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Roy Sablosky

Very nice. I like it, and I'm very, very picky about this kind of thing. I think you missed one thing, which is the same thing that almost *everyone* has missed since forever. Tell ya later. . .

Maria

I have a feeling this will be awesome! I've been thinking about the same subject many times, but haven't been able to gather all my thoughts in a good way. It will be interesting to see if we have thought of the same things. What I usually like about reading your pieces is that you often put together things very clearly that I've been thinking much about, but haven't quite been able to formulate very well.

Will go read as soon as I finish my work here.

And AlterNet? That means there will be an influx of woo here again? :-)

Maria

Read it, and it was great!

Someone commented saying this:

It's perfectly fine to make shit up, as long as you [maintain the reality check and] own that: yes, you made shit up.

It's a very human thing to make things up, and it's a very lovely creative thing. We have stories and art and a million other such things to enrichen our lives - it's wonderful! But just as the commenter says, all these things comes with a reality check. We know it's made up things. Religion is human making-things-up-creativity gone horribly horribly wrong.

Well done!

Rick R.

Well written for the most part. There were a few areas where I felt you took a shortcut, and didn't present your case as well as you had in the majority of the piece (The section on wars, for example, felt very "See, they're idiots!" to me).

But over all, a nicely written piece. I'll be sharing the link with my friends.

Paul Crowley

Fantastic as always, and propagated.

Looks like the markup is dodgy in the link "builds on this armor" - I had to edit the hyperlink to find the page.

John B Hodges

I read your essay and applaud. FYI I once made a similar analysis, but I concluded that the source of most that was harmful in religion came from accepting alleged "revelation" as a valid source of knowledge. The more seriously you take "divine revelation", the more harm it is likely to do. Non-revealed religions are much less likely to support such craziness; if they make no claims about invisible, untestable things, for example Deism, Pantheism, and some types of Buddhism, then they are much less likely to do harm.

pplr

I would say it is a flawed argument that reminds me of Sam Harris.

For example, you brought up "the followers of these churches implicitly trust their leaders".

This just ignores the amount of debate going on within and between branches of religions. Many (possibly all) the schisms that happened in the past were over some rule or practice that someone disagreed with/felt was flawed. Martin Luther is simply one (but a well known) example.

A big part of your argument is based on ignoring the amount of criticism, analysis, and reflection that goes on within religion as a whole.

Moreover you ignored that many scientific beliefs, unquestioned by many atheists today, were untested in their time and people may have died before (leaving the theory untested as far as they knew) any realistic hope of further examination was even possible.

Inventors sometimes failed hundreds of times before their devices worked. If they took those failures as proof that their belief was untrue we would be missing out on a lot (including the light bulb).

Another flawed argument is that you claim the worst thing about religion is something that does no direct harm in itself. If someone claims to believe in God, gods, ghosts, and so on there is nothing that simple understanding does in itself to hurt that person or someone else.

If I was rating things on a scale of bad to worst I think mass-killings would be close to the top of the worst list. Yet you found the worst thing to be something, that in itself, harms no one. There is a logic flaw there.

ssjessiechan

Personally, for me, I think it's a much more important question to ask, "do these gods really exist", than, "does believing in these gods that may or may not exist harm anyone"? I'm tired of people giving up on arguing the existence of their god and telling me I (and they, and everyone ever) should just believe it because it's helpful. Talk about giving up!

This is, I would say, pretty much the exception to that: that a belief that you cannot examine critically, but in many cases are told to prioritize over things we do know to be true, is bound to have an effect. If the most important thing to you is something that doesn't exist, and can't be shown to exist, and is frequently at odds with the way the world really works, this is not a good way to make decisions!

Some people will whine that THEIR religion isn't like that, so you can't criticize. I guess I'm not sure why any criticism of religion has to address EVERY form of every faith out there, perfectly, but this is one of those few times when I think the argument, in its general form, comes pretty close. And believe me, half my family, on both sides, is in that "science must be wrong" class of religious thinking that's shielded so effectively by folks who refuse to make claims about their god but cry and scream when people criticize anyway. It exists, it exists in America, and I get a sense of dread every time they approach a polling booth. Because their beliefs DO have an effect on reality.

Greta Christina
This just ignores the amount of debate going on within and between branches of religions.

pplr: I think you're missing the point. Yes, there is some debate within and between religions. But none of the sides in these debates have any basis for making their case. None of them can say, "Here is the evidence for transubstantiation versus consubstantiation. Here is the evidence for the Koran being a more accurate prophetic book than the New Testament." Etc. All they have is their entirely untestable belief, their intuitions and opinions and the things they've been taught by other people with their own intuitions and opinions. There's no way to settle the debates.

It's like I wrote in my Blind Men and Elephants piece: There's no basis for determining which perceptions of God are the right ones... because there's nothing out there that's being perceived.

Yet you found the worst thing to be something, that in itself, harms no one.

You missed my entire point. It does harm people. The untestability of religion leads directly to the mass killings and so on... because there is no reality check, no way for people to say, "Wait a minute -- does this make sense?"

