Tag Archives: religion

Ontological confusions predict religious belief

Cognition. 2015 Jan;134:63-76. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2014.09.008. Epub 2014 Oct 17.

Ontological confusions but not mentalizing abilities predict religious belief, paranormal belief, and belief in supernatural purpose.


The current research tested the hypothesis that the abilities for understanding other people’s minds give rise to the cognitive biases that underlie supernatural beliefs. We used structural equation modeling (N=2789) to determine the roles of various mentalizing tendencies, namely self-reported affective and cognitive empathy (i.e., mind reading), actual cognitive and affective empathic abilities, hyper-empathizing, and two cognitive biases (core ontological confusions and promiscuous teleology) in giving rise to supernatural beliefs. Support for a path from mentalizing abilities through cognitive biases to supernatural beliefs was weak. The relationships of mentalizing abilities with supernatural beliefs were also weak, and these relationships were not substantially mediated by cognitive biases. Core ontological confusions emerged as the best predictor, while promiscuous teleology predicted only a small proportion of variance. The results were similar for religious beliefs, paranormal beliefs, and for belief in supernatural purpose.

Copyright © 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Empathy; Mentalizing; Ontological confusions; Paranormal; Promiscuous teleology; Supernatural


Deism (/ˈd.ɪzəm/[1][2] or /ˈd.ɪzəm/), derived from the Latin word “Deus” meaning “God“, is a theological/philosophical position that combines the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge with the conclusion that reason andobservation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a single creator of the universe.[3][4][5][6][7]

Deism gained prominence among intellectuals during the Age of Enlightenment—especially in Britain, France, Germany and the United States—who, raised as Christians, believed in one god but became disenchanted with organized religion and notions such as the Trinity, Biblical inerrancy and the supernatural interpretation of events such as miracles.[8] Included in those influenced by its ideas were leaders of the American and French Revolutions.[9]

Today, deism is considered to exist in two principal forms: classical and modern[10] where the classical view takes what is called a “cold” approach by asserting the non-intervention of deity in the natural behavior of the created universe while the modern deist formulation can be either “warm” (citing an involved deity) or cold, non-interventionist creator. These lead to many subdivisions of modern deism which tends, therefore, to serve as an overall category of belief.[11] Despite this classification of Deism today, classical Deists themselves rarely wrote or accepted that the Creator is a non-interventionist during the flowering of Deism in the 16th and 17th centuries; using straw man arguments, their theological critics attempted to force them into this position.

The morality of evolution

The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex is a book on evolutionary theory by English naturalist Charles Darwin, first published in 1871. It was Darwin’s second book on evolutionary theory, following his 1859 work, On the Origin of Species, in which he explored the concept of natural selection. In The Descent of Man, Darwin applies evolutionary theory to human evolution, and details his theory of sexual selection, a form of biological adaptation distinct from, yet interconnected with, natural selection. The book discusses many related issues, including evolutionary psychologyevolutionary ethics, differences between human races, differences between sexes, the dominant role of women in choosing mating partners, and the relevance of the evolutionary theory to society.

As a watchman on the tower, I feel to warn you that one of the chief means of misleading our youth and destroying the family unit is our educational institutions. There is more than one reason why the Church is advising our youth to attend colleges close to their homes where institutes of religion are available. It gives the parents the opportunity to stay close to their children, and if they become alerted and informed, these parents can help expose some of the deceptions of men like … Charles Darwin.

Ezra Taft Benson

More than other modern societies, United States relies, even depends, on myth to cement its confidence. Americans are profoundly ahistorical.

Our national myths are representations of identity and the actual instrument of acculturation. This process of acculturation through myth, moreover, is achieved through entertainment: television and movies. The culture of a society—its ethos—defines distinctive patterns of individual and group behavior. Culture shapes the way we look at the world. Whatever our immediate group membership, our final sense of identity is shaped by larger cultural patterns. If we define ourselves according to myth, what kind of worldview has it given us?

First, at the core,  the United States has an essentially religious value system. The primal myth of our origin is that of the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” with the Plymouth Colony completely overshadowing Virginia and its lineal transplanting of British class and caste. We believe that the source and inspiration of America is bound up in religion: religious freedom, but also the moral vantage of Calvin. The impact of Protestant thought is felt in the ways we talk about mission, service, sacrifice, restraint. It underlies the sense that Americans share of serving a higher calling. This underpinning remains dominant today even though it is highly secularized, and transmuted into legal, constitutional language.

