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Phoenix Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board Socrates Cafe Philosophy Discussion in Tempe Discussion Forum › Meeting Summary: Does God Belief Enhance Survival?

Meeting Summary: Does God Belief Enhance Survival?

David W.
Tempe, AZ
Fellow Philosophers -

My thanks to everyone who participated in Tuesday evening's meeting. Below is a summary of the discussion. It's not a precise narrative but rather an organized description from my notes and impressions.

1. QUESTION: At the start of the meeting, each participant offered an initial answer to the question: "Does God Belief Enhance Survival?" The 21 in attendance at the start of the meeting answered No (7), Possibly (6), Yes (5), and Don't know (3). Participants justified their answers according to how they understood the question. Many of those who answered No associated God Belief with religion and gave reasons for why religions impaired survival: intolerance, irrationality, oppression. Some of those who answered Possibly and Yes also associated God Belief with religion and gave reasons for why religions could enhance survival: group cohesion, rule obedience, meaningful living. Those who separated God Belief from religion gave reasons for why it could enhance survival (e.g. stress relief, hopeful attitude) and impair survival (e.g. deluded thinking, non-empowering outlook).

2. DEFINITIONS: Since each term in this question was full of controversial connotations, the moderator suggested that conflict could be contained if participants first brainstormed definitions for each term before critiquing. Brainstorming before critiquing would insure that all possible definitions were at least silently considered.

The following definitions were suggested for Survival: Persist, Stay alive, Stay alive longer, Eudaimonia, Balanced living, Continuing into an afterlife, Continued existence of the human species. The group agreed to define survival as "persistence of the human species" because it would make the discussion more interesting.

The following definitions were suggested for Enhance: Make better, Flourish, Improve, Strengthen. There was a debate over whether enhance implied quality. Since it was doubtful that the group could easily determine what was meant by quality, it was agreed to define enhance as "improve the probability".

The following definitions were suggested for Belief: Acceptance without proof, Assent to truth, Reliable image of reality, Religious practice, Faith. The moderator then read a definition ("Mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something") to suggest that Belief could be acceptance with or without proof. For example, the laws of quantum physics have been mathematically proven but their paradoxical nature make them unbelievable to many. As a result, the group agreed to define Belief as "mental acceptance."

The following definitions were suggested for God: Creator of the universe, Universal energy, Higher power, Higher intelligence, Supernatural power, Supernatural being, Power greater than self, Power equal to self, First Cause, The Unexplainable, The Inconceivable, The Transcendent, The Absurd, Love. When asked which definition was best, the group quickly agreed on "The Supernatural" because it included all the definitions. Even the non-God believers accepted this definition because they believed there wasn't anything beyond nature, so the meaning of Supernatural was absurd.

From the above definitions, the question "Does God Belief Enhance Survival?" was understood to mean "Does mental acceptance of the supernatural improve the probability of the persistence of the human species?"

3. ASSUMPTIONS: Participants suggested the following reasons for why the question was being asked: a) Idea of God impacts survival. b) Understand why there are so many God Believers. c) Enormous societal pressures to become a God Believer.

Since we were forced by the early closing of the library cafe to end the meeting 15 minutes early, the moderator sped things along by asking the group to brainstorm over two assumptions, that if true, would further the discussion by implying a particular answer: 1) What attributes come from mentally accepting the supernatural that would improve the probability of the persistence of the human species?", and 2) What attributes come from it that wouldn't?

Participants suggested the following attributes could come from God Belief that would enhance survival: Relieves stress, Promotes common cause, Promotes compassion, Limits self-assertiveness, Provides easy answers, Gives emotional strength to endure troubled times.

Participants then suggested the following attributes could come from God Belief that wouldn't enhance survival: Gullibility, Inflexibility, Hypocrisy, Intolerance, Ease of manipulation, Lack of accountability, Limited self-assertion.

4. OBJECTIVES: At almost every meeting, the moderator asks the group to consider which of the five ethical approaches (Utilitarian, Rights, Fairness/Justice, Common Good, Virtue) are most appropriate for answering the question. While the discussion did raise ethical issues (e.g. Is God Belief right if it enhances survival? What is the best way to enhance survival? Is survival of the human species good?), the question was phrased in a manner to make it an evaluation of fact: does or doesn't mental acceptance of the supernatural improve the probability of the persistence of the human species?

5. OPTIONS: The options for answering were Yes, No, Possibly, and Don't know.

6. COST BENEFIT: There was no time to debate whether the attributes that could come from God Belief would enhance survival.

7. ANSWER: The 23 participants at the end of the meeting gave the following answers: Yes (11), No (9), Possibly (1), Don't Know (2). Some participants who answered yes were not happy about it. While acknowledging that mental acceptance of the supernatural gave humans attributes that improved the ability of the species to survive, they believed that improving the quality of life required letting go of the absurd. For the moderator, this belief called to mind the writings of existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, who argued that life is absurd.

You can post your comments to this discussion on the Message Board under the topic "Meeting Summary: Does God Belief Enhance Survival?" at http://philosophy.mee...­ You can also suggest a question for a future meeting by posting it on the message board under the topic "What Question Should We Discuss?"

The question for the next meeting on Wednesday, January 14th, will be "What's Unacceptable in Transhumanism?" You can read an event description below my signature and RSVP here http://philosophy.mee...­

Hope to see you there.


What's Unacceptable in Transhumanism? - January 14th
In September 2004, Foreign Policy Magazine published a special report entitled "The World's Most Dangerous Ideas." In it, eight intellectuals issued early warnings on the ideas that would be most destructive in the coming years. A couple of the alarms were perennial (Free Money, Undermining Free Will) while many of the others were related to the aftereffects of 9/11 (War on Evil, Hating America, Spreading Democracy). But one dangerous idea stood out for being far out: Transhumanism.

At the next Socrates Cafe, we will discuss the question, "What's Unacceptable in Transhumanism?" As defined in Wikipedia, "Transhumanism (symbolized by H+ or h+), a term often used as a synonym for "human enhancement", is an international, intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to enhance human mental and physical characteristics and capacities, and overcome what it regards as undesirable and unnecessary aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death." Is transhumanism a high-tech repackaging of the discredited eugenics movement or a natural step in man's evolution? To prepare for the meeting, read the Wikipedia entry on Transhumanism at http://en.wikipedia.o...­

Only 25 people can attend. RSVP now at http://philosophy.mee...­
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