Greg 00:00 Hello everyone, and welcome to what I guess we could say at the start is just a conversation about religion prompted by, um, Richard Dawkins’ interview with, uh, Joe Rogan. I’m here with—my name is Greg Watkins. I teach in a humanities program at Stanford University. I’ve been doing that for a while, so I work with, uh, young people, uh, studying philosophy, religion, literature. Um, and I’m here with my daughter Erica.
Erica 00:31 Hello.
Greg 00:32 Um, do you want to say a little bit about who you are and what you’re up to?
Erica 00:38 Um, I have been traveling the world for a few years after dropping out of college and exploring alternative lifestyle choices.
Greg 00:51 Right? Yup. Um, and we, part of the backstory—so I’m gonna do a little bit of backstory because I’m hoping this fits into some other projects and becomes not just a one off thing, which I’ll say more about, but, um—one of those, uh, one of the things in the background is that you and I have actually recorded conversations before called “father-daughter philosophy talk” when you were… 10?
Greg 01:16 Uh, so we would try having conversations, uh, well which I thought were, were fun and productive about basic philosophical ideas. So one thing is a father-daughter getting back together to talk, uh, have more such conversations. Um, the other background thing is I have, as Erica knows, been working on a podcast series called A Shareable World, uh, with a, a guy named big Mike. Um, and that podcast series is introducing the history, theory and practice of democratic socialism. But I think the overarching idea of, of a shareable world, of finding our way into a future, uh, where the people of the world can, can share this world, uh, one way or another, that this conversation about religion is actually—fits under that umbrella too. So, uh, I think how we understand religion and, uh, how it works in the world is super important to figuring out how we all we all get along.
Greg 02:21 Um, and then we also, Erica, you and I have been talking about, um, um, this idea that springs up partly from your interest in veganism and partly my interest in Joe Rogan’s podcasts. So just say first that I’m a great admirer of, of, of that podcast and what Joe has done for cultural discourse, really. Um, and if, if nothing else, just his, uh, open mind to general inquiry. Uh, his willingness to talk to any guest and in a long conversation format is just hugely important. But, um, in our conversations about veganism, um, I started thinking about kind of what I call, well, what would I call it? Just categories like—categories of thoughts. Cause I do this in my teaching as well, that and kind of had this preliminary idea that sometimes we’re talking about facts of the world. Sometimes we’re talking about our beliefs and sometimes we’re talking about value.
Greg 03:30 And then I started listening with that ear to Joe Rogan podcasts. Um, and noticed that, that there’s a slippage often between those three different things that confuses conversations. Um, I’m talking a lot. Do you want to add anything to that? No, we’re okay? Okay. Um, so there’s this other project of—could there be some kind of supplement to a Joe Rogan conversation where somebody like me and in conversation with somebody like you, walk through a conversation they had about a tricky topic and tried to, um, point out where, where, and when, what kind of thinking is happening and how one might make decisions about their own facts, values and beliefs, and about whatever issue is being discussed. Um, so when it comes to veganism, we’ve had these conversations where we’ve tried to sort out what is a factual claim related to the vegan diet, what is belief, what is value, et cetera.
Greg 04:31 And then, um, uh, as I was telling Erica yesterday, uh, Joe Rogan has this podcast called Fight Companion where he gets together with buddies and they just, they just walk—they just talk while they’re watching a UFC fight. And so have this idea that, uh, we could call this a Thought Companion where we, where we, um, talk where I have a conversation about what came up in a particular podcast. So in this case, Richard Dawkins, uh, he’s a kind of famous, uh, figure for his promotion of atheism, a certain attitude towards religion. He’s an evolutionary biologist. I really honestly actually haven’t read much that he’s written, but I, I kind of feel like I know the position he takes. Um, and so suddenly there was this opportunity, instance—I study religion. My, my PhD is in religious studies. I just became particularly impassioned about everything I think he’s getting wrong or missing about how we think about religion. So, so here we are. That’s I think the introductory, the prelude.
Erica 05:43 Okay.
Greg 05:44 Okay. Um, so we have—so I know you listened to the podcast, um, separately from me, we haven’t really talked about it. Um, and so I did want to ask just if you came away with general impressions of that guy or what that conversation was leading you to think about.
Erica 06:08 Um, I didn’t, I I think growing up with you, I am similar to you in the fact of being open to different ideas or open to thinking about things. And I actually didn’t think it was a very deeply moving, thought-wise, podcast. Um, just because Richard Dawkins is so set in his thinking. Right … yeah. So I, I wouldn’t say anything stood out to me, but I definitely have thoughts about particular…
Greg 06:44 Well, and would you say, I’m not looking for anything in particular, but like when you say set in his thinking, like what, what would you—
Erica 06:50 Um, just when he said things like, “well, of course there’s not a light after death,” or… um, and he would say, “wouldn’t you think that?” to Joe Rogan, like stating things that he thought were obvious that might not be to other people. Yeah.
Greg 07:11 Yeah, absolutely. You know, one of the things I’ve come to think in general about problems our culture faces and just like, what does it mean to have an open mind, that there’s a value one can cultivate of just kind of intellectual humility, which I think Joe Rogan has a lot of. Um, just outright calling himself dumb a lot, like to speak, you know, just having a, you know, just saying like, I have stuff to learn and you’re, you’re right. I think if nothing, Richard Dawkins views his side, he’s kind of, seems kind of set in his ways. So he’s, and he’s out to… And so one thing you can call that as a kind of dogmatism or ideological position. And so, so I think we’re, yeah, I think we’re looking for the richer conversation, uh, and push back a little bit against Dawkins. Um, okay well—and, and so then just to say how, uh, what, what I’m after in this conversation is to present to you and you can, um, uh, you know, help me along the way and tell me what you think. But I, I—there are certain kinds of views of religion that I want to get across. Um, and I think they’re missing from Dawkins worldview, and I think they complicate his view in the right ways. And so, um, we’re just gonna kind of walk through those and then try to make reference to, to the Dawkins conversation along the way.
Greg 08:41 And it’s a lot, I’m a little worried about getting, uh, how, uh, if we’re going to have enough time for everything that I think it’d be fun to cover. But, um, one place I wanted to start is what I call some problems with Dawkins kind of on, on his own terms. Um, and so, uh, you know, this is kind of criticism of Dawkins just the way he thinks in the conversation, versus what I, what I’m kind of most excited about, which is a kind of more positive presentation of what religion is up to. Um, and, and I do think he’s, he’s a—he can be a bad example of not being good at sorting out fact, value, and belief; that he, um, and in some ways there’s a kind of nutshell version of what I think he’s up to. And what’s wrong with it actually is he likes to pick fights with religious worldviews that make claims to facts about the world.
Greg 09:40 So, one example of this, easy example is, how old is the world? So the Bible, for example, could say it is, you know, 6,000 years old or whatever. Science says, no, no, it’s, uh, that’s just flat wrong. Um, here’s how we should think about the age of the world. Here’s how we would come to, to figure it out. Um, and, and then he, he, he’s making the mistake of taking that factual dispute, which we’ll talk more about, and translating it to the belief and value sphere. Um, so what does that—if Christians or Jews or whoever takes the Bible as sacred are mistaken about the age of the world then they’re therefore mistaken about, about the whole thing. Um, and then he also lays over this kind of fight about, about fact, um, his own values, uh, about how one should think about the world.
Greg 10:46 And that’s where I think we get into confusions about what science can and cannot say about how we live our lives. Uh, but he’s conflating a certain, what I’ll call a scientistic worldview. So we have the scientific method, but we also have a way of looking at the world that does involve belief and value, that kind of, um, looks at science, uh, as kind of the ultimate arbiter of how we should think about the world. So he, um, he has his own values that he slides in there. And so I’m hoping to sort some of those out. Um, and then I think he also, and this came up in the conversation, he, he’s a reductionist. Uh, and at one point Joe says, you know, he’s like ‘reductionism!’ and, and Dawkins says, ‘yup, nothing wrong with’—[to Erica] do you remember that? Yeah. Um, and so, and indeed, uh, one has to evaluate reductionism has to see that it’s happening and then has to decide if you reduce—so what reductionism is, is some phenomenon and saying it is nothing but this other thing. So you reduce the vast complexity of religion and you say, well, it’s nothing but a story to help us explain natural phenomena or nothing but something to make us feel better about death or, um, alright… we’re doing okay with you, so far? Another thing he does that drives me a little nuts is he takes extreme examples to be representative of religion. You’re nodding your head. Do you remember any of those?
Erica 12:35 Um, well they did talk a little bit about like Mormonism or like I, I didn’t know one of the religions he was talking about, but it was like a train, train cult?
Greg 12:46 Oh, cargo cult, right, which we, yeah, may not get into, but those are, those are fascinating. Uh, right.
Erica 12:51 But just extreme levels of religion that…
Greg 12:57 Yup, no, exactly. So he’s taking, um, Mormonism, which has its own… and they talked a little bit about where the plates came from and kind of the factual stuff behind that, um, ignoring what else religion might be doing. Um, and actually by the way, I want to make sure I say—I’m a great lover of science and I think this culture needs to be more scientific, uh, and needs to, um, uh, come to terms with what science tells us about what’s going on around us. Um, so it’s not to criticize science. This is where we’re out to talk about the limits of science. But, so in taking these extreme examples, there also was the Westboro Baptist Church woman. Um, and then he also talked about the killing of gay people in certain Islamic countries, which he slid right over to say, must be a value of these religions. Um, so that struck you as strange on the face of it.
