Daily Archives: June 12, 2018

The New Fundamentalism

Secularism is increasing in the West. The Millennial generation, even in the USA (which is the most religious Western country), is disproportionately the least religious generation.

I was never a big fan of religion. It’s why I started this blog, to archive my notes (literally ὑπομνήματα or “hypomnemata”; “notes”, the underscore of this blog) and thoughts on the academic scholarship of why religion exists and persists.

Indeed, I want to go beyond just religion, and find out why people believe what they do, in spite of all of the evidence that might refute or contradict their beliefs. So this wave of secularism and its trend towards universal prominence should be a good thing to me right?


Religion isn’t some aberration. The seeds and ingredients that make us believe are baked into our cognition. This goes for the stellar community generating aspects as well as the insidious divisive parts. And it follows that, even though people are becoming less religious in the West, the constituent parts of religiosity, the things that made us religious in the first place, will persist. It’s these parts — completely and utterly inherent to our cognition — that makes religion terrible. Yet religion isn’t unique in its terribleness.

The vast majority of people neither convert nor deconvert from religion due to pure intellectual reasons. Most deconvert due to moral failings they see in their religion or their religious leaders. And this is a problem. Matthew said it best:

Matthew 12

43 When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.
44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.
45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.

The short of it is this: Who cares if we’re becoming less religious when the irrationality that made us believe in the first place is still there? That same irrationality will lead us to replace the old fundamentalism with a new one.

I’ve written a few posts, not just explaining why people believe what they do, but what people might believe in the future; a future where Christianity (in the West) is a minority belief.

Removing The Unclean Spirit of Religion: Communities built around pseudoscience and woo will probably fill the void left by religion

Nature or Nature’s God: Any new “religion” will have both its nuanced version and its lowest common denominator version floating concurrently in the wider memespace; in the battle of ideas, the most popular ideas are optimized for virulence… not for truth

“If I Think Really, Really Hard, I Can Get The Right Answer”: The average person’s brain is optimized for making friends and influencing people. Not figuring out what’s true. Thinking you can figure out what’s true without first getting the proper tools for figuring out what’s true is folly; thinking that you already have those tools is worse. You have to not only constantly use the tools, but be wary of using the tools improperly… like to support positions you initially arrived at for social reasons. Again, doing that is our default.

Truth vs. Morality; Rationality vs. Intuition: There will always be scientific truths that are made as a burnt offering on the altar of an ethical theory. Most moral or ethical theories have some facet of anti-epistemology by dint of tribalistic human nature. This tribalism usually manifests and calls their anti-epistemology Other Ways Of KnowingTM

Take all of these together, and what will most likely fill the void left by organized religion in the minds of Millennials and beyond will be something that is primarily an ethical theory. It will be good at building communities around itself and will be optimized for spreading, not optimized for truth.

The thing that will make it the new fundamentalism, just like the old fundamentalism, will be the tendency to demonize any scientific findings that might be weaponizable and used against the primary aims of the ethical theory. This will be especially true for any science that makes humanity seem no better or worse than other animals; these ethical theories that assume that we are outside of and beyond our animal cousins are always threatened by this science. If you can predict someone’s response to a scientific question using their ethics, then you are probably dealing with a nascent fundamentalist.

As I wrote before, a group that organizes on the premise of some social or moral cause (like religion), and is also defending “the truth”, will inevitably lead to terrible behavior akin to those horror stories that atheists like to blame on religion.

I have a feeling that this sort of thing will continue indefinitely: Old fundamentalisms replaced with their newer incarnations. The best we can do, as I wrote in Nature or Nature’s God, is to try to take advantage of our overwhelming need for tribalism and redirect it towards goals that both benefit humanity and don’t shy away from uncomfortable truths.

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Posted by on June 12, 2018 in cognitive science, religion

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