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Conspiracy Theories
I find this an entertaining topic. Michael Shermer, in Why people Believe Weird Things, asked why people believe that invisible agents control the world - and he included invisible agents such as secret superconspiracies alongside gods. Now this might be going too far, for high level people in corporations and government surely do plot malicious things, BUT I think Shermer had a point: that a narrative with a giant bad guy (conveniently invisible) is so tempting, for people - especially surplus males, as economists are describing these days.

I don't believe in "conspiracy theories" many of them are about up there with the idea of alien abduction, but I think the culture which produces them - and is getting more and more mainstream - is interesting (if troubling).
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Holding a belief, one inherently believes that the belief is correct, and therefore others ought to hold it if they weren't in some ultimate way, mistaken.

You can experience stuff and it can be good and valuable for you, and you can draw from it, all without necessarily needing to go and convert others or be a missionary.

relativism, no one's beliefs are any better than anyone else's, often motivated by multiculturalism/good intentions

I was arguing the very specific case of individual god-experience or individual spiritual experience. It doesn't keep me from subscribing to the Big Bang theory at ALL if I had some individual god experience or if my distant ancestors believed the world was created by a giant cow or something. I can keep these apart just fine.

I was an academic once, I'm familiar with the scientific method. When I became "religious", there was a period where I thought that science must be wrong (or limited) because I couldn't reconcile things in my head. It seems it is a common first reaction when science and spirituality collide that one of them must be wrong. I no longer subscribe to that idea. All that is required is the ability to keep them apart, which is something organized religions often deliberately do not teach their adherents in order to produce some sort of suicide bomber puppets. That is a crime, let me be clear about that. But not all religion is automatically like that.

Atheists and scientists can be as pompous as the Pope sometimes. It's not their business what someone does at home. Also our media LOVE to generalize. I bet when most people think "religion", they actually think "Islam" or something they have seen on TV, instead of "Lakota" or "Sami" or "Siberian shamans".

Which is a shame, really, there is so much more. 
 
I think you might be misunderstanding me, though you just made a ton of good points. Or maybe we're talking past each other. I think keeping these things separate is important, and it would lead to a better society in which creationism/fundamentalism wouldn't exist. Truth claims and religious traditions are indeed separate. I also don't deny that scientists can be really arrogant. P Z Myers and Jerry Coyne, for example, really piss me off. Especially Myers: he has a little man complex and is looking for a cause.
All of that said, I think that science has explained enough (including the start of the universe and our human brain functions) that the two DON'T need to be kept separate.

Powerful subjective experiences can be integrated with neuroscience. Basically, I think that it's likely that science (math physics chemistry) can explain anything we encounter, in principle, including our own consciousness. And from there, whatever any human might experience must not be incompatible with chemistry, physics, math, etc.

Sure it could be. I think a Siberian shaman's experience and views are extremely interesting. But I don't think they contradict the laws of physics or the discoveries of neuroscience. I think we're living in one big compatible playground, as soon as the superstitious lay off all claims to objective/scientific knowledge. 
Interesting 
Especially with the mention of nueroscience.

I prefer Nueromancy, which is just a fancy way of talking about books.

I'm not a god person. I've read that there is a genetic predisposition towards being religious.

Having lived in a strongly catholic culture for many years I want really speak bad of those who need the support of organised religion.

Despite the smears on 'the church' aside, I do believe there is something to be said for belief. Or faith, better put. I'm too old to buy into it, probably 10 is too old to believe in the spaghetti monster, but that's just my closed view.

There's a bloody mindedness that only those with faith or complete egocentricity can have. To the extremes this results in, well, religious extremism - or psychosis.

Difficult topic. 
This Would Be Much Easier 
Over a beer. 
 
All of that said, I think that science has explained enough (including the start of the universe and our human brain functions) that the two DON'T need to be kept separate.

Interesting position.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unverified_personal_gnosis

Modern reconstructionist traditions are aware of the need to reconcile with science (ie. they're aware that this is 2011, to put it bluntly) and are typically using the scientific method to achieve their reconstruction, even (to the point where you'll be asked to either provide a citation, or "plead UPG").

Book religions with their tons of professional priests and exegetes would probably not be so relatively easy to reconcile with science.

ijed: For an atheist, your maps definitely contain an awful lot of blood-sprinkled altars ;-) 
Heh 
that's all Lovecraft in my view... one of the first modern writers (and a total atheist) to note how incredibly fucked up it would be mysterious powers actually wanted humans hacking each other and animals to pieces as "offerings." The whole Abraham sacrificing his son story, is incredibly creepy - I'd say, even creepier if the voice he heard telling him to do it was real, than if it was just a hallucination of his.