Erica 14:00 Well, I mean, a bit crazy. I mean, you can’t, you can’t, I guess—be reductionist about it and say that the extreme ways of thinking shape the average way of living in religious alignment
Greg 14:17 Yeah. So they’re, they’re extreme in the sense they might be outliers. And for me it’s also, they’re extreme in the sense that there actually may be an even richer way to know what religions doing, um, that they are outside of actually. Um, so, uh, so that’s again, just kind of a point about, uh, Dawkins himself. And then, and we touched on this a little bit. Um, there’s what I call scientism. A lot of people, it’s not my term, but, um, scientism is when you take, uh, the scientific worldview, which I, I like to think of as more of a method of figuring out something about the physical universe in a testable, repeatable way. And then moving that over to a worldview that that tells you in advance what is possible and not possible, what is valuable and not valuable, which in a way is against science, cause science should have an open mind about those things.
Greg 15:19 Um, I don’t want to keep quizzing you, but to you, do you remember any examples of that kind of thing? So if, do you remember what he, anything about what he said about homeopathy?
Erica 15:29 He, he said that, um, it just can’t be true. If it was true then they would win the Nobel Prize in Physics or something.
Greg 15:41 Right. So it’s a, it’s a very curious statement for a scientist to say it can’t be true. Um, at the same time that as a scientist, you should be open to the possibility of it being true. So for those who don’t understand the basics of homeopathy, and this is his complaint, uh, and it’s, it’s truly a weird thing that homeopathy is claiming—that by taking an increasingly small amount, diluting over and over again a remedy, you dilute it so much that the remedy you’re taking may not have a single molecule of the actual thing.
Greg 16:23 It may be all water. So that indeed goes against our understanding of, of the physical world and how, you know, whether you need a molecule or not, et cetera. So it’s a very confusing thing, but it’s also this thing that has had this long history and it’s a kind of practice and it has been—there are some scientific studies which show that it might be having an effect and we’d have to get into the placebo business too, which we’ll come back to later. But if you were open-minded as a scientist, you’d want to study it and you’d also be open to the possibility of your understanding of the rules of the universe being rewritten because that’s what happens in science all the time. And I didn’t have a chance to go look at this—and so I’m only saying it in passing as an example, but there was a physics study recently—past three years, maybe—very, very, you know, um, uh, done rigorously by an actual physicist that showed that water held a kind of memory of what was, what was with it, uh, recently.
Greg 17:35 So if, if Dawkins wants to grant the Nobel Prize for that, then maybe that’ll happen. But the point is, um, there may be some actual evidence from physical science that water has some kind of special property of being able to hold this kind of structural memory of something that was, uh, that was, uh, diluted in it. Um, and then I think he’s also scientistic, uh, and or maybe just a bad scientist when it came to psychedelics. So do you remember what Dawkins’ position was about psychedelics?
Erica 18:10 He just said he wouldn’t do it. Um, because he had recommendation from somebody who had before that a bad trip is not worth anything else that you could encounter. Um, and just that he might do it on his deathbed once, right. But hasn’t decided. Yeah.
Greg 18:24 And Joe asks a lot of great questions about that. And Joe, Joe is of course, people know him as a psychonaut. So he’s, he’s been willing to enter that territory and I think, I think it will come back to it. I hope, um, psychedelics, uh, have something to say about, um, this issue of religion. But it also just struck me as: here’s a guy who says he’s a scientist. He says he has a deep interest in consciousness. And while it’s true that, um, psychedelics can lead to bad trips and there, there are a lot of things to consider and they should be done right and so on and so forth—It’s just, it strikes me as odd and so I’m being critical of, of Dawkins himself since we’re still in that part of the show, for not having more of an open mind about that.
Erica 19:24 Well, it also struck me as a little bit of something like religious people might encounter too, is this fear of something horrible and therefore acting throughout their lives in, in a way that might avoid that. Like, for example, hell and living and… for me it felt like that that was quite a religious position to take. ‘I won’t be doing it because of the, the fear of what my own consciousness might go through rather than like my body or my…’
Greg 19:35 And I might even add a, a perhaps, um, subconscious fear that it would, it would actually challenge in a deep way his own understanding of reality. Um, okay. We’ll hopefully come back to that. Um, and then the last thing, and this is, this is maybe, this is more just me being interested myself in the history of ideas and the flow of ideas, especially in the West and, teaching in this class where thoughts change over time. He talked a little bit about thoughts changing over time. Do you remember that part? This maybe jumps out at me because he was talking about how values change.
Greg 20:36 So he, he, he was talking about, he was trying to make a claim about religion becoming less popular and about values. He said, you know, a hundred years ago the values were different. And he talked about Lincoln, Huxley, I can’t remember who else, but how some of their views, if they were the Progressives, their views would be different now. Um, and he just has this really weak explanation for that. He says ‘it’s something in the air.’ He talked about conversation and parliaments and, and I, I just, you know, since this is more my expertise, you know, if I were to talk about science—he would probably find—or evolutionary biology he’d probably find me laughable. But when he’s talking about the history of ideas, these really underestimating what the role of religion is in those, and he has no, uh, theory himself about why and how things change. Right? Um, and I think that is part of the bigger story here about religion.
Greg 21:30 All right, we’re gonna head into what now I call the positive project where we’re going to talk about different ways of looking at religion that I think he’s overlooking. So the first point, and this is one I believe deeply in, comes from things I’ve studied, which we’ll talk about, is that religion is a fundamentally human thing. And I thought Joe was great at continuing to bring that up. Um, and just saying along the way, but doesn’t this seem to be what human beings do and, and what is it and, and why, why do we act this way? Um, and Dawkins, you know, I think he has maybe has some evolutionary biological ways of thinking about that. Um, but they’re not very rich, very deep. And there’s a lot for people who study religion seriously.
Greg 22:30 There’s a lot of ways to think about it that, um, Dawkins isn’t bringing to the table. And Joe again, has the good sense to ask about, but doesn’t necessarily have his own ideas about that either. Um, one, one I want to mention one thinker, uh, in particular, uh, psychologist, social scientist, American from the turn of the 19th or the 20th century. William James is his name. You ever heard that name? Um, he was at Harvard. He was a part of this new science of psychology. Um, and he wrote a very big, big book called The Varieties of Religious Experience, whereas a scientist, so not as a, not as believer, he’s not, he’s approaching this scientifically. And that’s another thing I think Dawkins doesn’t get is that, in the human realm and the realm of culture, his brand of science doesn’t work as well. That if you’re going to, if you’re going to look at what humans do, um, there’s a lot of, of kind of scientific thinking that can happen that Dawkins isn’t necessarily prepared to do.
Greg 23:41 So William James was one of these people and he did, it’s hundreds. It’s maybe 500 pages long. He does all these case studies, looks at people. Um, he talks about conversion a lot. How does somebody go from being an alcoholic to not being an alcoholic, from being a good person, to being a gambler. Um, how do we change, uh, and, and, and what, what does it tell us? And, and, and a lot of the examples of change are, haven’t involved religion. Um, and actually, so that’s a little introduction of William James. But the main point I wanna make here is that the subtitle of this book is A Study in Human Nature. Uh, and William James from his own study of religion, uh, says at one point, um, I couldn’t find the quote, but it is, I’m pretty sure it’s as direct as this. He says, ‘you cannot understand what it is to be human if you don’t understand religion.’ It’s just—they are inextricable from William James’ point of view. Um, that’s clearly not Dawkins’ view. So there’s something, something to sort out there. All right, any questions about that? That’s about that.
Greg 24:58 Um, so the first, so, so there’s a point about religion and being human. It’s a very general point, but we have a lot of contents to put in there. Like we don’t know what that is yet. And in fact Dawkins himself in a way might say, well, yeah, sure, for example, the tribalism.
Erica 25:14 I was going to say, well, I think this is, this goes into the facts, values, beliefs, um, way of sorting things out. Because I think we have a disagreement culturally about what religion means. And I, I can’t define it. Um, exactly. And maybe you can, but I know I have a mom who’s kind of anti-religion, but I would say she’s kind of a religious person, the way she goes about life. Um, so he might say, oh, well religion is this, but tribalism is another thing. Or, um, creating stories about life is a separate thing. Um, but for other people maybe that is one in the same. Right. Um, so that, that just kind of lays out why people might not agree on things when they’re actually thinking of the same, right? They’re just having different definitions for what, what a word means. Yeah.
Greg 26:12 Yeah. And that, and that’s, so that’s super important. I think as Joe knows too, and all his many conversations that how we define words is just crucial. It’s like, are we talking at cross purposes or not? And again, just to reiterate, I think Dawkins, when Dawkins says religion, he means claims about the factual nature of the universe, an example of how old is something. For example, how old is the earth? So anything’s all the other stuff religion does is just built on top of that. And that’s part of what I want to overturn—
Erica 26:44 Or is separate from the religious part because to me it seemed like he saw the need for a tribal way of looking at things or the desire to create stories about our life. And he sees that as a valid way to be human. Right. And that’s how it came across to me. But not being religious about it, which seemed contradictory to me because, to me those are similar things.
Greg 27:09 Yeah. Okay, good. That’s, yeah. So that’s something we’ll hopefully sort out a little bit more, but, um, I can’t let this pass without asking you. In what way do you think mom is religious?
Erica 27:26 Um, she has very, she has very, I can’t think of how to say this cause I know she’ll probably listen one day. Um, I’m trying to think of synonyms for religious. Um, I’m assuming we’re going to edit some of this.