As for your point about science: I don't follow it at all. Yes, science is slow. But it moves forward. Slowly, haltingly, sometimes with backtracking to correct previous errors... but our understanding of the world is now far more accurate than it was even a century ago, and in another century it will be more accurate still.

Religion does not progress at all. It changes, yes; but in providing an accurate understanding of how the world works that enables us to make accurate predictions, it has gone exactly nowhere. There is no way to settle differences of opinion about it and move forward... because it's a belief in that which cannot be perceived. (Mainly because it doesn't exist. Again, see the Blind Men and Elephants piece linked to above.)

One fair point you do make, though: I should have said "many followers of these churches implicitly trust their leaders." I did make that equivocation earlier in that section ("their followers are typically taught from a young age to implicitly believe whatever their religious leaders say"), but I suppose I should have repeated it.

Greta Christina
Personally, for me, I think it's a much more important question to ask, "do these gods really exist", than, "does believing in these gods that may or may not exist harm anyone"?

Personally, ssjessiechan, I think both are important. Especially since believers rely on both: "God really exists" and "religion is socially useful."

I'm tired of people giving up on arguing the existence of their god and telling me I (and they, and everyone ever) should just believe it because it's helpful. Talk about giving up!

That's actually a big part of why I wrote this piece. I get tired of those arguments too: partly because they're such terrible arguments for why something is true... but also because I think religion isn't helpful. Not on balance. And the two debates are intimately related: the harm done by religion is directly related to the fact that it's a belief is something that can't be perceived... because it almost certainly doesn't exist.

pplr

"And the two debates are intimately related: the harm done by religion is directly related to the fact that it's a belief is something that can't be perceived... because it almost certainly doesn't exist."


A belief can be perceived and, often, people are willing to spell out theirs. Is that a typo?

If you meant that something almost certainly doesn't exist because it cannot be perceived that is speculation and often wrong. For a long time bacteria couldn't be perceived until devices were manufactured that revealed them to us. If you said there is not such thing as bacteria back when (or that there isn't likely to be) many would have agreed with you (and have been wrong).

Perception is important but can be limited. And when talking about things beyond (as far as I know right now) the ability to perceive of the average person then you are engaging in speculation.

I would say that religion has progressed quite far for many groups. One big example is with Christianity where opposition to scientific research and understanding-as demonstrated with the theory of evolution-is limited to a vocal minority. At one time I wouldn't have been surprised to find a majority of Christians would have been opposed to the theory of evolution if it was mentioned to them. Now it isn't.

As for the inability to verify for the masses right now that your religious understanding is the correct one, that doesn't-in itself-kill people. Combine it with the argument that a given POV is the correct one and the idea that those who don't join it should be punished (including with death) and you have an argument, but the intolerance of differing POVs is a key part of why bad things are done.

And that key intolerance doesn't have to be mixed with religion-punishing people for views on other things has happened already and can be just as deadly.

Also the belief that there is no God, gods, ghosts, & so on is unprovable thus far. Condemning one side of a spectrum of beliefs without doing the same to the other isn't basing oneself on what is provable. It is picking favorites.

And the favorites on the other side of the spectrum (from religion) can be combined with the same willingness to be intolerant to someone else's POV. Be this the torture and killing of religious people in France or Communist Russia (each with the stated goal of wiping out "superstition") from decades past or a more modern and overly motivated "new"/"militant" atheist (not that all do, but at least a few have) running around swearing at and trying to bully people who belong to a religion.

Each way you have uncertainty of a belief that doesn't, in itself, cause people to purposefully do harm to others until it is combined with the view that it is acceptable to punish others who disagree.

Greta Christina
If you said there is not such thing as bacteria back when (or that there isn't likely to be) many would have agreed with you (and have been wrong).

You're missing the point. Two points, actually. The first point you're missing: Atheism doesn't say, "We are absolutely sure that there is no god." We're saying, "There is no good evidence and no good arguments for God, and some very good evidence and arguments for thinking that there is no God. If you show us some better evidence and arguments, we'll change our mind. Until then, we're going to assume that God doesn't exist."

The number of hypotheses that we have no evidence for but that can't be absolutely disproven with 100% certainty is infinite. There might be a God. There might be a Flying Spaghetti Monster. There might be a three- inch- tall pink pony behind my sofa that teleports to Guam the second I look back there. If we have no evidence to support any of these hypotheses, how are we to decide which ones are true, or likely, or even plausible?

And the second point that you're missing is that religion has had millennia to back up its case with evidence. Not only has it not done so -- it has gone backwards. Religion used to be used to explain the weather, the seasons, disease, heredity, mental illness... I could go on and on. No more. The gaps in our knowledge that used to be filled with religion are closing fast. As a hypothesis that explains the world, the path it's been on for centuries is a steady path of increasing irrelevance.

I would say that religion has progressed quite far for many groups.