Second, Americans still hew a set of specific myths about the United States. One of these is that America is the source of human progress and can achieve perfection as a society. Americans believe that there has never been a society quite like our own. This American “exceptionalism” suggests that we are a people graced with unusual natural endowments. We think of ourselves literally as a “people of plenty.” But our mythology also reminds us that this land was a great “untamed wilderness,” a “land of savagery.” It was the exceptional will, unity and vision of the American people and their beliefs that transformed the landscape. The twin icons of national bounty and national achievement have inspired two senses of an American national purpose: a conviction that the United States should serve as an example to the world, that America and its people are the model for all human development; and an impulse to change the world for good, to become the active agency of human progress. Tyranny and resistance to change are so entrenched in the world that only direct American intercession can shift the direction of history. America’s gifts demand that it assume a missionary role.

In the United States at the turn of the 20th century, Darwinism was greeted with glee because it seemed so compatible with the prevailing ideology of theday,  where robber-baron capitalists like the Carnegies, Mellons, Sumners, Stanfords and yes, even Jack London, could not stop rattling on about how the “survival of the fittest” justified crushing unions, exploiting immigrant labor or being left unregulated to amass huge fortunes while administering monopolies. In the popular ethos of the United States, there is a confusion of Capitalism with the American worship of the individual and the nuclear family. It can be argued that these ideas are related but they are different and independent. According to the American work ethic you only get what you work for, but this is not what Capitalism is. Capitalism is the idea that market forces, carried out by intelligent agents looking for profit (self interest), let by themselves will generate wealth and prosperity for society as a whole. The dichotomy Capitalism/Socialism is actually dated. If one understands socialism as government control of the economy, all, 100%, of the world’s governments are socialist to some degree. In any case, we now live in a competitive society and are often told that to get ahead we require drive, commitment and determination, that we must expend a great amount of energy and, if necessary, use force to get what we want. A ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality is deeply entrenched in our culture. Despite the fact that this Wild West mentality  is a historical byproduct, it is now attributed to Darwin’s Origin of the Species.

Religious fundamentalists are sincere on their view of the World as a battleground between Good and Evil. For them anything that undermines faith in God, specially with regards to children, is utterly evil. The teaching of Science to children, in particular Evolution, is seen as a threat to children indoctrination. Nonetheless,  the attack on Evolution is an attack on Science as a whole. Science is not about what to believe but rather a method to perceive Reality. It is the critical objective look at reality aspect of Science that is perceived as a treat by the religious establishment. However, teaching religious ideas as an alternative to factual descriptions of reality undermines science education by misinforming students about the scientific method — the basis for science literacy.

The scientific method teaches students the fundamentals of science — how to observe data, perform experiments and form scientific theory. Religious explanations for creation are not science – they cannot be confirmed or denied by the scientific method. Teaching them as science confuses and misleads students about the scientific method, thereby warping their ability to live in a technology-driven society

Most people don’t read scientific papers because they are extremely complex. Even college science students have a hard time digesting scientific papers. But what is easy to understand is that, since the bible says this, science says that, therefore science is the devil, and since we hate the devil and our job is to fight him, we must hate science and fight it. Christian leaders can be blind sighted to the outside world at times. All this commotion about a science that goes against the bible. The Bible today, still says that the Earth does not move around the sun as much as it did thousands of years ago. The Bible did not change. At the end of the Middle Ages, Christian leaders threatened heavy punishment to Galileo for suggesting that, based on his scientific evidences, the Earth revolved around the Sun.

Any effort to introduce a theological doctrine into public school science curricula would inevitably offend some teachers and students. After all, a Protestant fundamentalist’s “literal” reading of Genesis would likely differ markedly from that of a Catholic or an Orthodox Jew. Both public school educators and religious leaders should be concerned about the prospect of biology lessons degenerating into debates on Biblical or religious interpretation.

Evolution by natural selection, at its core, works like this: living organisms are characterized by heritable variation for traits that affect their survival and reproductive abilities. This heritable variation originates from the (truly random) process of mutation at the level of DNA. The process of evolution turns out to be largely the result of two components: mutations (which are random) and natural selection (which, again, is not random). It is the joint outcome of these two processes that—according to evolutionary theory—explains not only the diversity of all organisms on Earth, but most crucially the fact that they are so well adapted to their environment: those that weren’t did not survive the process. Because the environment changes overtime, and therefore, what characteristics of life forms are better changes, and it cannot be said in absolute terms that extinct forms are inferior to those present today.

You may find it intuitively difficult to believe that two relatively simple natural processes can produce the complex order we observe in living organisms. But the beauty of science is that it so often shows our intuitions to be wrong. Because nature does not always function according to our common sense or intuition, the scientific method a necessity on the quest of the human race for survival.

Evolution is both a theory and a fact, contrary to simplistic creationist views. How can this be? Evolution is a fact in the sense that it is beyond reasonable doubt that living organisms have changed over time throughout the history of the earth. It is a theory in the sense that biologists have proposed a variety of mechanisms (including, but not limited to, mutation and natural selection) to explain the fact of evolution.