Greg 27:51 Probably not. We should have to struggle for words sometimes. And I’m wondering if what we talk about later will actually echo some of what you say and that’s why I’m interested to, I’d like to force you to try to give it some language.
Erica 28:05 She has beliefs that even if you were to give her other evidence suggesting that those beliefs are not true, they wouldn’t shape, shift her way of thinking of those beliefs. To me that’s kind of a religious thing, thing to do is like when you have—if nothing can prove it wrong, then to me it’s kind of, it’s a belief. Right. Um, but, but she also has like habits and ritual, um, in her own way, like, right. Um, yeah. I don’t know. I’m trying to think of other ways that she’s religious, but to me she’s deeply religious about her life
Greg 28:49 As we talk, if that, if it’s, if it occurs to you, ‘Oh yeah. That’s part of what I was thinking with respect to mom,’ go ahead and bring that back. Cause you’re right. She is, she is kind of, um, well without talking about the religious part, she is in a sense of Dawkins’ atheists that she, I think her, one of her beefs against religion is that it will make claims about fact and then try to derive value from them. And she just thinks that’s misguided somehow.
Erica 29:15 Well, I was hoping she wouldn’t listen to the Richard Dawkins thing because I think his argument about, um, that Joe Rogan said was a home run when he said ‘everybody else is atheist to just, not to one or, you know, I’m just atheist to one more God than you are.’ To her it’s like, um, I, I think that would make her more atheist.
Greg 29:40 That’d be a home run for her too.
Erica 29:43 Just because I think she thinks like ‘everybody’s crazy, but I’m the only one who’s not.’ Right. I just, yeah, yeah. That sounded very mom to me, when he said that.
Greg 29:55 Right. I actually really hope we come back to that point, although it’s kind of low on my priority list, but I think, let me just say here that I think the things we talk about should put that home run into a new perspective. So if you remember it, bring it up a little bit later. I can say more why, so okay. Let’s turn to, I think a hugely impactful thinker. It cleared up a lot for me in terms of how to think about these things I had. I personally, I’ve just always been fascinated and never—I mean, my personal story, I did have a kind of Christian conversion when I was maybe 12, um, but that didn’t last long and I, but I’ve been, I’m fascinated by religion ever since.
Greg 30:41 I mean, I got a PhD in it, so it was kind of a mystery there of why, what attracts me if I’m not myself religious and adherent to any particular religion. So this guy’s name was Schleiermacher. Um, so he was a German, um, of the early 19th century. So he’s in Berlin. Uh, he’s a Christian. Uh, he was what’s known as a Pietist, which is a very kind of feeling, very intense-oriented Christianity, a lot of prayer, a lot of meditation, a lot of, um, singing. Probably, I actually don’t know a ton about the Pietists, but you know, that word piety is about an attitude. Do you know that word?
Erica 31:26 I’ve heard it used before, but I wouldn’t trust myself to define it for you.
Greg 31:35 So it’s like, uh, you know, piety is just showing a lot of respect towards something and the sanctity of it and it’s, so it’s kind of an emotional thing which will play into what I’m about to say. But that’s his background. And he’s a pastor. Um, he works in a hospital, he gives sermons, is super Christian, um, but also super smart and super interested in culture in general. So he was, this was one of those places in Europe where they had this, these things called salons where, you know, people would get together and talk about ideas and art and religion. So we had very good friends who are poets, well known, romantic poets that we still, people still read today, very good, uh, friends with philosophers. Um, who themselves were anti-Christian, had become anti-Christian, and there was a lot of problems with the church. And it was an exciting time, uh, in, in terms of the change of culture. It was a scientific revolution. Revolution in philosophy, art was not, was becoming not so Christian anymore, not so religious. Um, and they would give Schleiermacher who they adored and was a great conversation partner.
Greg 32:44 They would just give him a hard time about, you know, you gotta drop this Christian stuff. So they push him to write the series of essays called On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers. So ‘speeches’ just means he wrote little chapters and the ‘cultured despisers’ are these philosophers, scientists and, and poets. Um, and so he basically says to them, ‘you give me a hard time about my Christianity and you are missing something crucial,’ which is the, ‘you are missing what I Schleiermacher think is the most important piece of being a Christian or being religious.’ He just, he talks generally about religion even though he’s Christian himself and he, well, so I’ll tell you that he says ‘it’s, it’s really about, it’s really about feeling,’ and this comes back to that piety thing in his own kind of Christian upbringing, but I think is crucially important for thinking about what religious people are, are interested in when they’re religious.
Greg 33:50 So it kind of shifts the conversation to this feeling level of being human. And he’s, and I’ll tell you more—it’s a specific kind of feeling he has in mind. But he actually does something very helpful, especially as it relates to Dawkins and explaining this to these other people. He says to them specifically, ‘look, you think religion is about metaphysics.’ And now metaphysics is his word for the factual description of the world. Like what is the makeup of the universe? Um, and in a very progressive way for Schleiermacher’s time, he says, ‘religion is not about metaphysics, not about science, not about factual claims.’ Even though that happens a lot in religion. Like we—our example is, how old is the earth? And, and Schleiermacher says specifically religion shouldn’t be in competition with science about those kinds of questions. Um, so he concedes the whole, to me, everything Dawkins is standing on.
Greg 34:55 So by concede, I mean he says, ‘yep, you, you tell us how old the earth is. Don’t think you’ve gotten close to what religion is by taking that away,’ and we’re going to talk a little bit more about things is a very complicated story about why those metaphysical things are part of religion. But at the moment he’s trying to distinguish this feeling business. And then he also says, ‘and it’s not about morals,’ which is a striking radical claim even today. Right. And a lot of people would say religion is about, I think this came up a little bit in the yeah. Okay. Yeah. That religion is where we get our moral values. And um, yeah I guess they talked about whether you can have them without religion.
Erica 35:34 Yeah, cause me and Emily, my sister talked about that. Yeah. Just because she said, ‘Oh well that’s crazy to me when people say that.’ But for me, cause I lived in Missouri, I heard that a lot. Well where do you get your belief system from? Where, how do you decide what’s right and wrong? It wasn’t shocking to me that that was a perspective, but yeah.
Greg 35:46 Yeah. Yup. Totally. So, and again, of course, morality is a deep part of actual religious practice. But here Schleiermacher’s saying ‘the essence of religion is not the metaphysical stuff, not the moral stuff. Put those two things aside. It’s about feeling,’ and he uses the word also, intuition, intuition and feeling. Um, and he says it’s a particular kind of feeling. Um, so I’m gonna read a little quotation, uh, well in my, in my words, he says it’s about he, he has this phrase, ‘intuition of the infinite.’ Hmm. So he thinks any—and, by the way, he says this is part of being human.
Greg 36:46 So he’s, he’s like James who comes, you know, maybe a hundred years later in America is, so here he is in Germany at the start of the 1800s. And he part of his, this big shift, which is part of what’s in the air, that, that, that Dawkins doesn’t really, uh, um, have more to say about is this idea that we should think about religion, not from the perspective of here’s a, here’s a Christian Bible telling you how to live. But he comes at it from the human side and says, here’s this human need. Here are these religions that fulfill it. So, yeah, go ahead.
Erica 37:24 Well, I’m just wondering, that makes me think that that would serve Richard Dawkins’ perspective about it, because it is a human desire. Therefore, that means that it’s actually not religion that’s doing that. It’s a human thing that’s doing it. Okay, great.
Greg 37:45 And so you could, you could be reductionist with respect to feelings. So you say, ‘Oh, all that religious stuff, it’s really just this human feeling thing and therefore, um, you know, all that other stuff doesn’t’—Is that what you mean?
Erica 38:02 Like if it’s a human thing. I don’t need religion to feel that. Right. Therefore, religion is, I don’t need it.
Greg 38:11 Okay, good. So hold onto that thought. We’re going to talk more about that. Um, so let me just read this. I have, I think three quotations. The first one is about the point about it being human. And so here, here he is, this German guy in the early 1800s. He says, “I wish to lead you, my poet, philosopher, scientist friends to the innermost depths from which religion first addresses the mind. I wish to show you from what capacity of humanity religion proceeds and how it belongs to what is for you, the highest and dearest.”
Greg 38:46 So he’s saying two things that—he’s saying, deep human capacity that addresses the mind and he’s also making this surprising claim. And this is mostly to the poets I think, emphasize the poets more here. He’s saying this is something you yourself care deeply about. Um, and so to come back to the question you just raised, he is, at least at this point of the argument, he’s saying, dear poet friends. That thing you get excited about in poetry is happening in religion as well. Um, okay. And so then the next quotation maybe, I’ll just read it and we’ll see what it adds. But it’s, this is a little bit about, um, the metaphysics and the morals. So he also, if we think about human capacity, we have the capacity to think, we have the capacity to act and we have the capacity to feel.
Greg 39:39 So thinking goes with metaphysics. That’s what Dawkins loves to do, is think about the world. Acting goes with morality. And he’s trying to etch out this space—that’s not the whole conversation. Human beings feel as well. So he says, “religion’s essence is neither thinking or acting, but intuition and feeling; it wishes to intuit the universe, it wishes devoutly to overhear the universe’s own manifestations and actions, longs to be grasped and filled by the universe’s immediate influences and childlike passivity.” So to come back to what you were saying before about Dawkins maybe liking this emphasis on human feeling, Schleiermacher’s adding to feeling cause we, I mean we all feel like that, there’s nothing surprising about pointing out feeling, but he’s saying religion is about a particular feeling about the universe as a whole. About, how do we relate to everything? And this could derail us a little bit, but what—one way of thinking about what human beings do as meaning-creators, as, as having language and culture is that we are aware of the whole as a whole.