And again, you missed my point. I didn't say that religion doesn't change in response to changing social mores. I said that it doesn't progress in its ability to understand the world and make useful predictions about it, or in its ability to even come up with a method for settling disagreements. (Also, you're mistaken about the success of this progress -- recent polls show that roughly half of Americans believe in young-earth creationism.) Religion changes and changes and changes... but every new version of it is as unverifiable as the last.

Also the belief that there is no God, gods, ghosts, & so on is unprovable thus far.

If by "unprovable" you mean "can't be proven with 100% absolute certainty," then yes. Nobody's saying otherwise. But if you mean "can't be reasonably concluded based on the available evidence" -- i.e. the standard we use for every other hypothesis -- then I don't agree at all. I think an excellent case can be made against God and the immaterial realm.

As for the rest of your argument:

I said in this piece, and I will say yet again: I'm not saying that religion is the root of all evil. I know that the impulses driving evil are deeply rooted in human nature, and religion is far from the only thing to inspire it.

I'm saying that religion -- and its unverifiablity -- provides a uniquely stubborn justification for evil. I'm saying that the armor religion has against self-correction acts to cut the brake lines on our reality checks, and thus that it sends our capacity for evil spinning off into the stratosphere.

That's my point. And you have yet to convince me otherwise.

Greta Christina

Oh, I forgot: An important point about your "bacteria" argument.

Yes, back before we understood bacteria, we would have said, "we don't have any reason to think illness is caused by tiny living creatures we can't see with the naked eye." And we would have been wrong about that.

But we would have been a whole lot better off saying, "We don't know what causes illness -- so let's investigate." We would have been a whole lot better off doing that than just saying, "Illness is caused by an imbalance in the four bodily humours." Or "Illness is caused by God as punishment for sin." If we'd acknowledged that we didn't know, maybe we would have discovered bacteria sooner.

What does this have to do with God? Simply this: When confronted with phenomena we don't understand, I'd rather see us say, "I don't know," than say, "Oh, that must be God." Answering all unanswered questions with "Oh, that's God" is like filling out all the blank pages in a coloring book with blue crayon. And it takes time and effort to scrape that blue crayon out when we find a better color. The blue crayon has never, ever been the right color, and I see no reason why we should keep reaching for it every time we see an empty space.

So far, all the evidence I've seen strongly points to God and the immaterial world not existing. But if someone shows me better evidence, I'll reconsider. So far, nobody has. So far, the "evidence" people have shown me for their beliefs has been uniformly bad. As long as that's true, it is reasonable for me to conclude that God almost certainly does not exist.

pplr

You are correct , I suspect, in that then number of things in this world that religion claims to explain are decreasing. Yet you also admitted there is still a hole (unexplained issues) that hasn't been completely filled. Until it are filled with something other than religion that is be proven the possibility for some religious belief exists.

There may be hundreds (at least) of religions or religious understandings to say religion is disproven you don't just have to disprove some or most of them, but all of them.

Depending on how strictly the line is marked between atheism and agnosticism one can say who belongs under the title of atheism. But you are correct in that it is an assumption or belief itself.

You didn't really address the problem that this assumption or belief can be combined with the willingness to punish others for disagreeing and lead to as a similar evil (causing harm to other human beings) as religion. And at various times already has.

There are 2 different issues here. Atheism hasn't (at this time) been able to explain everything with proven understandings (meaning it can be reasonably doubted/left unembraced). And it has been related to real harm (evil) done to others.

scott

I think you nailed it Greta. Years ago I came to the same conclusion: The problem with religion is that once you abandon reason and evidence in favor of blind faith, you open the door to all manner of error and, yes, evil.

It is evil, for example, to tell African people that condoms don't prevent HIV. Justifying it based on articles of faith which are unreasonable and without supporting evidence is evil in that it values imaginary beings above real ones, condemning millions of the latter to illness and death for nothing.

John B Hodges

pplr... atheists don't have to disprove ANY religions. The default on any question is "we do not know". You have to make a case with evidence and/or logic FOR believing whatever X you want to believe, and especially for any X you want OTHER people to believe. Often nothing can be "proved" outside of pure mathematics, you have to make judgments of probability based on the evidence you have. Is X more likely than not to be true, given the evidence we have? Atheists are saying that an all-natural Universe is a reasonable proposition to believe, given the evidence we have, and a supernatural one is not.

Greta Christina
Until it are filled with something other than religion that is be proven the possibility for some religious belief exists.

pplr: Are you saying that as long as a hypothesis has not been absolutely, definitely, 100% disproven, we still have to take it seriously and consider it as reasonable and plausible?

How do you figure?

There is an infinite number of possible hypotheses that have no evidence to support them but that can't be disproven. I could sit here and make them up all day. Why should we take, say, Christianity seriously as a plausible hypothesis, but not Zeus or Thor or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the teleporting pink pony behind my sofa?

Especially when we have absolutely no way to distinguish between these hypotheses, since they're all equally unverifiable and unfalsifiable, and are all equally unsupported by any evidence?

