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blue girl

Great post, Mannion. You gave me a lot to think about. I know lots of people are aren't very religious in the true sense of the word, but worship other things. Some worship shopping and all the materialistic things they can collect. I know some people who worship perfection as it relates to a clean household.

I've been thinking about the John Lennon song "God" lately.

I don't believe in magic...
I don't believe in Hitler...
I don't believe in Jesus...
I don't believe in Beatles...
I just believe in me.

Sometimes I think that way. Which is pretty scary, cuz I don't know what the heck I'm doing. But, who does?

Mike Schilling

Teach people to put away as a childish thing their faith in God and adopt a rational, practical, scientific approach to life and it won't be long before they'll make a religion of science.

Quant suff!

mac macgillicuddy

Anyone who knows me knows that this is one of my bugaboos, and...aw, forget it!

But, at least, to the rationalists who want me to trust only my senses and give up on trusting in anything I can't perceive, I have two words to say (no, neither one begins with f):

string theory

denisdekat

such a fun post Lance, makes me want to write a lot and at length (which I hate doing)...

"I like to compare some rationalists' critiques of religion to a classical musician trying to convince people that a symphony by Beethoven is far superior and infinitely more worth their time than polka music or disco"

What if I want to disco dance with a beautiful girl? I doubt Beethoven Symphonies are superior in that regard...

Blissex

Uhm, I have some more practical and precise views on the purpose of religion...

First of all there are two main, and completely different, side to ''religion'', the first is the ''faith'' (belief system) side and the second is the ''church'' (group of people) side. One can well have ''faith'' without belonging with a ''church'', and very many people who belong with a ''church'' have weak or different ''faith''.

I think that over time both sides confer some kind of advantage:

* The ''church'' side reduces the uncertainties of human interaction, by creating a commonality of interests within the ''church'', for example as a mutual support network, and by giving outsiders at least a minimal expectation of the background of a member of the ''church''.

* The ''faith'' side helps people escape local maxima, as the ''faith'' pulls them in directions that are not motivated by self interest. Strong belief motivates. Also, looking for the promised land might lead most people to die of exotic illnesses, but some will cross the Atlantic and conquer for themselves and their descendants a rich continent.

Both sides of course have their disadvantages: the ''church'' can be more oppressive than helpful, and the ''faith'' can conversely get people stuck inflexibly.

Shakespeare's Sister

It's just that I am not a fan at all of any argument that goes, "You are stupid because you think things I don't, and the only way for you to stop being stupid is to think exactly as I do."

Interesting that you said "think exactly as I do," because it can be read two ways: "think the same things I do" or "think in the same way I do." The latter, which references the way someone thinks through things, a thought process, is really more what science-minded people probably wish faithful people would do--not think the same things, but think through things using the same logical approach. Different conclusions tend not to be as big a deal when one believes that another's at least thought through the issue as rigorously as oneself has.

zeke

Certainly, there are good pimps and good slaveowners who treat their whores and their slaves with benevolence and understanding. There are whores and slaves whose lives are probably made better than they might have been by dint of their being whores or slaves. These facts do not combine to form a rational argument for the continued practice of pimping and slavery, however.

blue girl

Great comment, SS.

Darn you! Why didn't I think it through as well as you did before I commented!

:)

The Heretik

We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. Electric word life. It means forever.

Or something. Let's go crazy.

Greg

It's been my experience that there are many people who just don't like to think critically. They're perfectly intelligent enough people; they're not stupid or anything. It seem like they just find thinking a burdensome chore. I gleaned this insight from working in a movie theatre. Often I would recommend a movie to someone, and they would say something like, "I just want a movie where I don't have to think." I suspect it's people like this that are at the root of the phenomenon Lance outlined in his post. Some people just let other people do their thinking for them.

"Different conclusions tend not to be as big a deal when one believes that another's at least thought through the issue as rigorously as oneself has."

The thing is, even supposedly rational people are nowhere near as rational as they think ,and arrive at many of their beliefs through non-rational means. They still have a worldview, and they're still resistant to facts that call that worldview into question. It's all well and good to have a rational thought process at your disposal that you can use to assess the truth or falsity of claims, but it doesn't do much good if you only really use it on claims that conflict with your worldview and not the ones that confirm it.

A good example of this is the current controversy about the Rolling Stone article. Some people (even on the left) want to believe that Bush really won that election, others want to believe Kerry won, but Bush stole it with rigged machines. This colors how strongly people weigh the data in support or against. Take the exit polls, for example. If you want to believe Bush stole the election, that's all the proof you need. On the other hand, if you want to believe that he didn't, there are plenty of ways of dismissing the polls on methodological grounds. The flawed exit polls can be made to fit quite nicely into either worldview.

For many questions of importance, there aren't a lot of cold, hard facts. Or rather, there are only cold, hard facts, and warm, mushy interpretations, and the only thing reason can say for certain is maybe. And most people, even smart, rational people, would rather not settle for maybe, and so believe what they want to believe. In fact, it's often the case that the smarter you are, the easier it is to come up with clever explanations for why what you want to be true really is true.

Wren

I really think you hit the nail on the head with the last bits in your post, regarding Jesus' suggestion that we love another. Maybe that's really all we need after all. Forget dogma and comeuppances, or "I'm better/smarter than you by virtue of what I believe."
If only loving each other was more popular.
Personally, I've always liked the credo, "Harm none." It fits in nicely with love, and requires no religion to accomplish -- though it does take mindfulness and work.

DuWayne

" The latter, which references the way someone thinks through things, a thought process, is really more what science-minded people probably wish faithful people would do--not think the same things, but think through things using the same logical approach.

That is exactly the sort of thought proccess that brought me long way round back to my faith.

I can truly appreciate the commentaty Lance. I place a lot of weight behind science. I can see how people place a religious furver to that credibility, until they stop analyzing and just believe what they are told - simply because they believe a person or persons of science haas been right so often they needn't look at a theory themselves. Or in a larger picture they believe in Science. . .I fall into that on occasion with my giddy fascination for Nanotech. And more bizzare with respect to nanotech I find a great parrallel of good and evil in it's potential. The thing is I don't neccesarily belive it to be any less valid and reasonable than my Christian faith - both I have achieved through a long journey of exploration and study.

opit

Then there are the ones - like me - who find science and religion are timid around mystery and don't embrace odd phenomena. One cute puzzler is that statistics has an odd zinger : no matter how improbable, anything that can happen, must. Pop that together with Occam's Razor and there's plenty of room for misunderstanding. That should be what humility is all about.

Ally

Take it easy there, opit. Anything that can happen will happen only if time is recursively infinite. This universe is only in its teens, but we don't know how long it will last. Unless the universe is infinite in either space or time, or it recurs, I will never have had steak Bearnaise tonight for dinner tonight(I had the chicken. It was so-so, thanks for asking).

I put my life on the side of rational thought. But science has, to me, always seemed utterly practical -- that is, not inspirational. Science tells us how things are, and how to do things. It does not tell us what we should do.

It has been estimated that on average a species lasts about one-hundred thousand years. Well, homo sapiens have been here beyond the average, so shall we die out and clear the way for future developments? Or should we just continue with what we are doing now: grow in population; increase individually in ecological footprint; increase the average standard of living. Or, maybe we should think about what a daughter species of homo sapiens might look like, then design it, then spread our viral life throughout the solar system.

It would be nice if we thought about it.

Yours -- Ally

Kevin Wolf

I've found most people don't think about their religion or their faith. Those that do, and perhaps even change religions, or lose and then regain faith, are a decided minority.

Even though I have no religious faith, I can at least find common ground with faithful thinkers because they're grappling with the big questions - something I find as a general rule is true of rationalists. (It seems to be how they got that way.)

It's the by-rote, "I was raised this way," accepting of anything types that I can barely speak with.

I've got a lot of repsect for Jesus, based on His teachings. It's what man has made of Him that turns my stomach.

Dr. Pretorius

For many of them, and for many people who aren't scientists, philosophy is enough. They can invent a rational system of ethical and moral behavior that doesn't include God.

I don't see how such a system is any better than one that does include God except that it doesn't include God.

Of course, this is equivalent to saying "I don't see how a car that explodes violently every time the key is turned is any better than one that does not, except that the one that does not doesn't explode." When it comes to systems and theories, especially in Philosophy, a premise as substantial as "Oh, and there's this God fellow too" is hardly something to be bandied about as if it were a matter of taste.

And how is most of what you've written above much different from saying "Look - whether or not someone wants to do what is ethically more or less right the chances are that they'll still, at least some of the time, do the wrong thing. So stop it with this ethical critique of actions, ok?" The fact that we often do fail to believe truths, or act irrationally, or what have you in no way means that we shouldn't do our best to do so.

Finally:To get to the point, to have faith is not by definition to be superstitious, unless you insist upon a definition of superstition that makes any way of looking at life that is not purely empirical, rational, and materialistic superstitious.

I really think you haven't looked over these words closely enough: rational, for example, just means something like in accordance with reason. When it comes to beliefs or how we see the world, this means little more than 'believing things that we have reason to believe'. And reasons to believe something are just considerations counting in the favor of that belief's truth. I'm not sure why you think there's some benefit to false beliefs, but it's hard to see how ignoring or believing against reasons for belief could fail to be something very like, if not exactly that, superstitious. (Very similar points can be made regarding 'materialist' and 'empiricist', though here at least less forcefully.)

AZrider

These questions have been at the top of my concerns for most of my life. I think that in the last 15 years or so, science is beginning to understand WHY people believe. This is as important (or more) than WHAT they believe. For those of you who are really interested in what is being discovered about our evolving consciousness --and how religion factors into this, I highly recommend three books:

"The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" by Sam Harris
"Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought" by Pascal Boyer
"In Gods We Trust : The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion" by Scott Atran

Also, Daniel Dennet's "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" is more of an introduction to the ideas in the other three books, and might be a good way to wade into these interesting waters...

evolvedreason

When a rational mind clashes with religious mind it inevitably has the following source:

A rational mind will build a reasoned trail to support a conclusion while a religious mind accepts a conclusion no matter the reasons.

In essence then the rational mind struggles to find the truth while the religious mind struggles in its defense.

Since religious truths change over time I long ago concluded that the rationalist approach better serves humanity.

Njorl

Those who have irrationally arrived at the conclusion that it is good to be alive will probably outsurvive those who rationally determine that there is no point to life unless there are some very nasty complications.

zeke

Njorl,

The idea, which I've seen expressed many times, that atheists are somehow devoid of a sense of wonder or an appreciation of the "goodness" of life is an idiotic one indeed.

In fact, I would argue that the very randomness of my birth is reason to celebrate my good fortune in existing at all. I don't need the certainty of religious dogma to appreciate the natural world, the complexities and challenges of human society, the sheer variety of experience that confronts me daily. The fact that I doubt the existence of any overarching purpose to life certainly doesn't mean that I am not determined to live it to the fullest.

We agree, then, that it is good to be alive. But one need not be blinkered by irrational superstitions to reach that conclusion, I assure you. I suggest you tend to your own garden, and spare me your condescending concern for my longevity.

Comandante Agi

I haven't been here in a while. Nice post, Lance.

The main problem is with grand theory. Any theory, whether science or religion, that attempts to explain "everything" is ultimately flawed. There are limits to human knowledge, and anyone who fails to admit this is both ignorant and arrogant.

Grand theory also creates a dangerous us/them dichotomy whereby the in-group is blessed and the out-group is demonized. Instead of being fundamentalists clinging to our own conception of the Truh, we should recognize that truth comes in many forms.

Regarding Vonnegut, he also makes an interesting critique of religion in Cat's Cradle with the use of Bokononism: "All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies."

Kate Marie

Excellent post, Lance.

Here's my problem with arguments for the superiority of reason over faith when it comes to judgments about ethics and morality. Doesn't any ethical or moral code which attempts to prescribe right actions (rather than merely describe rational actions) and proscribe wrong actions ultimately rest on claims that are unprovable and non-falsifiable? In other words, a "rationalist" may be able to explain to me why it is irrational to slaughter innocent people for the hell of it, but they will never be able to prove to me that it is *wrong* to do so.

evolvedreason

a "rationalist" may be able to explain to me why it is irrational to slaughter innocent people for the hell of it, but they will never be able to prove to me that it is *wrong* to do so

I fail to see how the *wrong* of slaughtering the innocent is some how handled better by religion. It is religion that has preached how *right* it is to slaughter innocent people for the heaven in it.

Kate Marie

evolvedreason,

Since your reason is so evolved, you might want to reread what I said and point out to me where I claimed religion is *better* at handling the wrong of slaughtering innocents. I believe that any fair interpretation of my comment could only conclude that I thought religion was not necessarily *worse* at doing so.

Some despicable religious human beings have preached that it is right to slaughter innocents, but I'm sure you and your evolved reason will agree that when you take God out of the equation, human beings still find plenty of ways to argue that it's right to slaughter innocents (see the twentieth century -- Stalin, Mao, etc.).

And my original point remains. Any ethical/moral code that is prescriptive (that involves "oughts" and "ought nots") ultimately rests on unprovable claims. In the end, both you and I *believe* that human beings ought not slaughter innocents for the hell of it. We can't prove it. One may reason one's way to that belief only up to a point. In the end -- that is, if you want to make your code prescriptive and universal, instead of merely descriptive and contingent -- you have to take the leap.

harry near indy

folks,

it's not either/or. it's both and ...

lordy, not a semi-respectable jungian among the lot of you!

Dr. Pretorius

In other words, a "rationalist" may be able to explain to me why it is irrational to slaughter innocent people for the hell of it, but they will never be able to prove to me that it is *wrong* to do so.

Kate - wouldn't the only way for a rationalist, or anyone for that matter, to explain why some course of action is irrational be precisely to explain why it is wrong?

Reason is, itself, (and this is a point that is often, I think, ignored) never a value proper. For example, reasoning about beliefs (taken to mean thinking about what is or is not the case) is a matter of figuring out what belief is the most justified in some case - and justified beliefs are good (or better than beliefs at any rate) because they are more likely to be true. (Indeed, part of their being justified just is that they are more likely to be true - that is what being justified by various other things is intended to demonstrate.) Imagine what you might say in response to someone who said something like "someone might be able to explain to me why I would be justified in believing something or other, but they will never be able to demonstrate that that something or other is the case" -- of course, doing the first just is doing the second. And this is precisely for the almost trivial reason that reasons for some claim just are things that count in favor of that claims truth.

Along the same sort of lines as above, it's hard for me to imagine how one might explain that some course of action is irrational (bearing in mind that a reason for some action is precisely (as above in terms of belief) a consideration counting in favor of that action) without also explaining that it is one that one ought not to perform. If there were no standard for evaluating actions as good or bad, there would be no such thing as reasons for action in the first place (what would they track?), and if this were the case, there would be no such thing as irrational actions.

sattvicwarrior

the FIRST line sez it all
"The purpose of religion is to keep people from inventing their own religions."
or more appropriatly. its all about CONTROL!!!!!!!!!!
also from what i have observed over the centuries.....
It DESTROYS ones spirit. and spiritualty with distorted dogma, and pumped up morlaity. this is what its all about !. sort of defeats its own purpose dosent it?
thanks for sharing


Kate Marie

Dr. Praetorius,

Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but despite your claim that Reason is never a value proper (with which I agree), you seem to be suggesting that ethical judgments (judgments about right and wrong actions) are fact-based, rather than value-based. That seems to be the import of your reformulation of my statement here: "someone might be able to explain to me why I would be justified in believing something or other, but they will never be able to demonstrate that that something or other is the case." It seems simply to assume that what is rational is what is good and thus what ought to be done. In other words, unless you connect the dots a bit more clearly than you have, I don't see how you're getting from "is" to "ought" here. You may have shown me that there are good reasons not to kill people for the hell of it (and various quite serious theological traditions may do the same with almost as much emphasis on reason), but how exactly have you proven to me that those good reasons constitute irrefutable evidence of the "wrongness" of killing others, such that you are confident enshrining that injunction against killing others in a presumably universal code?

But you could have prevented all the confusion by going ahead and proving to me that it is beyond a doubt wrong to kill innocent people for my own pleasure. Let's assume that I am the unmarried childless dictator of a small country and am thus above the law. I am as indifferent to my own life as I am to the lives of others, and I am a committed nihilist. I live for the pleasures of the moment, and I am happy living that way. One of the things that gives me pleasure is occasionally rounding up dozens of my "subjects" and torturing and killing them for my amusement. Please *prove* to me -- in a way that appeals only to rational arguments that I can accept without having ultimately to assent to unprovable propositions -- that my actions are wrong and that I shouldn't commit them.

tperrymandias

If Jesus Christ is the Almighty God, then who sustained the universe, while Mary carried him in her womb for 9 months?

tperrymandias

Why did Jesus say that the Father is greater than he?

When Jesus prayed while on earth, did he pray to himself or another supreme being?

Christian

Would you be willing to bet your soul on that one?

ismaili

All religion teachs us to help mankind, and belive in peace. Ismaili Muslims are the peaceful community that support mankind and developing health care organization for the mankind.

beepbeepitsme

"Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion." Steven Weinberg

madiha hassan

hello there,
well i've studied this rubbish article,so who have told u people,that theres isn't ny faith of unseen,tell me just 1 thing at times we believe on people we've met just once,nd we also trust them 4 sum reason,can i ask WHY? bcoz we have faith on ourself dat we r rite,who has told us that we r rite,how can we judge ourselves without ny preachings and historical moments of our saints nd prophets,nd who were the PROPHETS,where had got all that knowledge,who taught them all that?these r q's 2 thought carefully,nd answer to them is just the faith in GOD(ALLAH)THE ALMIGHTY,THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE THE CREATOR OF THE ENTIRE HUMANITY.y did NOAH went away with some of his devotees away from this world,why didn't that storm that destroyed the entire world,didnt harm him and his beleivers?bcoz he had faith in ALLAH(THE CREATOR OF THIS WORLD),NOAH'S faith was in ALLAH,he knew that nothing wrong would haappen to him bcoz ALLAH IZ "REHMAN AND RAHEEM","HE IZ MORE LOVEABLE AND AFFECTIONATE THAN OUR 70 MOTHERS".so the result waz fruitful nd due to NOAHS faith another world waz created in which we r living rite now,that wat u call faith in ALLAH.
SO INSTEAD OF TALKING,WRITING AND COMMENTING THIS RUBBISH GO AND READ OUT THE HISTORY.

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