Greg 40:58 Like I would make the arguments, other animals don’t have that awareness.
Erica 41:01 I’m not sure I would agree.
Greg 41:04 So well and so right. So we could get, we could go into a discussion of that, but it’s certainly true that you just have to reflect that we think about the whole, like the concept of the universe. And so Schleiermacher is saying there’s a feeling component to that. There’s an intuition component to that, that we, that we’re—there’s some kind of exchange. Here’s Dawkins trying to describe the factual nature of the world. But Schleiermacher is saying that’s not the whole story. We’re also looking to be in a feeling relationship to the whole as a whole. Um, and by the way, I think Joe Rogan and I didn’t think it really came up in this podcast, but he’s very, I think he has this sensibility very deeply as I think a lot of people, most people do.
Greg 41:58 Um, uh, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard his, I know you’ve listened to some other podcasts, um, where he talks about the impact of living near the ocean. Have you ever heard him talk about that?
Erica 42:10 It does ring a bell.
Greg 42:14 He thinks it has a kind of tempering effect on people that when you’re near the ocean, you, you experience its vastness, you experience you as a single person on the limited space in this particular time as set up against this vast, ancient, powerful thing—that, Joe Rogan, is a religious sentiment. That at least from Schleiermacher’s point of view is that feeling. Um, so the scientists can be there saying, well, that’s a lot of water and it’s this big and it’s that deep. And um, but that doesn’t touch, uh, the feeling part.
Erica 42:52 Yeah. I’m just trying to think of how like people my age would approach that. They’re not religious. And they deeply believe in science but would be like this middle ground of, um, thinking they’re spiritual like they can… And I think that’s another one of the word distinctions is that they can understand that there’s this, um, feeling of greatness or otherness that they can’t defy about something like the ocean or the wind or like, you know, things that might be considered religious. But nowadays we consider maybe more spiritual or, and I think that’s the word difference. Like I would be interested to know what Richard Dawkins thinks of… just the take it out of the context of rules and…
Greg 42:58 Great, great points. And so you’re already anticipating kind of complications down the road of how do these things all fit together and if, if this is the religious feeling, does it really need to happen in a church? And so those are all important questions, but already our conversation has gotten richer, first of all.
Greg 44:03 Um, but um, shoot, there’s one other thing I wanted to say. Um, oh yeah. Just once we have that as part of the conversation though, that people feel and that people, there is this human capacity, desire to, to intuit the nature of the universe. That is something that’s on offer in religions. That is the part of the attraction. And that’s what we have to recognize as part of what’s going on at church. So if we take the Christian Church example, if you don’t have feeling as part of what’s happening there, than someone like Dawkins, I think someone like Dawkins thinks that what happens at church is somebody gets up and stands up and says the world is this old and this is the reality of God. And it’s just all these factual claims which are against science. But what’s actually happening is some kind of, um, culturally, uh, controlled and ritualized and choreographed way of coming to this feeling.
Erica 45:09 And I, I think that, you know, sparks memories as a kid of me feeling like I was missing out on that, knowing that I had a longing to fit into the universe in some way that was other than myself and scientific. But we didn’t go to church or… other than your explorations of being interested in religion, which is important. But I think even as a kid, I knew that I was jealous or envious of people who did have something like that in their life.
Greg 45:46 Cause yeah, you feel like you’re missing… It’s not, you weren’t so, just to put it in these Dawkins terms. You didn’t feel like you were missing out on the right story about the factual nature of the universe. You felt like you were missing out on some kind of communion with other people. So it was just a social element—
Erica 46:03 Even less than that. Cause I think Dawkins would feel like that was an explanation about tribalism or… because I felt like I had places to fit in, like basketball or… it wasn’t social it was something bigger than that.
Greg 46:23 Yeah. Yeah. Um, okay. Good. So I, I came across as a, I think maybe to wrap up, uh, this Schleiermacher ‘religion is feeling’ part which I, which I think just on its own actually shifts the conversation radically. Um, there’s a great poem by Walt Whitman who is an American, um, poet, uh, you know, Leaves of Grass. Lot of people heard of Walt Whitman, but he’s, he’s something of a mystic himself. Like he, you know, so, and he’s got this poem which I think makes this point precisely called “When I Heard the Learned Astronomer” is the name of the poem. “When I heard the learned astronomer, when the proofs, the figures were ranged in columns before me, when I was shown the charts and diagrams to add, divide and measure them. When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room, how soon unaccountable I became tired and sick till rising and gliding out. I wandered off by myself in the mystical, moist night air and from time to time looked up in perfect silence at the stars.”
Erica 47:43 Hmm. It, to me, I mean, there are many ways that that’s moving, but it just makes me think of leaving college for something. Um, just because it was so like based on fact and education and, and, but to me there was something so much deeper about life and the world, right, that you just, it’s, it’s not enough to be educated. It’s, it feels like I’m lacking as a human if it’s just facts and education.
Greg 48:21 Yeah, exactly. I mean, so I think, and so I think William James and Schleiermacher are trying to bring that to the conversation that the and Walt Whitman, that there’s something impoverishing about the scientific worldview. If that’s the end of the story, if it’s just the facts and columns and graphs, um, we’re missing something crucial. Um, so it’s a perfect, I think, a per kind of perfect, uh, Schleiermacher type poem. It’s, it’s Walt Whitman saying, ‘if you just close stars down to what science can say, you’ve missed out on something crucially important.’ And, and then I kind of question I’d love to ask Dawkins is how do you, how do you square those two even as it relates to truth? So yes. Good. I don’t want to forget this point. Um, why, why, and how would the graph and column version of the stars, the counting, the factual, be truer than the Walt Whitman or anybody’s sentiment looking up at the night sky. Why isn’t that as true about the stars as the so-called factual stuff? Does that make sense?
Erica 49:34 Yeah. And um, I think about that kind of thing a lot. Um, and it makes me think of mom, you said to bring her back up, but I often hear mom say to you, I know you might think that, but my experience is this. Um, and she, she doesn’t see how like quote unquote “religious” people might feel that way. But to her it’s like, I’m experiencing this. So whatever you’re thinking or having facts about this, I know my experience to be true.
Greg 50:09 Yeah. I struggled a lot actually… I’ve, I decided kind of to leave it out. I mean, it’ll come up later. I think, especially when we talk about psychedelics, um, that, you’re right. Exactly right. That, um, what Dawkins misses about this objective description of the universe is that human beings, as these two thinkers are telling us, we’re in relationship with the universe and our experience is as factual… I mean, it happens, right? Now again, I’m sympathetic to Dawkins in the sense that human means also will take their experience and then they’ll do bad science. They’ll say, and I’m going to lay this over the nature of the world and don’t tell me the world’s round or whatever. And so, and this is, but this is part of why we’re having this conversation cause it needs to be a richer than this competition.
Greg 51:02 Claims about factual things and, but the, but, uh, yeah, but I want to emphasize that human experience is a kind of truth, truth terrain. There’s truth to be had in experience.
Erica 51:17 Well, and you mentioned around her, which I feel like I can’t let go. Um, but just, I think it’s an important thing that’s going on in our culture today of, um, which I was going to say about science, was it’s hard to disprove something without proving something else. And so like people’s experiences, it’s hard to disprove somebody’s experience without saying to them, well, actually this is what I proved to, to counter your experience. Yes and no. With the flat earth thing, um, people are having a hard time… they can’t understand the science about a round earth. So they feel like they have to disprove it. And in their disproving experience of this round earth theory, they’re having to come up with a different story about the earth, which kind of gets in the way of their belief in the first place because then they can’t prove their, their belief about it. But I think that’s kind of the mucky waters that science gets into is that it’s hard to disprove something you can’t prove in the first place. Do you kind of get what I’m saying? And then you’re left to tell stories about what you’ve experienced.
Greg 52:40 Yeah, it’s a bit, it’s a little bit related to this scientism piece that, that part of the, what goes wrong I think about and the belief and value column from science is, it tries to limit the stories of what else you can say. It’s, it tries to say the only real things you can say about the world are the things that science can prove through this certain method. But we, we know as human beings that we, that we work with so much other knowledge than, than that. And then people have trouble stitching it all together. Um, how do these things get along? Um, okay. Um, I am going to move now… oh yeah, sorry. I was getting confused by my notes. This is actually, I just actually have the, the subtitle here. I don’t really have any contents, but uh, on my paper, um, I have it in my head. Um, so I’m going to move to another thinker. This guy’s name’s Peter Berger. He’s a sociologist of religion, so he uses 20th century sociological, scientific method to just look at what people are doing when they engage in religious activity.
Greg 53:58 And it’s, it’s, uh, there’s a book called The Sacred Canopy and it’s kind of a, it’s a weird book in the sense that his main thesis is just a claim that human beings have this tendency to do a certain kind of thing when it comes to metaphysics. Um, so again, we’re taking metaphysics to be factual claims about the nature of the universe and to just kind of do it in a nutshell, the core ideas in the title Sacred Canopy. So canopy, um, means in this case, I mean, it’s like, you know, the idea of a canopy, something over the bed, right? So like, uh, we live under this kind of umbrella that covers all of reality. Um, and it’s sacred because, um, we think it’s, um, the truth, kind of the essential truth of the nature of nature of the universe itself. So now I’m speaking very abstractly, but, uh, um, and, and so what he’s, what he wants to point out is that the human, human animal, at least by his study, likes to take their values and make it part of the nature of the universe itself.