We don't behave this way about any other area of our lives. We don't say, "If I jump out the window, maybe some circus performers will put a trampoline under it and I'll be okay." We go with the most plausible, most likely hypothesis, the one that's best supported by the evidence we have -- and we reject hypotheses that are implausible and unsupported by evidence, even if we can't absolutely disprove them. Why should we treat religion differently? Why should religion, alone among all other ideas, get the "You can't disprove it with 100% certainty, therefore you have to take it seriously" treatment?

There may be hundreds (at least) of religions or religious understandings to say religion is disproven you don't just have to disprove some or most of them, but all of them.

And again: I don't have to do anything of the kind. It's not up to atheists to show that atheism is correct. We're not the ones making the positive claim. It's up to believers to show why their belief is correct. All atheists have to do is ask believers to show us the money. and then sit back and wait.

In fact, many of us have been more proactive -- showing positive arguments and evidence for why religion is highly implausible at best. But if religion were held up to the same standards of evidence as any other idea, we wouldn't have to do that. Nobody says, "If you're going to argue that there are probably no teapots circling any stars, you have to look at every single star and show that there's no teapot orbiting it."

You didn't really address the problem that this assumption or belief can be combined with the willingness to punish others for disagreeing and lead to as a similar evil (causing harm to other human beings) as religion. And at various times already has.

I did address it. I said this: "I'm not saying that religion is the root of all evil. I know that the impulses driving evil are deeply rooted in human nature, and religion is far from the only thing to inspire it." I acknowledge that religion isn't the only thing to inspire evil. And I know that atheists can be jerks: they can even be violent, megalomaniacal, sociopathic jerks. I'm not disputing that. (And when I see it, I speak out against it.) I'm not saying that a world without religion would be perfect.

I'm just saying that a world without religion would be better. I'm saying that without religion, our ability to recognize and stop evil would be improved, since we wouldn't have our reality checks severed by a belief in something that's (a) really really important and (b) can't be verified one way or the other.

And nothing you've said has persuaded me otherwise. With all due respect, you're just making the same bad arguments I've seen a hundred times: "Religion can't be absolutely disproven, therefore you have to take it seriously" (no, I don't), and "Atheists can be jerks too" (I know, and it's irrelevant). None of which is an actual argument against my actual hypothesis -- namely, that the unverifiability of religion provides a uniquely stubborn justification for evil, and makes it uniquely armored against self-correction. Do you have an argument against that?

Maria

namely, that the unverifiability of religion provides a uniquely stubborn justification for evil, and makes it uniquely armored against self-correction. Do you have an argument against that?

It's most likely that he does not have an argument against that, and that's why he will keep avoiding it. He's a living proof of the very point you're making, isn't he? Armored against self-correction it is...

G.S.

Thanks for writing, Greta!

Recently, I was thinking about John 17:14-16, where Jesus says that he and those who believe in him are not of this world. It made me think of something similar to what you argued in this piece -- that there are some religious believers who don't care if their discriminatory actions hurt people in this world, because they care more about the afterlife. Even if someone's being hurt right now, it doesn't matter to them, because only the pretend consequences of the afterlife matter to them.

Thanks again for writing, and I really enjoy reading your blog!

pplr

John B Hodges

“We don’t know” sounds more agnostic than atheist. Atheist is generally either a probably or a certainly no.

I can test if someone is in the next room or not. And prove or disprove the notion someone is not by looking. If the door is blocked or locked it becomes hard to prove it one way or another because my ability to check is hindered. Your asserting that, in spite of the fact that you aren’t able to check yourself, someone else’s belief is wrong because it hasn’t been checked. A more accurate way to describe the situation is as an unanswered question.

And a general theme of atheism is that religions are wrong.

pplr


Greta

“pplr: Are you saying that as long as a hypothesis has not been absolutely, definitely, 100% disproven, we still have to take it seriously and consider it as reasonable and plausible?”

Generally unless a hypothesis is disproven it is reasonable to consider it plausible or, at least, possible.

“How do you figure?”

We keep theories around until they are disproven. Even if you don’t act with the assumption they are true for the time being they stay in the bin of ideas. If a NOVA (you can probably find it on PBS) show I saw recently is correct Einstein came up with the concept that there was a force of “antigravity” and then decided it was a mistake. But now the very similar “dark energy” is viewed as a real possibility in the field of physics when applied to the nature of the universe.

Unless an idea is truly disproven it isn’t irrational to keep it around as part of a list of ideas used to make an attempted explanation of a situation.

“There is an infinite number of possible hypotheses that have no evidence to support them but that can't be disproven. I could sit here and make them up all day. Why should we take, say, Christianity seriously as a plausible hypothesis, but not Zeus or Thor or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the teleporting pink pony behind my sofa?”

I think modern people here would say Hinduism is more likely to be true than the Greek pantheon. And, as with Christianity they (Hindus) probably have some evidence but it is circumstantial. As the evidence for each is circumstantial it would be presumptive to say one must believe one of them or some sort of combination of the two. But it is also presumptive to say someone must not.

