Dalai Lama tells his Facebook friends that religion “is no longer adequate”

This past Monday, people who have the Dalai Lama as a Facebook friend found this little gem in their newsfeed.

All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.

The Dalai Lama’s advice sounds startling familiar — one that echos the sentiment put forth by outspoken atheist Sam Harris who argues that science can answer moral questions. The Dalai Lama is no stranger to scientific discourse, and has developed a great fascination with neuroscience in particular. It’s very possible, therefore, that his thinking has aligned with Harris.

In a recent interview with the Globe and Mail, Harris had this to say about science and how it should be used to inform our moral and ethical sensibilities:

The moment we admit that questions of right and wrong, and good and evil, are actually questions about human and animal well-being, we see that science can, in principle, answer such questions. Human experience depends on everything that can influence states of the human brain, ranging from changes in our genome to changes in the global economy. The relevant details of genetics, neurobiology, psychology, sociology, economics etc. are fantastically complicated, but these are domains of facts, and they fall squarely within the purview of science.

We should reserve the notion of “morality” for the ways in which we can affect one another’s experience for better or worse. Some people use the term “morality” differently, of course, but I think we have a scientific responsibility to focus the conversation so as to make it most useful. We define terms like “medicine,” “causation,” “law” and “theory” very much to the detriment of homeopathy, astrology, voodoo, Christian Science and other branches of human ignorance, and there is no question that we enjoy the same freedom when speaking about concepts like “right” and “wrong,” and “good” and “evil.” Once we acknowledge that “morality” relates to questions of human and animal well-being, then there is no reason to doubt that a prescriptive (rather than merely descriptive) science of morality is possible. After all, there are principles of biology, psychology, sociology and economics that will allow us to flourish in this world, and it is clearly possible for us not to flourish due to ignorance of these principles.

It’s important to remember that Tibetan Buddhists, while rejecting belief in God and the soul, still cling to various metaphysical beliefs, including karma, infinite rebirths, and reincarnation. But interestingly, the Dalai Lama once had this to say on the subject:

My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.

Other Buddhists, however, such as Stephen Batchelor, argue that Buddhism should be stripped of all its metaphysical baggage and simplified down to its basic philosophical and existential tenets — a suggestion that has given rise to secular Buddhism.



I’m never entirely sure of the credibility of ‘famous’ people on FaceBook, so I take this with a pinch of salt until proven - yet it’s still interesting.



The bible is not my guide for moralityfollow for the best atheist posts on tumblr


The bible is not my guide for morality

How Humans Became Moral Beings: In a new book, anthropologist Christopher Boehm traces the steps our species went through to attain a conscience

Why do people show kindness to others, even those outside their families, when they do not stand to benefit from it? Being generous without that generosity being reciprocated does not advance the basic evolutionary drive to survive and reproduce.

Christopher Boehm, an evolutionary anthropologist, is the director of the Jane Goodall Research Center at the University of Southern California. For 40 years, he has observed primates and studied different human cultures to understand social and moral behavior. In his new book, Moral Origins, Boehm speculates that human morality emerged along with big game hunting. When hunter-gatherers formed groups, he explains, survival essentially boiled down to one key tenet—cooperate, or die.

This has likely already been seen by many of you, but I thought I’d share it anyway.

This has likely already been seen by many of you, but I thought I’d share it anyway.


What is more moral?: my response to the Sam Harris meme


I have been surprised and disappointed at the amount of unintelligent debate being generated by one of my recent memes - see here 

If it was just theists having a whinge, that would be fine, but nearly all negative responses appear to have come from secular bloggers. I think this is something worth talking about - for those without spiritual beliefs who defend religious moral relativism are, by extension, aiding the spread of scriptural barbarisms. 

atomicsocialist had this to say: “my point is, all morality is based off of the sheer urge to do good in humanity and anything else is a social construct. And New Atheists claiming an action is immoral because the religious have a different rationalization for said action is ridiculous, and laughably not self aware”

Let me clarify this immediately - the meme does not imply theists are immoral. “New” atheists do no claim moral choices fall in a neat dichotomy. The meme, an out of context snippet though it may be, raises one specific question - is it more moral to do something without expectation of reward.

Personally, I see little room for debate on that point, clearly the answer is yes. But atomicsocialist asserts that all morality is based on the mental ‘feel-good’ effect of altruism. Clearly the answer is no. Regular people do terrible, unmoral things and feel good about it, thanks to religious morality.

Is forcing women to live in cloth bags moral? I am a Mullah and I say it is. I feel good when I make my daughters and wife put on the burqa, and when I see other men do the same. I know that I should feel good because my moral code has been dictated to me, as well as that great reward of the afterlife. 