Greg 55:15 So we, we take ways of thinking about the world, ways of acting in the world, and like to kind of valorize them. We say, “Oh, and here’s a story about why these values are the only ones, the essential ones, the ones to pay attention to.” So in Christianity and Judaism, if you use the Bible, you know, there’s, there’s this God that creates the world, wants us to be moral. The human being is at the center. Human being learns the value of good and evil. You know, eventually the, the God of that story gives them the Ten Commandments. And so there is this sense that Ten Commandments are not enough on their own. You can’t just say to people, ‘Hey, let’s follow these rules.’ There does seem to be this need to say these rules, these rules are from on high. They’re there in the nature of things. There have been handed to us by God.
Greg 56:16 Is this making sense? Um, and this is where metaphysics comes back into the story because if you’re trying to valorize your way of living and you want to root it in the nature of the universe, you’re going to tell stories about the nature of the universe. Um, so kind of like a little tiny example of this as if like, if you take a mythical culture, a polytheistic culture, an animisticc culture that like reveres a mountain as a kind of God or talks about a mountain as a God, right? So it’s, they’re not trying to, it’s not like a science maneuver. They’re not saying this is the nature, physical nature of the mountain. They’re using the power of the mountain. And those stories they organize around it to say, these values we live by are embedded in the reality around us. Right? Um, and so that’s crucially important, I think, for understanding why someone like Dawkins who doesn’t care about or who wants to refute those stories cause they seem to compete with the science story, um, is not as missing the role they play. Um, and so this is not to say it’s not complicated and difficult how you sort these things out, but we need to know that about human beings, that human beings want to embed their values. Um, I think Dawkins himself does this in a kind of classical, modern, uh, Western way. I mean, did you get a sense from the conversation of deep values, he has a, besides science, like human values, like how we should treat each other?
Erica 58:00 Mmm.
Greg 58:01 Any hints about how we should treat each other?
Erica 58:06 You can point that out.
Greg 58:08 No, no. Think about it. Like when he criticizes this Islamic country that had the, that killed gay people. What is he saying? Value?
Erica 58:18 Well, I mean not to kill. Yeah.
Greg 58:22 Where do you think that comes from for him? If we had to guess, like I’d love if I’d love it if he were asked. Um, yeah.
Erica 58:29 Well, I mean he kind of did mention, um, can’t remember the word he used, but just something about, um, it was something along the lines of indoctrinating kids with… and I know that was from a religious standpoint, but to me, if I were to, to respond to a Dawkins, it would be the, the values I was taught from when I was a kid… rather than something intrinsic or deep within the human.
Greg 58:58 Well that’s, but that’s what I’d love to ask him about because certainly he thinks certainly he would say, yes, I’ve learned these values from my culture. Yeah. What I think if you pressed him a little bit and so, but, and, and to kind of just expand out about human rights in general. So there is this idea that comes to be in a certain culture we’re in it, we’re human rights is a thing to be valued. Yeah. If you ask people where, where, where those values come from or how deep they are, I think people’s inclination is to say they are ‘objectively true’ values, that they’re not actually created by us for a certain time. It is a fact of the universe that people are equal. It is in the nature of things that we should treat each other the same. That is to me a not a scientific claim at all. It is … Dawkins is making a value claim that people should be treated such and such and shouldn’t be treated in this way and if you pressed him for what’s the valorization, where does that come from?
Greg 01:00:10 He would say we’ve learned that that’s the nature of things. It’s out—those values are out there, which as a scientist, I think he, he can’t say. He’s moved, he’s moved from fact arguments with religion to his own values, to judge religion, but those values he takes to be in the nature of things just as other religious people do. Does that make sense?
Erica 01:00:37 Well, it makes sense, but I think for some reason my thinking is different than you about that. Just because, and I’ve noticed this with veganism also, is that people like to explain the way they’re already living and then shape their values around those things. And to me, what he would probably say about that is, well actually as a scientist, you know, it doesn’t matter. I don’t think we are intrinsically… and maybe I agree with this too, I’m not sure, but, um, there’s not actually something, objectively, or there’s not actually something wrong with killing… Um, there’s just something wrong with killing without reason that I agree with. So maybe he would say the indoctrination was that, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t kill somebody just because they’re, they have different sexual preferences than you.’ That would be a taught value. But it’s okay to kill if it’s fighting for America or something, which is something people… believe in America. Yeah. So there’s actually, to me, there’s not something wrong with killing, just from a human standpoint. It’s killing without reason that I agree with.
Greg 01:01:57 No, that was well, well said. Uh, and so that, and then that gets into like just ethical perspectives and argumentation. The point I want to make about Dawkins is I, and not everybody agrees with this point, but, um, and even some, some famous, kind of famous in the culture atheists would argue with what I’m about to say, but my point about Dawkins is the should, so if you use the word should… so should, can only be valid, cannot be validated scientifically. So I think this is part of what you’re saying. So if somebody is killed for a particular reason that we find objectionable, you should not do that. Yeah, we have a… science can’t sort that out. So here’s a culture that says this person should be killed. Here we are saying that person should not be killed or with veganism this animal should or should not be killed. The should comes from somewhere else. We can use a lot of … we, we have to be careful as you were saying about using facts to explain our should, we have to be careful about those boundaries. But I would love to press Dawkins on his own should like where does that should come from? Um, and I think if you push a little bit, he would start to get into what I’m saying is religious territory, of grounding our values in the nature of the universe.
Greg 01:03:22 He does, he engages in that same activity. He just um, has freed himself from what we normally think of as religion, but he’s being, uh, he’s engaging in the same kind of thing. All right. I think, uh, I think we’re doing okay. Yeah, I think we’re doing okay. Um, cause I think we’re coming to as a, this kind of a catchall, but, um, my last big category, so we have religion as feeling, we’ve talked about experience. Um, we talked about sacred canopy, um, which is our word for this kind of tendency to put value into the nature of things. And then the last thing I want to talk about, which is a phrase that comes from William James is the ‘reality of the unseen’… the reality of the unseen. And I think Dawkins just kind of fails miserably on this front and lacks imagination for what things we should take as real.
Greg 01:04:22 I think part of his scientism is to only take physical things as being real. And I think the question we have to explore is: in what way are immaterial things real? Um, so I have a note here to do it, to say a little bit more about Varieties of Religious Experience, which is the James book. Um, yeah. So I think I should add this. He—James, towards the end of the book, when he steps back and he starts to do some theorizing, he comes up with this very simple definition of religion, but I think a really powerful one. So he puts it this way. The most general definition of religion is ‘the belief that there is an unseen order and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves to the unseen order.’ There’s an unseen order. The good for us is to be in some harmonious relationship or adjusting to that unseen order.
Greg 01:05:32 Does that make sense? On the face of it, it’s a nice little quick umbrella. It’s like all religions do that. All religions are saying: unseen part of the universe, whether that’s gods or experiences or values, or we’ll talk a little bit more about what unseen thing means—and that we have to figure out a relationship to it. Um, does that makes sense as a possible definition of religion?
Erica 01:05:57 Yeah, I think it’s pretty awesome. Yeah.
Greg 01:05:59 So pretty simple, but maybe, maybe powerful and then might help this conversation about religion in general. Um, and he has, so he actually has another way of formulating this. So I think these are helpful as well. Um, he ends up talking about the unseen. He, he actually clarifies it a little bit too. He says he calls it the more, M-O-R-E, that just the view that there’s, there’s something more, something bigger, something extra human.
Greg 01:06:32 So not just unseen order, an invisible thing here or there, but there’s a, there’s, there’s an unseen moreness. It’s bigger than us. And that’s the thing we need to come to some kind of harmonious relationship with. Or as he puts it as simple, again, wonderfully simple phrase, how to be at home in the world, how to be at home in the world, and from the, you know, Dawkins’ strict, cold, scientific, version of being at home. Well it wouldn’t be a home. Right. And then the science version is a house in the world. It’s like how do you—
Erica 01:07:04 He’s afraid of going out his front door.
Greg 01:07:07 [chuckles] Did he say that?
Erica 01:07:09 No, that’s what I’m saying about his mind. In his home in the world.
Greg 01:07:15 And you know, Joe, I do, I do want to point out too, and I think we’ve been skirting around this. There could be more to say, but Joe did have on offer a lot of time, like religion seems to give us a structure, you know, explains things. And I think that’s true. I think it’s a little, it, it, it needs to be, it’s a little deeper than just structure, which is, I guess what we’re saying right now, like a house and some food and a fire is structure, but it’s not a home. What makes the universe a home? And, and religion—and I think for James just being human—means we feel at home when we come to, to some relationship with an unseen more. Um, so that’ll just, those, it’s very abstract in general. But, um, I think that’s where we’re headed with James.
Erica 01:08:07 Um, I was just going to say something that’s on my mind, but I just think it’s kind of funny, but it makes me think about how, I mean, Richard Dawkins talked about it a little bit and I see it in the news all the time, how it says kids, like, you know, younger generations are less and less religious. Um, but there’s this weird thing going, going around in the spiritual world. Um, I’ve seen I’m not from this universe or I’m not from this planet, which just made me think about, um, being at home in the universe, like people thinking I must be from somewhere else, right? If I can’t find a way to fit myself in here.