“Especially when we have absolutely no way to distinguish between these hypotheses, since they're all equally unverifiable and unfalsifiable, and are all equally unsupported by any evidence?”

Actually we do have a way to distinguish between these hypotheses. Some have circumstantial evidence and a group of people advocating sincerely, by most measurements, their truth. While the “Spaghetti Monster” and “teleporting pink pony” are things thought up purely for the sake of argument (I as far as I know and I am admitting this is a guess), meaning not even their source believes not sincerely in their existence.

If someone claims situation X is true and is sincere about it the situation may be unproven but is more likely to be true than situation Y which nobody (including the person who came up with it) believes is true. Both are unproven but are not at the same level of (un)likelihood.


“We don't behave this way about any other area of our lives. We don't say, "If I jump out the window, maybe some circus performers will put a trampoline under it and I'll be okay." We go with the most plausible, most likely hypothesis, the one that's best supported by the evidence we have -- and we reject hypotheses that are implausible and unsupported by evidence, even if we can't absolutely disprove them. Why should we treat religion differently? Why should religion, alone among all other ideas, get the "You can't disprove it with 100% certainty, therefore you have to take it seriously" treatment?”

You’re making assumptions about what the most likely hypothesis is.

Also, Einstein rejected his own theory about antigravity. But that doesn’t mean it was removed from the list of ideas scientists could use to explain reality. There is a difference between disproven and not actively used for a time.

Though, with religion, there are people who disagree with you and don’t even go as far as to reject it for the time being. The many of the arguments that they should incorporate assumptions they may not agree with.

“There may be hundreds (at least) of religions or religious understandings to say religion is disproven you don't just have to disprove some or most of them, but all of them.
“And again: I don't have to do anything of the kind. It's not up to atheists to show that atheism is correct. We're not the ones making the positive claim.”

You are making a claim. And one that is unproven. Putting the word “positive” in front of it or not doesn’t mean that it isn’t a claim.

As an advocate of the idea that other people’s claims don’t belong in the realm of reasonable you should have significantly stronger evidence or proof your claim is correct. Yet you don’t.

pplr

(I'm guessing I surpassed the size of comments this blog can handle so I'm breaking my response up)

“It's up to believers to show why their belief is correct. All atheists have to do is ask believers to show us the money. and then sit back and wait.”

No, because atheists have been making the claim that those who disagree are irrational/unreasonable. If you want sole claim on the realm of the reasonable you had better have something to back that claim up with.

“In fact, many of us have been more proactive -- showing positive arguments and evidence for why religion is highly implausible at best. But if religion were held up to the same standards of evidence as any other idea, we wouldn't have to do that. Nobody says, "If you're going to argue that there are probably no teapots circling any stars, you have to look at every single star and show that there's no teapot orbiting it."

Many atheists have made arguments, yet they haven’t been able to come up with proof. And the relating probability is often a matter of opinion.

There are teapots on the Earth. The Earth orbits the Sun. Teapots already are (if you look at it that way) orbiting a star.

Given all the junk that humans leave in space it is entirely possible that there will be a teapot orbiting the sun at some point without being on the surface of a nearby planet (something which may come closer to what you were alluding to).

“I did address it. I said this: "I'm not saying that religion is the root of all evil. I know that the impulses driving evil are deeply rooted in human nature, and religion is far from the only thing to inspire it." I acknowledge that religion isn't the only thing to inspire evil. And I know that atheists can be jerks: they can even be violent, megalomaniacal, sociopathic jerks. I'm not disputing that. (And when I see it, I speak out against it.) I'm not saying that a world without religion would be perfect.”

There is a difference between saying something will not stop evil and saying it is an active source of it. Active source vs non-actor.

Unless you are willing to say religion and atheism have both been an active source of evil (as defined as humans purposefully doing harm to other humans) in a similar manner or have not been you’re playing favorites.

It is true you are avoiding the utopian promises some other atheists think an atheist “revolution” will bring but it seemed like you were only pointing to religion as an active source of evil (as defined in our conversation). Thus you seemed to be letting atheism of the hook for violence. Either both get off the hook or both don’t.


“I'm just saying that a world without religion would be better.”

That is a guess or opinion, but at this point an uncertainty and perhaps getting closer to a utopian vision that is promised but may never come to pass even if the cause it is used to promote is successful.

“I'm saying that without religion, our ability to recognize and stop evil would be improved, since we wouldn't have our reality checks severed by a belief in something that's (a) really really important and (b) can't be verified one way or the other.”

I strongly disagree, atheists can sever themselves from reality about as well as anyone else. The ability to is part of being human.

And that is not addressing the discussion we have been having about if any religion is real and the fact that the true nature or understanding of reality is unsettled as far as what most people seem to be able to prove to each other.

“And nothing you've said has persuaded me otherwise. With all due respect, you're just making the same bad arguments I've seen a hundred times Religion can't be absolutely disproven, therefore you have to take it seriously" (no, I don't), and "Atheists can be jerks too" (I know, and it's irrelevant).”