I like this UPG idea, because until recently a lot of scientists basically just denied the validity or interestingness of such experiences, thinking that if people were just less retarded they wouldn't have them. I hope in the future they can come up with generalizable methods (heh) to generate UPG-type experiences. If they ever release that God Helmet thing commercially and it works, it might be pretty interesting for certain people. If they ever figure out dreams, the imagination, whatever is responsible for the spiritual sense, and let us play with that, the results could go beyond anything in any religious tradition/history. 
Icebergs 
People are not going to "change". Not even if we want them to.

Humans have an exceptionally wide scale of behavior ranging from ape-like savagery to very sophisticated behavior.

Higher level thinking is not going to go mainstream because tendency is to do as little as is necessary to survive and think as little as needed to fit in. Kind of like a gravitational force that acts as a barrier.

The bar continually raises, information spreads but higher level thinking is actually its own worst enemy.

In two ways ...

1) First, intellectuals tend to draw "final conclusions" due to the human character flaw of ego. You see supposed scientists drawing strongly worded conclusions that they cannot make as scientists. Science is open-ended, always curious, always open-minded ... it does not draw "final conclusions" but rather makes assessments to the likelihood.

2) Intellectuals tend to fail the "survival of the fittest test" and have a tendency towards an Ivory Tower lifestyle. But someone still has to do menial jobs, and those functions are critical operations for our species. And worst of all, some of the higher level attitudes are not compatible with survival.

By definition, you cannot be the fittest if you do not survive and propagate higher level ethos.

"Evil" exists for one purpose and one purpose alone ... "to be defeated". You cannot talk with it, reason with it, bargain with it.

I've recently inadvertently run across several otherwise brilliant historical figures who probably unfairly shattered their reputations by speaking about great Hitler was prior to the invasion of Poland.

Some of the less advanced parts of the world do have wannabee dangerous figures that if left alone will do "bad things". Fortunately, I think cell phones, internet and other hard to control means of communication will lead to less of this kind of thing in the future. 
 
In my opinion there is no "evil" as in the idea of polar opposites good & evil. There are just things people can't cope with.

Some of the less advanced parts of the world do have wannabee dangerous figures that if left alone will do "bad things".

All parts of the world have dangerous figures. It doesn't go away because one is more advanced. 
You Know ... 
I don't truly believe in the concept of "evil". Not objectively. "Evil" is the ultimate self-sabotage, stains your environment.

That being said, I have seen "evil". It is possible to rationally justify away the causes or such.

But those people will not change. Nature fail? Nurture fail? Bad childhood ... in the end it does not matter, those people have to be dealt with, like the rotten apples they are lest they be allowed to infest their environment.

Objectively there is no such thing as evil. Only chaos and stupidity.

But subjectively ... there are evil people that represent a clear and present danger to their environment. Ugh. 
Hmmmm - Evil 
I think that evil is a real definition. It's pre-meditated wrong-doings. Crimes against people. Dis-regard for other people's lives. Committing actions intended to harm the innocent.

I think that some people can be classified as evil based upon the things that they do.

Nature, nurture, things people can't cope with - it doesn't matter, these are explanations, not excuses. 
On The Off Topic 
I find it so weird that people think neuroscience is going to undermine the basis of law, that the basis of criminal law is free will. Like yeah, if a mass murderer was basically predetermined to torture and kill as many people as he could, then we wouldn't lock him up? We would imprison tsunamis if we could, protecting society from harm has nothing to do with some abstract concept of freedom from our own brains (which makes no sense anyway). The metaphysical baggage of the terms good and evil is very problematic, but, I still find the term evil very useful. Sometimes there is nothing else you can say. 
 
"bad" 
If You Want To Talk About The Limitations Of People's Perceptions 
with regards to language or communication - well you can pick just about any word, say it 100 times and it begins to sound like meaningless nonsense. 
Uhm 
And what does that prove? 
 
I just mean that if one were to say that there was no such thing as 'evil', one could just as easily say that there is no such thing as 'carrot', or something to that effect..... 
No, One Can't 
Evil is an abstract concept. A carrot is an object. What are you trying to say? 
@Ricky 
"It's pre-meditated wrong-doings."

Evil is a tricky subject.

Your cat will willingly do very mean things to smaller creatures and do it for fun.

So is every Mr. Bigglesworth evil?

Well ... if kitties are evil, there is an another example: children.

"Evil" is oddly a relative thing with a variable definition that varies from circumstance to circumstance.

But that's boring.

