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The samples offered in this section are from a published thesis, entitled:
We're Here Because We're Not All There
(Copyright © William Kenneth Jones)

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Introduction

In the third chapter of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the author, Edward Gibbon, stated, "History is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." Moreover, lines in the poem, Know Then Thyself, written some fifty years before Gibbon's essays, expressed Alexander Pope's perplexity about mankind: Created half to rise, and half to fall: Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all; Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl'd; The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

What the two quotes imply raises the greatest of all questions: Why? Why is Gibbon's implied denunciation and Pope's perplexity directed at a species capable of producing the wonders of Stonehenge; the Pyramids; the great cities of the Tigris-Euphrates; the Great Wall of China; the glories of Ancient Greece and Rome; the Alhambra and the Taj Mahal; the artistry of the Sistine Chapel; invent the miracle of flight and the marvel of radio and television; and land a craft with its crew on the moon and bring them back again. The list could go on and on, along with the mentioned dismal record - and its perplexity.

This book grapples with the "Why" of it all. It delves into the ancient wisdoms along with the various social, neurological and psychological sciences, to search for an answer. Its writing is impelled by the urgent need to, at least, attempt an answer, and, with it, an understanding that can explain why Gibbon's observation and Pope's perplexity is as applicable now as it ever was. Virtually all we can now see happening all around us is, in effect, this period's contribution to the "dismal record" and of being "in endless error hurl'd." The book is directed by this tragic observation and what might be done in the face of it. Perhaps this "proper study" is an obligation in which we should all be involved - and, perhaps, it represents a study essential to the survival of mankind? What issue is greater than that?

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Sample: Chapter 7

Scientific Puzzle?

Practitioners of religion claim it as being effective in reducing anxiety. Apart from this apparent utility, many explanations exist about how and why religious beliefs persist. One assumption, amongst many, suggests it to be the product of a person's socialization. Traditional beliefs sustained by ecclesiastical institutions are transmitted through generation after generation, and the neonates in society absorb these because of the authoritative pressure. However, Dean Hamer, the director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, published, in 2005, The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired Into Our Genes. In this, he hypothesized that inherited genes determines the extent of religious inclination. His hypothesis came by way of analyzing DNA data from over 1,000 subjects. He identified a particular gene called VMAT2. This acts by influencing monoamine levels, which appear to play an important role in generating religious feelings, and thereby the disposition to believe.

In contrast to Dean Hamer's thesis, Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at Liverpool University, in his book How Many Friends Does One Person Need suggests that religion may have arisen in the primitive tribal life groups of about 150 or so members. In this setting, religious beliefs would be based on implicit social contracts, wherein tribal members are expected to support and help each other. This would foster integrated communities and thereby offer evolutionary advantages. Many forms of religion are built around this social bonding process. However, such is the extent of debate, I found - in contrast to Robin Dunbar's social group hypothesis - a study conducted by Laura B. Koenig, M.A., of the University of Minnesota's Department of Psychology. Her team targeted 169 pairs of 100% identical twins and 104 pairs of fraternal twins. Included in this were 53 pairs of identical twins and 31 pairs of fraternal twins - these separated at birth and therefore raised apart. The team looked for traits that members of each pair had in common, assuming any characteristics shared more frequently by identical twins would be genetically based, since identical twins would carry matching DNA. When the religious values and spiritual feelings of the identical twins were investigated, they reveled that they were twice as likely as fraternal twins to believe as much or as little about spirituality as did their sibling, even if raised apart. From this, the study concluded that genetic factors substantially contribute towards a person's religious inclination.

I found another body of research conducted by Nicholas Martin and Lindon Eaves, concerning twins in Australia. They evaluated a characteristic called self-transcendence - a term referring to inner spiritual feelings, which centers on personal beliefs and an assumed relationship with the cosmos. The Australia study indicated that the correlation for identical twins was twice that for fraternal twins. The results implied that environment had surprisingly little effect on self-transcendence and that spirituality was mostly genetic.

Another study: The Biological Evolution of Religious Mind and Behaviour, by Eckart Voland and Wulf Schiefenhövel, contained this observation: Religion and religious practices have existed throughout the human history, and persist today in every corner of the world... religiousness is at least as old as other features of human symbolic culture and is inseparably interwoven with human nature.

Furthermore, during a forum on the evolutionary psychology of religion, at the annual meeting of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Madison, Wisconsin, in October 2004, Steven Pinker, of Harvard University's Department of Psychology, offered this observation: According to surveys by ethnographers, religion is a human universal. In all human cultures, people believe that the soul lives on after death, that ritual can change the physical world and divine the truth, and that illness and misfortune are caused and alleviated by a variety of invisible person-like entities... He ended his discourse by saying: The universal propensity toward religious belief is a genuine scientific puzzle. But many adaptationist explanations for religion, such as the one featured in Time last week, don't, I think, meet the criteria for adaptations.