I think I already addressed why you don’t have a strong enough claim to dismiss religion as you try to be. Note I haven’t said you have to join one based on the discussion we have been having, but that your theme is unjustified and excessive.

What atheists can and have done is far from irrelevant when talking about violence done by humans to other humans.

“None of which is an actual argument against my actual hypothesis -- namely, that the unverifiability of religion provides a uniquely stubborn justification for evil, and makes it uniquely armored against self-correction. Do you have an argument against that?”

Actually I already have.

I already brought up that if you remove approval for doing harm (the evil you referred to) to others simply because they disagree on a given topic then the correction can readily follow.

That response doesn’t support the deeper theme your hypothesis lends itself to (that religion is bad and atheism isn’t). But it does address the evil of harm done to others.

DSimon
If someone claims situation X is true and is sincere about it the situation may be unproven but is more likely to be true than situation Y which nobody (including the person who came up with it) believes is true.

Thinking that something is more likely to be true because people believe in it is (to borrow something I've heard Greta say before) a mistake so old it has a Latin name.

Are you genuinely saying that if both Claim A and Claim B have no evidence, and nobody believes in Claim A, but Claim B has a billion adherents who believe in it based on nothing but intuition, Claim B is therefore more likely to be true?

Also, Einstein rejected his own theory about antigravity. But that doesn’t mean it was removed from the list of ideas scientists could use to explain reality.

I'm absolutely willing to apply the same standards to religious claims as to physics claims. If you can present good evidence for the existence of God, I'll believe in God. If you can present evidence for an aether, I'll believe in that too. In either case, until that evidence is present, I'm sticking with the null hypothesis, which has the advantage of simplicity. There's no point in proposing any explanations that are more complex than necessary to explain available evidence.

FormerComposer

The constant "evil is also caused by atheists" is really tiring and irritating. Violence and evil actions have often been caused by religious beliefs in order to further those beliefs. In all the Hitler/Stalin/Mao/Communism/axis-of-evil-of-the-decade examples, it has not been to further a lack of belief (i.e., atheism) but to further other agendas. It would be just as true to say that the Evil was perpetrated by bipedal creatures with minimal body hair, therefore most of the human population of the world must be in on that Evil. And, for those of a more hirsute persuasion, it was also perpetrated by bipedal creatures with optic orbs mounted frontally for effective stereoptic vision and side mounted hearing devices also optimized for location finding. Said creatures use their feeding/breathing tubes to create sounds that can convey information to other such creatures.

That pretty much covers all of us except for the deaf, dumb and blind pinball wizard Tommy. (Hirsuteness not specified in the opera.)

Alison

I've heard these arguments before and I think they fall to some flaws:


1] This doesn't explain why religion isn't monolithic. If Religion was practically impossible to change then ummm.... it wouldn't change. Case in point the civil rights movement. Before churches thought it was ok to own slaves, now they don't. Why not? Because their civlility overrode their religion. Which brings me to my next point.

2] I have yet to see any evidence that religion can make a good person bad or a bad person good. All I get is anectodes that are at best third degree, such as so and so religious person did bad thing as reported in the newspaper, as if that person was the epidamy of morality prior to religion.


3] This doesn't explain why there are thousands of Christian denominations that can't even agree on anything.

and

4] It doesn't explain what we take on faith. If I told a Christian that there is a gremlin in their sock drawer would they believe me? If a priest told them, that wouldn't make them more likely to believe either.
So what determines what we take on faith?

Greta Christina
Generally unless a hypothesis is disproven it is reasonable to consider it plausible or, at least, possible.

and

We keep theories around until they are disproven.

???

We do nothing of the kind, pplr.

Like I keep saying: There are an infinite number of hypotheses that have absolutely zero in the way of good evidence to support them, and that either have some evidence and arguments contradicting them or that are by their nature unfalsifiable, but that can't be disproven with absolute 100% certainty.

We don't take them all seriously. We don't keep them around as possibilities.

Or rather, I should say: Yes, many people do that. But they are wrong to do so. As a method of understanding the world and figuring out what probably is and isn't true, it is profoundly logically flawed at its heart, and it has never yielded good results.

What is far more effective -- and what has a far stronger logical foundation -- is to provisionally reject any positive claim that X exists if the claim has no positive evidence supporting it. Especially if it's contradicted by a fair amount of evidence. Double especially if countless similar claims in the past have been consistently found to be mistaken. And it is crucial to categorically reject any positive claim that is, by its nature, unverifiable and unfalsifiable.

To do otherwise leads to a mess of competing hypotheses that we have no way of distinguishing from one another in terms of which is more likely to be true, and that compete solely on the basis of what people were taught when they were young and impressionable, and what lots of other people believe, and what they think sounds cool. In other words -- religion.

Your antigravity example is actually a perfect example for atheists' side. Atheists keep saying, "If we see better evidence for God, we'll change our minds." When we saw better evidence for antigravity or dark matter, then we put it back on the table. That's what atheism is. It is the provisional rejection of religion based on the current lack of good evidence supporting it.

