Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 5.30

Bruce M. Hood has been making the rounds on the skeptical podcast circuit, most recently on Point of Inquiry, promoting his book, SuperSense. The book is all about the psychological and evolutionary bases for the prevalence of religious belief and sounds fascinating; I intend to read it soon.

He and DJ Grothe discussed many interesting topics, but the one I keep getting stuck on is the idea of sanctity: that it is important for groups of people to hold shared values of the sacred (whether or not these are religiously derived) in order to better cohere. This is something I often think about, and I’m still not quite sure where I come down on it.

Do you have a sense of the sacred? Do you hold anything sacred, as such? Do you agree with Hood’s ideas on the subject?

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40 Comments

  1. I don’t think anything should be sacred, it’s a position that is impossible to live up to. All things even science if accepted as sacred become that much harder to change. I never did like that word. While I agree that common values are important to society, the inevitable is that societies change, if a set of values are sacred they cannot evolve with the society.

  2. The obvious ones would be freedom, justice, liberty and equality.

    I’ve also got a special place in my heart for books. I wouldn’t say that they are absolutely sacred but it makes me very angry when people ban them and/or burn them. Doesn’t even matter what the subject of the book is. I guess it would be more exact to say that free exchange of information is sacred to me.

  3. My family and their love is sacred. Now I don’t believe that biology makes your family but shared love and experience which is what I have with my big extended family that includes my mom’s foster siblings and their families (and her foster parents before they passed away but not her biological parents). I hold my relationships with them sacred even if we don’t always get along and since I don’t believe in lying to people to protect their feelings that can be often.

    Learning, experimentation, and curiosity also whether it’s through the scientific method or creative pursuits. That’s sacred to me on a personal level because it’s the philosophy that drives a lot of my life.

  4. From reading the responses above I think there is considerable diversity of opinion on what sacred means. Since I usually beat such words away with a stick I actually had to look it up to make sure it was something I objected to. It is. There are nuances of course but most of the meanings hover around believing in something as divine or believing in something unquestioningly. I don’t believe in the divine and I like questions too much to give them up. So, no. I don’t hold anything as sacred.

  5. There’s definitely some variation on the definition people use, the definition I use is ” regarded with reverence”. I don’t believe in the divine or in not questioning things but reverence is something I feel.

  6. @ChaoSkeptic:

    Unassailable? Inviolable? Yeah. That’s pretty much in the ball park. I can’t think of anything like that.

    As others have pointed out shared love comes pretty close to sacred, but if my wife points a gun at me I’m definitely going to duck.

  7. No, I hold nothing sacred. Nothing, whatsoever is beyond questioning especially those things that society says we shouldn’t question. In fact I would go so far as to say that when people say “don’t question this” (usually, “How DARE you question this!”), then whatever they are holding sacred is ripe for questioning

    @TerrySimpson: If you hold the scientific method (which says to hold nothing sacred), sacred then you’d follow it’s edict and not hold it to be sacred. Not even the scientific method.

    Is the scientific method the final, ultimate methodology? Or will it be subject to refinement?

  8. Well, sacred has too much of a religious connotation for me. It makes me think of something that cannot be questioned. So, by my thinking, there is nothing sacred. Everything is open to discussion and inquiry.

    If you go with the “reverence or respect” definition, there are certainly things that deserve respect. But I would not use that word (sacred) on something that deserves respect.

  9. @russellsugden: and the beauty of the scientific method– it can change – and will change, and should change if needed.
    If there is a sacred- then that is the alter upon which I would worship.
    Since there is no alter, and nothing to worship – I hold science, its method, and its discovery in the highest regard.
    Well – my morning coffee– now that might be sacred

  10. Depending on the meaning of sacred intended, I either hold nothing sacred, or several things. Nothing in the sense of a holy idea, or an unquestionable idea, but I do hold many things in reverence. Banning and burning books makes me cringe. I’ve got principles I hold dear (but not holy or unquestionable), and I don’t like them being screwed with. I suppose rationality and empiricism I’d call sacred, again in the “respected but not holy, accepted as truth but still open to questioning and criticism” sense. Liquor, curry, and boobs are also worthy of reverence (I’ll take ‘things I like in my mouth’ for $500, Alex)

  11. “Sacred”? I don’t know. But I am (among other things) a Scientific Pantheist.

