’s own passage from believer to skeptic, and what he learned along the way that drove him into a professional career of the scientific study of belief systems.

From narrative stories Dr. Shermer turns to an architecture of belief systems, how they are formed, nourished, reinforced, changed, and extinguished, first conceptually through the two theoretical constructs he developed called patternicity and agenticity, and then delve deeper into how these cognitive processes evolved and what purpose they served in the lives of our ancestors as well as in our lives today. Dr. Shermer then bores deeper into the brain, right down to the neurophysiology of belief system construction at the single neuron level, and then reconstructs from the bottom up how brains form beliefs. Then we shall examine how belief systems operate with regard to belief in religion, the afterlife, God, extraterrestrials, conspiracies, politics, economics, and ideologies of all stripes, and then consider how a host of cognitive processes convince us that our beliefs are truths. In the final chapters we will consider how we know any of our beliefs are believable, which patterns are true and which false, which agents are real and which are chimera, and how science works as the ultimate pattern detection device.

In the end, all of us are trying to make sense of the world, and nature has gifted us with a double-edge sword that cuts for and against. On one edge, our brains are the most complex and sophisticated information processing machines in the universe, capable of understanding not only the universe itself but of understanding the process of understanding. On the other edge, by the very same process of forming beliefs about the universe and ourselves, we are also more capable than any other species of self-deception and illusion, of fooling ourselves while we are trying to avoid being fooled by nature.

read or write comments (87)

87 Comments to “The Believing Brain”

  1. Revis Tilley Says:

    Switching from first to third person in this article is distracting.

  2. Kaushik Basu Says:

    Have been pondering over this for the last few weeks and found solution in your excerpt. Going to read the book soon. In the world filled with noise, I am glad I came across your website to find my signal! Please keep enlightening us.

  3. Ryan Says:

    Hello Dr. Shermer,

    I just saw your interview on the Colbert report and was wondering if you have ever heard of or studied at any length, Christian Science?

    Ryan

  4. Logan Says:

    Ever heard of or studied “at any length”, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE?
    Really?
    Ever studied…oh, I dont know…
    -WHERE DREAMS COME FROM?
    -WHY YAWNING IS CONTAGIOUS OVER THE PHONE?
    -WHY THE ONLY PROVEN CURE FOR DEPRESSION IS ALTURISM?
    The forum was the Colbert Report, for cryin’ out loud!

    Dr.Shermer,
    With 30yrs of research to pronounce your latest book’s “theory”, and as a fellow former Christian not withstanding… I need not agree with your “theory” to appreciate it. Appreciation not from an Abrahamic fortress of faith,nor any venue of contempt. Appreciation, simply from a satisfied mind. Thank you for your contribution.

  5. Jon Says:

    I just reviewed Christian Science on wikipedia and the only thing I saw that was vaguely scientific was that measles killed a few of them that felt prayer was more powerful then vaccinations. Way to go!

    Also, yawning over the phone has been proven to be caused by yellow M&M’s – I’m surprised you didn’t know that.

  6. Ron Says:

    Yellow is the color of SATAN! You are a heathen and will be judged

  7. Jon Says:

    Yellow is also the color you turn when you pray instead of taking your measles vaccination.

  8. EB Says:

    I thought Red was Satan’s color. Red costume, fire… that kind of thing. I don’t know, I see him every Halloween and he’s in red.

  9. Mike Says:

    Christian science? Is that like Muslim mathematics?

  10. Wayne Harropson Says:

    Here’s one for you Mr. Shermer: I had a vision of a disruption of confusion fear and laughter while sitting in a in a coffee shop. Two days later I sat at the same stool at the counter, and made a comment to a stranger I was sitting next to that “..God was going to Impact the nation..” At the precise moment I said Impact the October 1 1987 Whittier earthquake occurred and the stranger and I laughed. This is only the the tip of the iceburg of what I could tell you. Hint: That was one of three consecutive earthquakes that I was providentially entertained by. Google me and contact me if you want to study the ultimate puzzle for the “sceptic”.

    Wayne Harropson I’ll submit to any lie detector test.

  11. Don Rush Says:

    Just read The Believing Brain. Well done, sir! Was always cynical about skeptics. I want to believe, too, and after reading this book, I am more than ever understanding why critical thinking is hard for us mere mortals. Thank you.

  12. R M Mann Says:

    I am a 70-yr old woman. avid reader. Found you thru Hitchens’ website.
    Only recently have I asked myself, “why must I have ANY belief systems, especially those which tell me what to live by, how to live, what to mind, etc.”?
    It occurs to me that true freedom is in NOT attaching oneself to any “system.”
    (for lack of a better word). It feels good to believe in God, but feeling is not thinking. And certainly a belief in God is not Freedom as I perceive it. It is complicated, contradictory, etc.

    I am not looking for freedom without responsibility, for I do think there is an inherent moral instinct in the human. Anyway, I am going to read your book.
    I don’t intend to “attach” myself to it of course, for that would be the very think I don’t want!

    But perhaps it will help me understand the question I face in the autumn of my so-far quite healthy life. Thank you.

  13. Art Robinson Says:

    Let me begin by saying that I don’t believe in a god “out there” somewhere, but I’m not a stark materialist either. I’ve had too many experiences that collectively serve to lend credibility to the thesis that there is “Something” at work in our human experience besides random chance. [I'll share one such experience, by far the most bizarre of the corpus, shortly.] So my holding onto the notion of the “Something” as a working hypothesis is, to some degree, evidence-based. This is also, I believe, the case with the Christian Scientists (thus, the name). They have a body of beliefs/principles which, when adhered to, tend to produce beneficial results which are validated by a body of (anecdotal) evidence.

    So the next question for me is, what can be said about the “Something”? I must confess that much of what has been said in the Western religious tradition(s) leaves me cold . . . Jehovah lost me when he murdered those innocent Egyptian infants because of a beef he had with the Pharaoh. So my current working hypothesis vis-à-vis the “Something” question is this: Suppose we Humans are “more than meets the eye” . . . suppose we have “Divine” capacities which, when experienced in the past, caused the witnesses to proclaim, “God did that!” . . . when in reality it was our own Divine nature. Given that it is said that we only use XX% of our brain capacity (I’ve heard numbers between 10% and 20%), I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to posit that if we were able to access the other 80-90%, we would witness some amazing phenomena. I think that the Hindus are closer to mark in their concept, “Thou art That!”

    So here’s the aforementioned bizarre experience: Chicago, 1980-ish. I’m sitting in my living room and, on the window across the room (approx. 20 feet away), I spy a fly. Shortly before this fateful meeting, I’d read a book entitled “Meditation Techniques of the Kabalists, Vedantins and Taoists,” by R.A. Straughn, wherein, in reflecting on the sacredness of all life, he posed the question, “Is the drowning of a roach any less tragic to you than the drowning of a human?” This query usually impelled me to forego my “fly-swatting” mentality in favor of catching the little varmints and setting them free outside. But on this occasion, being tired and having read another provocative work, I wasn’t in a fly-catching mood. The other work was by Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science (I believe it was “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” but I’m not sure). Therein she proposed the notion that, due to Humanity’s inherent Divinity, we were to have dominion over creation. So, being too tired to chase Mr. Fly around, I jokingly posited, “If she’s right . . . If were are in some way “Divine,” I shouldn’t have to chase Mr. Fly around the house . . . I should just be able to put up my hand and say, ‘Come here, Fly,’ and it should obey.” I laughed at the insanity of the notion, but then said, “What the hell . . .” and held up my hand, and said, “Come here, Fly,” and nearly fell out my chair when I saw Mr. Fly immediately leave the window and fly toward my outstretched hand. On his way toward my hand, he passed a dark painting on the wall which caused me to lose sight of him . . . so after I extrapolated what must be the necessary time for him to reach my hand, I closed it . . . and then I looked around . . . no Mr. Fly . . . and then I looked at my closed fist . . . and then I thought, “That’s impossible!” . . . eventually I began to open my fist, one finger at a time . . . somewhere around the third finger, out walked Mr. Fly from the depths of my fist, wondering, I’m sure, “What the hell is going on here?” . . . as was I.

    So, there are obviously many conclusions that you, the reader who doesn’t know me from Adam, can easily draw . . . I’m lying . . . I was hallucinating . . . it was all “just a coincidence” . . . to cite a few. [I can tell you that, most who’ve known me, in my academic or vocational endeavors (currently at the Univ. of Chicago), consider me to be a fairly reputable fellow. I can also tell you that I’m not currently an adherent to, nor advocate for, any particular system of religion or thought.] What may be harder is to accept that it did actually happen, and that it wasn’t just a coincidence. For to do so, one must then accept, as I (and Mr. Fly?) have ever since, that ‘Something’ very strange is going on here.

  14. Iamwhoiam Says:

    Typo paragraph 4 – “insure” when meaning “ensure” (nearly opposite meaning!).

    Looks like an interesting read tho’ – I will check it out.

  15. Art Robinson Says:

    @ Iamwhoiam: [Actually, dictionary.com lists "insure" & "ensure" as definitions for each other; though I agree that "ensure" is probably more appropriate in this case.]

  16. Wester Says:

    …Then there is the theory which holds that the combined “belief” of a large enough group of people can have the effect of influencing the outcome of any given event/situation. All of us can probably identify with this idea, on many different levels. “Thoughts are Things.”

    Being an advocate of Aristotle rather than Plato, I’m also aware of the irony of this position, BELIEVE me.

  17. Robert H. Pike Says:

    Ah…a balanced approach to all the aspects of the mind. Interesting that among your conclusions is that you describe our minds as being “more susceptible than any other species to self deception and illusion”.

    Bill Maher calls it being “religulous”.

    Yet, even among us agnostics and atheists is a secret hope that our awareness of the universe will carry on once our body dies. Our deception and illusion exists to varying degrees only because we can think about or plan our future – no other animal can. Maybe that’s the bad thing about our brain – the ability to see our future – and thus create a deception – religion – or as Karl Marx called it – the “Opiate of the Masses” to soothe the future thinking/worrying about our eventual death.

    The final question I leave you with is are the Religious; those who “believe” and don’t look at it as a deception any better off? Are they “happier”? Do they live longer lives? Maybe being religious is a relatively harmless deception that gives us a few more years of actual heaven – life on earth?