The theory of evolution is a fundamental concept of biology and it is supported by the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence. Simply eliminating evolution from the public school curriculum in order to ease community tensions would do a great disservice to all students. It would deny public school students an adequate science education – which is more and more becoming a necessity for professional success in a high-tech world.

It must be said that there is a propagandistic perversion of language, and there are religious groups that use the language of science to mislead and actually undermine a scientific conceptualization of Reality. Religious opponents of evolution have cloaked religious beliefs in scientific sounding language and then mandating that schools teach the resulting “creation science” or “Intelligent Design” as an alternative to evolution. Intelligent Design organizations are fundamentalist religious entities that consider the introduction of creation science into the public schools part of their ministry. Creation science rested on a “contrived dualism” that recognized only two possible explanations for life, the scientific theory of evolution and biblical creationism, treated the two as mutually exclusive such that “one must either accept the literal interpretation of Genesis or else believe in the godless system of evolution,” and accordingly viewed any critiques of evolution as evidence that necessarily supported biblical creationism. Creation science is simply not science because it depends upon supernatural intervention, which cannot be explained by natural causes, or be proven through empirical investigation, and is therefore neither testable nor falsifiable.

The argument for Intelligent Design (ID) is not a new scientific argument, but is rather an old religious argument for the existence of God, traced back to at least Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, who framed the argument as a syllogism: Wherever complex design exists, there must have been a designer; nature is complex; therefore nature must have had an intelligent designer. Although proponents of ID occasionally suggest that the designer could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell biologist, no serious alternative to God as the designer has been proposed. The writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity. Dramatic evidence of ID’s religious nature and aspirations is found in what is referred to as the “Wedge Document.” The Wedge Document, developed by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Renewal of Science and Culture. The Discovery Institute, the think tank promoting ID whose CRSC developed the Wedge Document, acknowledges as “Governing Goals” to “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies” and “replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.”

ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

Because Science wins over Religion on factual description of Reality, the attack on Science is made nowadays on moral grounds.  From the point of view of religious fundamentalists, Science is a competing religion, although a silly one at that. Then the scientific community is under attack with this straw-man argument against evolution:

But if design, conversely, is rational, why do so many scientists reject it? Because this is not an issue of science, but of religion. Their religion is that of materialism and naturalism, and they are under no illusions as to the implications of design.

James M Tour, in the blog entry Layman’s Reflections on Evolution and Creation. An Insider’s View of the Academy, claims insufficient understanding of what he calls Macroevolution. Macroevolution is evolution on a scale of separated gene pools.[1] Macroevolutionary studies focus on change that occurs at or above the level of species, in contrast with microevolution,[2] which refers to smaller evolutionary changes (typically described as changes in allele frequencies) within a species or population. However, contrary to claims by creationists, macro and microevolution describe fundamentally identical processes on different time scales.

Russian entomologist Yuri Filipchenko first coined the terms “macroevolution” and “microevolution” in 1927 in his German language work, “Variabilität und Variation”. Since the inception of the two terms, their meanings have been revised several times and the term macroevolution fell into limited disfavour when it was taken over by such writers as the geneticist Richard Goldschmidt (1940) and the paleontologist Otto Schindewolf to describe their orthogenetic theories.[7]

A more practical definition of the term describes it as changes occurring on geological time scales, in contrast to microevolution, which occurs on the timescale of human lifetimes.[8] This definition reflects the spectrum between micro- and macro-evolution, whilst leaving a clear difference between the terms: because the geological record rarely has a resolution better than 10,000 years, and humans rarely live longer than 100 years, “meso-evolution” is never observed.[8]

As a result, apart from Dobzhansky, Bernhard Rensch and Ernst Mayr, very few neo-Darwinian writers used the term, preferring instead to talk of evolution as changes in allele frequencies without mention of the level of the changes (above species level or below). Those who did were generally working within the continental European traditions (as Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, Bernhard Rensch, Richard Goldschmidt, and Otto Schindewolf were) and those who didn’t were generally working within the Anglo-American tradition (such as John Maynard Smith and Richard Dawkins). Hence, use of the term “macroevolution” is sometimes wrongly used as a litmus test of whether the writer is “properly” neo-Darwinian or not.

At the end of his article, Tour makes a reference to the movie, “Expelled. No Intelligence Allowed.”, a pro-intelligent design movie, which among other claims, strongly implies that Charles Darwin‘s ideas led to Adolf Hitler‘s atrocities. Tour asserts that a subset of the scientific establishment is retarding the careers of Darwinian skeptics. He closes citing  Viktor Frankl , The Doctor and the Soul with the comment If Frankl is correct, God help us:

“If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.
“I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment; or as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers [emphasis added].”