Greg 01:08:50 Yeah, exactly. And I, and, and so this gets back to the shareable world idea in general. Like, if we’re headed into a future that has all, and, and Dawkins is right, that institutional religion is on the decline. And as you’re talking about with young people, um… but it doesn’t, what these thinkers that we’re talking about are saying is don’t think that religion was the problem or once it’s gone, you know, you have a home and yeah, exactly. So, yeah. Wow. I didn’t know about this trend.
Erica 01:09:21 It’s not a, um, you know, Oh, I, I don’t feel comfortable here. It’s a, I’m literally from a planet this many light years away.
Greg 01:09:37 Yup. Yeah. So it, but it speaks directly to, if you don’t feel at home in the world, you find yourself in, you find one. Right. And, and is it a sign of the crises that we’re facing that, that this is now the trend that people are thinking, well, if this can’t be home, then it’s somewhere else. It’s not even here. Um, yeah. Wow. Which is why it’s so important that we think about these things more carefully than Dawkins does.
Erica 01:10:00 And to me, it sounds like a religion. Like to me, my personal definition of religion, I wouldn’t put into words, but to me that sounds like if, if you’re saying you’re from a different planet and this is what my planet believes in and that’s why I’m from there. Sounds like a religion.
Greg 01:10:17 So belief in an unseen to other people, right? So it’s a, you’re claiming something, a relationship to something nobody else can check by evidence. Uh, and you’re trying to be in some kind of harmonious relationship with that thing so that you, so that you have a home. Yeah. Wow. Um, well, and so just to add this, just like we’ll help what we just said, but the last thing I have for how James thinks about religion is he also has this other definition of religion that it’s there to solve a problem for us. So, um, I mean the way he puts it and, and Joe brings this up to, at a certain point, he mentioned kind of just being existentially needy, that we just as human beings, we are searching, uh, whether it’s for this being at home or whatever. Um, and so to think of that just as a problem, like if you, if, if, if you are completely content with the world, you wouldn’t need, you would need religion.
Greg 01:11:18 But here we all are kind of searching. And so the formulation James comes up with, again, super simple. Is there’s a problem with being human and, and religion, if nothing else offers a solution says to people, we can solve that problem for you. Um, so in religion there is a kind of work that’s being done. And so the phrase that little formulation James comes up with is, if you’re into religion, there’s this kind of story. This is who I was, this is who I became. And the more had something to do with it. This other unseen thing turned me from what I was into what I became. And so there’s, there’s work being done. And so I think we’re gonna do as much as… with this. This is going to be a little kind of, a thin explanation. There could be so much more to be said.
Greg 12:12 But to come back to the kind of subtitle for this section, this is the reality of the unseen: peace. James was what’s in philosophy is called a pragmatist. What that means is, you know, things are out there by the work they do. So what James sees in all these accounts in the book resolve these case studies is story after story of work getting done in the sense that people change. Um, I went from being this kind of person to this kind of person and my participation in this religion with these unseen forces made that transformation. There’s a, um, remind me of a story—so Joe Rogan has this, um, interview with a boxer named Tyson Fury. Does that ring a bell at all? I don’t know if you’ve this one’s kind of fascinating. He’s a British boxer.
Erica 01:13:12 I know the name because his little brother was on Love Island. Bam.
Greg 01:13:16 Perfect. So he’s in the cultural ether. He was at, he was quite accomplished heavyweight. He then goes off the rails. He is an alcoholic. He eats way too much. He kind of, he tells this whole story to Joe because he comes back and he has, he has a big fight. Um, and you know, so the whole world’s watching and Joe’s a huge boxing fan. Um, and so he’s telling the story of having sunk really low and then coming back on this comeback trail and in the story Tyson Fury, so up to 400 pounds alcoholic keeps saying, I’m going to get my act together, never gets his act together. And he tells us very moving story about dropping to his knees one night crying, says, ‘my shirt was soaked with tears. I was praying,’ he says, and he says, ‘I’ve always, I’ve always prayed, but I’ve never cried and I’ve never begged God to help me. And so here I am on my knees weeping, begging God to help me. And this change comes across me.’
Greg 01:14:29 Now I’ve heard Joe reference that story in other podcasts and he makes light of, or forgets, or just doesn’t understand I think, the transformation Fury felt in that moment as something he did not do. Joe Lee and other when I’ve maybe I’ve only heard him reference it once, but he’s, he, you know, he says something like Fury got his act together or he decided he would make a comeback as if he were in control. And it’s very clear if you listen to Fury’s story, the whole point of it is to say I’m not in control. Um, alcoholics anonymous has this—alcoholics anonymous, uh, to the degree that it’s religious and it was shaped by some religious people. It’s all about I cannot be in control anymore. Something else, something unseen, bigger, uh, more needs to change me ‘cause I can’t do it. So to come back to the reality, the unseen, someone like William James would say, it is undeniable.
Greg 01:15:33 Even from a scientific point of view, just descriptively, you cannot get around the fact that what a person is reporting to you that you can’t study with any other instruments. You just must listen to the person’s report. Tyson Fury had the experience of being transformed from the outside by religion that he had some experience with already. He prayed. He probably had some kind of belief in God. So he did the actions, had the right, uh, factual views of the nature of the universe, if you will. But something transformed him. For William James, social scientist, smart guy. You have to let that thing be real. It’s immaterial. It can’t be seen. It can’t be poked at by science the way physical reality is, but it’s just happening all over the place. And James thinks this, you don’t this, I think this part of the, you don’t understand religion.
Greg 01:16:35 Uh, if you’re not, um, understanding what’s going on at a human level and in the, at the human level of experience, you’d get report after report that what happens to me when I’m engaged in religious activity, a person would say is I’m being impacted by the more it’s not, it’s something out there. So I’d love to know a Dawkins would say to something like this, it’s like, does he, does he think… so what I would emphasize with something like Dawkins is it’s having real world effects.
Erica 01:17:10 Well, can, can I be his advocate for a minute. Just because for me transformation even—are, are you saying transformation is when you feel out of control is religious, religious or religion? Like ‘cause when you say transformation in a moment to me, I guess this definition that you just read was saying that it’s the more, it’s the unseen. Yeah.
Erica 01:17:37 But like to me to think about, and I’m just thinking of transformations in my life. Yeah. But just the moment I went, went vegan. What? What is that? But I wouldn’t have said it’s religion. Cause I think a lot of people would listen and think, ‘Oh there’s a lot of transformations in life that we can’t explain or we can’t put a finger on.’ But, but not a lot of people would explain that as religion all the time.
Greg 01:18:06 No, good question. So it’s not, it’s not what’s always happening with transformation. We go through lots of important transformations without it being religious in this sense. So we come, if we come back to the James definitions we were reading through, it’s religious when there is this experience of an unseen more. Has to be part of it.
Erica 01:18:29 I guess what I’m saying is a lot of transformations are of an unseen more, but, but if there’s some that are religious and some that aren’t, that means that it’s not just a religious phenomenon. So to me that makes it non-religious. Like I know that seems backwards from your thinking.
Greg 01:18:50 Yeah. Well, so it’s a great clarifying question. We, it would take a while I think to sort it out, but to emphasize what James is saying, just take it in the religion direction. Um, so let’s not worry now about how much experience it covers, but if you work backwards from that definition to religion itself, what’s happening when Buddhists are prostrating to the Buddha? What’s happening when Christians ask for Jesus to come into their life?
Erica 01:19:19 So you’re saying that religion is facilitating that?
Greg 01:19:25 Yes. Okay. And it’s cultivating and ah, okay. So let’s come back to the, the home run, right? Joe… it’s not a home, it’s a home run. If you are thinking about the factual claim of a certain God being in the universe in a certain way, but if you shift to this experience, which I insist is just as real, is just as important, but that what is—that there’s something being accomplished in each religion.
Greg 01:19:53 There is… so all of those gods, all those theisms are ways of talking about the more that allows you to come into relationship with it, that allows the transformation. So for Tyson Fury on his knees weeping for change, it could have been Zeus or Odin that, uh, Joe mentions. Yeah. And so the point is not the, well, you see what I’m saying? It’s not the, it’s not the, the figure itself, it’s that relational transformational thing, which can be, uh, which all religions are trying to, to cultivate for us. Yeah. And if, and if religions aren’t doing it as part of the point I would, I would make about why this is important in general for culture. If religions aren’t doing it, what’s doing it?
Erica 01:20:45 It’s still an unseen.
Greg 01:20:48 I was thinking, I wouldn’t say this, but I think part of the story of the West and of America is that consumerism is a kind of, um, spending the energy of how can I be in, how can it be a home? I can buy more things that do a certain thing for me or you know, so it’s a very powerful tool and it may be kind of for some listeners gets too quickly away from religion itself.
Greg 01:21:14 But um, but yeah, it’s, I want to push this idea that we need to be careful about what we, how we think about religion. Cause it’s, it might help us think about quite a lot of things. I was going to have, I was going to bring up, if I were going to talk about you in particular, well maybe two things in your life. One, the veganism. I think you are very—[chuckles] don’t worry. You have a very deep and emotional connection to animals. You, you have it as a feeling level for you. It’s, you are not, although, you engage in arguments of fact and value, and just straight up like how can you do that to an animal? I think it comes from a communion you have with nature. You feel in communion with animals. So there’s a feeling.
Greg 01:22:07 So it’s not, um, necessarily the transformational thing we were just talking about. But in terms of, uh, maybe it’s more Schleiermacher like of intuiting the universe, you think there’s a connection being made to the universe through relationship with animals. Um, such a deep experiential feeling thing out of which your values and maybe even metaphysical scientific claims come from. But then more specifically on religion, your little Kali Ma episode with, do you want to tell people, what am I saying it right? Kali Ma?
Erica 01:22:48 Well, I mean she’s a Hindu goddess, right? But—
Greg 01:22:56 Why did she become important for you? What kind of goddess is she and why did you, why do you feel attracted to that?
Erica 01:23:00 She, she’s interested in justice and injustice in a way that’s not always peaceful. And I think she fit an archetype for me that, that I didn’t see growing up. And it, it made me to put it in context of the quotes ‘feel at home in the universe’ to see an archetype that was like me. Yup. Um, and you know, to feel the moment of transformation that I couldn’t describe of knowing that my way of being was correct for me, which, you know, growing up didn’t always feel like—maybe I’m doing it wrong, maybe I’m not the right type of human. Um, so I would say, you know, I would never describe myself as not religious. Um, just because I do think that those transformations to me are religion, like to, to decide that, um, I fit into the universe in a way that I didn’t before is, is religious, but, but yeah, I think obviously religious religion comes in many different forms and I think that’s what’s important about what, what you study and know about.
Greg 01:24:18 Yeah. And so just great. Perfect. Um, and, and so then just, I’m just going to echo what you said and put it in the terms of the things we’ve been talking about. I see your Kali Ma as, so you said archetype. And that’s a super important word for some people who study religion. And but part of, without going into all of that, about where that word comes from, when we say archetype, I think one thing you’re saying is that it’s something out in the world. Um, and so who knows what Dawkins would think of archetypes. He maybe he would think it’s helpful for thinking about consciousness or something. He almost certainly wouldn’t say it’s part of the nature of the universe. He’d say it’s something that the brain, oh man, I want to talk about the brain stuff too. Um, the brain is, uh, produces these whatever. But your experience is the awakening, is awakening. As you put it, you, you felt more at home in the world by thinking that something you yourself experience is in fact part of the nature of reality. So, so Kali Ma becomes an, is an externalization into a goddess of something you feel, but it’s also a validation from the goddess that ‘don’t worry my dear, this is something that’s right to feel. I am that force.’
Erica 01:25:41 Yeah. And, and deeper than, and I know this is what you’re saying, but just to put it in my words, but deeper than just you alone, like there is something ancestral or, um, and I don’t mean ancestry in the way of, related. But, um, yeah, some, something that goes back beyond your creation. Yup. That is deep within.
Greg 01:26:04 Yup. Exactly. And so to come back to that, to the home run business, not to harp on that too much, if you were in a discussion with Dawkins about the importance of Kali Ma, do you some from his scientific, scientistic perspective, he would want to disabuse you of that idea? No, this goddess doesn’t exist. Why not that God, that God, you know, atheism, etc.
Erica 01:26:29 I think what he would say more is that, that you felt like you had a tribe like that.
Greg 01:26:33 Yeah. Okay, sure. Well, he, right. He, he’d have a maybe way of explaining why that worked for you. Yeah. But he would want to deny what you feel to know by experience that it’s something in the universe. And that’s why, uh, well, I mean, I guess that is a kind of explanation of archetype that… you found that within Hinduism and you were, you were in, uh, you were in Bali, so you were surrounded by some Hinduism. There are similar figures in Buddhism and other religions that, that fierce warrior approach to justice, the feminine force, et cetera, et cetera, is the thing that’s important about the God or Goddess. Yeah. And it can get represented different. So that’s what an archetype… Right, exactly. Um, all right. Um, well I do think we should not be too much longer, but let’s see how, so I want to make hopefully, maybe some quick points. I want to jump to the placebo stuff. So, um, did you have any thoughts about, do you understand the placebo effect?
Erica 01:27:40 And it’s funny that there was nothing bigger for him to explain about that. I mean that the whole fascination with the placebo is there’s something greater than our, um, scientific, scientific belief about medicine or healing or, um, uh, physical ability that there’s something other than that that’s happening that can’t be explained right. It’s unseen right now.
Greg 01:28:13 I’d love to push Dawkins a little bit on this point. Cause he, he, he’s so willingly accepts the placebo effect because it’s studied in a scientific way. You can, it is a scientifically established thing. The next question is what does it show us about the world? It shows us that people’s ideas, the immaterial unseen part of human experience, can heal the physical body. It should, it should blow his mind that placebos are possible. He did have that one moment where, um, he said, uh, so he was like, ‘well, I, I quite, I’m quite comfortable with the fact that if somebody doesn’t know they’re getting real medicine, that it, that they get healed and then somebody brought up that there, even if you say, this is a placebo,’ he’s like, ‘I really don’t get that one.’ Um, but I don’t think you should get either one.
Greg 29:12 You shouldn’t… uh, it, there’s something to come to terms with. Um, so science has offered us something through its own method that should confuse someone like Dawkins who is scientistic; thinks that the physical reality, you know, is kind of the whole story. That consciousness is epiphenomenal. So he, I assume he thinks this, that consciousness just comes late in the story of human evolution. It just sits on top of all this physical stuff. And yet what the placebo effect is saying is people’s mental life, their expectation, their attitude can have this profound effect on the body and transform it utterly. It’s, it’s crazy. Um, all right, well we talked about the homeopathic part of that, uh, earlier, which is which, which I think homeopathy is a kind of mixed story about, um, it may not just be placebo, but, but even if it were just placebo, that should be a shocking thing in itself that things can have that power.
Erica 01:30:20 He lets a lot of things go unexplained, right. But isn’t comfortable with, with the religious belief of letting… Letting some things be as they are.
Greg 01:30:30 Yeah. And I, then I have this other note. I had a similar note earlier, so maybe it’s a, um, a thread that won’t make a lot of sense, but I just, if you, if you now just jump over to religion from the placebo effect. Um, and I think if we work James in now I hope this is a clear point, but if, if, and so it’s also a little bit of a push back against Joe and just having structure. And we talked earlier about how structure’s not enough. And so if you think about being at home in the world, being a human being, having to deal with grief, wanting more joy, um, all those more human things, science in Dawkins’ sense and, and our culture has done this can maybe offer us chemical manipulation.
Greg 01:31:18 Like you want to feel better, you want to feel less grief. Here are, here are manipulations of your chemistry, which we know don’t work very well and have their own problems. Or this is the reality of the unseen thing. Again, like can, can this thing we’re calling religion generally where you’re, where you’re cultivated to think certain things about the world to behave, you know, engage in certain ritual activities, ways of thinking, can transform you utterly just the way a placebo does… that it can lead to joy, it can help you with grief. Um, these profoundly human things, um, need to be thought about more and… to understand religion’s power to have those effects. Um, and so for someone like Dawkins to come along and just say, ‘Nope, shouldn’t, don’t do that cause it conflicts with this scientific claim’ or, um, and yeah, and I guess I also do want to say on, on, um, Dawkins side, and this comes back a little bit to—that I’m a fan of science as well.
Greg 01:32:27 Towards the end he talked about, you know, you talked about how this book is kind of meant for kids and he wants it to be a counter to indoctrination, which you brought up earlier. And I, I wholeheartedly agree with that, that that people, we need to be critical thinkers. You know, Schleiermacher was too, he did so… And James, he does in some ways, I think they were being more scientific than Dawkins is being because they’re being open to what’s experience and the world can tell us. And so yes, I’m, I’m against indoctrination. I mean, against a dogmatic belief. I’m for critical thinking. Um, and that’s why religion needs to be a richer, richer thing to think about.
Erica 01:33:13 Yeah. And I think, um, that idea of indoctrination or extremism to me, um, came up when I was living in Missouri, a feeling so anti- the people who were so deeply religious. That it almost became religious to me to disagree with them. Um, and I think that’s a little bit of what mom has too—
Greg 01:33:45 But when you say religious, there—now that we can be careful about these words, you mean dogmatic and ideological that you’re committed to a position. And not open to the conversation. May not be religious in these terms.
Erica 01:33:55 Practicing a particular religion. Maybe can I say that.
Greg 01:34:06 But, but dogmatically. So Schleiermacher has given us this gift of how to think about religion because he had the poet friends and the, and he had rich ways of thinking about things. Yeah, you do—I think really this is something we won’t talk a lot about here, but it’s a big conversation and it’s part of the shareable world, part of all of this is religion does have this tendency to shut out. Yeah. But you know, if you’re a critic of religion, talk about that problem of religion, which Schleiermacher actually thought was not inherent to religion. That’s a different kind of problem. And he actually thought that these into the, if, if you, if you focused on the feeling level, the intuition of the universe and so forth, you actually are naturally more tolerant. I think that’s what Joe means about the ocean.
Erica 01:34:58 Yeah. Which is, which is something I like about, um, Asia or like the, the Eastern way of approaching religion, which may not be true in every case of course. But where I, what I’ve experienced is that it’s less about, at least when I was living in Bali, it’s less about the rules for them of their religion. They’ll accept anybody, any Westerner who might be living a little bit differently than they might. And more about this deeper feeling of connectiveness. Right. Um, that is important to them… and that feeling they want to share or invite people to try to feel with them. But nobody ever talked to me about their, the rules of being right. Um,
Greg 01:35:46 Yeah. Or the metaphysical stuff, you know, that factual stuff like getting this, you should think this and not that. It’s more about attitude and, feeling, and…
Erica 01:35:51 And, and, and even like, I feel like I, I could, you know, conversationally understand what was going on, um, just in Bali based on language and, and nobody ever tried to tell me the rule, you know? Whereas in America, that seems very important to the religious story.
Greg 01:36:16 Yeah. Boy, this is another big potential topic where I’m only going to touch on it here, but it’s, it’s fascinating to me. And that is the interconnections between Christianity and science. And a certain attitude towards truth, which is part of the religious heritage of Christianity and its relationship to science. So the kind of punchline being it is—there’s something in particular about Christianity, that makes it less flexible. So if we think about what you just described as a kind of flexibility about thought with an emphasis on feeling or whatever you want to call it, there’s a kind of built-in inflexibility with Christianity precisely because it argues that Jesus was—appeared at a certain place and time and has a specific relationship to all of us coming, finding a home, right? Like it’s a master grand narrative that is a little more pushy about the truth parts in the scientific sense.
Greg 01:37:28 Jesus was in this particular place at a certain time. The flexibility, I think of what you are experiencing. You see this in Buddhism also… the Buddhists in fact, you know, most, uh, even, you know, the slightly sophisticated Buddhists would say, um, it kinda doesn’t matter whether the Buddha really existed or not. Here are the teachings. Here’s what the, this Buddhist cultural practice has on offer to you. Are you, are you uncomfortable in life? Would you like greater joy? Would, are you not at home? Think about these ideas, examine your own mind. Um, find your own way. And there’s all sorts of Buddhist stories about the Buddha himself being flexible in his teachings. It’s kind of inbuilt inflexibility that I think gets translated to science itself in Christianity where it’s no, you must assent to these propositions. There’s the thinking part. If you don’t think these things, you can’t be doing the Christian thing.
Greg 01:38:35 All right. Um, okay. It’s on my paper. I’m going to make one final point. Is this one final point? Um, yeah. Um, and it is more as a historical point about where we find ourselves. So I just made a historical point about something that may be particular to Christianity. The historical point I want to end with is the diversity of thought in the world in general. So this all came together for me when I was somebody who was pointing out probably in some lecture about Christianity that, ‘Oh no, the Peter Berger who wrote Sacred Canopy also has a book called the Heretical Imperative.’ Heresy. So heresy means when you think against the church, yeah, but now it also means when you think against the normal doctrine. Heresy, etymologically meaning the origin of the word I’m told, it just means choice. So in the Christian context, the church is saying you should think this and if you decide to think something else you’ve chosen against the church.
Greg 01:39:43 The thesis of this book, the Heretical Imperative is that we live in an age where there’s so much diversity of thought that we have to choose. And that historically, that’s a really recent thing. If you were born in medieval Europe, you were, the world was Christian. Like it wasn’t, it wasn’t a shop, a church on the corner offering you this way of thinking—that was it. You, you were… And so Buddhists and Hindu and the history of the world is people being born into a way of thinking. And therefore it’s quite natural to just assume that’s the nature of the universe. This is a world that was created by the Christian God and that Jesus was born into. Cause that’s the only story. Uh, it’s, it explains everything. Yeah. Or the Buddha or Kali <a or you know, what, pick your God. Now we live in a world…
Greg 01:40:42 So, so in other words, you could take, it was easy to take it as true. Um, you just, it was for taking for granted. Yeah. Now we live in a world where we know the options, we know the choices and yet we’re choosing between things that got shaped to be taken for granted. And so to become a Christian means to step into this master story that wants you to take it for granted that that’s the way the things are. And yet we have the consciousness that this is one story and there are many stories and that kind of in some ways it undermines the power of religion. Cause it, it weakens the story. Um, but it also once again reveals that we have this need to make our stories be the truth about things. Um, and so I’m going to end this particular story about, uh, truth and taking for granted that there’s, so there’s another German actually named Nietzsche who is a 19th century, 1800s, a German philosopher.
Greg 01:41:53 And he thought about this problem a lot and he analyzes it in the history of Western ideas. And in a way he tries to say to us that the problem is not that serious. It’s made serious by science. It’s made serious by a certain concept of truth. And that what we need to do is weaken that concept of truth a little bit. And he, so he, he talks about it and um, shifting from the idea that something is true with a capital T to thinking about a way of thinking about a way of thinking about the world as if it were true. So the little as if phrase becomes super important, can I live? I want to live for a while as if Kali Ma is a real force in the world. I’m going to, I’m going to put a tattoo on my arm. I’m gonna get a little statue. I’m gonna think about her as if she is a real thing, which in some ways we’ve explained why she is a real thing, but the as if is super important. Um, and this comes back to the possible inflexibility of certain religions—it’s very, it’d be very confusing, I think to a Christian to think I’m living in the world as if Jesus Christ came and died for my sins, Nietzsche tries to make the point that that’s really all we’re ever doing is an as if…
Erica 01:43:17 Yeah, I feel like that, that’s the way I thought people thought about the world. So it’s news to me that they don’t, but, right. But what do I even know for sure ever. But it’s about deciding what, what you want to choose, what you want to believe and how that shapes the way you go about the world. In that scenario.
Greg 01:43:43 Yeah. And I, and I, so I think in a conversation about religion, uh, certainly religious people would find this disorienting to think that what they’re up to is an, is an as if, but the other part of the Nietzsche story, which I think is just brilliant, is, um, he points out that we do this all the time with art. So if you go to see Hamlet, a shakes, Shakespeare, you’d go to the theater to see Shakespeare play and it’s Hamlet or whatever, you’re watching the Hamlet and you come and the next day, and it’s profoundly moving for whatever reason. And the next day you’re talking to somebody that’s like, I saw, I saw Hamlet and as realizing this about life, and it made me reflect on this part of who I am. And, um, you know, the whole thing with a feeling. I was so just a, you know… and then, and if it were a Dawkins sitting across from you, it would be, he would reach over and say, I got, I got some disturbing news for you.
Greg 01:44:43 Hamlet didn’t exist. Hamlet is not real. There was this guy, Shakespeare, it’s almost like the Mormon story, right? He thought it up, he wrote it down. We found right. We he edit, he like corrected some stuff. Like he, we know where it came from. It’s um, it would… that would be ridiculous to write. It’s like no, of course. Cause—because art is something else. And then of course, you know, uh, as I’m sure you’re seeing as it relates to religion, you know, the art, the art is uh, as if I go to the play and I act as if this actor is this guy named Hamlet. And I act as if these things are happening to him and I hear these words in that situation and it’s… can be life changing.
Erica 01:45:34 Well it’s funny cause when I was going to school in Boise, I was having a debate about religion with somebody and they said, well, if what I believe isn’t true that—no, that if what I believe is true, then I’m not going to hell and I will go to heaven. If it’s not true, then I don’t really care because it’s made me a better person. And it was an as if… and I was like, okay, cool. I don’t really mind what you believe then if, if you’re okay with it being either way. Right. And the way it shapes you in the world has… is a benefit.
Greg 01:46:12 So my part of my hope for this conversation, when people listen to it are interested in, uh, why, why Dawkins may not sound right to them, or are themselves religious, is that, um, so as it relates to, as if I think a lot of people, even though if you press them on the truth value of the religion, they want to say it’s true, but I think they actually engage… they’re engaging in the, if all the time. And I think a lot of people actually even understand that. ‘I go to church on Sunday and I listened to the sermon. I’m in this space with the high ceiling. And, uh, this story about Jesus leads me to think in certain ways…’ And, um, and so Dawkins is just missing the boat entirely if he’s just, if he wants to shake that person and say—the world is this old or this God that you imagine with the beard and heaven isn’t really there and, um, hell doesn’t exist and he’s missing, you know, it’s like the Hamlet thing.
Greg 01:47:14 It’s like saying Hamlet’s not real. Um, and in a way, um, for me as somebody who studies these things and teaches them, it’s, it’s, it’s where the really rich stuff is—not in the science. Like it’s, it’s, it’s where we think about how to be human, uh, and how to live and the important questions. And so to have someone come along and shake you and say, now, stop, did stop doing that. Especially with not kind of, I was going to say without offering something else, although I’m sure Dawkins would have things he would offer, right? Science and maybe, maybe some values that he’s bought into that come from his culture and in some ways, you know, it may straight forward that way. I also, I also think sometimes that they’re just—people’s very different sensibilities. Like Dawkins just doesn’t, you know, human beings are very different, can be very different.
Greg 01:48:08 And so just as a Shakespeare can come along and write these plays that are so rich, uh, with respect to human experience and he’s so interested in that and so good at it, uh, Dawkins can come along who’s very good at the science and just fine with like these explanations for things and doesn’t need that intuition of the infinite and the feeling. And, um, but don’t, oh man, I was going to try to, that modern expression of don’t, don’t, it’s like don’t rain on my parade. It’s don’t—
Erica 01:48:48 A lot of campers say, don’t make ick my wow.
Greg 01:48:51 There you go. Don’t ick my wow. Dawkins, stop ickin’ people’s, wow. I mean say, let’s have a richer discussion, but don’t, don’t walk around with this kind of a crude, crude in the sense of just kind of big, uh, criticism that’s meant to take out all sorts of rich experience by, icking people’s wow. Should we end there?
Erica 01:49:17 Yeah. Thanks. Pretty good.
Greg 01:49:25 That was fun. Yeah. Well, hopefully, I guess mom’ll listen to it, maybe some other family members, but we’ll see if hopefully other people out there will be interested. Thanks for joining us everybody.
Erica 01:49:35 Thanks.