  18. Art Robinson Says:

    @ Robert H. Pike: Have you ever heard of the work of Herbert Benson out of Harvard Med School? Has done incredible research on the benefits (both physiological and psychological) of meditation (and/or prayer). [google: "The Relaxation Response"]. It may be that the Religious, though deceived/deluded as to the details of the “Something”, have incorporated a practice which practically all of the Religious and Spiritual traditions of humanity have affirmed as beneficial–a practice which, as Benson’s work shows vis-a-vis meditation, has evidence-based/verifiable benefits whether the practitioner is believer or atheist.

  19. Erik Says:

    A lot of this “proof” people are writing on this website for their beliefs is merely Synchronicity. (“I have had experiences…” is NOT scientific proof! See #13.) It is an acausal connecting principle, which Shermer’s thesis totally (and rightly) discounts. A great (and necessary) read.

  20. Art Robinson Says:

    @ Erik: Thanks! I’d been wondering whether Shermer addressed the Synchronicity phenomena in a significant way . . . Now that you’ve answered that, I MUST read him, as Synchronicity is a long-standing fascination of mine.

    I am a bit puzzled by your citation of “this ‘proof’ people are writing on this website for their beliefs”. Try as I may, in reviewing all of the citations herein, including my own, I can find none claiming to be “proof” of anything (I can’t even find the word “proof” until your citation). And as far as your assertion that “’I have had experiences…’ is NOT scientific proof!”, I couldn’t agree with you more. That’s why I specifically said my experiences lend credibility to a “working hypothesis”. As you seem to know something about the scientific method, I’m sure you know that a “hypothesis” is a proposal about which one gathers evidence in an attempt to prove or disprove it. But I would be insane to posit that the experience I cited (or countless others I could cite as well) had “proven” the existence of “Something” higher; just as you would be insane to posit that you or Shermer had “proven” that nothing higher exists.

    [Though, I've gotta admit that George Carlin does an awesome job of proving that there is no "God": youtube.com > "Religion is Bullshit" (10:13 version).]

  21. Joe Says:

    Interesting how the comment thread mirrors the content of the book.
    Art, you make the fatal error the author writes about. Notice in post 13 where you parenthetically add “anecdotal” before the word evidence. Yes, you have formed an hypothesis based on anecdotal evidence but you seem to suggest that you can validate or invalidate this theory by continuing to accumulate anecdotal (non)evidence. In fact, continuing to collect “experiences” that validate your hypothesis, while almost certainly ignoring/forgetting “experiences” that invalidate it, won’t ever move your hypothesis out of the realm of a belief. This is probably THE major point of the book. Unless you now proceed to designing properly blinded and controlled studies to do yourself, which are then repeated by others with the same result, you have a belief and not a hypothesis and you should label it as such to avoid confusing yourself. Of course, you don’t have to do the studies yourself. If you can find well controlled, repeatable studies of your belief done by others, it would suffice. Otherwise, you are just falling into the trap of finding a pattern in your random experience and assigning a “meaningful” belief to it. You also intimate in your last post that you’ve fallen into another trap elucidated in the book by creating the false equivalence between proving that someone’s imaginary friend exists and someone else having to prove that your imaginary friend doesn’t exist. Shermer does not, nor do most non-believers I have encountered, claim to have proven the non-existence of that friend. We have no interest or need to “prove” that “that for which there is no evidence” doesn’t exist. If you posit that “that for which there is no evidence” exists, you bear full responsibility for bringing forth the proof. We are merely expressing the default reality that “that for which no evidence exists” is non-existent until evidence for its existence is brought to light. The highly fallible patternicity recognition of your brain does not constitute evidence, no matter what modifiers you parenthetically apply.

  22. Art Robinson Says:

    @ Joe: Thanks for the awesome post! You have me at a bit of a disadvantage because I haven’t read the book yet (on order . . . due in 2-3 weeks); so all I have to go on is your (& other post-ers’) representations of Shermer’s points. So I’m grateful for your thoughtful response, letting me know wherein my Fly-offering (no pun intended) falls short by Shermer’s standards.

    I’ll probably wait until I’ve read him to respond fully, but let me just share a few salient thoughts. As I read your post, I found myself thinking, “WWED?” What would Big Al have to say in this situation? So I decided to try to “channel” some of his wisdom for our conversation. For, I see a chasmic difference between Shermer’s view of Science and Big Al’s.

    “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle” – Albert Einstein.

    Which “way” do you think you (and Shermer) would espouse? Which do you think I (and Big Al) would? Admittedly, Big Al may not have lived up to your (and Shermer’s) standards of scientific integrity . . . for, as you probably know, he was prone to “fatal errors” of the “imaginary friend” sort.

    ”That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God” – Albert Einstein.

    “The most important decision we make is whether we live in a friendly or hostile universe” – Albert Einstein.

    “I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God” – Albert Einstein.

    “Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble” – Albert Einstein.

    Originally, I was going to write a response which dealt with your awesome response point-by-point (and I still may do so, after reading the book). But as I started reviewing Big Al’s thoughts on things, I sort of started wondering, “What’s the point?” For I fear that, no matter how sound my reasoning, articulate my expression, persuasive my presentation—I fear Big Al is right . . . You can’t get here (where I am) from there (where you (and Shermer) are).

    ”It is very difficult to elucidate this [cosmic religious] feeling to anyone who is entirely without it. . . The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it … In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it” – Albert Einstein.

    It seems you (and Shermer) want to hyper-cranial-ize Science while hypo-cardiac-izing it – you want to validate only that which can be scrutinized with the head ( “properly blinded and controlled studies to do yourself, which are then repeated by others with the same result”), while ignoring/trivializing/mocking that which can only be accessed by the heart:

    “The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man. To know that what is impenetrable for us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties – this knowledge, this feeling … that is the core of the true religious sentiment. In this sense, and in this sense alone, I rank myself among profoundly religious men” – Albert Einstiein.

    For you (and Shermer) it would seem that finding “meaning” in life, if not being a fool’s game, is only acceptable when the data upon which the meaning is drawn is verifiable by the laboratory. [“Otherwise, you are just falling into the trap of finding a pattern in your random experience and assigning a “meaningful” belief to it.”] But let me ask you this, how much “Love” have you ever found verifiable by the laboratory?

    “Where there is love there is no question” – Albert Einstein.

    “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods” – Albert Einstein.

    “The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life” – Albert Einstein.

    “There remains something [NOTE: I would say, “Something”.] subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion” – Albert Einstein. [“Amen!”]

    So if “this force”, the veneration of which Big Al cites as his religion, is indeed “beyond anything that we can comprehend”, what do you think, Joe . . . does that sound like he’s seeing something that can’t be verified in the laboratory? “Imaginary friend” force? Fatal error?

    “But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind” – Albert Einstein.

    “The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism” – Albert Einstein.

    By dismissing one’s (anecdotal) experiences as “(non)evidence” – by asserting that one is not justified in drawing any meaningful conclusion there from unless you and your lab-rats can empirically verify it — you (and Shermer) remind me of the Scribes and Pharisees of the bible . . . doing to Science what they tried to do to their religion . . . having the audacity to say, “Only doing Science [religion] our way is valid!”

    “Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics, and it springs from the same source . . . They are creatures who can’t hear the music of the spheres” – Albert Einstein.

    ”The only source of knowledge is experience” – Albert Einstein.

    Again, I know that, in not having read the book, and only having your characterization of it to go by (along with the book description/excerpts on the website, and a 50-minute talk he gave on BookTV (booktv.org . . . click on TV Schedules . . . his talk will be playing this coming weekend; also accessible online)), I’m probably being unfair in my treatment of Shermer. So it’s probably prudent that I wait to comment further until I’ve actually read the book. But I just wanted to get those initial thoughts down, as you were kind enough to provide such a thoughtful response to my offering. Take care.

  23. Art Says:

    NOTE: He also has pretty good talk on YouTube (1:19 version = more depth/detail than BookTV piece). God . . . Oops, sorry . . . Geez, as much as I hate 2 admit it, I’m starting 2 like this guy!

  24. Helen Cahn Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book; I certainly will look into reading some of the others by Dr. Shermer. I have been wrestling with the need some people have to present evidence in support of religious faith. I have always understood that faith was the basis and the only required explanation for a religious belief, but this book has shed much light on why there is a genuine need to have some sort of “proof” for faith. That is not to say that this need is logically consistent, but only that it seems to be inherent.

    I thank Dr. Shermer for this endeavor; I particularly enjoyed the explanation of the role of patternicity and agenticity in supernatural belief. Information on how our brains evolved to produce our behavior, thinking and feeling in no way undermines the sheer awe I feel for the human capacity for problem solving and creativity.

  25. Shawn Says:

    “There remains something [NOTE: I would say, “Something”.] subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion” – Albert Einstein. [“Amen!”]

    So if “this force”, the veneration of which Big Al cites as his religion, is indeed “beyond anything that we can comprehend”, what do you think, Joe . . . does that sound like he’s seeing something that can’t be verified in the laboratory? “Imaginary friend” force? Fatal error?

    One pattern I’m lining up here is old Al followed a philosophy from which all the religions in the world sprang up from…that is the Way. This Way is only about reason, logic knowledge and truth. It sets aside all belief. However, believers in a deity and all the religious nutters corrupted its teachings to fit in with their own selfish agendas. Check up folks. google Order of the Way.

  26. Art Robinson Says:

    @ Helen: I’m only partway through the book, but I agree . . . I, too, have thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve read so far.

  27. Art Robinson Says:

    @ Shawn: “The Way” sounds interesting . . . one stumbling block I’d have to overcome is your apparent belief that Jesus is an historical figure . . . (from your website):

    “Although The Way is not a religion, as we worship no gods, we do follow the original knowledge-based teachings of such historical individuals as Joshua Ben Miriam, more commonly known as Jesus the Christ, along with those of the five Christs who came before him. Jesus, like the other High Lords, known also as Signs, was a great spiritual teacher who further shepherded the advancement of what is known as the Great Purpose during his lifetime. Therefore, Jesus was the sixth of seven High Lords of the Veil who would come to show mankind The Way so that he might set aside the ending of his days, should he consciously and diligently follow the path of reason. In the teachings of The Way, he was known as the Sixth Sign, or simply ‘the Sixth’.”

    Your Order is said to based upon “the founding principles of truth, knowledge, logic and reason” . . . Well, if you’d care to continue the conversation, I could give you some very logical and reasonable views on why I doubt Jesus’ historicity. Be well.

  28. chris Says:

    thank you for sharing this book…more people need to read this book!

