Vis-a-vis defining nontheist Friends, I find Darwin's contribution relevant, seminal, and important to the understandings of religion and human social life, as well as language. Without Darwin, we might still be mired in origin questions in many/most religious traditions which often center on some historically mediated conception of the divine. Here again are many evolutionary biologists' contemporary books on religion, as well as virtue: http://worlduniversity.wikia.com/wiki/Religious_Studies#Select_Books. I think the attempt to explain religion from an evolutionary biological / knowledge perspective is far-reachingly nontheistic, and friendly, as well, in that the understanding of religion may mitigate some of its negative aspects, such as tribalism.
With something like 3-100 million species starting something like 3.5 billion years ago, with language use in humans beginning possibly 150,000 to 1 million years ago in humans, I'd like to suggest in a nontheistic Friendly way that religion and questions of meaning are inextricably bound together with language. Without language (probably originating with the larynx), we might not have religion as we know it; primatological research into such subjects, in non-language using primate species, such as chimps, gorillas and orangutans, is just beginning. Huston Smith's 7 great religions in "The Religions of Man" also relativizes religions; many religious individuals, in my experience, have tended to conflate their religion with themselves. And language has been the main mediator of such religious traditions, and identities. 'God' is significant language for theists, just as nontheism is significant language for atheist Quakers (which some of us on this list are), just as reason and evolutionary biology are significant words to evolutionary biologists and scientists. Fortunately, there's wonder in all of these ways of thinking, some of which I personally explore in the relaxation response, vis-a-vis silent Meeting.
Genetic reproduction seems to be what being a species is about; humans are different with our language, but we who write about nontheism all have unbroken lines of ancestors going back 10s of thousands of generations, so the human species, too, is about genetic reproduction. The human experience, as I read history, seems to draw much more from Pan troglodytes (common chimpanzee-ness, which seem to 'do' rudimentary war and can be violent, compared with the other chimp species Pan paniscus - Bonobo chimps - which seem to be quite peaceable and egalitarian), as sad as this human history is, to bring some intra-species, primatological comparisons to these questions.
I'm glad multiple thinkers are extending the logical implications of Darwin's remarkable work, to religion (again: http://worlduniversity.wikia.com/wiki/Religious_Studies#Select_Books), and while this reasoning conversation has a long way to go - many books ahead yet to be published - I think we nontheist Friends have a lot of conversation partners to communicate with, potentially for centuries into the future.
Vis-a-vis love and nontheist Friends - a very positive emotion for human bodyminds (in my experience) - I hope we can learn to cultivate this 'loving' neurophysiology in a myriad of ways, much like playing musical instruments (http://scottmacleod.com/GuidelinesPracticingLovingBlissvavMusicalInstrument.htm) in relation to our very old bodyminds shaped by evolutionary biology and language. Here's one, beginning, wiki conversation and approach to eliciting the neurophysiology of loving bliss: http://worlduniversity.wikia.com/wiki/Loving_Bliss_(eliciting_this_neurophysiology).
I'm just offering a friendly yea for Darwin's thinking as it relates to religion, and especially nontheism.
With friendly greetings,
(Here's a clear explication of Darwinian evolution and some of its implications for nontheist Friends in reply to someone else on the nontheist Friends' email list).
Me thinks we may be missing an interesting thing about evolution.
There is zero internal or external mental capacity associated with its occurrence, supernatural or natural.
I once thought evolution was about if I lived in a very cold environment I could just think or hope real hard my eyes would change for example, and it would happen, so they could see through a smaller eye lid slit, in a blizzard, or the suns glaring reflection off the ice and snow, for example.
The actual case is that we change biologically at random over time and if by chance solely a change does occur that is more compatible to the environment one lives in, then the chances increase that that person will survive compared to someone who's random changes avoid what appears to be a "natural" adaptation to the environment.
What is actually happening is the person whom survives literally just got lucky.
Sort of like when we are born, we avoid having a choice in that whole process, a most deterministic event to be sure.
If they got a thinner slit, and smaller feet then walking in the snow would be more difficult, but seeing this complication would be easier, maybe walk on harder surfaced snow pack, would help. Or making snow shoes would help too.
Another way to look at it is that persons eyes would have changed whether they were in a cold environment or a hot humid climate at that same time regardless where they were on the surface of the earth. Again adaptive changes occur at random, but fairly timely historically, we call them "MUTATIONS". Uncontrollable changes in biological environments.
I think Darwin's whole point was that biological entities "MUTATE". This of course was wholly unacceptable by those whom thought a higher entity was in control of things. Or maybe higher entities created the ability for mutations to occur, at random, would have been a better perspective. Him being a monk, that could have happened.
A cognitive entity is no more able to change its physical make up by thinking in its mind, I will change this or that to fit a given situation, than we can change the genes in our chromosomes once born or mostly before that, even in selective breeding.
And yet those same genes may be altered to allow for the occurrence of cancer and so many diseases, and illness, and we have learned even some of those occurrences can be changed by exposure to other nuclear/radiation and or chemical changes, with certain expected results, or not.
So, changing ones genes is other than out off the table, as it were. We just have to learn how to do it, for better or worse, or both.
We are other than changelings and yet we are susceptible to change and capable of change. Truth be known, we are probably more prone to change and changing than an ability to avoid change or changing.
But, we are working on it.
