Archives for posts with tag: faith

Zinnia Jones says:

Atheism is not a kind of theistic belief, because it does not involve belief in any deities. It’s actually the absence of such beliefs. Similarly, atheism is not a position based on faith. Instead, it is a lack of faith. We don’t have faith that there are no gods, we just have no faith that there are any gods. Simply not believing in gods does not involve any kind of faith, because it does not require taking a position that is unsupported by evidence or contradicted by evidence. We just find the reasons given for belief in gods insufficient and unconvincing. Faith is not necessary in order to not believe in something that there is no reason to believe in.

We need to change the prevailing assumptions in the same way that public opinion has been reversed on drunk driving. When I was young, drunk drivers tended to be excused because, after all, they were drunk! Today, happily, we hold them doubly culpable for any misdeeds they commit while under the influence.

I look forward to the day when violence done under the influence of religious passion is considered more dishonorable, more shameful, than crimes of avarice, and is punished accordingly, and religious leaders who incite such acts are regarded with the same contempt that we reserve for bartenders who send dangerously disabled people out onto the highways.

From the Washington Post’s “On Faith” column.

  1. “Send money. It’s not for me, it’s for God!”
  2. “Of course, God doesn’t need money. So I’ll keep the money part, and just send God the glory you’ve included. He loves glory.”

Here is the whole thing boiled down to a cinder.

The evangelist says: “We are doing this wonderful thing. Won’t you send us money so we can keep doing this wonderful thing?”

But what is he doing, exactly? You just saw it. He’s asking for money. That’s all! It’s not really so wonderful. The “wonderful” part is a lie.

For some reason, however, lots of people kind of want it to be true. So they believe him. And they send money. And he gets to keep doing his thing, which is wonderful, if only for him.

Many people have requested a one-page summary of the new book. This one is under 400 words. [Slightly revised 8 June 2010.]

Roy Sablosky: NO ONE BELIEVES IN GOD (second draft, November 2009)

  1. It’s not about belief
    1. That religion has to do with beliefs becomes implausible when you look at the behaviors it evokes. For example:
      1. Their “beliefs” challenged, people are often enraged, as if you had threatened not their opinions but their safety.
      2. One joins a group, not its beliefs. Self-described Catholics may differ profoundly with their church elders on important issues; they are Catholics despite their beliefs.
      3. Notoriously, church elders routinely flout the “beliefs” they most fervently espouse.
    2. Claims of belief are implausible where the tenet in question is nonsensical.
      1. Religious propositions are incoherent. (This is probably by design. A slogan is catchier if no one knows what it means.) In the sentence “Jesus loves you” for example, both the subject and the verb are impossible to characterize or observe. Such a statement is perfectly empty: it is a pseudo-proposition.
      2. Since they are without meaning, religious statements can be neither meant nor believed. Thomas Jefferson: “I suppose belief to be the assent of the mind to an intelligible proposition.” Ludwig Wittgenstein: “one cannot mean a senseless series of words.”
    3. Therefore, no one really believes in the teachings of any prophet or the existence of any god. It cannot be done. It does not happen. People who think they are doing it are mistaken.
  2. Religion is made of memes plus authoritarianism
    1. Religious “beliefs” are memes. Just like germs, they are contagious; and just like germs they evolve through natural selection. The religious memes circulating now have evolved over thousands of years to be very, very good at what they do.
    2. People are naturally deferential to authority figures.
    3. Authority and memetic self-replication combine to form religion.
  3. What we should do
    1. Admit no religious exceptions to any legislation. A few examples:
      1. End all tax breaks (that is: subsidies) for religious organizations and their personnel.
      2. Eliminate chaplaincy programs at all levels of government, including the armed services.
      3. Remove legislative impediments to abortion and birth control.
      4. Outlaw the teaching of antediluvian codswallop in public school.
      5. Government should ratify only civil unions, not “marriages”. Anyone willing and competent to sign such a contract should be allowed to.
    2. Revise the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. No proposal having a religious rationale or using religious terminology should become a law.

[Update 26 JAN 2010: fixed the links.]

I have finished my book. You can download a PDF of the whole thing. Once you’ve read it, please find me a publisher. Thanks.

Viewpoint: Scientists who Blast Religion Hurt Their Cause |

Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum continue, in Newsweek, the bizarre attack they began in their book Unscientific America.

As soon as Francis Collins … was floated as the possible new director of the National Institutes of Health … the criticisms began flying. Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, for one, said Collins is too public with his faith. Collins wrote a book called The Language of God, frequently talks about his religious conversion during medical school, and recently launched the BioLogos Foundation, which declares, “We believe that faith and science both lead to truth about God and creation.”

The critics, though, have it exactly backward: the United States needs more scientists like Collins—researchers who show by their prominence and their example that a good scientist can still retain religious beliefs. The stunning irony in the longstanding tension between science and religion in America is that many scientists who merely claim to be defending rationality from religious fundamentalism may actually be turning Americans off to science, doing more harm to their cause than good.

First, note the dismissive “the criticisms began flying.” Apparently these were not criticisms that need have been taken seriously.

Second, a fact-check. Did Jerry Coyne say that Francis Collins is “too public with his faith”? I searched Coyne’s blog for the phrase “too public”. It was not found. This is classic projection. Mooney and Kirshenbaum believe that Coyne is being too public with his atheism. Jerry Coyne is concerned, not that Collins is too public with his faith, but that his faith might compromise some of his scientific or policy decisions. And it’s not as if we’ve never seen that happen.