In the above, Pinker was implicitly skeptical about an article in the Los Angeles Times, which had the headline: The Brain's God module may affect religious intensity. The headline then introduced a review of Dean Hamer's The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired Into Our Genes. Pinker suggested that in primitive societies, death would be, in all probabilities, taken as evidence for the existence of a soul. A person may be fully alive one minute and the next minute be an inert and lifeless body - perhaps without any visible change. It would then seem that an animating entity housed in the body had suddenly escaped or been expelled but must continue to exist in another realm. Dreaming about those who had died would give support to the assumed continued existence. In his lecture, Pinker mentioned ancestor worship as an understandable extension of the death postulation, and this became an adaptive concept with substantial social utility. If a conviction arose that nearest kin can continue to oversee and influence affairs, even after they are dead, it gives an incentive to treat the living favourably, especially as they approach their last days. This, he suggested, would have a positive group-survival value, especially in early tribal units. It represents an anxiety-reducing triumph over death by offering the continuation of the individual in another existence. Moreover, it gives the possibility of the individual continuing their involvement with "those left behind". Additionally, it would offer security to the aged by the increasing deference and respect they would receive when approaching the time of "transition" - this along with status related to the "wisdom" they could offer.

This belief-system became the principle foundation of Confucianism, which emphasized the obligations of people towards each other based on relationship. Confucianism thereby placed at the top of its considerations the need for the observance of duty, sincerity, loyalty, honour, filial piety, respect for age and seniority. In addition, through its insistence on harmonious face-to-face relations, society itself derived a powerful pressure to maintain stability. This favourable aspect of what might be considered as a positive belief-systems had its support in a paper produced by Chau-kiu Cheung and Jerf Wai-keung Yeung, of the Department of Applied Social Sciences, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Their paper had the introductory title of, The positive effects of religiousness on mental health in physically vulnerable populations: A review on recent empirical studies and related theories. In this, they claimed: Spiritual resources could be something particular to religious involvement. They may be hope, ultimate concern, eternal life after death, spiritual support, and assistance and solace from an omnipotent and caring God. These spiritual resources could be helpful and beneficial enough to change one's worldview and cognition from an apathetic, competitive and meaningless worldview to a world with hope, warmth, and meaningfulness.

Michael Persinger, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, and author of the book Neuropsychological Base of God Beliefs, supports the above. He suggested in this: The power of the God Experience shames any known therapy. With a single burst in the temporal lobe, people find structure and meaning in seconds. He therefore places the spiritual experience of whatever god concept as a process in the brain's temporal lobe. "God," he claims, "is an artifact of the brain." But whatever it is - real or illusionary - the offered quotes indicate it can have a powerfully positive effect on the adherents.

However, I found a wealth of articles suggesting that a number of reputable people rejected this view of belief-systems. Sigmund Freud, for instance, display a somewhat sceptical antagonism toward any belief of the religious category. In his The Future of an Illusion, he stated: Religion would thus be the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity; like the obsessional neurosis of children, it arose out of the Oedipus complex, out of the relation to the father... Psychiatrists such as Albert Ellis, Wendell Watters, et al., stated that religious beliefs were responsible for the development of low self-esteem, depression, and even schizophrenia, and many mental health professionals tended, in the main, to consider religiousness as pathological. Albert Ellis, (author of: Overcoming Destructive Beliefs: New Directions for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) concluded his article The Case against Religion in this way: ...religion goes hand in hand with the basic irrational beliefs of human beings. These keep them dependant, anxious, and hostile, and thereby create and maintain their neuroses and psychoses. What then is the role of psychotherapy in dealing with the religious views of disturbed patients? Obviously, the sane and effective psychotherapist should not... go along with the patients' religious orientation... for this is equivalent to trying to help them live successfully with their emotional illness. Therefore, according to Albert Ellis, religion represents the symptoms of an emotional illness.

Karl Marx in his 1843 publication A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right described religion as an "illusory happiness", and, in the same discourse, he offered his well-known statement: Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions: It is the opium of the people.

Nevertheless, if belief-systems of whatever type didn't provide some positive benefit, in whatever way, they wouldn't persist; and, if they did persist, they must've done so because they conferred an evolutionary advantage. A research article Neural Markers of Religious Conviction produced by Michael Inzlicht and Jacob B Hirsh of the University of Toronto, along with Ian McGregor and Kyle Nash of York University, offered compelling evidence of its persistence, thus: In a May 2006 open letter to George W. Bush, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, wrote that ''whether we like it or not, the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty'' (Ahmadinejad, 2006). Religion, he was convinced, is thriving. Worldwide, about 85% of people have at least some form of religious belief, with only 15% describing themselves as atheist, agnostic, or nonreligious (Zuckerman, 2005).

Belief is especially widespread in the United States, with 94% of Americans believing in God, 82% saying that religion is at least fairly important to them, and 76% saying that the Bible is the actual or inspired word of God (Gallup Poll, 2008). The above implicitly suggests that "believing" satisfies an integral aspect of human nature, and this extends to a propensity to accept, readily, what appears "satisfying" - be it in the form of ancestor worship or a belief in an all-powerful but benign Almighty. Having established this to my own satisfaction, I decided to explore the following question: To what extent can beliefs (of whatever kind) affect the individual's mental and physical condition when such beliefs become firmly internalized?

(End of Chapter...)

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The book continues to explore the whys and wherefores of the perpexity raised in the first two paragraphs of the Introduction, quoted above. It arrives at a startling conclusion. To find out what that is, use the Amazon link offered below:

AmazonUK

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