What is far more exciting is what is the definition of "good"? That one has intricacies that are fascinating. 
Hmm 
doesn't it all come down to a matter of harm or benefit to sentient beings, basically causing benefits is helpful, while causing harm is evil (I argue that it is even if it's not deliberate, as the consequences of actions, not the "intentions" behind them, are why things are evil - as a side note I'm extremely biased in this argument since I feel like basing morality on intentions gives people the excuse of stupidity or, more likely, willful ignorance, "I didn't know my western lifestyle had all these consequences" etc, and I just really hate that idea).

answer: bigglesworth is evil if mice are sentient, and it doesn't matter that he's doing it for food or for fun, etc... nature contains and causes a huge amount of suffering, there's this idea called abolitionism in ethics, which proposes using technology to eliminate all suffering of sentient beings including nonhuman species, in theory though of course it'll never be possible. interesting idea. our noninterventionist ideals in nature are kind of inconsistent, not just because we obviously intervene anyway in our own interest, but because nature left to its own devices causes endless suffering. end rant. 
 
Careful with putting children and evil in the same sentence.

This belief (put into writing by Sigmund Freud as a main example - according to him children are born evil, want sex with their parents, and must be educated to become good) has led to very misguided ways of upbringing and education. Black pedagogy etc.

Just careful with putting "evil" together with random other terms, ok.

BTW if you're interested, Freud's interpretation of the classical Greek King Oedipus drama has been thoroughly dismantled by other scientists. I suggest reading the original and then reading Freud, and drawing your own conclusions. 
Totally 
where did Freud come up again?
I agree entirely, Freud isn't taken seriously in psychology at all anymore, and thus he shouldn't be taken seriously by anyone; it'd be like choosing Lamarck's ideas over those of Darwin or rather the modern neoDarwinian synthesis in biology.

Children are selfish, absolutely. But they also have very little direct impact on the world: ie they don't design policies, start wars, run economies. Thus, in a consequence-based view, however underdeveloped their empathy may be, they aren't evil.

Freud wasn't a scientist. He was a cokehead careerist fraud who convinced people for a few decades that he was. 
Although To Be Fair 
he was still better than Jung 
"Evil" | "Control" | "Winning" 
@Tronyn

"I argue that it is even if it's not deliberate, as the consequences of actions, not the "intentions" behind them, are why things are evil"

Intentions are all we have (on the individual level).

I agree that the results/consequences of actions are everything, but that becomes tricky on the individual level.

as a side note I'm extremely biased in this argument since I feel like basing morality on intentions gives people the excuse of stupidity or, more likely, willful ignorance

That's where meritocracy and social engineering come in. If done right, it softly removes freedoms from those not qualified to have them and subtly grants freedoms to those qualified for more freedoms.

On the individual level, omniscience is obviously impossible. As a result, no matter how high an individuals intelligence or expertise is, no one ever reaches peak human mastery of, say, the medical sciences and astronomy and mechanics and resource management at the same time.

But perhaps above all of those is self-awareness and humility, which is knowledge that "you" can help others and that others have things to give that can help "you".

[Social engineer types of sciences are extremely important because lesser educated humans tend to destroy their environment and it is a constant risk in society.] 
^^ Wrong Markup 
Meant to use the quote markup, ended up using the bold markup on accident. 
Totally 
no one even proposes that creationists shouldn't be allowed to vote, but in my view public policy has to be based on evidence from the real world, and if you look at the scientific evidence for evolution, or global warming, and conclude "Naaah" then I think the more freedoms you have (to vote, to have 12 kids and brainwash them), the more society suffers.

Few social phenomena are more disturbing than those without morality rallying those without intelligence. But, to cite Carlin, I don't have kids and therefore I'm not bound to have a stake in the outcome, much as I'd like it to be positive. I guess my views are extreme, but when you realize that we actually live in a world where corruption, insanity and stupidity dominate to such a degree (yep, there's still witch hunts going on, still slavery, etc) it's hard to be moderate about it. 
Representative Democracy 
Representative democracy to some degree insulates a democracy from the less intelligent ever being able to obtain political power. Versus, say, a dictatorship where an uneducated Saudi Royal family guy or a Kim Jong guy are free to be as ignorant and dumb as they choose.

And as a general rule of thumb, it is very hard to achieve any kind of corporate position of status or power if ignorant.

The idea of voting should never be based on intelligence or qualifications.

The purpose of voting is to have a voice through a peaceful process. If dumb people couldn't vote, they would not be able to voice their priorities through a peaceful process and would be denied the social contract of representation for all.

All your concerns about the corruption, insanity and such are valid and it is a bit disappointing to think we live in such a world.

At the same time, life is meant to be a constant struggle and society would actually be worse for not having those problems.

Civilization has to earn advancement through enduring challenging times and developing successful solutions to the problems.

This modern problem is caused by the YouTube, reality TV, camera phone, Facebook era enabling much more accurate and quick communication and we get to see the world for what it is without rose colored glasses.

This is new to us.

10 years ago, a bonehead could only get a voice on TV through public access television programs at 4 am.

[And boneheads are very social in nature as a survival strategy because they would never be able to survive as individuals without a support group to help them through bad times that they will have several times when they screw up again and again in life.] 
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