  29. Gene Bulmer Says:

    I wonder what kind of data we’d collect if we were to poll scientists as to their thoughts, feelings & beliefs into the validity of conducting “empirical” research in the area of…

    …thoughts, feelings and beliefs?

    I posit that if belief in God is false, then so is the belief (or hope) that there is no God…as well as the belief that those who believe in God are somehow deluding themselves.

  30. jim Says:

    Oh well, We always have global warming/climate change as something to believe in…..

  31. Jim Vaughan Says:

    Your book is a work of such scholarship, no one could fail to be impressed with the arguments you bring as to our “patternicity” in forming associations, and then reifying them into beliefs which we then gather evidence to defend.

    The neuroscience involving the ACC and Left Hemisphere Interpreter as engines of belief are fascinating. I also was convinced by the disturbances in body schema often under phisiological duress as being responsible for the two commonest religious experiences (according to William James in VRE), of a “presence” and of oceanic “oneness”.

    The political chapter and on conspiracy theories too, were great.

    My only reservations were:
    Your faith in the effectiveness of Persinger’s “God Helmet” as having any effects beyond suggestion (surely MRI scanners are far more powerful in creating magnetic fields, yet no one seems to see God under MRI). Most accounts seem very weak – isn’t it just mesmerism reheated?

    Genuine religious experiences have (usually) beneficial lifelong effects, characterlogically, as well as in belief changes. We might expect transient or degenerative changes to be the norm if it was just brain misfiring.

    Also, your argument that “God” must be part of Nature, or else He would be unable to effect nature sounds good but not if Nature is part of God. God for believers is often likened to a Platonic Form, (e.g. The “One” of Plotinus), in which case, many of your arguments about needing a creator’s creator are just a human prejudice ( like needing a first cause) applied to finite things. Plotinus’s God is more like the infinite possibilities inherent in eternity (including awareness which gives rise to meaning), which must exist a priori!

    Finally, while our “substance ontology” based science leaves little room for a God, a relational ontology, such as Process Philosophy is much more conducive to an overall Gestalt of existence. What seems credible may be limited by the frame set by our existing beliefs.

    in the “God” chapter,

  32. Gene Bulmer Says:

    @Jim Vaughan:

    I take it your majors in college were Drivel & Fawning…

    …with a minor in Pandering?

  33. Shawn Says:

    Art Robinson Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 10:00 am

    @ Shawn: “The Way” sounds interesting . . . one stumbling block I’d have to overcome is your apparent belief that Jesus is an historical figure . . . (from your website):

    Hi Art, I would enjoy the opportunity to converse more on the subject. Can you let me know how I could get in contact with you? To date, I have reasoned that the historicity of a person named Yeshua (or in different Hebrew dialects – Joshua) of (ben) mary (miriam) is factual and evident… There is much report on the man. More so than other figures in history such as Napolean, Moses, etc. I realize some people believe the man didn’t ever exist. I do welcome debate, as we all learn more from it.
    Shawn.

  34. Art Robinson Says:

    Hi Shawn;

    I check this site regularly, but if you’d rather converse off-line, my email is artrbnsn@uchicago.edu. And “debate” might be a bit strong . . . I guess I make a distinction between “right” and “right for . . . “ In other words, my position may not be “right” (if there is such a certitude to be had in this Post-Modern world), but it seems “right for me” at this point in my journey/development; as I’m sure yours seems to you. And though I do enjoy explaining why I believe what I believe, I’m not all that interested in dragging you, kicking and screaming, onto my path; nor being dragged onto yours.

    I guess the Jesus question has been something of a journey for me. I grew up in a “bible-believing” church, grew away from it, began having experiences I considered to be of a “spiritual” nature, returned to the church with typical new-convert fervor, and eventually once again left the church due to a profound discomfort with the concept of worshipping a human as god (i.e., the doctrine of the Trinity).

    Eventually, to get answers on the origins of this seemingly bizarre belief in a human being being god, among other questions, I went to seminary. I graduated convinced that Jesus had likely been an exceptional fellow—wise, compassionate, charismatic—but that all the Christological deification language had been posthumously heaped upon his legacy by those who couldn’t quite get the profundity of his teaching that, “I and my Father are one” (a concept, let me parenthetically add, which would be a “no-brainer” to any of the mystics of the world).

    Eventually I ran across a video named, “The God Who Wasn’t There,” which laid out the case for Jesus having started out as a mythical figure who was eventually “enfleshed” by the Gospels, etc. [See: thegodmovie.com] Until then I’d never even seriously considered that Jesus might not have been a real man—my whole question was had he been a real “god”. But the weight of the evidence in the video seemed too significant to ignore. So I began studying some of the scholars referenced in the video, only to find that the more I studied their case, the more plausible their position seemed. [The most elaborate statement of the mythicist case I’ve found so far is in Earl Doherty’s “Jesus: Neither God Nor Man - The Case for a Mythical Jesus.”]

    I won’t say that I’m 100% convinced of the mythicist thesis; but I will say that Christmas these days is increasingly looked upon by my soul as yours would look upon the vast majority of your culture passionately celebrating the birth of Thor.

    “Peace 2 U!”

  35. Shawn Says:

    Thanks for the good comments Art. It matters not what you believe or don`t believe when finding truth. To believe essentially puts a halt to further inquiry. To doubt allows one to ask questions, seek and find and gain more knowledge to hopefully answer the question at hand. However, to live in a state of doubt to the point where you won`t go out and find the truth of the matter is just as pointless as believing something. What happens to belief when you know something? To know trumps belief. The idea is to set aside all belief and follow only truth and knowledge as found through good reason and logic.

    There really is no need for, as you worded it, kicking and screaming and trying to convince to accepting anyone’s belief. It doesn’t matter to real truth. It just is and doesn’t need defending. https://theorderoftheway.org/blog/2010/04/16/the-way/.

    As far as I know, Socrates has no writings in history accredited to his own hand either. Whats left of his philosophies is around only because students of his wrote some of it down. There are a great deal of people who are figuring out the religious deceptions in our day and age. But none are able to tie it all together without gaining a little knowledge from the lost brotherhood, who have been around for over 20000 years.

    Regardless, the subject you raise is a huge topic, and probably shouldn’t be done on this website, as I don’t think it was originally designed for this type of chatter.

    If your interested, let me know. I can forward you a short book explaining some of it.

    Cheers, Shawn

  36. Art Robinson Says:

    Hi Shawn;

    You said, “Regardless, the subject you raise is a huge topic, and probably shouldn’t be done on this website, as I don’t think it was originally designed for this type of chatter.” I agree that the topic is huge; but I disagree that this isn’t the place for this type of chatter. Shermer’s book is examining the reasons we believe what we believe; and in a predominantly Christian society, I think the reasons we do or do not believe in Jesus are quite germane.

    So, as long as I’ve opened this particular Pandora’s Box, I’d like to say just a bit more about my take on the mythicist case. And let me make the disclaimer at the outset that I’m not a “disciple/apostle” of the mythicist case, and what I’m about to lay out is from an admittedly casual review of the issue. [Add to this that I lent out my copy of Doherty, and this is quite the off-the-top-of-my-head rendering.]

    The major problem, it would seem, with our understanding of the chronological development of the Jesus story is the structure of the New Testament. When we start reading with the Gospels, and then continue into Paul and the other Epistle writers, we (erroneously) read the Epistles in light of the Gospels—we read the Gospel story of Jesus’ life into the Epistles. But if we look at the NT from a more chronologically accurate vantage, we get a vastly different picture/understanding. Though dating of the NT texts is a hotly debated topic, it’s generally agreed that Paul and most of the Epistles were written before the Gospels. That gives us an “alleged” timeline of roughly:

    0-33 C.E. —- Jesus lived
    40-70 C.E. — Paul/Epistles written
    70-100 C.E. –- Gospels written

    The problem with this “alleged” timeline is that it doesn’t conform to the literary record. In other words, if Paul and the Epistles represent the earliest writings we have on Jesus’ life, the question becomes, “What aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry can we glean from these earliest writings about him?” The answer, relative to what we think of as Jesus’ life, is, “Not much.” If we can, for a moment, take off our “Gospel-colored glasses”, and read the Epistles for their own sake, we find that the Epistle writers knew nothing of an Annunciation (or if they did, they all decided to keep it a secret), knew nothing of a Virgin Birth, knew nothing of a mother named Mary or a Father named Joseph, knew nothing of a flight to escape the wrath of Herod, knew nothing of a baptism by John the Baptist, knew nothing of the temptation for forty days in the wilderness, knew nothing of the turning of water to wine, knew nothing of the walking on water, knew nothing of the feeding thousands, knew nothing of the healing the sick, knew nothing of the raising the dead, knew nothing of his teachings like the Sermon on the Mount, knew nothing of his “cleansing” the Temple—the Epistle writers, including Paul, knew nothing, in short, of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry.

    What Paul & Co. did know was that Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and ascended. This was a standard formula for pagan Savior-Deity gods in Paul’s day. Many pagan gods (before Jesus) had “come down” from heaven, only to be crucified, resurrected, and ascended, where (from heaven) they offered their followers eternal life. These gods were never imagined to have actually “lived”; they did their deeds in the heavenly (i.e., mythical) realms. Paul & Co. just took the pagan gods’ formula and applied it to the Hebrew Scriptures. [This merging of pagan and Hebrew was an example of “Syncretism”; a practice for which Hellenistic society was famous. “Conquer them. Merge their gods with ours. Assimilation is facilitated, if not guaranteed!”]

    The strength of this mythicist thesis is buttressed significantly by the fact that none of the Epistle writers speak of a “second coming” or a “return” of Christ. They all speak of the day when Christ will “come” to earth, i.e., for the first time.

    So, by removing our Gospel-colored glasses, we are left with a need to seriously question our “alleged” timeline from above:

    0-33 C.E. —- Jesus lived (???)
    40-70 C.E. — Paul/Epistles written (lacking major details of Jesus’ life)
    70-100 C.E. –- Gospels written (full of details of Jesus’ life)

    What this version of history requires us to believe is that first Jesus lived; then the first writers about his life—writers who were so inspired by Jesus, and so passionate to tell the world of his life, that they endured countless hardships to do so—these writers either forgot every major detail of his life and ministry, or they just felt they were unimportant; and then finally the Gospel writers decided to correct the error/omission of the earlier writers by telling us “the real deal”. [It is here that the title of one of Shermer’s previous works strikes one as quite apropos; namely, “Why People Believe Weird Things.”] A version of the origin of Christianity that more accurately adheres to the literary record would be:

    Circa-40 C.E. — Jesus is “revealed” to Paul & Co.
    40-70 C.E. —- Paul/Epistles write of revealed (i.e., mythical) Jesus
    70-100 C.E. –– Gospels written to “enflesh” the mythical Jesus of Paul & Co.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg vis-à-vis the mythicist case. But hopefully it will suffice to illuminate what I mean when I say that the imagined historicity of Jesus would be a stumbling block to me. Someone trying to convince me that Jesus “lived” would have to come up with an explanation of why the earliest writers about Jesus seemed to have no idea that he had an earthly ministry. And, admittedly, I’ve overstated the unanimity of the record on some points—there is an occasional “fly” in the mythicist ointment. But, by and large, re-reading the earliest literary accounts of Jesus sans our Gospel-colored glasses reveals a very different origin to Christianity than most imagine; and, consequently, a very different originator.