The movie Expelled main theme is that what it calls Darwinism inherently contain the seeds of Nazism, and even more Darwinism equals Nazism. This frighteningly immoral narrative is capped off a la Moore, with shots of the Berlin Wall, old stock footage of East German police kicking around those trying to escape through the wall to the West and some solemn blather by Ben, who calls upon each one of us to rise up in defense of freedom and knock down a few walls in order to get creationism back into the curriculum at American Schools.

From Darwin to Hitler: evolutionary ethics, eugenics, and racism in Germany is a 2004 book by Richard Weikart, a historian at California State University, Stanislaus,[1] and a senior fellow for the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute.[2] The work is controversial.[3] Graeme Gooday, John M. Lynch, Kenneth G. Wilson, and Constance K. Barsky wrote that “numerous reviews have accused Weikart of selectively viewing his rich primary material, ignoring political, social, psychological, and economic factors” that helped shape Nazi eugenics and racism.

The Discovery Institute, the hub of the intelligent design movement, “provided crucial funding” for the book’s research.[5] The Institute operates DarwinToHitler.com, which promotes the book and intelligent design.[6] Prominent historian and critic of the intelligent design movement, Barbara Forest, states that the book is tied to the DI’s ‘wedge strategy‘ of attacking Darwinian science as morally corrupting.[7] This strategy aims to “defeat [the] materialist world view” represented by the theory of evolution in favor of “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”[8]

Weikart has appeared in creationist films promoting the book. In 2006, Weikart appeared in Coral Ridge Ministriescreationist film Darwin’s Deadly Legacy in which Weikart claims “Darwinian ideology is the core” of Nazism and D. James Kennedy concludes: “To put it simply, no Darwin, no Hitler.”[9][10] In 2008, Weikart, a supporter of intelligent design,[11] also appeared in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.  In fact, scientific theories, even those like Darwin’s that address organic life, are morally neutral.”   Creationist organizations, like Creation Ministries International cite Weikart’s work claiming it shows “extensive documentation of the Darwin–Hitler link.”

There were many nations, such as Britain which embraced Darwinism but saw a considerable number of their population killed trying to eliminate Nazism. There were other nations, such as the Soviet Union, where Darwinism was seen as so dangerous and subversive to State sponsored dreams of social engineering that those who espoused it were killed or exiled and a complete biological fairy tale, Lysenkoism, put into classrooms and agricultural policy ultimately leading to the deaths of millions from starvation.

Now, Christian groups are tying a neutral scientific theory to racism, antisemitism and xenophobia.That is extremely irresponsible and untrue. In fact, Christianity has a stronger link to anti-semiticism and xenophobia than Evolution which is a scientific theory that purports every man is from the same ancestor.

Throughout history, especially in the Crusades, European Christianity has consistently been a xenophobic culture – Jews were expelled out of England, were treated as second class citizens by Christians, and were not allowed to own lands. Black people were expelled by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth during the food shortage in England. Nazi Hitler, had Christianic themes in support of his treatment of the Jews.

The linking of Nazism to Evolution is a dishonest and cheap attempt at trying to personify a scientific theory as the root of all evil in the world. Evolution implies is that every human came from a single ancestor. Darwin himself was anti-slavery and he said that there was “no clear distinctive characteristics to categorize races as separate species, and that all shared very similar physical and mental characteristics indicating common ancestry”. However this went against Christian beliefs of that time. A German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who wrote “Life of Jesus”, “The Positivity of the Christian Religion” and thought to be Christian by many critics believed that scientific racism – or the use of science to propose that other races such as blacks are of different heritage and descended from apes “fitted well with the Christian belief of a divine Creation following which all of humanity descended from the same Adam and Eve.

The Bible sanctions slavery, and from the 1820s to the 1850s it was cited in the Southern States of the United States of America to support the idea that negroes had been created unequal, suited to slavery, by writers such as the Rev. Richard Furman, Joseph Smith Jr. and Thomas R. Cobb.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism).

Christians are very uncomfortable with the idea that Adam and Eve were Africans – who, by the now debunked scientific racism are deemed to be descendants of apes. This was a central Christian tenet for much more years than evolution was around, and it was the catalyst for the systematic degradation of a particular group of people – the fact that black people were descendants of apes, gave Christians the biblical right to rule over them. Now that evolution has equalized and showed that all men are equal, and given the current taboo of identifying oneself as racist as well as the demise of Scientific racism. Many xenophobic people turn to Intelligent Design as their last ditch attempt to salvage some element of supernatural support for dominion over a certain group of people. This does not mean all Intelligent Design supporters are racists, but it is certainly a comfortable place for xenophobic individuals to channel their energies to.