We do have the capacity to change our chromosomes, but that is purely by chance, and even controlled mating attempts, have shown, we are more chancy than really in control of physical/mental capacities via selective breeding.
On the other hand by conducting controlled breeding it is true there is an increased chance of getting the mutations one is hoping for, if it is even possible/practicable, but zero guarantees. Ask breeders, they will tell you.
And there is the element of genetic mixing such that when you mix tree genes you will probably get a tree, as compared to a monkey. But, the thing about that is that in fact you could get a monkey if you wait around for trees to evolve to that possibility. Maybe then they did. Genetic coding being of the nature it is.
But, we cognitive entities do have an ability to adapt to our environment which is different from evolving over time to accomplish the same task. We can whittle a piece of wood, or bone with a slit in them so we can protect the eye in a blizzard for example. Or create sun glasses to survive in a different hostile environment where having wider eye lids, yields greater ability to see danger sooner, which increases longevity accordingly, but makes the eyes very sensitive to sun light glare say off the oceans surface.
For me there are two forms of creation. One cognitive and the other non-cognitive. Non-cognitive creation is when the natural order of things take place, which involves a high degree of mutating possibilities are taking place and zero guarantees in regards to what may or may otherwise occur, and yet includes a high degree of non-cognitive predictability. Case in point, the stars and planets in orbit prior to the occurrence of cognitive entities, and since then too. And the orderly change states of nuclear systems/atoms, the molecules, and DNA chains to Organic instinctual to cognitive entities we are.
Cognitive creation on the other hand is about, actual thought processes taking place before, during and or after for a given action, reaction or interaction/change to take place. Again no gurantees, mind you for a variety of reasons, including the pre, during, or after thoughts may have been totally incorrect just for starters, but the fact still remains something did think about it before said action was instigated, and therefore separate from a purely deterministic frame of reference initiation or result.
And yes there is that extension such that what ever thought process chose to initiate the action were acting solely as a result of the deterministic inspirations of a non-cognitive environment/reality in a first place.
The ol' freedom to choose to do something or not so much, approaching not routine/argument/s.
Bottom line is that Nontheists may want to be coming from the perspective that a reality less cognitive free thought would be presetined to occur how ever it is predestined to occur no matter what a supernatural entity would want either way or be able to change even if it wanted too.
The interesting argument about that is that would then imply that Deities are also absent of free thought and or will, and therefore had zero choice, or freedom of choice to start or to avoid starting what they, it started. So, what use are they/it's cognitive abilities?
But, if the argument goes that a deity has freedom of will and or thought, or both, and it/they created cognitive entities in their respective images then, of course we have the same characteristics and therefore have freedom or thought and will, both good and bad. Although somewhat limited compared to omniscient applications of same.
But, then that implies, deities have good and bad thoughts, and so on and so on. And we wonder where good and bad also derive. Freedom does have it's more entertaining damning characteristics even in the absence of deities etc.
Me thinks we are a mix of both non-cognitive creation, and cognitive creation. A third alternative one might say. Non-cognitive creation is going full out, and we cognitive creationists are caught in the middle. The real difference is that we are aware of it, and the rest of a reality avoids having a clue about it's own existence, let alone ours, except via we cognitive/aware/sentient entities.
We are then also able to be swayed by the dictates of the non-cognitive reality, and what it demands for us to accomplish to survive, and yet we are able to perceive of a reality less such complications and hope such controls of a non-cognitive reality may yield a much more form of assurance of an extended longevity than would normally occur, unless we try.
That again is a combintaion of what this reality has in store for us from a very deterministic frame of reference, and the conflict with the freedom of choice to avoid its unknowing intentions, and allows us to turn the very fabric of time and space towards our own cognitive uses.
To assume there is some unbeatable supernatural cognitive characteristic within a non-cognitive reality that will defeat us no matter what we try would be most pessimistic for starters. But, to assume we are so motal no matter what we try we will fail is almost as pessimistic of a frame of reference..
But, to think of our selves as being a cognitive part of a most powerful non-cognitive state of change imaginable/practicable makes us aligned with the ability to change even that power of a reality towards our own increased ability to survive.
How long our limited evolutionary gene pool will allow for us to occur capable of being cognitive mutations, may warrant the increased ability to help cognition to then occur even in another form, like computerized cognitive entities, capable of occurring and reoccurring, as long as there is gold and silver etc. etc. to make their respective circuit boards out of...
But, I get ahead of myself... evolution may be other than over...
Mostly I think Darwin was indicating, evolution is a deterministic function of change, and no one is at the helm guiding the ship, or the guide was absent of a choice to design it in any other way.
But, he was also indicating if there was a way for us to deterine how that deterministically change function works, maybe there would be a way to alter it to allow for an otherwise determineistic change environment may be changed in favor of cognitive enties extended longevities as compared to just giving up all hope and choosing an early demise via our own ignorance's and or free will to at least try.
What I think Nontheists/Atheism/Free thinkers, Humanists etc. are all about, is even if there were Deities out there and it/they placed us in an otherwise most dismal time and place/predicament we can tell that entity to stick it, and we will choose to persist for as long of an extended longevity as is literally practical, even if it means extending that same environment from which we derive to accomplish the same!
Anyway, hope that made sense.
For the new comers, my wife created this site, and her name is Barbara. My name is Lonnie. Therein any confusion.
(http://scott-macleod.blogspot.com/2011/01/yellow-warbler-darwin-finch-eating-in.html - January 5, 2011)