    Scientific Pantheists are atheists or materialists, but with the proviso that we are totally knocked out by all the cool stuff we see around us.

    The Pantheist Credo describes our relationship to the Universe with such terms as
    “reverence”, “active respect and care”, “celebration”, “rejoice”, “we should cherish, revere and preserve … all its magnificent beauty and diversity”, and “its overwhelming power, beauty and fundamental mystery compel the deepest human reverence and wonder.”

    http://www.pantheism.net/manifest.htm

  12. I was going to say that free expression was sacred to me, but I accept limits on it like allowing people to sue for defamation, keeping creationism out of public schools, and so on. If even free expression is not sacred, what can be?

  13. I like your guys’ diehard, skeptical, ‘question everything’ attitude, and as everyone has said, you can tweak the definition to include or not include several things.

    However, I’d be sorely tempted to put freedom of speech under that category, and perhaps other basic human rights.

    And boobs. Especially boobs.

  14. @Merkuto: Let’s make that a quartet of COTWs.

    IMHO, any time someone argues for or against the sacred, it sets off my bullshit detectors.

    What I mean is: that, if someone argues for the sacred, they’re usually arguing for something that’s sacred to them. Whether or not it’s sacred to others is of no consequence.

    And if they argue against the sacred, it’s usually on some selfish premise. They don’t want to be bothered by others feelings, or needs control over what the other holds sacred.

    To answer one of the questions posed: Do I hold anything sacred? Yes, critical thought and reasoned intuition (i.e.- Bullshit Detection)

  15. There is in my experience only one thing that can be experienced as sacred.

    That is the current moment. Experienced in complete inner silence and total concentration.

    Thus any thing can be experienced as sacred, if you meet these two criteria.

    Are you experienced?

  16. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. I think TJ got it right, these are unalienable right, and, therefore, sacred. If it pleases the court, I would like to submit an adendum to this list. I would like to include:

    Inquiry-The ability to ask questions is something I hold sacred, strictly in a @ChaoSkeptic: (B) way, and it is to be assumed everything on this list is regarded in the same way.

    Debate-More than just asking question, but challenging notion, and disagreeing.

    Discussion-More than just debating, pushing someone to the limits of the intellect, forcing them to get more if they want to hang.

    Democracy-I know Democracy can get you into trouble, especially when the big guy is picking on the little guy, but when used in concert with the above, and remembering the 3 that TJ laid out, it can be a marvolous thing.

    Ass kicking-Sometimes a man just needs to be hit/slapped/punched/thrown through a plate glass window, etc. (Purely for dramatic effect. Author does not advocate running out and abusing men.)

  17. I like this definition of sacred: “secured against violation, infringement, etc., as by reverence or sense of right: sacred oaths; sacred rights.”

    With that working definition, I’d agree that it is important for societies to have a few sacred things — as long as there’s a rational reason for it.

    For example, our society has traditionally held the freedom of speech to be sacred, and there are good reasons it should be.

  18. I do hold a few things sacred (but definitely none that you can touch, buy or share your apartment with), since “sacred” is the only suitable term to describe how important they seem to me, how much I adhere to them and how much I expect any sane person to acknowledge them; without these, nothing else is possible:

    The number 1, the number 0, the constant e, the Pythagorean theorem, the notion of infinity, propositional logic, quantity and quality, causation versus correlation, time precedence, Cartesian concept of extension, etc.

    People may not even be aware of most of these concepts, but they are inevitably bound to abide by them and, since these notions cannot be challenged, they must be sacred in as high a concept of the term as we can think of. There is no disobeying the laws of nature.

    I am with Bertrand Russell, Plato and the like on this.

  19. @Merkuto: I add my nomination to COTW, but for the record I don’t have a taste for curry.

    Personally, I hold facts as ‘sacred’*. Depriving someone of any of them in order to sway them to your opinion is a ‘sin’*.

    * – secular definition should be found.

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