You say, with some confidence, that "most modern people here would say Hinduism is more likely to be true than the Greek pantheon." As DSimon asked: Is a claim more likely to be true simply because a lot of people sincerely believe it? A lot of people sincerely believed that the Sun orbited the Earth.

And on what basis do you think these people are making that decision? You say that they have some circumstantial evidence backing up their beliefs -- but you neglect to say what that evidence is. All the "evidence" I have ever seen for religion has amounted to "authorities say it," "lots of other people believe it," and "I just feel it intuitively." All demonstrably flawed methods that bias people in the direction of believing what they already believe or what they want to believe.

You say "Many atheists have made arguments, yet they haven’t been able to come up with proof." Why is it that atheists have to come up with "proof" -- by which I assume you mean "absolutely 100% convincing proof" -- but it's reasonable for theists to rely on "circumstantial evidence" (i.e., authority, popularity, and intuition)? I have made specific, evidence-based arguments against religion, as have many other atheists. I have never read any believer who has ever come up with anything other than authority, popularity, personal intuition, and "You can't absolutely prove it isn't true." Why do you see their case as stronger than ours?

To say that those beliefs have to be taken seriously puts religion in a completely separate realm from any other claim about the world. No other claims get the "well, you can't absolutely prove that it isn't true, and lots of people believe it, and it just intuitively feels true to a lot of people, so therefore we have to take it seriously" free pass. Why should religion?

Greta Christina

Re the morality issue, pplr: It's going to be very difficult to debate this if you continue to try to get me to defend claims I don't make and don't agree with. I don't think religious believers are irrational or unreasonable. (Well, sometimes they are, but so are we all, it's part of being human.) I think they're mistaken. I think they hold irrational and unreasonable beliefs, but that's not the same as being an irrational or unreasonable person.

Some atheists do think that. I think they're mistaken, too.

And for the billionth time: I'm not saying that atheists are incapable of evil. Obviously. I'm not even saying that atheism can't inspire evil.

What I think is that, as an inspiration and justification for evil, religion is uniquely problematic. I think that the fact that is a belief in the unverifiable and unfalsifiable means it is better armored against criticism and self-correction than other ideologies, communities, etc.

It's not an "all-or-nothing" argument. It's a "better or worse" argument. You're trying to make it into an "all-or-nothing" argument.

And I made case after case after case supporting this thesis in the AlterNet piece... none of which you've countered. Compare the harm done in the name of atheism -- not incidentally by atheists, but specifically using atheism as a justification -- to the harm done in the name of religion, specifically using religion as a justification. Are you really arguing that the former is remotely comparable to the latter?

I already brought up that if you remove approval for doing harm (the evil you referred to) to others simply because they disagree on a given topic then the correction can readily follow.

And again, I repeat my thesis and direct you to the cases I supplied supporting it: The ability of people to remove approval for harm being done is greatly diminished when the justification for that harm is unverifiable -- especially the unverifiable promise of eternal bliss and the unverifiable threat of eternal torture.

Greta Christina

Now, to Alison:

1] This doesn't explain why religion isn't monolithic. If Religion was practically impossible to change then ummm.... it wouldn't change. Case in point the civil rights movement. Before churches thought it was ok to own slaves, now they don't. Why not? Because their civlility overrode their religion.

I didn't say the armor against criticism and self-correction was perfect. I said it was very, very good. Religions do change with changing social mores... but with a handful of exceptions, they are almost always behind the curve.

But I think you may be missing one of the main points. Which is that while religion will (eventually) self-correct about moral and social issues, it has absolutely no way of self-correcting about its core beliefs, its hypotheses about what is and is not true about how the world works. Its core hypotheses -- an invisible God, an invisible soul, an invisible Heaven and Hell that comes after we die, etc. -- are not verifiable or falsifiable, and are very resistant to correction and change. (The Catholic Church didn't apologize to Galileo until 1992.)

2] I have yet to see any evidence that religion can make a good person bad or a bad person good. All I get is anectodes that are at best third degree, such as so and so religious person did bad thing as reported in the newspaper, as if that person was the epidamy of morality prior to religion.

You want evidence? How about the good people who vote against same-sex marriage, because their religion told them to? The good people who teach their daughters that they were the sinful spawn of Eve and that sex was disgusting and fearful? The good people who turn their backs on their gay children? The good people who turn against their atheist neighbors? Again, all because their religion told them to?

If you haven't seen examples of religion inspiring otherwise good people to do bad things, you haven't been looking very hard.

3] This doesn't explain why there are thousands of Christian denominations that can't even agree on anything.

Actually, it does explain it. Religions can schism and schism and schism because they have no basis for settling disputes. They have no way of providing evidence for which denomination is the right one. So they separate for all sorts of reasons, from unresolvable disputes over theology to political maneuvering and social squabbling.

4] It doesn't explain what we take on faith. If I told a Christian that there is a gremlin in their sock drawer would they believe me? If a priest told them, that wouldn't make them more likely to believe either. So what determines what we take on faith?

What determines what people take on faith is generally what they were brought up to believe.

The single best predictor of what religion adults are is what religion they were taught as children. Children are impressionable, they tend to trust what they're taught by adult authority figures -- and when those authority figures tell them that these teaching come from God, that makes those teachings go in even deeper. And again, the fact that they're unverifiable makes it that much harder for people to change.

There are other factors as well: obviously, some people convert and change their religion as adults. People find new religions based on what suits their personalities, what their new social circles are practicing, etc. What they don't generally do is examine which religion is best supported by good, solid evidence. Because none of them are.

Alison

Hey Greta

I hope the quotes work here

Religions do change with changing social mores... but with a handful of exceptions, they are almost always behind the curve.


How can they fall behind the social curve when Religion IS the social curve?

For example, if say Romania, or Greece were to accept social stance X, how can the religious be "behind the curve" when 70% of Greeks 82% of Romanians [According to a Gallup poll] are religious?

Religion is part of their society, and society is part of their religion.

Of course I can't make this argument about Sweden for example, where the securalists [for lack of a better term] are the majority, the atheist Swedes accept X and then Christian Swedes putter along behind and eventually accept X.

However, that doesn't work in America, where the majority are religious.


As for your main point, I'm not trying to say religion is rational, or even a good thing.

Ironically, it preciesly BECAUSE religion is irrational that I disagree with other atheists about these issues. It's just too subjective.


What determines what they accept? Their personality.

If you haven't seen examples of religion inspiring otherwise good people to do bad things, you haven't been looking very hard.


I'm not saying that there aren't religious people who are pricks, what I am advocating however is the scientific study of why religious people do what they do and Scott Atran seems to do that here. {particularly in "where is the data?" part

http://www.edge.org/discourse/bb.html#atran


You can even see his infamous exchange with Sam Harris if you scroll up.

Finally, since I have been in several debates about this subject, I would like to add the disclaimer, that I'm not advocating religious belief, or saying that we should keep religion or that we should keep quiet about religion, rather we have science and reason on our side, and we should keep it that way.

Greta Christina
How can they fall behind the social curve when Religion IS the social curve?

Interesting question, and one I had to think about. I think I need to clarify: My point is that official doctrine is behind the curve. Other social forces are what force religious doctrine, often painfully slowly, to change.

And again, while religion will (eventually) self-correct about moral and social issues, it rarely self-corrects about its core beliefs -- an invisible God, an invisible soul, an invisible Heaven and Hell that comes after we die, etc. These beliefs are not verifiable or falsifiable, and are very resistant to correction and change.

Again, I'm not saying religion is 100% immune to change and self-correction. Just that it's far more resistant to it than other ideologies and communities.

What determines what they accept? Their personality.

That, alas, is just not true. It's too late at night for me to go googling the stats right now, but the single strongest predictor of what religion someone will be is what religion they were taught as children. Adult conversions happen... but they're relatively rare.

As for why religious people do what they do... I'm not only interested in religion as motivation. I'm interested in religion as justification as well. It doesn't just motivate good people to do bad things... it gives good people a rationalization to do bad things.

pplr

DSimon

You didn't mention that atheism hasn't proven its own case with evidence. In relation to that I would refer you to posts I made previously.

If someone feels something is not true during the time period they first come up with the idea and bring it up to others there is a greater chance it isn't true. Someone purposely coming up with BS intends to say something false thus the aim and effort involved make it more likely something is untrue. In this case it is a failure on the part of the speaker if what he/she says is true rather than false.

I said both were unproven but you may have missed the point that due to effort of the two different types of speakers the likelihood of one being false is greater.

pplr

I seem to be having trouble posting.

FormerComposer

You appear to have put yourself in the same proverbial boat as Creationists and Holocaust Deniers.

That is you are arguing against what is largely a consensus position agreed upon by experts who have reviewed evidence. And you likely (I admit this is speculation on my part) do so because a conclusion they came to challenges a belief you would like to hold on to.

Moreover, if you use either definition of atheism (either "the belief there is no God" or the excessively broad-to the point where people confuse atheists and agnostics-the "lack of belief in God") to examine the regimes I referred to (in France and Russia) their ideologies and policies largely fit within the bounds of the definition.

Cambodia and China (at times) arguably belong there too but Nazi Germany is much more debatable (Hitler, often a liar, supported or opposed religion when he had different listeners).

Also the same excuse (that rulers were just consolidating their hold on power) could be used to exonerate most (if not all) of the religions and branches of religion spread and maintained by violent means. Something you seem disinclined to do.

It also fails to explain more modern day atheists who try to bully or act like (as Greta said) "jerks" to those who believe different things than they.

Greta Christina

pplr, I've responded to every one of these points, and you just keep repeating them. I am therefore bailing on this debate, as it seems to be a waste of time. Thanks for visiting.

Joel Monka

My comments went, way, way too long, so I made a three part post on my own blog instead.

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