Religion, Faith, Spirituality as a priori motivators

by phil on Monday Apr 3, 2006 10:37 PM

Okay, getting posting-fatigue here. So this is going to be completely draft-form-like

This discussion I started on Plastic about religion combined with a discussion I had with Jeff recently, has got me thinking about the definition of religion.

Science can certainly undermine particular factual claims made by religion (the universe was created in six days), but it’s far less clear that it can challenge religion’s general metaphysical claims (the universe has a purpose). To insist on this distinction is to recognize what it means for something to be a metaphysical, not a physical, claim. What experiment could prove that the universe has no purpose? To suppose that a kind of physics can demolish a kind of metaphysics is to commit what philosophers call a category mistake. (New Yorker)

Yes, we're getting closer here. I think maybe it goes on an even deeper level. I don't think most people, or myself included, recognize what it means for something to be metaphysical. And second, why do people get upset and defensive when you try to attack their religion by presenting things that contradict what their religion states. If they truly only cared about religion on a metaphysical level, then they should be able to resign themselves to purely metaphysical statements, such as "the universe has a purpose."

Then again, what is this whole movement on "being spiritual but not religious." Perhaps science has made the instrument of religion useless, leaving people to stick with vague transcendental, indisputable statements. "There is a force governing the universe."

I think evidence is in the velocity here. The goal post keeps getting moved back whenever science creeps in. And even perhaps, rational argument may defeat the spiritual people too. For example, you could study metaphysics and say that given most definitions of "purpose" the universe has none for x, y, and z reasons. Existentialism is kind of like that, "the universe is meaningless therefore we give it meaning."

So what if this whole faith business is just that, faith. As I said earlier about how "He who has a why can deal with almost any how." I think how that works in practice is nested motivation. If I work, then I can make money, which will then send Janey to school, and I love Janey. See, you never question your love for Janey. Your love is important a priori. It functions like a religious faith. Janey is sacred... just because. There is no reason why she is to you, she just is. If you had to rationalize yourself INTO loving Janey, then the sacred part is not Janey, it's whatever is hugging the rational argument.

You can say you love Janey because she is your daughter. But her daughterness, is not what you're in love with.

So religion v. nihilism. We may love things, but if you don't love the universe and don't have kids you love or work that you love, then you're probably in for it.

And so I wonder if natural selection favors humans that consecrate things naturally. For whom, things are sacred irrespective of counter-arguments. To them, the universe is sacred, done deal. And as a result, even if they are just working for something like money, they still feel that just by participating like a normal person in the state of human affairs is great because if they ask why are they doing this or that, they can find an a priori love of the universe.

In other words, true meaning and purpose are a priori motivators. That people find the universe sacred and with purpose motivates them to get up in the morning even if they have nothing really to do during the day. "Do God's work." And that people without religion are in a more challenging situation because their sense of purpose is not as immediately as accessible.

And perhaps the accessibility to purpose, i.e. a priori motivators, is favored by natural selection because it makes people productive no matter what science tells them.


saltwatercowgirl said on April 5, 2006 4:17 AM:

Until chemistry replaced alchemy after a thousand years of attempting to turn lead into gold we did not even have the tools to attempt to understand the makeup of the world around us. We don't yet have the type of science that can even ask questions like 'What is our purpose?' yet alone answer them, but that doesn't mean that we wont, and when we do it will replace religion in the same way chemistry replaced alchemy.

kerstalis said on April 8, 2006 10:28 AM:

I was just going to say that in some sense of science the universe was "created" in six days, at least according to some designish algorithm abstracted from extrapolate cognate. But yeah alchemy can't be oversimplified like that either.
Go to and download the latest scientific american, they have some interesting stuff on these naughty problems of determinism and the flatland that computing occupies today. Or doesn't it?

Creative Commons License