    And it is precisely here, at this point in the conversation, that Shermer’s work becomes so poignant. [Yes, as much as I hate to admit it, he makes some good points.] If I’m reading Shermer correctly, those believers in Jesus who read this challenge to Jesus’ historicity will fall into either of two categories; for the sake of simplicity, I’ll term them “The Many” and “The Few”. The Many will read what I’ve written and will dismiss it without much serious consideration. This dismissal will not be due to the merits (or lack thereof) of the argument. Their dismissal of the mythicist position will be due to the fact that their brains lack the integrity to be receptive to anything that runs counter to their beliefs. Or, as Shermer puts it more eloquently:

    “The problem is deeper still and related to the fact that the majority of our most deeply held beliefs are immune to attack by direct educational tools, especially for those who are not ready to hear contradictory evidence. . . . We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow. I call this process belief-dependent realism, where our perceptions about reality are dependent on the beliefs that we hold about it. Reality exists independent of human minds, but our understanding of it depends upon the beliefs we hold at any given time” (pgs. 4-5).

    Not so with The Few. They may indeed dismiss the mythicist position (or, at least my feeble attempt at the expression thereof), or they may accept it. But their handling of this challenge to their beliefs will be based upon a consideration of the merits of the argument, not upon whether the argument threatens their preconceived notions of truth. Of The Few Shermer is far more complimentary:

    “Rarer still, there are those who, upon carefully weighing the evidence for and against a position they already hold, or one they have yet to form a belief about, compute the odds and make a steely-eyed emotionless decision and never look back. Such belief reversals are so rare in religion and politics as to generate headlines if it is someone prominent, such as a cleric who changes religions or renounces his or her faith, or a politician who changes parties or goes independent. It happens, but it is as rare as a black swan” (pgs. 5-6).

    Enough of my chatter. Let me close with some wise words that, like Shermer’s, hold particular poignancy at this point: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).

    “Peace 2 U!”

  37. Shawn Says:

    You have made some good observations Art. Obviously the way the various christian (and jewish) redactors wrote and re-wrote and changed and altered the “gospels” is being found out and known by more and more people. They were altered by Paul to suit his own belief agenda. Ever wonder why so little information is carried forward about Joshua’s brother James? (St. James – the bishop of Jerusalem) Ever wonder about who selected the cannon for the bible in the nicaean council under the guidance of a sun worshiping emperor? What happened to all the “other” books that did not make it into the current bible? History is wrote through the eyes of the conqueror. Many times all other documents that didn’t fit into the belief system at hand were burned and expunged from the record.

    What you’ve shown doesn’t prove the man didn’t exist in history. It just shows that what was wrote about him in the gospels went a little off kilter as believers altered his teachings to suit their own selfish agendas.

    I am curious how researched you are in the subject. Have you ever heard or the gnostic gospels at nag hammadi? You also didn’t mention if you are at all interested in that book I mentioned.

    I do have one research request for you to do. What were the original followers of Christ (ie Christians) called before they were called Christians? You may find it early on in Acts.

    Shawn

  38. Art Robinson Says:

    Hi Shawn;

    You said, “Have you ever heard or the gnostic gospels at nag hammadi?” Must admit it has been a while since I’ve read any Pagels (Elaine Rocks!), but I do remember being quite impressed. Can you refresh my memory as to how the dating of Gnostic Gospels relates to the timeframe above for the Epistles and the canonical Gospels? Also, how do Gnostics perceive Jesus (besides seeing him as an historical figure)? Is he seen as (just) a wise fellow (like the Buddha, Muhammad, etc.), or as a (quasi-)divine incarnation? (And, Yes, if the book you mentioned touches on any of these issues, I’d love to take a look.)

    You also said, “What you’ve shown doesn’t prove the man didn’t exist in history.” Agreed. As Shermer is quick to point out in his book, one can’t prove a negative . . . One can’t prove, for example, that there’s no Flying Spaghetti Monster living on one of Saturn’s rings. However, one can look at the reason(s) for which the proponents of a certain belief adhere to that belief, and form an opinion vis-à-vis the cogency of that reason, and thus the validity of that belief. If one determines that reason to lack cogency, it does not disprove the belief; but it does call into the question the validity of that belief.

    If, for example, one inquired of the Monster-ians as to the source of their faith that F-S-M abides on Saturn’s seventh ring, and they responded that they believe because of their sacred texts, one could examine those sacred texts to determine whether the Monster-ians’ faith was well placed. And if that examination revealed that the original writers about F-S-M hadn’t placed him on Saturn at all, but had merely named him “Lord of the Heavens”; and if further examination revealed that later writers about F-S-M had decided to embellish the earlier writings (in order to make F-S-M more lovable to his followers) by giving F-S-M an abode on the seventh ring of Saturn; even though we had, via our examination of their sacred texts, called into serious question the validity of their belief, we still would not have proven that there was no F-S-M on the seventh (or any) ring of Saturn. But if their sacred texts were their primary reason for believing as they did, we could, by undermining that reason, form our own opinion that their faith is not well placed.

    And, again, if Shermer’s work is right, we could make the following prediction: Owing to the fact that the results of our examination run so counter to the Monster-ians’ belief system, when faced with those results, it’s likely that “Many” of the Monster-ians would minimize or dismiss those results by saying something like, “All you’ve shown is that the later writers embellished our sacred texts; F-S-M could still very well be alive and well on Saturn’s seventh ring!”

    Of course, he could.

    “Peace 2 U!”

  39. Shawn Says:

    Hi Art,
    I think you answered your own question in this case. I may point out that we are talking about the existence of a man and not a flying spaghetti monster here. We know men exist. We also know alot of his sayings and teachings were written down by many people. There is more to what he said than what you can simply see in the gospel writings of the Christian bible. The findings at Nag Hammadi demonstrate this. It is demonstrable that many people during his time misinterpreted the messages he was trying to get across. Otherwise there would be no confusion in the subsequent works of his writings as written by his so-called followers. Some people did make balls of it… such as Saul, who really believed Christs message was revealed to him after he fell and hit his head. Sadly, today, this is the route many people follow. That they can have there own personal experiences with this imaginary mentally made up god figure. It is a very harmful thing to follow beliefs such as these.

    When a decision is to be made on the historicity of the man (not the god bs saul made up about him) you have your own good reason to follow. Many people met and talked with him. There are eye witness accounts. He caused quite a stir, that is evident even today. What is more likely? That him and his many messages are all a myth such as Santa Claus or Odysseus’ adventures? Or that there may have been some truth as to the mans existence, and mankind just made up another god-figure out of this particular man after he was dead and gone off the scene and really had no say in the matter.

    I find it quite amazing how many of his messages are not being followed by people in our societies, all of whom claim to be christians (ie followers of Christ). Belief is alterable. It can change just like magic to what you want your own made up reality to be. Thus, many people just don’t believe he said some things, as it doesn’t fit in with the way they want to live their lives. And they claim they follow his teachings. Veerily I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter unto the kingdom of heaven. Do you see his vicar getting rid of the aztec gold stored in all the art in the vatican? Hmmm, hypocrisy, no?

  40. Art Robinson Says:

    Hi Shawn;

    You said, “What is more likely? That him and his many messages are all a myth such as Santa Claus or Odysseus’ adventures? Or that there may have been some truth as to the man’s existence, and mankind just made up another god-figure out of this particular man after he was dead and gone off the scene and really had no say in the matter.” It’s obvious upon which side of the question you place the preponderance of the evidence. And that evidence seems to be (at least in part) derived from the points you laid out earlier in your response, namely:

    1) “We also know a lot of his sayings and teachings were written down by many people.”
    2) “There is more to what he said than what you can simply see in the gospel writings of the Christian bible. The findings at Nag Hammadi demonstrate this.”
    3) “It is demonstrable that many people during his time misinterpreted the messages he was trying to get across. Otherwise there would be no confusion in the subsequent works of his writings as written by his so-called followers.”
    4) “Many people met and talked with him. There are eyewitness accounts.”
    5) “He caused quite a stir that is evident even today.”

    So my question to you is, “Whence cometh this ‘evidence’?” It would all seem to come from ancient texts, some canonical and some non-canonical. But if the texts from which you draw your evidence are undermined by earlier texts (Epistles) that collectively cast profound doubt upon the veracity of the later texts (Gospels), and if those later texts are the sole source of your evidence for believing in Jesus’ existence, then it seems pretty evident that the case for believing in his existence is undermined to the exact degree that the earlier texts undermine the veracity of the later texts.

    It’s kind of like (and brace yourself, this is admittedly a pretty crude analogy) an element of the O.J. Simpson murder trial wherein the jury was shown two video clips of Simpson’s bedroom; an earlier clip that was taken shortly after the arrival of police at his home, and a second clip that was taken some time later. In the earlier clip there was nothing incriminating to be found in the room. In the later clip, some incriminating (bloody) evidence had been placed in the room. It was thus obvious that the absence of incriminating evidence in the earlier video cast profound doubt upon the veracity of the incriminating evidence in the later video. It further made it clear that the police had doctored the evidentiary record in order to try to buttress their case of Simpson’s involvement in the murders. Now, just because it was painfully evident that the police were overzealous in their attempt to prove Simpson’s guilt, this didn’t prove that Simpson was not guilty. But it did play a key part in sufficiently undermining the police department’s credibility, and thus their entire case, to the point that the jury could not find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Similarly, biblical scholarship has brought us to the point wherein we find no “incriminating” evidence for a ministry/life of Jesus in the earlier, Epistolary, “video”. And though we do get plenty of “bloody” evidence in the later, Gospel, clip(s), the absence of evidence in the earlier record can’t help but undermine the credibility of the later record. And, again, just because it is today painfully evident that the Gospel producers and propagators were overzealous in their attempt to prove Jesus lived, this doesn’t prove that he didn’t. But it does play a key part in sufficiently undermining the bible’s credibility, and thus it’s entire case, to the point that this jury of one cannot find him “real” beyond a reasonable doubt.