John Locke

John Locke FRS (pron.: /ˈlɒk/; 29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704), widely known as the Father of Classical Liberalism,[2][3][4] was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social contract theory. His work had a great impact upon the development of epistemology and political philosophy. His writings influenced Voltaire and Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. His contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theory are reflected in the United States Declaration of Independence.[5]

Locke’s theory of mind is often cited as the origin of modern conceptions of identity and the self, figuring prominently in the work of later philosophers such as HumeRousseau and Kant. Locke was the first to define the self through a continuity of consciousness. He postulated that the mind was a blank slate or tabula rasa. Contrary to pre-existing Cartesian philosophy, he maintained that we are born without innate ideas, and that knowledge is instead determined only by experience derived from sense perception.[6]

Locke exercised a profound influence on political philosophy, in particular on modern liberalism. Michael Zuckert has argued that Locke launched liberalism by tempering Hobbesian absolutism and clearly separating the realms of Church and State. He had a strong influence on Voltaire who called him “le sage Locke”. His arguments concerning liberty and the social contract later influenced the written works of Alexander HamiltonJames MadisonThomas Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers of the United States. In fact, one passage from the Second Treatise is reproduced verbatim in the Declaration of Independence, the reference to a “long train of abuses.” Such was Locke’s influence that Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Bacon, Locke and Newton … I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences”.[11][12][13] Today, most contemporary libertarians claim Locke as an influence.

But Locke’s influence may have been even more profound in the realm of epistemology. Locke redefined subjectivity, or self, and intellectual historians such as Charles Taylor and Jerrold Seigel argue that Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) marks the beginning of the modern Western conception of the self.

Locke, writing his Letters Concerning Toleration (1689–92) in the aftermath of the European wars of religion, formulated a classic reasoning for religious tolerance. Three arguments are central: (1) Earthly judges, the state in particular, and human beings generally, cannot dependably evaluate the truth-claims of competing religious standpoints; (2) Even if they could, enforcing a single “true religion” would not have the desired effect, because belief cannot be compelled by violence; (3) Coercing religious uniformity would lead to more social disorder than allowing diversity.[15]

Appraisals of Locke have often been tied to appraisals of liberalism in general, and also to appraisals of the United States. Detractors note that (in 1671) he was a major investor in the English slave-trade through the Royal African Company, as well as through his participation in drafting the Fundamental Constitution of the Carolinas while Shaftesbury‘s secretary, which established a feudal aristocracy and gave a master absolute power over his slaves. For example, Martin Cohen notes that as a secretary to the Council of Trade and Plantations (1673–4) and a member of the Board of Trade (1696–1700) Locke was, in fact, “one of just half a dozen men who created and supervised both the colonies and their iniquitous systems of servitude”.[16] Some see his statements on unenclosed property as having been intended to justify the displacement of the Native Americans.[17][18] Because of his opposition to aristocracy and slavery in his major writings, he is accused of hypocrisy and racism, or of caring only for the liberty of English capitalists.[19]

Locke uses the word property in both broad and narrow senses. In a broad sense, it covers a wide range of human interests and aspirations; more narrowly, it refers to material goods. He argues that property is a natural right and it is derived from labour.

In Chapter V of his Second Treatise, Locke argues that the individual ownership of goods and property is justified by the labour exerted to produce those goods or utilise property to produce goods beneficial to human society.[20]

Locke stated his belief, in his Second Treatise, that nature on its own provides little of value to society; he provides the implication that the labour expended in the creation of goods gives them their value. This is used as supporting evidence for the interpretation of Locke’s labour theory of property as a labour theory of value, in his implication that goods produced by nature are of little value, unless combined with labour in their production and that labour is what gives goods their value.[20]

Locke believed that ownership of property is created by the application of labour. In addition, he believed property precedes government and government cannot “dispose of the estates of the subjects arbitrarily.” Karl Marx later critiqued Locke’s theory of property in his own social theory.

Locke’s political theory was founded on social contract theory. Unlike Thomas Hobbes, Locke believed that human nature is characterised by reason and tolerance. Like Hobbes, Locke believed that human nature allowed men to be selfish. This is apparent with the introduction of currency. In a natural state all people were equal and independent, and everyone had a natural right to defend his “Life, health, Liberty, or Possessions”.[21] Most scholars trace the phrase, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” in the American Declaration of Independence to Locke’s theory of rights,[22] though other origins have been suggested.[23]

Like Hobbes, Locke assumed that the sole right to defend in the state of nature was not enough, so people established a civil society to resolve conflicts in a civil way with help from government in a state of society. However, Locke never refers to Hobbes by name and may instead have been responding to other writers of the day.[24] Locke also advocated governmental separation of powersand believed that revolution is not only a right but an obligation in some circumstances. These ideas would come to have profound influence on the Declaration of Independence and theConstitution of the United States.