What we have not seen is outspoken atheists “turning Americans off to science”. Do Mooney and Kirshenbaum have any examples or measurements of this effect? If there is no evidence of the phenomenon, then it is not exactly a “stunning irony”, and they need not have written a book about it.

Do we really need, more than we need outspoken atheists, “researchers who show … that a good scientist can still retain religious beliefs”? Why do we need that — so that religious believers are not afraid to go into science? It’s never stopped them before! Maybe Mooney and Kirshenbaum, looking at the fact that very few serious scientists are hard-core believers, surmise that the scientists are scaring the believers away. But there is a much more plausible explanation. People who possess the intelligence and acquire the education necessary for a career in science tend to be too smart to believe in fairy-tales.

The New Apologists never mention the so-obvious-we tend-to-forget-about-it reason for outspoken atheism: religious doctrines, every last one of them, are false. Hard to reconcile that with the scientific method! If you really want us to take seriously the idea that religion might in certain cases be a good idea even though it is made entirely of lies, then you’ll have to come up with something much more convincing than the idea that atheists are “turning Americans off to science”.

And Collins’s approach isn’t just good as a strategy to get the public to better appreciate science. The idea that science and religion can be compatible is strong on the intellectual merits as well. … [I]f we consider religion more broadly—in its own considerable diversity—we find many sophisticated believers who’ve made a peace between their belief and the findings of modern science. It’s not just Collins; consider the words of the Dalai Lama: “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.”

That there are people who seem to be doing it does not make compatibility between science and religion “strong on the intellectual merits”. By that measure, science and alcoholism are compatible too.

“It’s not just Collins”, Mooney and Kirshenbaum write — and then they quote the Dalai Lama as saying that he would change the tenets of his religion if he found them to be in conflict with science. This is unlike anything Francis Collins has ever said. To imply that Collins agrees with the Dalai Lama on this point is misleading in the extreme. Collins’s style is to insist that there never could be a conflict. He agrees with Mooney and Kirshenbaum; he does not agree with the Dalai Lama.

Distortions like this are typical of religious apologias. The reason is obvious: it’s terribly hard to come up with good reasons for religion, if you limit yourself to telling the truth.

Those jokers at the Pew are at it again, as reported today in the NYTimes under the headline Survey Shows U.S. Religious Tolerance. Here is the first paragraph.

Although a majority of Americans say religion is very important to them, nearly three-quarters of them say they believe that many faiths besides their own can lead to salvation, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

What does this mean?

“It’s not that Americans don’t believe in anything,” said Michael Lindsay, assistant director of the Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life at Rice University. “It’s that we believe in everything. We aren’t religious purists or dogmatists.”

No, Mike, that’s not what it means.

Look at that first paragraph again. A whole lot of people “believe that many faiths besides their own can lead to salvation,” the survey found. How did it find this? Well, it asked. Here are the survey instructions, copied from Pew’s web site. (From the page linked here, click Beliefs & Practices, and then Views of One’s Religion as the One True Faith).

Question wording: [IF RESPONDENT HAS A RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION, ASK:] Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right. First/next: My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life, OR: many religions can lead to eternal life.

Does anyone really think that the way to discover someone’s sincere thoughts regarding “eternal life” is to ask them this question? The epistemological and phenomenological obstacles to such a determination are practically infinite.

Here’s one. If I consider “eternal life” to be a real thing, I will probably have to admit that I am far from being able to understand its nature or how to get there. So I will probably have to trust my pastor to give me this information. I still won’t understand it–how can a poor sinner understand the deep structure of the Divine Plan?–but at least I’ll have some words I can say to people who ask. In this scenario, the Pew interviewer is getting a pastor’s opinion, recited second-hand, through the mouths of the congregation. I wonder how many of their respondents behaved this way. A third? Five eighths? Nine tenths?

Here’s another. There is no eternal life, so anything you think you understand about it is wrong. A person cannot have a coherent opinion about the requirements for the attainment of eternal life. You can’t find out anything, you can’t know anything about this topic, so if you say anything either you made it up, or you are repeating what someone else made up.

Why does this matter? Because Pew’s methodology reinforces a dangerous myth: the myth that one’s religious beliefs are to some extent a conscious choice. If my beliefs are deligerately chosen, you need to take care when you challenge them. You need to let me at least try to explain them, otherwise you’re being intolerant. But religious beliefs are not consciously chosen. Religious affiliation is chosen, and people change their affiliations surprisingly often. And whatever your affiliation, your pastor will tell you what to think about eternal life, the age of the Earth, whether God is male or female, and anything else you want to know. But you didn’t join his church because you found its cosmology to be correct. You joined because his church is across the street, and your friend Grace goes there, and everyone seems so nice.

This means that when the Pew Foundation asks you about your doctrinal opinions, they are asking you about something that sounds important but that you seldom think about. (And if you do think about it, your thoughts are guaranteed not to make any sense.)

To emphasize people’s “beliefs” in a survey like this is to distort the discussion about religion, because that’s not what religion is about. Religion is about money and power. The central question about religion in public life is not whether people are interested in being “tolerant” but why they are happy to pay their pastors so much in exchange for nothing more than pretty words to parrot to the Pew.