A Modern Interpretation of Ecclesiastes

A while back I read a famous story by Roger Zelazny called “A Rose for Ecclesiastes.” In that story a human man (from Earth obviously) falls in love with a Martian woman and must talk all the women of Mars out of giving up on life. So he reads them Ecclesiastes and show them that this depressing book that has no belief in a good future was written long ago, yet here we still were, advancing and making a better life for ourselves.

So I decided to re-read Ecclesiastes for my scripture study. To my suprise, I found that its underlying message (at least to me) was actually about the meaningless of life if (and only if) we exclude God from the equation. When understood in that way, it seems far less pessimistic and far more hopeful. In fact Ecclesiastes to me is a very strong argument for belief in God.

Skeptic Martin Gardner claims that only religious people can write really good pessimistic literature because they don’t really believe any of it. He claims atheists have no where to run, so they aren’t as likely to like pessimistic literature. I personally believe this is true of the author of Ecclesiastes.

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What is Religion?: Religion as Meme

In my last post I considered Dawkins’ claim that religions were dangerous memes that can hijack a person and cause them to become a ‘memeoid.’ We found that Dawkins was essentially correct, but was being one sided. In fact we look up to many ‘memeoids’ willing to die for their memes (i.e. for their beliefs or ideals, whether religious or not). 

Nevertheless, Dawkins’ hurtful prejudice aside, there should be little doubt that he is right that religion is a type of ideological meme and that people that follow religions are, in a sense, memeoids. The members of a religion wish to take their religious meme and replicate it in some way and are willing to give up a great many otherwise personal desires for the sake of replicating their meme.

But of course this is also true for any replicable ideology. It’s just as true for political memes both good and bad. There have been ‘memeoids’ in favor of Communism and Nazism but also for Democracy and personal liberty. Thank goodness for the meme we might call ‘abolition of slavery’ and for the many memeoids that brought it about. Thank goodness for the meme called ‘Civil Rights’ and the memeoids that sacrificed their personal lives – and sometimes they physical lives – for it. The list could go on and on.

Each of these are rightly called ‘memes’ because the goal is to take an idea and spread it. Of course memes can be just about anything. A chain letter is a meme too. So is the wealth of human knowledge that we replicate by teaching it in schools. The thing that makes is a meme is that it somehow replicates itself.

Each of these types of memes fills the equivalent of a cultural ‘ecological niche.’ And just like in biology, memes often have to compete with one another. Continue reading

What is Religion?: Are Religions Memes?

Many know of arch-militant atheist Richard Dawkins. But what he’s really (originally) famous for is being one of the important biologists to ever live. In fact, he’s the one that coined the term “meme” for what I feel is one of the most important new scientific concepts needed to make sense of our world.

What is a meme? He describes it like this:

The gene, the DNA molecule, happens to be the replicating entity that prevails on our own planet. … But do we have to go to distant worlds to find other kinds of replicator and other, consequent, kinds of evolution? I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind. The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. …I abbreviate mimeme to meme. …It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream.’ (The Selfish Gene, p. 192)

Now of course Dawkins can’t let a great new concept like this go without making sure he takes potshots at religion. Sure enough, just a few pages later, he invokes his new “meme” concept to attack religion.

The survival value of the god meme in the meme pool results from its great psychological appeal. It provides a superficially plausible answer to the deep and troubling questions about existence. It suggests that injustices in this world may be rectified in the next. The ‘everlasting arms’ hold out a cushion against our own inadequacies which, like a doctor’s placebo, is none the less effective for being imaginary. (p. 193)

Oh, but he’s just getting started. For he later adds that religious people are (or can be) “memeoids.” Isn’t that just the right sort of ridiculous name to make religious people seem a little more scary and a little less human?  Continue reading

The Case Against Karen Armstrong: Misquoting Popper

Case for GodIn my last post (and also here) I pointed out the true context of several of Armstrong’s sources, demonstrating that she is actually just misrepresenting them. Armstrong fares no better when it comes to science and, in particular, Popper.

While Kuhn does seem share her views that science does not find an objective reality, this is the very point of Kuhn where Kuhn has been shown to have gotten it wrong. Though I am a big fan of Kuhn, his theory explains far less than Popper’s, and so known to be the inferior theory.  (For discussion, see here, here, and particularly here.) Armstrong supports Kuhn on precisely his wrong conclusions. 

Science makes progress precisely because it moves from one paradigm to the next, each one having greater verisimilitude then the last. Science is homing in on objective reality, even if perhaps it will never find it precisely.

And, contrary to Armstrong’s uses of Popper, this was Popper’s whole point! Continue reading

The Case Against Karen Armstrong: What is Belief?

In my last post I discussed how Karen Armstrong misrepresents some of her sources. The end result is a sort of ‘cherry pick’ to support her thesis. In this post I’m going to address her treatment of the word “Belief” as used in the Bible.

What Does “Believe” Mean?

Several years ago I did a study of the New Testament using several parallel Bibles, Strong’s Concordance, and a Greek manuscript of the New Testament. One of my discoveries was that the word translated “belief” in the New Testament actually came from the Greek word pisteuo (Strong’s 4100) which has a stronger connotation than the word “believe” in English, at least as it is used today. So consider this verse as an apt example:

Romans 3:22

22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: Continue reading