Along with Rousseau’s Emile (1762), Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education was one of the foundational eighteenth-century texts on educational theory. In Britain, it was considered the standard treatment of the topic for over a century. For this reason, some critics have maintained that Some Thoughts Concerning Education vies with the Essay Concerning Human Understanding for the title of Locke’s most influential work. Some of Locke’s contemporaries, such as seventeenth-century German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, believed this as well; Leibniz argued that Some Thoughts superseded even the Essay in its impact on European society.[54]

Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education was a runaway bestseller. During the eighteenth century alone, Some Thoughts was published in at least 53 editions: 25 English, 16 French, six Italian, three German, two Dutch, and one Swedish.[55] It was also excerpted in novels such as Samuel Richardson‘s Pamela (1740–1), and it formed the theoretical basis of much children’s literature, particularly that of the first successful children’s publisher,John Newbery. According to James Secord, an eighteenth-century scholar, Newbery included Locke’s educational advice to legitimize the new genre of children’s literature. Locke’s imprimatur would ensure the genre’s success.[56]

By the end of the eighteenth century, Locke’s influence on educational thought was widely acknowledged. In 1772 James Whitchurch wrote in his Essay Upon Education that Locke was “an Author, to whom the Learned must ever acknowledge themselves highly indebted, and whose Name can never be mentioned without a secret Veneration, and Respect; his Assertions being the result of intense Thought, strict Enquiry, a clear and penetrating Judgment.”[57] Writers as politically dissimilar as Sarah Trimmer, in her periodical The Guardian of Education (1802–6),[58] and Maria Edgeworth, in the educational treatise she penned with her father, Practical Education (1798), invoked Locke’s ideas. Even Rousseau, while disputing Locke’s central claim that parents should treat their children as rational beings, acknowledged his debt to Locke.[59]

John Cleverley and D. C. Phillips place Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education at the beginning of a tradition of educational theory which they label “environmentalism.” In the years following the publication of Locke’s work, Etienne Bonnot de Condillac and Claude Adrien Helvétius eagerly adopted the idea that people’s minds were shaped through their experiences and thus through their education. Systems of teaching children through their senses proliferated throughout Europe. In Switzerland, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, relying on Locke’s theories, developed the concept of the “object lesson.” These lessons focused pupils’ attention on a particular thing and encouraged them to use all of their senses to explore it and urged them to use precise words to describe it. Used throughout Europe and America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these object lessons, according to one of their practitioners “if well-managed, cultivate Sense-Perception, or Observation, accustom children to express their thoughts in words, increase their available stock of words and of ideas, and by thus storing material for thinking, also prepare the way for more difficult and advanced study.”[60]

Such techniques were also integral to Maria Montessori’s methods in the twentieth century. According to Cleverley and Phillips, the television show Sesame Street is also “based on Lockean assumptions—its aim has been to give underprivileged children, especially in the inner cities, the simple ideas and basic experiences that their environment normally does not provide.”[61] In many ways, despite Locke’s continuing influence, as these authors point out, the twentieth century has been dominated by the “nature vs. nurture” debate in a way that Locke’s century was not. Locke’s optimistic “environmentalism,” though qualified in his text, is now no longer just a moral issue – it is also a scientific issue.[62]

Limits to accumulation

Labour creates property, but it also does contain limits to its accumulation: man’s capacity to produce and man’s capacity to consume. According to Locke, unused property is waste and an offence against nature.[25] However, with the introduction of “durable” goods, men could exchange their excessive perishable goods for goods that would last longer and thus not offend the natural law. The introduction of money marks the culmination of this process. Money makes possible the unlimited accumulation of property without causing waste through spoilage.[26] He also includes gold or silver as money because they may be “hoarded up without injury to anyone,”[27] since they do not spoil or decay in the hands of the possessor. The introduction of money eliminates the limits of accumulation. Locke stresses that inequality has come about by tacit agreement on the use of money, not by the social contract establishing civil society or the law of land regulating property. Locke is aware of a problem posed by unlimited accumulation but does not consider it his task. He just implies that government would function to moderate the conflict between the unlimited accumulation of property and a more nearly equal distribution of wealth and does not say which principles that government should apply to solve this problem. However, not all elements of his thought form a consistent whole. For example, labour theory of value of the Two Treatises of Government stands side by side with the demand-and-supply theory developed in a letter he wrote titled Some Considerations on the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest and the Raising of the Value of Money. Moreover, Locke anchors property in labour but in the end upholds the unlimited accumulation of wealth.[28]

When Locke began writing the letters that would eventually become Some Thoughts on Education, he was addressing an aristocrat, but the final text appeals to a much wider audience.[40] For example, Locke writes: “I place Vertue [sic] as the first and most necessary of those Endowments, that belong to a Man or a Gentleman.”[41] James Axtell, who edited the most comprehensive edition of Locke’s educational writings, has explained that although “he was writing for this small class, this does not preclude the possibility that many of the things he said about education, especially its main principles, were equally applicable to all children” (Axtell’s emphasis).[42] This was a contemporary view as well; Pierre Coste, in his introduction in the first French edition in 1695, wrote, “it is certain that this Work was particularly designed for the education of Gentlemen: but this does not prevent its serving also for the education of all sorts of Children, of whatever class they are.”[43]