    And, again, enter Shermer, who seems to be saying that there are “Many” who are doomed to remain mired in their “belief-dependent realism”, whose “beliefs are immune to attack by direct educational tools”, and “who are not ready to hear contradictory evidence”. They may have formed their beliefs as a result of any number of “perks” associated with believing in Jesus—eternal life, special relationship with God, special knowledge (gnosis) from God, the notion of the superiority of their religion to all those other “myth-based” religions because theirs has a savior-figure who actually lived, etc. And once their beliefs are formed, only confirmatory evidence will make it past the sentry at the gate. These “Many” will predictably minimalize/ignore the damning lack of evidence in the earlier Epistolary “clip”, and will cleave only unto the later “bloody” clip; for, to do so is far more comfortable than the alternative. But that comfort comes at a high price, indeed.

    “Peace 2 U!”

  41. Shawn Says:

    …if the texts from which you draw your evidence are undermined by earlier texts (Epistles) that collectively cast profound doubt upon the veracity of the later texts (Gospels), and if those later texts are the sole source of your evidence for believing in Jesus’ existence, then it seems pretty evident that the case for believing in his existence is undermined to the exact degree that the earlier texts undermine the veracity of the later texts.
    – - – Not at all Art. It only casts doubt on the content vis-a-vis the interpretation of those texts. Even the tribe of Judah did not know the correct meaning of words used in the tetragrammination words, as this knowledge was only known to the brotherhood of nazarenes. Therefore, they took YHWY, EL,Elohim, Lord to mean god. Obviously completely wrong interpretations…

    You give interesting examples Art. You are correct in saying one must not cling to belief dependent realism. New evidences that bring to light new ideas must be taken into account. This is the only way of finding truth. Sauls Epistles were his own made up belief of who or what he wanted Joshua to be. (ie a god) It’s his belief that formulated the way mainstream christianity is today (catholisicm, protestantism and the like – the former who still use the vaticans interpretation of the bible). Again, what did his actual followers write? Like James, and Peter and all the brethren? It is shrouded in coverup and mystery. The followers of what I call Paulinianites then wrote the 4 gospels matthew, mark, luke and john. The canon of the bible were decided upon 3 centuries after Joshua was off the scene. There is other knowledge you can find that supersedes Sauls Epistles though. You, Art, just don’t know that you don’t know what you don’t know – yet. And you won’t get there by creating a belief and sticking to it. To find the truth, you need to go out and find out. How much have you read and investigated? Belief sets up a roadblock to further inquiry. And whether you decide to believe if he existed or not, the truth doesn’t change. He either lived, or he didn’t. Santa Claus either lived, or he didn’t. Was there an actual man called Santa Claus in history? Or is he all a myth too? (st. nicholas – say it fast in Spanish and you will hear santaclaus) Of course he didn’t slide down chimney and live in the north pole, but we do know a man existed in history – separated from the myth. Also, Odysseus either lived in the past or he didn’t. (the ancient city of Troy has been discovered because of use of good reason in deciphering the fact from the fiction in Homers “the Illiad”). If you want to believe that Joshua didn’t even exist, well, someone came up with the saying and teachings that is accredited to him, right? And if his teachings are quite virtuous, what harm is there in following it? I must be clear here though, that the facts and truths of his sayings need to be separated from the fictions before his teachings can actually be learned. Gods don’t exist. There is no evidence to demonstrate this, just like there is no evidence of a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Therefore, anytime you hear him quoted with the likes of heaven, hell, god, father in heaven, etc, you can be sure that the interpreters are way off track. Humans don’t become gods. These are known things. There is huge harm in belief in deity, just as there is harm in utilizing belief as a means of obtaining truth. You will only find it from using reason and logic built upon existing factual knowledge – simply called the Way. There is no special gnosis from god either. The paulinianite encyclopedias on their interpretation of what gnostism was is not right either. Regarding gnosticism, here is a clue: Hyp (hypo – as in under or hidden) nosis (gnosis – knowledge).

    Evident in the gospels, as in your OJ case, the evidence of a coverup is evident. After reading your scenario, I couldn’t help but think – Did OJ exist then??? Its not that the Gospel producers and propagators were overzealous in their attempt to prove Jesus lived. They were overzealous in their attempt to prove he was a god and that a “heaven” existed in the sky.

    I completely agree that the vid you’ve shown does play a key part in sufficiently undermining the bible’s credibility. The bible is repulsive! What with jews killing women and children in the land of milk and honey etc. And this is the loving god we are supposed to subscribe to??

    I am curious if you received my email Art – the one with the book attached – or if it went into your junk folder. I didn’t receive feedback from you if you received it. There is another book called the hallowed book of Man (also known as the book of Adam). You may be interested in reading that one. (http://www.amazon.com/Bible-Hallowed-Book-Man-ebook/dp/B005130088) Once you read that one, things will make sooo much more sense to you. Take Care. I look forward to hearing from you. Shawn

  42. Art Robinson Says:

    Hi Shawn;

    I did get, and appreciate, your email.

    Hopefully time will soon allow me to peruse some of the selections you suggest.

    Stay tuned . . .

    “Peace 2 U!”

  43. Art Says:

    Hi Shawn;

    I took a quick look at some of Crosbie’s work . . . interesting. But something you said in your last post raised an eyebrow:
    “Gods don’t exist. There is no evidence to demonstrate this, just like there is no evidence of a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Therefore, anytime you hear him quoted with the likes of heaven, hell, god, father in heaven, etc, you can be sure that the interpreters are way off track. Humans don’t become gods. These are known things. There is huge harm in belief in deity . . .”
    I must say I was surprised to hear you say this, and hope you will say a bit more.

    1) So you are an Atheist, and agree with Shermer that the material realm is all there is?

    2)One of the Seven Signs of “The Way” is Jesus, who, at least according to much of the record concerning him, believed in, and exhorted submission to, God. Were the statements about his believing in God misinterpretations by his followers, or was he deluded, as are all God-believers?

    3) Crosbie’s book mentions “prophecy” on occasion. Prophecy often refers to a look into the future granted to a human by some supra-human being. If there is no supra-human being, what is the source of the prophecy Crosbie refers to . . . humans looking into the future on their own . . . how does that happen?

    4) Have you personally always been an Atheist? Would you care to say a bit about how you came to embrace “The Way”?

    Maybe I just need to read more than the few pages I’ve looked over so far, but I was hoping you could clarify some of those questions for me.

    “Peace 2 U!”

  44. Michele Says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your discussion. My personal opinion of Saul/Paul has been for years that one man’s Divine Revelation on the road to Damascus is another’s psychosis. Of course, when you listen to a delusional woman who thinks she’s a male and also God and condemns you to hell, religion becomes harder to take seriously. Same with listening to someone with schizo-affective disorder proudly proclaim that he’s been demonically possessed twice and “beat the devil” both times, as though it was his claim to fame.(He was devastated when I explained that the demonic possession experience is quite common in psychosis.)

    It seems to me that when written words are elevated to the level of “Scripture” they lose most of their intrinsic value. While the story of Noah and the ark is ludicrous on its face (after all, who scooped the poop), it is a good metaphor for the logistical problems involved in achieving world peace on this ball of mud. How do we persuade different peoples with different languages, needs, beliefs, desires, and cultures to respect each other and cooperate because it is for the greater good? After all, a Noah didn’t speak Elephant and couldn’t chase a cheetah. So such a person, even now, would be dealing with groups of people just as vastly different as the animals in the tale.

    For me, whether the historical Jesus lived or not is immaterial. I think if one strips away the religious and mythical/mystical stuff s/he can find nuggets of wisdom that will make life easier as well as mentally and emotionally healthy. (I’m into practical spirituality.)

    One good example is confession. As every member of a 12 step group knows, you can’t solve a problem if you don’t admit you have one. You can’t make amends if you are too proud to admit you made a mistake. And you also can’t forgive yourself and ease your conscience until you do. Self-forgiveness is the final act of forgiveness: a gift you give yourself, a gift that no God can give you.

    I can do the Serenity Prayer without believing in a specific “God,” as well. I simply say, “I grant myself the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, etc.” If that doesn’t work I use other coping skills like medication, reflection and psychotherapy.

    I can’t respect or believe in a “God” who allows innocent and powerless children to be abused, tortured and killed. Even if that God exists and I’m required to stand before it to answer for my so-called sins, I am not afraid to say I did what “I” believed was right. I live by my own code and I’m willing to reap what I have sown. I don’t need to use Scriptures to justify my behavior.

    But none of this means I have embraced atheism. Both science and religion tell me to ignore my experiences so I’m skeptical of both. Besides my own psychic experiences my late friend, who was a research scientist so he understood the scientific method, tested my psychic abilities. So while I can’t vouch for anyone else’s I can vouch for my own. The caveat is that science believes that if you cannot control PSI and use it on command/demand then it must not be real. But just as we do not control the universe we do not control PSI. We have to set aside our selves and let it work through us. That’s why psychics cannot predict their own future with any accuracy. It requires a level of selflessness and caring for others that prevents using it for personal gain.

    I welcome your comments.

  45. Shawn Says:

    Hi again Art! Love the loaded question: 4) Have you personally always been an Atheist? If I answer no, then its loaded to mean that I am an atheist, and if I answer yes, then its still loaded to mean I’m an atheist.

    First we must look up and understand the meaning of words. An atheist, according to dictionary.com is :1. a person who does not believe in God or gods. And Atheism is :1.the doctrine or belief that there is no God. Now, look at the meaning of belief. To “not believe” and to “believe” are really the same thing inasmuchas they both leave you in a state of not knowing. Way thought simply puts belief and faith aside and follows only truth. Real truth as defined by fact. If you knew, you wouldn’t need to believe. It is because of this that we are neither theists nor atheists.

    There is something intangible that is out there. But we don’t know what it is. We liken it for lack of a better word for it as a Force. Its demonstrable and undeniable really. You’ve provided some of Einsteins comments on this subject about this force. Scientific belief that molecules can randomly arrange themselves into a living cell is quite unreasonable. When we see a swiss watch out on a lawn, we know its made up of immaterial dead things. And these dead things don’t just magically rearrange themselves into a watch. Something made it. And living cells are much more complicated than a swiss watch. Now we can do an experiment. Take a free living single celled organism. Put it alive into a test tube with water in. Poke it with a pin and leak out all the cells components. Now, we have all the ribosomes, cell nucleus, golgi apparatus, cell solution, etc (material realm things) necessary for life. And no matter what we do to it, with all we know today…zapping it with radiation, magnetism, electricity, whatever…you will not be able to make that cell live again. There is something more to life than what can be seen. And we refer to this as the Force. You can see it in everything from a blade of grass to a human being. Unfortunately, it is the confusion in trying to identify what this force is that caused most of the worlds religions to spring up. That there is a force out there is undeniable, but the force is not god. This is what the early Judaic religions originated on…”the unknowable god.”(acts 17:23) And it is undeniable that christianity was originally based on the idea of a creator. I personally liken the force to “mother nature”.

    To prophecy is the ability to predict what is to come. All people have certain gifts which enable them to do things others can’t. Some are musical, some mathematical. Some can divine water wells, others can’t. I can foresee the dwarf planet Plutos orbit of the sun, even though it hasn’t yet completed one cycle since we discovered it. I can only do this through use of good reason though, based on mathematical formula and previous knowledge based on the orbits of the other existing planets. Much of the prophesy carried on down through the brotherhood was performed by people with gifts in this area. And if what they prophecy in the past is coming to pass now, well it is a factual real prophecy now isn’t it? Most people won’t understand how it is done, much less how it is carried down, as the Nazarenes (a caulbearer only club) don’t really let out much of there secrets. There have been many attempts in the past where people have tried to exploit the phenomena that some people really do have these gifts. For profit, or ego, or an insatiable feeling of inadequacy with themselves thus feeling the need to feel special and above there fellows. Many con-artists, so therefore many skeptics and doubters in these areas. How many places can you count on the internet where people want your $$ to tell your fortune from the stars?? Again, nobody will ever learn about this type of knowledge from a standpoint of belief. Only the Way can provide the tools needed to filter the chaff from the wheat.

  46. Art Robinson Says:

    Hi Michele;

    Marry me??? OK, OK, a bit too fast . . . Maybe coffee at Starbucks? (And then marry me???) ☺

    (More substantive response pending . . .)

  47. Art Robinson Says:

    Hi Shawn;

    Thanks for interesting response.

    And Question 2, viz Jesus?

  48. Shawn Says:

    Michele, your words are like sweet music to my ears! Do you mean to say that you already have the knowledge of good and evil present in your heart or psych already? The ability to look critically at oneself and meditate on how you can be a better person is a gift not many people have willingly tried to master. I’d like to hear what your take is on this article on meditation: http://theorderoftheway.org/blog/2011/03/21/the-einsoph-in-reply-to-a-question-on-a-way-thought/ Here is another on spirituality: http://theorderoftheway.org/blog/2010/02/24/spirituality-what-it-is/ It is necessary to get everyone on a level playing field of understanding of what these terms really mean in order to discuss properly and avoid confusion. Your prayer of Serenity mirrors the 4 quadrants of the way with startling similarity: http://theorderoftheway.org/the-way/the-seven-responsibilities-of-man/

    I look forward to hearing from you too!
    Shawn

  49. Shawn Says:

    The book I recommended goes into a great amount of detail into answering the question you provided in #2. (http://www.amazon.com/Bible-Hallowed-Book-Man-ebook/dp/B005130088)
    Once certain redactors got their hands on some good original teachings, they had the ability to add or delete whatever they pleased to get it to fit into there own belief agendas. They were able to make just about everything Jesus originally said to include a belief in a deity? I mailed you a detailed comment to explain it a little further. It was a 12 paged answer, so I didn’t post it here. If anyone is interested in reading it, ask Art for a copy! He has provided his email already previously, and I hate getting spammed. Or if you don’t mind giving out your email address, just post it and I can send it that way.
    Cheers, Shawn

  50. Art Robinson Says:

    BTW, speaking of a “Force”, this has got to be one of the coolest videos of 2011!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R55e-uHQna0

  51. Shawn Says:

    LMAO on that one Art. But this one more closely reflects the real force: http://www.youtube.com/embed/nGeXdv-uPaw

    You do see a great deal of reference to concepts learned in the Way in much of the popular movies too. Including Star Wars, the Lion King, the Matrix, etc. Do you want the blue pill or the red pill? Reality or fantacy? Belief or the truth?

    Cheers, Shawn

  52. Art Says:

    Hi Michele;

    I, like Shawn, greatly appreciate your comments, and could probably wax ad nauseam about much of what you said. But, lest this turn into a dissertation, let me just wax ad nauseam on the most salient to me, and to this ongoing conversation; namely, Jesus.

    You said, “For me, whether the historical Jesus lived or not is immaterial. I think if one strips away the religious and mythical/mystical stuff s/he can find nuggets of wisdom that will make life easier as well as mentally and emotionally healthy. (I’m into practical spirituality.)”

    As with Shawn, I find myself more than just a bit curious as to the path that led to your current position, as it relates to the Jesus issue and spirituality. For me, I hope to get to where you are someday, but I’m not quite there yet. For a number of reasons, which I guess could best be grouped under personal and global concerns, I still find the issue of Jesus’ historicity quite poignant.

    Personally, as I began to have experiences which led me to the working hypothesis that there was “Something” higher at work in human (or at least this human’s) experience, the question arose as to how do I integrate this sense of spirituality into my career. This sense was such an integral part of my identity that the thought of working in a purely secular arena, and having to keep my spirituality on the shelf until quitting time, was less than appealing. So, realizing that one of the most logical arenas in which to exercise one’s spirituality in this culture SHOULD BE the Church, I went to seminary to see whether I could find a sense of “Home” in the Church. Didn’t happen. And the reason was, to no small extent, due to the Jesus question. The fact that I considered Jesus to be a distinctly cool human, and nothing more, didn’t really endear me to my professors; and the same presumably wouldn’t endear me to any ordination committees. Add to that the fact that my Master’s thesis was basically an assertion that “the Church is one of the most evil institutions to ever slither across the stage of human history”, needless to say my chances of ever becoming “Rev. Art” were slim to none. And so I came out of seminary considering myself to be, to borrow a line of Matthew McConaughey’s character in “Contact”, “. . . A man of the cloth, without the cloth.” [As an aside, or maybe not, “Contact” has many parallels to Shermer’s book and the conversations on this site. The science-minded Jodie Foster character (“So what's more likely? That an all-powerful, mysterious God created the Universe, and decided not to give any proof of his existence? Or, that He simply doesn't exist at all, and that we created Him, so that we wouldn't have to feel so small and alone?”) . . . The faith-minded Matthew character (“What I'm asking is... are we happier, as a human race? Is the world fundamentally a better place because of science and technology? We shop at home, we surf the Web, and at the same time we feel emptier, lonelier, and more cut off from each other than at any other time in human history...”) . . . Hmmmm.]

    But the Jesus question has persisted. This was partially due to having grown up in a fairly religious family (Grandpa was a Holiness pastor). So I still get the occasional question at family gatherings, “So what do you believe?” I usually try to avoid a direct answer, knowing the pain it would arouse, by elaborating on how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to have received instruction from both sides of the theological spectrum; having received my Bachelor’s degree from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty U., in Virginia (conservative/right; where students doing anything more than holding hands could get expelled), and my Master’s from Chicago Theological (liberal/left; where a significant portion of the student body, faculty and staff were gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered). I then usually try to obfuscate a bit by noting how impressed I’ve been with the dedication I’ve seen on both sides of the spectrum, and how troubled I’ve been with how both sides are utterly convinced (like Shawn) that their side holds “The Truth”. If that doesn’t get me off the hook, then I bow out with an enigmatic, “I’m actually off the spectrum to the left and the right,” noting that to explain any further would take a dissertation.

    But owing to my familial situation, along with the ongoing need to find a place for my spiritual side in my vocational side, the Jesus question sort of hung around in a way reminiscent of a line in “Hotel California”, “ . . . ‘Relax’, said the Night Man, ‘We are programmed to receive. You can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave.’”

    And then came my encounter with the Mythicist position. The effect for me was no less than that of the former prisoner in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave [for those unfamiliar with Allegory, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave. The more I researched, the more I could feel lifelong chains falling away.

    But after the liberation comes the question of returning to the Cave, to free those still bound. And here we are today. I don’t know whether Shawn has even heard of the Allegory, but I believe he’s operating in the most honorable principles of the Hero, seeking to help those still chained in the darkness of ignorance to attain freedom and make it to the light of the “Real World”. And for all I know, he may indeed be in possession of “The Truth”. As for me, I guess I too aspire to Hero-hood. But my position at present is, I think, more like a working hypothesis, and this conversation with Shawn (and anyone else who wishes to jump in), a test thereof. If the position is found to be faulty, then it’s back to the drawing board. Eventually I know that, in order for me to be entirely comfortable with this position, I’ll have to bounce it off of some of my seminary professors. And if it passes that test, it will be promoted to “theory-hood”, at least in my own estimation. [I guess my position is akin to the “Methodological Doubt” spoken of by Jesus Seminar fellow, Dr. Robert M. Price, (one of the few “Christian Atheists” in academia) in a YouTube piece on theological skepticism (of which I think Shermer would readily approve): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gouJ1_mYtDo&feature=related. He concludes, by the way, the fifth segment of the talk by saying, “So much of it [the biblical record of Jesus] falls prey to these criteria [obviously anachronistic implantations by later writers], and there were other ones too, that they [the other fellows of the Jesus Seminar] figured precious little of the stuff actually goes back to him [Jesus]. That doesn’t mean what doesn’t is bad or nefarious; it just came from other creators. And I think you can use the same criteria on almost all the material. I try to show that in ‘The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man’, there’s really no surviving evidence for a Jesus.”]

    Tony Artie (Oops, my Twin 4-year-olds got a hold of my keyboard . . .)

    Finally, looking at the Jesus issue from a global perspective, let’s just say for the sake of argument that there was no human Jesus, and that those who believe in and/or worship him believe in and/or worship the modern-day equivalent of Thor. Now, so long as they keep their beliefs to themselves and seek not to impose those beliefs on others, I agree with you that the issue could be immaterial. But unfortunately, the governance of the most powerful nation on the planet is, by choice of the majority of those governed, in the hands only of those who’ve sworn allegiance to this mythological fabrication. And, based upon the (supposed) pronouncements of Thor & Co., a number of less than ideal conditions have existed in the past, exist today, and will continue to exist for the foreseeable future, in this country and beyond our borders. I’m sure I needn’t elaborate, as I suspect that on this site I’m preaching to the choir, but I have in mind, for example, the wholesale slaughter of Jews (“Kill the Christ Killers!” This slaughter of the Jews in which the Church is an accomplice includes the Holocaust, as many of Hitler’s pronouncements against the Jews were copied practically verbatim from those of the Church against the Jews), the suppression and forced conversion to Christianity of many of the peoples of the world, the Inquisition, the enslavement of many of the peoples of the world (“the bible says slavery is fine!”), the denial of gays any number of rights (including the right to marry), the denial of woman any number of rights (including reproductive rights), the denial of those with many diseases the right to have the entire weight of the medical community working to relieve their suffering (due to a biblically-based opposition to stem-cell research), . . . and I could go on, but I think you get my point. For personal and global reasons, I still find the Jesus question quite poignant . . . the groans of the shackled, as well as those of those shackled by the shackled, still weigh upon my soul.

    [As an aside, I have managed to find some degree of integration of my spiritual side with my vocational side in my current work at a residential treatment facility working with kids with some severe psycho-emotional challenges. I consider myself to be engaged in a “Ministry of Caring”, wherein I try to pass on to the kids, in my own feeble way, the profound sense of caring that I feel the Universe has for all of us. Big Al was quoted earlier as saying, “The most important decision we make is whether we live in a friendly or hostile universe” - Albert Einstein. I believe that, for Shermer, the answer would have to be “Neutral”. For me, the answer is, unequivocally, friendly.]

    OK, guess I’ve rambled long enough . . . If I haven’t put you to sleep, I, too, welcome your comments (as well as a response to my proposal!).

    “Peace 2 U!”

  53. Shawn Says:

    We shop at home, we surf the Web, and at the same time we feel emptier, lonelier, and more cut off from each other than at any other time in human history…”) . . . Hmmmm.]

    An interesting read regarding this subject: http://theorderoftheway.org/blog/2010/07/01/this-failing-world-society/
    and another here: http://theorderoftheway.org/blog/2010/12/28/the-subliminal-messages-in-the-queen%E2%80%99s-christmas-speech-2010/
    and here: http://theorderoftheway.org/blog/2009/02/26/the-hidden-purpose-with-its-probable-outcomes/

  54. Travis Fratis Says:

    I have read the book (The Believing Brain) and found it captivating. I have long considered myself catholic until events unfolded before me while deployed in Iraq that had me questioning faith. I then became agnostic, believing perhaps something was out there, until reading this book. I love the direction the Michael Shermer took with this book and I am now more than ever in control of my own life. I can’t help but hear the statements “GOd did this for a reasons”, or “It was meant to be”. Hearing these statements now almost pushes me to ask, “If God didn’t exist, how else would you explain it?” Of course I am sure those I ask would still have no answer. Also, I would like to mention Carl Sagan and the dragon in his garage as a contributing influencer.

  55. Art Says:

    Hi Travis;

    Thanks for your comment, but more importantly, for your service! I was over there in ’90-’91 for Desert Storm (medical unit with 82nd Airborne) . . . That was a vastly different war than the recent . . . I don’t think Iraqis could spell “I.E.D.” back then . . . You have my thoughts and well wishes for a peaceful transition back . . .

    “Peace 2 U!”

  56. John Says:

    Interesting comments about the Way. I think Michael Shermer’s baloney detection kit is quite similar to the methods taught about finding truths as seen in the way. Take the bible verse Matthew 7:7 Jesus says:

    Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

    We know from this website :http://www.godisimaginary.com/i1.htm that Jesus wasn’t talking about prayer. So what was he talking about? Ask questions…seek answers… and find answers. Not about prayer at all, simply a method of finding knowledge and truth.
    peace to you all!
    John

  57. Neil Agnew Says:

    Very impressive analysis!. Hawking speaks of scence as”model dependant realism”, but I gert the impression that you don’t accept the similar notion that science is “belief dependant realism”, that is that science consists of ‘model, method, time-space constructions’. For instance the concept of multiple universes with different laws and half-lives – so the if the ‘truth is out there” that truth is relative, relative to model, method, time-space selections?

  58. Neil Agnew Says:

    Shermers basic assumption is that the brain is a believe machine that automaticslly identifies or constructs patterns in the flow of experience – I don’t see why religious true believers or scientists should have trouble with this. The true believers ‘see’ their trusted patterns as gernerated by “God”, and most of the scientiests see thier trusted patterns as generated by a big bang and evolutionary processes.
    Both groups rely heavily on a book to support their claim – on the one hand the bible or Koran, on the other Darwin’s Origin of species.
    Both groups preach being humble – either humble in the face of Gods ways which we cannot always fatham, or humble in the face of complexity and limited evidence in the scientific search for ‘laws’.
    But when dealing with each other both groups drop thier humbleness and become snarky as all get out.
    In brief, both religious believers and scientists admit ignorance, about the ways of God or of Nature, both groups admit past errors in their beliefs – but are certain about the products of their particular believiong brains when dealing with each other.
    Maybe we should see our brains as being in the business of manufacturing certainty, a small candle of light plus Plato’s shadows in all that scary darkness, in all that complexity generated by God’s and/or science’s multiple universes… ?
    One thing seems certain – we get real cranky when anyone tries to blow out our candle!!!!

  59. Shawn Says:

    Hi Neil,

    “but I gert the impression that you don’t accept the similar notion that science is “belief dependant realism”….”

    Just wondering who you were directing your question at?

    “we get real cranky when anyone tries to blow out our candle!!!!….”

    I’m not quite sure were you seen anyone getting cranky. Anyway, here is a good short read for you… https://theorderoftheway.org/blog/2011/06/01/stupidity-what-it-is/
    and here
    http://theorderoftheway.org/blog/2010/04/22/stupidity/

    I think Michael Shermer, along with many people get confused between the meanings of words. Like belief, and reason. There is a difference. Belief is the mental acceptance of something as being true, without it having been proved with fact. Therefore, by very definition, belief is not truth. Here is another definition: Belief

    (be and lyian, to hold dear).
    That state of the mind by which it assents to propositions, not by reason of their intrinsic evidence, but because of authority.

    Take a look at where and on whose authority that definition comes from? :)http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02408b.htm

    Much of Shermers so called patternicity finders actually are people using reason, not belief.
    However, the problem is that people need to go all the way back to when they were first taught and apply good reason and not belief to what they had been taught. Is it good to accept just what you have been told? As much of that may be wrong or may have been tainted by proponents of belief as belief being a virtuous thing. And yes, there are scientists who commit the error of utilizing belief as a system of aspiring to truth too just as much as religious proponents.

    As Art, so graciously put before, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is The Way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).

    In response to John, I can only show you the hidden Way. It is up to you to choose if you want to follow it, or follow that which is opposite to truth, knowledge, reason and logic.

    Cheers, Shawn

  60. mary hagey Says:

    As someone raised in a religious community and not at all at ease within it, I found this book to be exactly what I needed. In fact I think I always sort of knew, intrinsically, that such an explanation existed. My only criticism would be that in the subtitle “From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies…” one was led to believe each of these aspects would be addressed specifically. Gods, politics, and conspiracies were. Ghosts were not. One can imagine how this might have been addressed, but not entirely.

  61. Chanel Omari Says:

    Hi,

    I am a producer at Anderson Cooper’s Daytime Talk Show and we are taping a show on Monday about fate and chance encounters. I would love to speak to youin further details over the phone today to discuss possibly bringing Michael Shermer as an expert for our show. Please email me at Chanel.Omari@andersoncooper.com or call me on 212-275-8958 I really look forward to speaking with you. Thank you for your time!

  62. Art Says:

    More proof for Shermer’s “belief-dependent realism”? Found this from a blogger on religious website:

    “Trancend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Relise your a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix… Repent….

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence….. Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.”

    Spelling challenges aside, “Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence” . . . “You must have,” he seems to be imploring us, “faith/belief in Christ first, and then the evidence to confirm your belief is sure to follow.”

    I think Shermer’s on to something here . . .

    “Peace 2 U!”

  63. Logic Window Says:

    Dear Michael,
    Hi, this is our website http://logicwindow.wordpress.com
    We created it to prove to the world that God doesn’t exist. Also atheism is as dangerous as creationism. Both ideologies are terribly wrong and will bring destruction to mankind. Please log in, we promise surprises, something you probably haven’t heard of in your entire life. But most importantly, once you read everything we posted there, you will win all debates with creationists. Also don’t forget to email us about our website.

  64. Tadeu Hyppolito Says:

    As always happen, it is easy to explain things from the stand point of the observer. Of course Dr. Shermer is an observer and it is understandable the matter for the ones at the same stand point. For me, as example, it easy and logical the theory depicted above. But it may be not so simple to ones living inside the context , either as the target or with a pathology !! It would be glad if everyone could undesrtand and change their minds when reading such self explaining argument .

  65. Åsa Stephens Says:

    Really enjoying the book. I fell off a swing as a kid seeing some other person fall and then realising it was me. Not that I have been dwelling on this through my life but did wonder why that could happened. Now I got a very good explanation for it. Thank you!

  66. Chris Says:

    Mr. Shermer, have you studied Near Death Experiences (NDE’s) enough to comment on atheist Dr. Jeffrey Long’s book on the afterlife and thousands of NDE’s, “I Survived…Beyond and Back,” and medical doctors who claim that it would be completely impossible for NDE’ers to see and know what they’ve seen while “hovering” above the operating room?

  67. Pjo Riley Says:

    I read The Believing Brain earlier this year and for once, the reality of millions of worldwide God-believers makes some sense to me (an atheist). I had always thought the call to belief in a creator as entirely a cultural construct, but that didn’t jibe with the many scientists and physicists and thinkers engaged in what I saw as rational thought who also believe in a creator. How could they find room for belief in the seemingly mythical while daily operating in such logical arenas?

    We accept that human physical development is influenced by millenia of survival tactics and environmental fitness. Why would that not apply to belief systems too? After reading Shermer’s book I felt a sense of relief at the notion that genetic predisposition may exert a sizeable influence on God-belief. Besides the many cultural reasons for faith, believing may be as natural to some people as breathing. As desire.

  68. John Tolhurst Says:

    Loved your book – I been waiting to read such a thing all my life! ha ha ha! You finally confirmed my belief that pretty much everything that’s not actual science by actual scientists is hokey pokey.