Undisputedly, people do things that make themselves feel good, but that is absolutely no basis for all morality, and feeling good because you did something is not intrinsically linked to the act itself being good. 

atomicsocialist goes on to say in another post: I think he fundamentally misunderstands why someone commits a moral action. Personal satisfaction, that rush of neurotransmitters is the foundation for it, religion, bettering the world, whatever you say it was about is most likely the rationalization. So to compare two rationalizations and say “Those who rationalize this way are not moral while those who rationalize this way are” is ridiculous and irritating.

Here atomicsocialist omits all immoral actions that are considered by others to be moral and which they feel good about doing. This omission neatly avoids the very real suffering of women and girls in the Middle East today. It sidesteps all the evils in the world that are seen as contextually moral. In many of these instances the motivation is drawn explicitly from religious morality.

A coherent write up on the situation. 


(Source: oreillyfactor)

Last week the BBC showed a harrowing documentary about how priests and nuns in Spain took newborn infants away from their mothers, often telling them the infant had died at birth, and sold them into adoption for profit.

The previous week, RTE transmitted a documentary about babies and young children in Catholic run care homes in Ireland used as guinea pigs for vaccination trials, again without parental consent and again for profit.

This week, the Vatican has been shamed into ordering an inquiry into child sex abuse at schools in Ealing while the former Abbot of one of the schools, wanted for child sex offences, does a runner when he learns he is to be arrested and charged with abuse offences.

Just another month in the global abuse scandal engulfing the Catholic Church.

And yet the Bishop of Motherwell appears to believe the Catholic Church has something to offer Scotland on the subject of morality, and has the right to interfere in the basic human rights of gay people. Worse still, he thinks we will listen to him and do as he says. You have to admire his impertinence

NSS newsletter

This, to the 25th power.


This, to the 25th power.

(via goodreasonnews)

Can Critics of “New Atheists” Please Read Some First?

The title: “Beyond ‘New Atheism.’”

So I knew we were in trouble right from the start.

In a recent piece in The Stone forum in the New York Times online “Opinionator” section, philosophy professor Gary Gutting takes on the so-called “New Atheism.” He argues that the so-called “new atheism” — encapsulated in his mind by Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” — relies too heavily on scientific and rational arguments against religion, and spends too much time making the case that religion isn’t, you know, true. He thinks that the so-called “new atheists” ignore how religion gives people meaning and transcendence, hope and morality, emotional comfort and social support. He thinks that we aren’t talking enough about secular alternatives for this meaning and transcendence, hope and morality, emotional comfort and social support. And he promotes the ideas of philosophy professor Philip Kitcher as a fresh alternative to this supposed tunnel vision.


This makes me want to facepalm so hard, it’d drive my nose into my brain.

Okay. Deep breath. I am going to my safe, peaceful place. Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean….

Alright. I can talk sensibly now. So. Memo to Professor Gutting.

The so-called “new atheists” are already talking about this.

We’re talking about it a lot.

Continue to read Greta Christina’s article here.


Submission from dontdenythepanda
*lol* sounds about right :)

Submission from dontdenythepanda

*lol* sounds about right :)


Deader than dead: people in vegetative states are viewed as deader than corpses

In 1990, Terri Schiavo suffered a heart attack that left her in a persistent vegetative state. She came out of her coma but severe brain damage left her unresponsive with no detectable brain activity. Trapped in a state of “wakeful unconsciousness”, her condition triggered a lengthy legal battle between her husband, who wanted to end her life support, and her parents, who wanted to keep her alive. The debate over Schiavo’s moral rights raged for the better part of a decade, and the arguments were filled with people who claimed that her condition was a “fate worse than death”.

The phrase reflects a curious tendency to view people in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) as being deader than dead. Kurt Gray from the University of Maryland has found that people, especially religious ones, tend to think of PVS patients as having less mental capacity than a corpse.

Together with Anne Knickman and Daniel Wegner from Harvard University, Gray asked 201 volunteers to read an account of a car accident. The protagonist – David – either lived, died or entered into a PVS. “David’s entire brain was destroyed, except for the one part that keeps him breathing,” the third description read. “So while his body is still technically alive, he will never wake up again.’’

Gray asked the volunteers to rate how strongly they agreed with six statements about David’s state of mind. The results clearly showed that people see PVS patients as being more dead than dead. The volunteers were more likely to agree that dead David, compared to his PVS counterpart, could influence the outcome of situations, know right from wrong, remember the events of his life, have emotions and feelings, be aware of his environment, and have a personality.

Gray thinks that this odd pattern stems from the old notion of mind-body dualism, the philosophy which states that the mind and body are separate things. Such beliefs are especially common among people from religious faiths that believe in souls, which live on after death. If that’s the case, a dead person is merely a disembodied mind. Indeed, Jesse Bering has found that people generally hold intuitive beliefs about the minds of dead people. If it’s not a religious afterlife, then it’s ghosts or something similar.

To test this idea, Gray repeated his experiment, but changed the vignette where David lives to another where he died. This one was written to draw attention to his corpse. It read: “David died on impact. After, being embalmed at the morgue, he was buried in the local cemetery. David now lies in a coffin underground.’’

Among people with little in the way of religious beliefs, the emphasis on David’s cadaver brought their responses in line with their views of PVS patients. That’s predictable – in previous studies, people tend to lose their intuitive beliefs about the minds of the dead if they focus on their bodies. However, this didn’t work for the highly religious volunteers. They still ascribed more of a mind to deceased David than to vegetative David.

Finally, Gray found that the “fate worse than death” trope is actually true for many people. When 55 volunteers read first-person stories of people who were involved in car accidents, they felt that entering a PVS would be worse than dying, for themselves and their families.

People in vegetative states have awoken from a coma, but remain completely unresponsive to the world around them. Lights and noises fail to stir them and there are no signs that they understand words or expressions. Adding the word “persistent” can be infuriating. It implies that the patient is highly unlikely to recover, but it doesn’t rule out the odds of such a recovery. By blurring the lines between life and death, it plays havoc with our sense of morality and our perceptions.

Gray argues that while people tend to see dead people as disembodied minds, they see people in a PVS as mindless corpses. As he writes, “These results suggest that for vegetative patients, life or death may depend more upon the mind of person making the decision than the mind of the patient.”

From Discover

I’m mostly posting this because of the section concerning the way in which religious people react in these cases. It makes for an interesting read; personally, I don’t ascribe to the ‘deader than a corpse’ way of thinking, because they obviously aren’t.

But - without a lot of evidence being put forth for it - I don’t think there’s still a mind in there, either - and I certainly don’t believe in ghosts/spirits/souls. Once you’re dead, you’re dead, that’s it. In my opinion, anyway. 

An interesting little exchange was had in the comments: 

1.   Jorge Silva Says: 

Strange, I always thought that highly religious people were also more inclined to be against ceasing life support for patients in vegetative states. Yet, this study seems to show that they perceive such patients as being “deader than dead”. Either I’m wrong on the first or from what this article says, it should follow that the religious should be more supportive of ending life support in these situations.

The reply from the author: 

 Ed Yong  Says: 

Nope, both are true. Religious people are more likely to view PVS patients as deader than dead, AND more likely to be against ending life support. The authors described this as “ironic”.

An interesting little insight into how they think, yes? 


As atheists know, you can be good without God

One cold Chicago day last February, I watched a Federal Express delivery man carry an armful of boxes to his truck. In the middle of the icy street, he slipped, scattering the boxes and exposing himself to traffic. Without thinking, I ran into the street, stopped cars, hoisted the man up and helped him recover his load. Pondering this afterward, I realized that my tiny act of altruism had been completely instinctive; there was no time for calculation.

We see the instinctive nature of moral acts and judgments in many ways: in the automatic repugnance we feel when someone such as Bernie Madoff bilks the gullible and trusting, in our disapproval of the person who steals food from the office refrigerator, in our admiration for someone who risks his life to save a drowning child. And although some morality comes from reason and persuasion — we must learn, for example, to share our toys — much of it seems intuitive and inborn.

Many Americans, including Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian, see instinctive morality as both a gift from God and strong evidence for His existence.

As a biologist, I see belief in God-given morality as American’s biggest impediment to accepting the fact of evolution. “Evolution,” many argue, “could never have given us feelings of kindness, altruism and morality. For if we were merely evolved beasts, we would act like beasts. Surely our good behavior, and the moral sentiments that promote it, reflect impulses that God instilled in our soul.”

So while morality supposedly comes from God, immorality is laid at the door of Charles Darwin, who has been blamed for everything from Nazism to the shootings in Columbine

I’m reading this at the moment - pretty good reading so far :)


“Picture if you will the following: That it is conclusively demonstrated that the figures of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, Joseph Smith, all the other imposters are nothing more than that, legendary or mythical or fraudulent figures. Are you going to start screwing in the streets? Are you going to start stealing each other’s property? Are you going to start not caring about one another or your children? Are you going to have no source for your ethics or your morals? I submit that this is not so and that those who’ve said to you that the source of morals and ethics must be in some sense godly or supernatural have been fooling themselves and trying to fool you. If there was no god and if there were no prophets and no revelation our moral dilemmas would be exactly as there are now. Who doubts it?”

Christopher Hitchens - on morality (via doubtingmarcus)

(Source: youtube.com, via doubtingmarcus-deactivated20140)

Qualiasoup’s first video in a new series on Morality: Good without God. 

This is a very good listen, and I look forward to the rest of the series.


“The objections to religion are of two sorts - intellectual and moral. The intellectual objection is that there is no reason to suppose any religion true; the moral objection is that religious precepts date from a time when men were more cruel than they are and therefore tend to perpetuate inhumanities which the moral conscience of the age would otherwise outgrow.”

Bertrand Russell