While it is possible to apply Locke’s general principles of education to all children, and contemporaries such as Coste certainly did so, Locke himself, despite statements that may imply the contrary, believed that Some Thoughts applied only to the wealthy and the middle-class (or as they would have been referred to at the time, the “middling sorts”). As Peter Gay writes, “[i]t never occurred to him that every child should be educated or that all those to be educated should be educated alike. Locke believed that until the school system was reformed, a gentleman ought to have his son trained at home by a tutor. As for the poor, they do not appear in Locke’s little book at all.”[44]

In his “Essay on the Poor Law,” Locke turns to the education of the poor; he laments that “the children of labouring people are an ordinary burden to the parish, and are usually maintained in idleness, so that their labour also is generally lost to the public till they are 12 or 14 years old.”[45] He suggests, therefore, that “working schools” be set up in each parish in England for poor children so that they will be “from infancy [three years old] inured to work.”[46] He goes on to outline the economics of these schools, arguing not only that they will be profitable for the parish, but also that they will instill a good work ethic in the children.

On price theory

Locke’s general theory of value and price is a supply and demand theory, which was set out in a letter to a Member of Parliament in 1691, titled Some Considerations on the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest and the Raising of the Value of Money.[29] Supply is quantity and demand is rent. “The price of any commodity rises or falls by the proportion of the number of buyer and sellers.” and “that which regulates the price… [of goods] is nothing else but their quantity in proportion to their rent.” The quantity theory of money forms a special case of this general theory. His idea is based on “money answers all things” (Ecclesiastes) or “rent of money is always sufficient, or more than enough,” and “varies very little…” Regardless of whether the demand for money is unlimited or constant, Locke concludes that as far as money is concerned, the demand is exclusively regulated by its quantity. He also investigates the determinants of demand and supply. For supply, goods in general are considered valuable because they can be exchanged, consumed and they must be scarce. For demand, goods are in demand because they yield a flow of income. Locke develops an early theory of capitalisation, such as land, which has value because “by its constant production of saleable commodities it brings in a certain yearly income.” Demand for money is almost the same as demand for goods or land; it depends on whether money is wanted as medium of exchange or as loanable funds. For medium of exchange “money is capable by exchange to procure us the necessaries or conveniences of life.” For loanable funds, “it comes to be of the same nature with land by yielding a certain yearly income … or interest.”

Monetary thoughts

Locke distinguishes two functions of money, as a “counter” to measure value, and as a “pledge” to lay claim to goods. He believes that silver and gold, as opposed to paper money, are the appropriate currency for international transactions. Silver and gold, he says, are treated to have equal value by all of humanity and can thus be treated as a pledge by anyone, while the value of paper money is only valid under the government which issues it.

Locke argues that a country should seek a favourable balance of trade, lest it fall behind other countries and suffer a loss in its trade. Since the world money stock grows constantly, a country must constantly seek to enlarge its own stock. Locke develops his theory of foreign exchanges, in addition to commodity movements, there are also movements in country stock of money, and movements of capital determine exchange rates. The latter is less significant and less volatile than commodity movements. As for a country’s money stock, if it is large relative to that of other countries, it will cause the country’s exchange to rise above par, as an export balance would do.

He also prepares estimates of the cash requirements for different economic groups (landholders, labourers and brokers). In each group the cash requirements are closely related to the length of the pay period. He argues the brokers – middlemen – whose activities enlarge the monetary circuit and whose profits eat into the earnings of labourers and landholders, had a negative influence on both one’s personal and the public economy that they supposedly contributed to.

The self

Locke defines the self as “that conscious thinking thing, (whatever substance, made up of whether spiritual, or material, simple, or compounded, it matters not) which is sensible, or conscious of pleasure and pain, capable of happiness or misery, and so is concerned for itself, as far as that consciousness extends”.[30] He does not, however, ignore “substance”, writing that “the body too goes to the making the man.”[31] The Lockean self is therefore a self-aware and self-reflective consciousness that is fixed in a body.