    Now a challenge to you as co-founder of RAAM. Ride my cruzbike in our team and verify that the world rides diamond frame bikes purely out of an ungrounded belief they are better.

    Again, loved your book, thanks for the hard work, for writing it and for sharing.

  69. John Tolhurst Says:

    Dr Shermer, check this out: http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

    Here is a description of what we might usually call a deep religious experience, but explained scientifically. If you havn’t seen it already, you’ll love it.

  70. Justine Says:

    #22

    funny you should write — just what I was searching for. your posting number is significant to me too. the day I was born on. I was always drawn toward A.E. writings and reasoning. his intellect-on the universe and God.

    I stumble on to this site by accident and found these quotes– and I’m just in awe. I do believe the universe can guide and hear. some true magic, if your open to it and believe.

    thank you

  71. faraz Says:

    Have read the first 3 chapters of “The believing brain”. Having a great time reading it…

  72. Justine Says:

    Faraz

    what do you find the most interesting aspect of this book?

    just curious, since you noted — you’re having a great time with it.

  73. the Says:

    5000 whining atheists vs the Great Prophet

    forum.thatfatatheist.com/topic/9684634/1/#new

    youtube.com/watch?v=s3lwG4MytSI

    one applicant right here…

    get the POINT, Randi….

  74. Robert Says:

    To Michael Shermer;
    It’s simply evolution of the species.
    Atheists brains are more evolved than theists brains. There are physical, structural, biological and chemical differences in the brains of atheists and theists. What one believes, as far as religion goes, is part genetic and part learned. Parts of the hardware of religious peoples brains are still stuck in the bronze age. But other parts of their brains work fine. The parts of the brain that control religious belief are different from the parts of the brain that control other things.

    Evolution didn’t stop. It’s going on right now. The human brain as well as the human body, continues to evolve.
    Individuals within a species evolve at different rates.
    In a way, religious people are like modern day Neanderthals.
    I’m a scientist, and I have a book coming out soon that will explain the above in depth.
    It’s simply evolution of the species.

  75. Art Says:

    Though I’m not religious, and have no intention of presenting a defense of religiousness per se, I do find comments like Robert’s above rather condescending, arrogant, and, thus, problematic.

    One thought that occurs is that many of those we tend to look at as some of the most exemplary examples of what Humanity can rise to . . . many of those are religious people . . . Your Gandhi’s, your King’s, your Theresa’s, your Mandela’s, your Tutu’s, your Lama’s, etc. How many scientists, in contrast, make it onto such a list?

    If Robert, then, has the answer, and we are evolving toward being “Homo-Scientificus,” it would seem we are, then, evolving AWAY from our best-ness . . .

    “Peace 2 U!”
    Me

  76. christopher Cozens Says:

    I was born in a Christian Family but for 24 years, I did not Beleive in Anything…
    Because of the Facts that I perceived like Society and other people were pushing me in a corner to Believe in Something, I chose the easy way out …

    wich was wrong, Our belief system is organic and Dynamic , always changing and Evolving like an Atheist transforming into theist… I wonder if our Beliefs are Trigguered By our experiences?

    Deep inner Reflection is needed at different times in are lives to keep us Centered and Ballanced…

    I lived a Mundane uneventfull periode of my life Beileving in living as Society and Familly Wanted from me, not thinking too much about the “Something” out there,

    Somebody Trigguered My concsience at one point by challenging my Beliefs, and I’m thanfull for that now… and that’s when My life started to make sense, I started practicing Altruism and the change was like night and Day, When you do good things, First of all, it feels good, and Secondly , Great things started to Happen to me …

    When I went thru my Spiritual Awakening like Thousands of others will tell you…. you feel like you were put on this Earth for a reason… Maybe it’s the Mind playing tricks on you, or maybe it’s just your conscience taking over your Ego…

    I Relate to Mr. D’Arpino’s story because I went thru the same thing, I was completely lost and at an extremely low point in my life, People arround me had Weird Beliefs like:
    “Never show any sign of weekness” or even worse ” I never share My Emotionnal status with anyone” or “Never reaveal your Secrets” How are you supposed to Grow with that Attitude?

    These people are living in Fear I told to Myself… I never ever want to become like this, I remember thinking….theses people had been so Damaged by there life experiences that life itself Distorted there Belief Systems to the point that they were afraid to lve life to there full potential…

    When I think of potential, I see only when you reflect on who you really are, ask yourself the question’s that really Matter… only then will you unmask your true potential… Lots of Great people on Earth have done things that Exeed The normal person’s expectation’s and can only Dream of one day being as good as them…. they perceive them as Gods…

    Maybe there’s a God inside all of us? only waiting to be unlocked by our Perception of who is God?

  77. Art Says:

    @ Christopher: Well said!

    And like Big Al said above (#22), U can’t explain these things to the Shermers of the world. If they don’t have the experience, they will likely never know all that they don’t know:

    ”It is very difficult to elucidate this [cosmic religious] feeling to anyone who is entirely without it. . . The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it … In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it” – Albert Einstein.

    Be well, my friend.

    “Peace 2 U!”
    Me

  78. christopher Cozens Says:

    @ Art: Many Thanks my friend!

    Did you ever read anything from James Redfield…
    especially “The Celestine Vision” I think that will be right up your Alley,

    I was at the corner store for no particular reason on a Saturday morning, I picked up the local Newspaper, Opened it up right down the middle and there it was…

    Coincidence? … Probably … Divine intervention?……. I don’t know… sounds farfetched but not impossible, considering your Mr Fly story of Above,( Cool story by the way) Anything is possible…

    Anyway, the first page of the newspaper I end up on is this Editorial about this American Spiritual Writer named James Redfield telling us about his new book…

    The page was telling me ( you need to get this book there’s something here For you at this point in time)…

    so, that’s what I did, I got in my car, Drove strait to the book store where I began to Devour his Teachings… I thought… man if only the people I knew read this, I’d have something interesting to debate about…

    Now I’m getting the Scientific Rational Side of it all… by Reading Michael Shermer’s book, And maybe later I’ll know where I stand… But who cares Anyway… Ah the human Brain… So complex … Peace

  79. Art Says:

    Hi Christopher;

    I did his “Celestine Prophecy” many moons ago . . . definitely good reading . . . I’ll have to check out his “Vision.”

    I love your “And maybe later I’ll know where I stand” . . . I think that’s a wonderful place to be . . . open to exploring all sides of the Quest-ion . . . rather than entrenched in this camp or that . . . Which leads, as Shermer rightly points out, to belief-dependent reality where we close ourselves off to opposing points of view . . . diminishing ourselves in the process . . .

    “Peace 2U!”
    Me

  80. christopher Cozens Says:

    Exactly my friend, you are very open, Art, I am working on Building an ideological Bridge to fill the gap between Science and Spirituality…

    Scientist’s Have there point of view, witch I find very compelling, (The facts and evidence are there, just waiting to be challenged)… And spiritual leaders have there own Mindset, I just feel open to explore all possibilities …

    Of course if you cannot even accept that everybody has there own Belief’s, (many for extremely personal reason’s) Because of there bad experiences or good experiences,… one would be living in a belief-dependent reality…

    Most seem to get aggressive toward me when I challenge there Belief’s… That’s how war begins… I want to challenge people in a peaceful way using words and ideas without judgment…

    Also, Most think I’m Crazy for even talking about this stuff, But I tend to Gravitate to the idea that there just mixed up people inside… What does that mean?
    Am I the one who is mixed up for seeking the Truth?

    Very well said Art… Peace to you… the never ending story continues…

  81. Art Says:

    @ Christopher:

    I’m reading your words & thinking, “Wow, he sounds just like me!” I just finished a paper (I’m working on a Masters in Transpersonal Psychology, Sofia Univ.) in which I look at/posit Synchronicity and Quantum Entanglement as potentially being just such a “Bridge between Science and Spirituality”! . . . a bridge between the Shermers and those who can’t so easily dismiss their meaningful experiences as “mere coincidence.”

    And indeed, many have looked at me too as being “Crazy” for even positing these things . . . But when U start seeing some of the greatest SCIENTIFIC minds (i.e., your Einsteins, your Paulis, your Bohms) positing the same thing, based on the latest insights of SCIENCE (i.e., Quantum Entanglement), then we really have to ask ourselves, who is being blinded by their “belief-dependent reality”???

    Lovin’ your insights!

    “Peace 2 U!”
    Me

  82. christopher Cozens Says:

    @ Art: Thank you, I appreciate your Wisdom… My Email is chriscozens1@hotmail.com
    Feel free to Discuss your views with me, I enjoy them as well… I may even go take a philosophy or maybe even theology Class… without dismissing science, these ways of thinking have been around way before science has… worth it? Have a great day!

  83. Art Says:

    Hey C.C;

    Just sent U my paper. Would love to hear your thoughts. I’m actually thinking about sending it to Shermer (as he figures prominently therein) . . . Wonder whether he’d respond?

    “Peace 2 U!”
    Me

  84. John Heininger Says:

    “The brain is a belief engine.” we are told. Why then does this innate human characteristic still exist particularly when “natural selection” supposedly preserves only that which is useful, and rejects that which is not. Meaning, why would natural selection preserve within human genetics the need for the vast majority of humanity to believe in transcendent creative agenticity, if nothing existed beyond mere “matter in motion”. .

  85. Art Says:

    Hi John;

    Interesting question. My take on Shermer’s take would be that a kind of “hyper-agenticity” is evolutionarily advantageous to our species . . . He uses the example of someone walking through the bush in Africa who hears a rustling in nearby bushes . . . If one waits for “scientific certainty” that the rustling is a predator before reacting, that certainty will likely come too late . . . One will be lunch, and thus removed from the gene pool. It is thus advantageous to assume the rustling is a predator (granting it “agenticity”) and react accordingly. Most times one would probably be wrong, and would be overreacting . . . But one would still be around for one’s genes to stay in Da Pool.

    So it doesn’t necessarily follow that, because it is advantageous to grant agenticity, there must be an actual agent. Most times, it will only be the rustling of the wind.

    “Peace 2 U!”
    Me

  86. Rose Bellitzia Says:

    The following needs a mend: “Part III, “Belief in Things Unseen” applies my theory beliefs to the afterlife, “. . “my theory beliefs” makes no sense! There are other minor but unprofessional mistakes here. I “believe” you need a editor!

  87. martin Says:

    you are comparing the partial collapse of that school building to the wtc collapse. laughable. you have not employed any science here that i can detect.