In his Essay, Locke explains the gradual unfolding of this conscious mind. Arguing against both the Augustinian view of man as originally sinful and the Cartesian position, which holds that man innately knows basic logical propositions, Locke posits an “empty” mind, a tabula rasa, which is shaped by experience; sensations and reflections being the two sources of all our ideas.[32]

Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education is an outline on how to educate this mind: he expresses the belief that education maketh the man, or, more fundamentally, that the mind is an “empty cabinet”, with the statement, “I think I may say that of all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education.”[33]

Locke also wrote that “the little and almost insensible impressions on our tender infancies have very important and lasting consequences.”[34] He argued that the “associations of ideas” that one makes when young are more important than those made later because they are the foundation of the self: they are, put differently, what first mark the tabula rasa. In his Essay, in which is introduced both of these concepts, Locke warns against, for example, letting “a foolish maid” convince a child that “goblins and sprites” are associated with the night for “darkness shall ever afterwards bring with it those frightful ideas, and they shall be so joined, that he can no more bear the one than the other.”[35]

“Associationism”, as this theory would come to be called, exerted a powerful influence over eighteenth-century thought, particularly educational theory, as nearly every educational writer warned parents not to allow their children to develop negative associations. It also led to the development of psychology and other new disciplines with David Hartley‘s attempt to discover a biological mechanism for associationism in his Observations on Man (1749).

Religious beliefs

Some scholars have seen Locke’s political convictions as deriving from his religious beliefs.[36][37][38] Locke’s religious trajectory began in Calvinist trinitarianism, but by the time of the Reflections(1695) Locke was advocating not just Socinian views on tolerance but also Socinian Christology; with veiled denial of the pre-existence of Christ.[39] However Wainwright (Oxford, 1987) notes that in the posthumously published Paraphrase (1707) Locke’s interpretation of one verse, Ephesians 1:10, is markedly different from that of Socinians like Biddle, and may indicate that near the end of his life Locke returned nearer to an Arian position.[40]

Science and Faith

Uploaded on Jun 14, 2011

Some scientists see religion as a threat to the scientific method that should be resisted. But faith “is really asking a different set of questions,” says Collins.

Question: Why is it so difficult for scientists to believe in a higher power?Francis Collins: Science is about trying to get rigorous answers to questions about how nature works. And it’s a very important process that’s actually quite reliable if carried out correctly with generation of hypotheses and testing of those by accumulation of data and then drawing conclusions that are continually revisited to be sure they are right. So if you want to answer questions about how nature works, how biology works, for instance, science is the way to get there. Scientists believe in that they are very troubled by a suggestion that other kinds of approaches can be taken to derive truth about nature. And some I think have seen faith as therefore a threat to the scientific method and therefore it to be resisted. But faith in its perspective is really asking a different set of questions. And that’s why I don’t think there needs to be a conflict here. The kinds of questions that faith can help one address are more in the philosophical realm. Why are we all here? Why is there something instead of nothing? Is there a God? Isn’t it clear that those aren’t scientific questions and that science doesn’t have much to say about them? But you either have to say, well those are inappropriate questions and we can’t discuss them or you have to say, we need something besides science to pursue some of the things that humans are curious about. For me, that makes perfect sense. But I think for many scientists, particularly for those who have seen the shrill pronouncements from extreme views that threaten what they’re doing scientifically and feel therefore they can’t really include those thoughts into their own worldview, faith can be seen as an enemy. And similarly, on the other side, some of my scientific colleagues who are of an atheist persuasion are sometimes using science as a club over the head of believers basically suggesting that anything that can’t be reduced to a scientific question isn’t important and just represents superstition that should be gotten rid of. Part of the problem is, I think the extremists have occupied the stage. Those voices are the ones we hear. I think most people are actually kind of comfortable with the idea that science is a reliable way to learn about nature, but it’s not the whole story and there’s a place also for religion, for faith, for theology, for philosophy. But that harmony perspective does not get as much attention, nobody’s as interested in harmony as they are in conflict, I’m afraid. Question: How has your study of genetics influenced your faith? Francis Collins: My study of genetics certainly tells me, incontrovertibly that Darwin was right about the nature of how living things have arrived on the scene, by descent from a common ancestor under the influence of natural selection over very long periods of time. Darwin was amazingly insightful given how limited the molecular information he had was; essentially it didn’t exist. And now with the digital code of the DNA, we have the best possible proof of Darwin’s theory that he could have imagined. So that certainly tells me something about the nature of living things. But it actually adds to my sense that this is an answer to a “how?” question and it leaves the “why?” question still hanging in the air. Other aspects of our universe I think also for me as for Einstein raised questions about the possibility of intelligence behind all of this. Why is it that, for instance, that the constance that determines the behavior of matter and energy, like the gravitational constant, for instance, have precisely the value that they have to in order for there to be any complexity at all in the Universe. That is fairly breathtaking in its lack of probability of ever having happened. And it does make you think that a mind might have been involved in setting the stage. At the same time that does not imply necessarily that that mind is controlling the specific manipulations of things that are going on in the natural world. In fact, I would very much resist that idea. I think the laws of nature potentially could be the product of a mind. I think that’s a defensible perspective. But once those laws are in place, then I think nature goes on and science has the chance to be able to perceive how that works and what its consequences are.
Recorded September 13, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman