Philosophical Advice For A Rationalist Atheist Who Wants To Be Religious Without Betraying His Ideals

Shawn writes:

I’m an atheist. I was raised as a Christian but deconverted in my early twenties when I realized that I didn’t have sufficient evidence to support my beliefs. Since then I’ve tried to adopt a consistent and rational way of looking at the world and I’ve tried to remain intellectually honest. I’m struggling with something right now and I feel like I’m letting myself down in that aspect, at least in the intellectual honesty department, and I could use the perspective of a clear-thinking secular person like yourself.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to be religious, at least in a manner or speaking. I want to perform rituals like chanting, praying, or making offerings. I also want to belong to a group of at least somewhat like-minded people who are doing the same things, so it needs to be in the context of some already-established tradition. I see some benefit to this kind of practice in people I know, even if everything is happening on a psychological level rather than some sort of “spiritual” one.

This seems to conflict with my desire for rationality to be my guide to truth. Invariably, there would be some aspects of any of these traditions that I’d be unable to accept as true. I’d have to view the gods as representations of nature or as something going on inside my own head rather than as real beings existing outside myself. I’d have to view stories as useful myths rather than as factual history. I’d have to paint every supernatural element as some sort of metaphor or useful tool rather than as being the truth. It seems like too much of a hassle to be worthwhile, but I think I’m willing to do it.

By adding this metaphorical spiritual level over what I consider to be natural or psychological phenomena, I’m not sure if I’m “betraying” rationality or not. I’m also concerned that this would be viewed as evidence that people “need” religion to live a fulfilled life.

I’d appreciate any thoughts you have.

Shawn, I think there is nothing to be ashamed of about in your desires for the kinds of good things that people experience in religious communities, practices, services, ceremonies, etc. I do not think they necessarily have to conflict with the ideals of rationality and intellectual honesty in any way. And you are not alone in longing for them. Unfortunately, mass consciousness raising movements often do best by appealing to people’s resentments. Anger is a powerfully motivating tool. And so the atheist movement has gotten tremendous mileage by appealing to atheists’ bitternesses towards religion. Appealing to how atheists feel like maligned outcasts and pointing out the encroachment of faith into our science classrooms and religious laws into our bedrooms have been fantastic ways to rally atheists together and to raise a consciousness of atheist identity.

But we atheists are much more than our anger. We are much more than what we reject. And many of us are increasingly cognizant that religions have been ripping people off for centuries not just by selling them counter-productive falsehoods but also by monopolizing, exploiting, and perverting powerfully important aspects of normal human psychology. Religious rituals, practices, communities, etc. are pitched directly at very real needs and real cravings of human hearts and minds. Religions would not grip so many human hearts for so many centuries had they not been tapping into something real in people. There is nothing remotely irrational about wanting those needs and cravings met.

If we are to be intellectually honest and rational we need to confront the ways that our brains are emotional, social, and physical. We need to accept that our bodies are part of how we engage with the world. While Christianity infamously disparages the body, many Christian traditions are masterful at manipulating it for Christian purposes. As empirically minded rationalists, we need to take our bodily nature seriously. We need to learn from the wide array of religious traditions about how they use bodily motion, communal ritual, communal life, emotional experiences, etc. in order to train people in ways of thinking and feeling and valuing and bonding. We need to take all of this seriously. All of these practices have great potential to give people intrinsic pleasure and to contribute to processes of conscientious self-cultivation and social transformation.

It is hard being a human being. It is hard getting control of our emotional and social and psychological lives. It is hard raising kids. It is hard making decisions. It is tough work to hammer out an integrated metaphysical and ethical worldview, build a social support structures, put one’s own mind and heart in order, and develop personal habits of character formation. It is even tougher to do all this stuff by oneself. It is hard in an era of fragmented and compartmentalized lives for people to develop a coherent sense of self and purpose in life and to do so in an integrated way where these various “spiritual” aspects of life are robust and mutually reinforcing. While many atheists are happy to try all this on their own (or simply do not personally feel or understand any of its importance), others quite rightly want help. But they look around and often the only institutions they see that have formed “programs” for working out all this stuff are steeped in supernaturalism, irrationalism, pseudoscience, authoritarianism, regressive values, superstition, etc.

But there is nothing irrational about wanting to harness the “irrational” sides of one’s nature; the ones that connect with other people through chanting or which change your mood with breathing techniques. Just as we are fighting to reclaim the body and sex as inherently good and worth celebrating against deeply suspicious and anti-natural Christian propaganda, we atheists need to reclaim many of our other bodily ways of regulating our inner and outer lives while overcoming the reflexive antipathy felt by anti-body species of rationalist atheists.

Just as sex can be great (even outside of marriage!) if we learn how to do it in ways that consensual and mutually pleasing, so can the other “irrational” sides of our lives be put to work serving overall mentally, emotionally, and socially healthy lives. We just need to be guided by reason. We need to routinely scrutinize our goals, our beliefs, and our methods with skeptical rigor to make sure they are not leading us down some rationally discernible negative path intellectually or morally or emotionally or socially. But beyond that we can be very constructive about harnessing the tools religions have developed for truer, more ethical, and healthier psychological and social ends.

Will doing this prove people need religion after all? What matters, Shawn, is what you need. If in fact you will flourish best by getting in touch with sides of yourself that religious practices help people with, then that’s a fact. Hiding it to advance an ideology that tries to erase that fact wouldn’t change the fact. You are an intellectually honest person. Let’s build our ethics around the actual facts and not try to contort ourselves to pretend another ideal fits us that doesn’t. And don’t worry, even if you in fact would be best served by religious practices, that does not mean all people ultimately need them. Let all people find their own path. Let’s destigmatize the different options. Let’s only stigmatize being an enemy of rationality or the good. Those who cite the benefits of religious participation as justification for faith and irrationalism and other forms of mental subordination to arbitrary authorities and beliefs or regressive values are those who need to be challenged. Those neutral psychologists who just recognize the plain truth that in many cases religious practices and communities empirically have some benefits that keep people coming back are not the problem.

But will joining a religious tradition give aid and comfort to irrationalism and authoritarianism? Unfortunately I think innumerable rational people trade off their minds (or keep quiet about their doubts) for religious benefits, thinking that participating in supernaturalistic, authoritarian traditions are the only way to have the latter. I do think in the long run that’s a problem because it deceives the superstitious into thinking more people believe in their literalistic fantasies than actually do–which only makes them more credulous and manipulable and dangerous to others. So, personally, I would advise disassociating from any religions where not only the liberal believers but the philosophically sophisticated ones are saying things they only mean symbolically in ways that deliberately confuse the less educated literalists. That’s a seriously bad part of what is perpetuating irrationalism. We need to reclaim the techniques employed presently by supernaturalistic and authoritarian religions, not simply help them perpetuate their Wizard of Oz act by playing along with it publicly.

But this is also why I want to actively encourage the intellectually honest who are interested in religiosity to jump in and contribute to the health and vitality of rationalistic religions that future generations of thoughtful people will see those options instead as clearly where they belong and they can stop propping up intellectual and moral authoritarians.

Fortunately, there are options for people who want to make clear that they are rationalists, skeptics, atheists, etc. while engaging in religious (or quasi-religious) practices. There are unabashedly atheistic Buddhists, Wiccans, Unitarian/Universalists, Humanists, Jews, and Ethical Culture Societies. To widely varying degrees, you can be among such people and be uncompromisingly clear that you find value in symbols, rituals, chanting, etc., but not in faith or authoritarianism or superstition.

I would personally recommend you join on with Humanists or Ethical Culture Societies since they are the most explicitly and universally non-theist. But there is value in being an atheist who helps rationalize Wicca and Wicca may help you find a distinctly naturalistic and non-Abrahamic set of symbols that might be more appealing to you if Christian symbols would feel too much like reneging on your atheism and reverting to theism. And Buddhism has centuries of developed thought and practice to draw insights and techniques from, much of which is metaphysically, spiritually, and ethically truer than Christian thought and more inherently compatible with secularism, in my experience. It will help get you way outside the limiting boxes of Abrahamic religious and philosophical categories. Alternatively if you miss Christian symbolism, then maybe you can get more of it at a UU service and should go that route.

This week I had an interesting conversation with a very liberally minded Catholic and pressed him to explain why he insists on remaining in his tradition. His answer got me thinking that for many people the only available language to describe and intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and socially engage with large swaths of their human experience is religious. Only through the symbolic languages of religious traditions do they know how to articulate very real feelings, longings, needs, and sides of themselves and the world they experience. Naturalists still need to do a ton more philosophical and scientific work translating all those ideas into popular, rational, naturalistic categories that do justice to the grains of truth in them while removing so much chaff from them. But even more importantly, we need to stop trying to demystify them. People viscerally know that an account of love as “just chemicals” vitiates their lived experience of love and is, therefore, not only unsatisfying but in some crucial way false and counter-productive to the practice of living life. We naturalists, rationalists, and atheists, need to find naturalistic language and means of expression that convey a sense for the rich experiential content of life that can rival and replace the supernaturalistic language to which people are attached.

In the meantime though, you can accept that some things are so far only articulable through a set of symbols and metaphors. In one of my favorite posts, I have tried to argue that art can communicate in irreducible and invaluable ways sometimes that we shouldn’t even think of trying to translate into literal terms because it is inherently impossible to recapture the richness of what was there in the artistic expression. Even the most hardboiled atheists I know love to talk to each other through the language of shared stories be they film references, high art references, musical references, or sayings, symbols and other allusions that come from our rich contemporary tradition of sci-fi and fantasy myths.

Non-literal communication is an aid for expressing truths we do not yet have adequate literal expression for and often never will. There is no shame for employing it in the meantime or, in some cases, forever, for as long as it is the best language we have available and for as long as we do not illicitly employ it in philosophy or science or government or anywhere else where its false dimensions will only distort and confuse rather than illumine. It is also valuable that we do not assume all religious symbols are inherently more deeply true. Sometimes they are more false than true and potentially misleadingly so. So we must be rationally critical, even when we are being symbolical. But this is quite possible.

Over a year ago, I solicited insights into atheist religiosity from those engaged in it and was bowled over by the extremely helpful, thoughtful, and insightful replies I got in the comments section. If anyone is curious, I started to open up personally to the idea that we might talk about there being something like “true religion” as I thought through some ideas in real time on the blog three years ago now in one of my personal favorite posts “True Religion?”. Finally, in December 2011-January 2012, the non-theist metaphysician and philosopher of religion Eric Steinhart did a fascinating series of guest posts on the potential ways that Wicca could help atheists looking for non-Abrahamic resources for being religious and how atheists could help Wiccans become more rational and less potentially dangerously superstitious. His book length series of posts is provocative both religiously and metaphysically and I highly recommend it.

This was an installment in my Friday’s Philosophical Advice column. I am an American Philosophical Practitioners Association certified philosophical practitioner and I have a PhD in Philosophy from Fordham University.

As a philosophical practitioner I help people reason through their beliefs, values, priorities, identities, emotions, ethical dilemmas, life decisions, existential quandaries, religious or post-religious struggles, love relationships, interpersonal conflicts, search for meaning and purpose, or struggles in any other areas of life that some conceptual clarification, logical consistency, theoretical sensitivity, and emotional intelligence can be helpful.

I do not treat mental illness. I simply help people reason more clearly, consistently, ethically, and proactively about their lives. Send your questions to camelswithhammers at gmail dot com with the subject heading “Philosophical Advice”. The identities of all inquiring for advice are kept confidential and published e-mails will always use pseudonyms instead of real names.

If you are interested in counseling sessions write me with the subject heading “Philosophical Practice”. All sessions are confidential. And it does not matter where you are in the world; philosophical practitioners are not bound by state certification requirements and restrictions, so you and I can meet online.

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Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • JohnH2

    So religion fulfills needs, provides real tangible benefits as well as emotional ones, helps in forming of community and socialization and you think it is irrational to hold these “fruits” of religion as evidence for religion? Perhaps you would like to elaborate your reasoning in this regards as to me it seems contradictory and to be avoiding where the empirical evidence is pointing because you don’t like that conclusion. Obviously such things are not capable of proving a faith to be true (though perhaps one could use it to narrow down the search space) but it does provide quite a lot of evidence that there is truth in religion.

    • 3lemenope

      All it provides is evidence of the instrumentality of religion, which is not an indicator of truth at all.

      For example, way back in the day, philosophers and sawbones alike hypothesized that an imbalance of internal fluids was the main cause of disease. Sometime a few centuries later, a competitor emerged, that asserted that disease was not caused by an imbalance of those fluids, but rather was caused by ‘bad’ or ‘evil air’ breathed out or emitted by the diseased.

      Both causation theories have the same truth content, namely nominal at best, and functionally zero. But, the practical difference was that the miasma theory of disease prompted hospital and hygiene reforms, like segregating sick patients from one another, that provided better outcomes than the humour theory of disease.

    • JohnH2

      Problem with that is that generally all we have is the instrumentality of a theory and we accept that as a degree of its correspondence to reality (i.e. its truth).

    • 3lemenope

      Generally we have access to the actual entities in the form of repeated, intersubjective induction (i.e. scientific and lay observation of physical and human behavioral phenomena) being posited as constituting the causal chain. So, a great deal more than merely the instrumentality. We can say “that object there is acting on this object here, and that is what is causing the effect we observe”; much like Whitehead’s Ontological Principle: Everything that exists, exists somewhere. We can point to the entities we are linking, through our hypotheses, into suspected causal chains.

      Both the miasma theory and the humour theory couldn’t point to the objects of their constitution and then draw plausible mechanisms of interaction between them; they were purely speculative, and so their truth content was entirely incidental to their instrumentality. But even they had objects to point to; bile and blood and smelly air all putatively exist in an uncontroversial sort of way, for our purposes here. Pointing to the putative objects of any given theology is a bit more problematic, to say the least. So we can’t take any implications at all from noting that religion has instrumental benefits and drawbacks.

    • JohnH2

      “we can’t take any implications at all from noting that religion has instrumental benefits”

      Yes, you can.

      The miasmatic theory provided real benefits even though it was not exactly correct; it has therefore more truth than the theory it supplanted. Every given theology has implications and a theory as to why it works and if it should work and so we can compare those theories to the reality to draw some conclusions; we can also say that religion as a whole has real tangible benefits above the alternative, meaning it appears more likely to be true, at least in some regards, than the alternative (of no religion).

      Even if a theology doesn’t consider tangible benefits to be a good thing it should still have an explanation as to why those benefits occur; so some forms of Gnosticism which suggest that benefits are actually evil would appear preferable to others which suggest that they shouldn’t occur at all, to give an example.

      It is needful to explain why the benefits are not limited to a singular religion but are more general and tied to practice over belief. This already rules out quite a lot of religion as having a “true” theology.

      If the benefits are good and an explanation is given as to why they are general then preference should probably be given to those that didn’t retcon that explanation into its theology; the idea should already have existed and not have previously been excluded. This would also rule out quite a lot of religions. Admittedly, this one is a little less strong than the other two.

      Multiple other theories about theologies based on observed benefits can be drawn out further. Obviously there are difficulties in going too far as other assumptions about the world, morality, and the existence or not of actual supernatural agents would get brought in which themselves may or may not be completely true. The existence of benefits alone and the generality of them though does imply somethings and perhaps suggest much else as well as perhaps suggest some heuristics in regards to seeking further truth.

    • 3lemenope

      The miasmatic theory wasn’t “not exactly correct”. It was not correct at all. That it had instrumental benefits was incidental to its truth content or lack thereof; that’s the whole point. A child might, say, draw a real moral lesson from a description of the behavior of a character in a Harry Potter book, but that doesn’t make the world the book describes any more real. Every event described still never happened. The book has an instrumental benefit without describing any direct correspondence with reality.

      The miasmatic theory, as well as the humour theory, as well as theology generally, all share one thing in common which separate them from science of any sort: they were all wild speculations about causation, absent facts or any conceivable ways to detect them because the substance or nature of the underlying cause is paradoxically or over-broadly defined and thus infinitely plastic under probing. The general abandonment of parsimony because each conceivable unique possibility is extremely remote and there are infinitely many possibles, so Ockham’s Razor is useless. Endless helper hypotheses can tweak the general overdrawn theory to rescue it from any anomaly.

    • JohnH2

      ” It was not correct at all.”

      It correctly explained some things and the later theory which we presume to be closer to the truth (because it works better) explains everything observed by the miasmatic theory. Just as Newton was wrong about the ether and everything explained by Newtons theory was explained as well by Einsteins theory. We already know that Einsteins theory is not a full explanation of reality.

    • alqpr

      Scientific theories are not “true” or “correct” they are just our most objectively effective and optimally efficient tools of prediction (until they fail to predict correctly or are beaten out in the efficiency competition). I’m no medic but I suspect that the miasma theory lost out to the germ theory not by making wrong predictions but by failing to make as many predictions (at least without oodles of guessed auxiliary assumptions) and so being less efficient. (The theory of humours is another matter as it could be tested by feeding someone bile and observing its effect on their mood – no wait .. maybe I should look for another example).

      Theology may make predictions about what feels right or good or whatever but their effectiveness is subjective (ie they don’t work for everyone) and all of their objective predictions either fail or can also be made without the theological hypothesis.

      I very much like Dan’s discussion about the possible value of religion to a participant – especially if that participant remains aware of the symbolic as opposed to literal nature of the religious stories and also of the “deeper” theological mumbo-jumbo. I too find it hard to deny the comfort to those who want it at that level but am troubled by the fact that such participation often includes suppressing explicit acknowledgement of the symbolic aspect and so leaves children and weak-minded adults subject to the mental manipulation of those who profess a literal interpretation (and who often use that to subvert the moral authority of the individual consciences of their followers). On the rare occasions when an intelligent friend or colleague chooses to retain or return to (or even adopt) a religious culture I always want to ask about this but too much politeness and the desire not to offend a friend seems to always prevent me from probing hard enough to get a satisfactory answer.

    • Kodie

      I do not think any religion is true. I do think that people find value (or even truth for them) in a religious belief they feel partial to. They may feel partial to it because it’s what they were raised in, or they may find something in that belief conflicts with how they connect with reality, and choose a different one, if they are still a believer. I don’t think anyone learns much at church so much as find a church that’s comfortable for what they want to be true, and others who agree. One example would be if someone is gay and either uncomfortably closeted at their family church or detached from it, they might find another church that welcomes them. I once drove by a church sign, while the church was up a steep and winding hill, hidden by brush and some trees, the sign said, “OUR GOD IS A JUDGMENTAL GOD.” Well if you want some judging, there is your church. If you don’t want some judging, you keep driving until you find one that says “Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser, Sunday 3:00″ or “Coat Drive for the Needy.” It’s vague, but you get spaghetti one time and meet some of your neighbors and see what they’re like. Other times, you meet someone and they are nice, you go out on some dates and they want to bring you to their church. If you don’t have a church, you’d probably like that one if someone you like that much likes it. Or you find it’s a real deal-breaker and keep looking.

      Religion isn’t true. People want to go where they feel welcome and respond to like minds. I think people don’t let the church tell them things they wouldn’t believe. They believe in a god and the sort of think what god would and would not be like, if he were god. I am in a discussion, sort of, on another blog with a Christian who keeps saying atheists, or the blogger in particular, rail against an imaginary god, one nobody (not him) believes in. Why so slippery, religion? I don’t think atheists are good at defining what god would and wouldn’t be like as good as Christians and other believers. They believe their religion over another because that’s what god “is like” for them, and the other one isn’t. They keep saying we’re not arguing against they’re god – we’re arguing against an obviously not true god, or else they would believe it. They agree this isn’t the real god we’re talking about and they don’t even have to argue, they just know god is like something else we haven’t said yet. Why are you wasting time talking about such trash of a fake god, I challenge you (while being so very vague about what he is like) to take on my god, who is real.

      I don’t have such a vast imagination to imagine every possible complex facet of any god some individual might believe in, but I can think about the themes and patterns that keep coming up, and even many strange gods that differ from any of the Christianities I’ve heard about, and they are all superstitions. There is nothing of substance to persuade me of any of them. They are all equally invented. Some of them obviously answer questions people have, and I would not say they are all devoid of human value. Having assisted on a production of Godspell a little over a decade ago, I got something from that (I think it depicts the Sermon on the Mount, if I’m not mistaken, and it’s pretty catchy), that I also get from learning about Buddhism. So much of religion really tries to help people stop worrying so much, stop judging so much and collecting psychic pain from bad habits that just get in the way, and I don’t see that reflected in society, of which a majority is religious.

      It’s not that you need Jesus, and I know so many Christians start there – if you are in pain, you need Jesus, not just the advice but the whole savior business, leading your life and calling yours over to it – no, that simply doesn’t work. People can feel better, be better, work better, and live better by following about 1% (or less) of the bible, which is not unique in the positive advice it does contain. People might also enjoy sitting quietly for an hour and a half listening to a lecture and meeting new people and getting together or swapping baby-sitting, etc.

      For the OP – I never grew up in church and I don’t really want to belong to one, so I’ve heard this discussion come up before. Some atheists want an atheist club, like a church but to talk about relevant ideas that are atheist. Other atheists think one of the greater benefits is never having to go to church. Some people like talking about atheism – I do, but online. Some people would rather join a class at something or just join a charity or meet-up doing a sport. It is good to find, outside of work, a regular group to join, and taking up kayaking is going to be a lot of just kayaking, while church seems to be whatever you’d like it to be. In my mind, church is meeting people from around town, some of whom may also like kayaking, some of whom live two houses down and never met you and hey come over for our barbecue. If you like people, and you have diverse interests and like casual networking, church is probably great. If you want to cut out a lot of steps and just get to the kayaking, find a club and skip church.

      I find the idea of rituals and offerings a little silly, but that doesn’t mean it has to be. It’s silly if it feels silly, and it’s not silly if it doesn’t. I am not sure what you mean by “offerings,” like, an orange and a glass of water? Money? I think the process of ritual is what I describe as religion is – whatever resonates with you. I even think the daily or weekly ritual of anything personally meaningful to do is worth what you make of it or get from it. It is not your duty to acknowledge god every single morning, right, but you might want to say hello to yourself. I think getting to know yourself and not taking yourself for granted is the way to go. People get stuck in ruts and get busy and do things automatically and then do it again the next day without thinking. Even taking time to read a magazine is distracting you from knowing yourself. I am speculating why you feel unsettled and drawn to religion. Setting a mood is also ok. Even atheists like their pictures and collections, certain colors, candles, sitting by the water (if you live near water), and don’t bring your phone.

      Church brings the social part of it, to me, obviously listening to someone talk and give you things to think about is what it’s for, but it’s the gathering. You can listen to an audio book if you like listening quietly, or TED Talks. The ritual is, to me, the going through the motions part that Christians think of as “religion”, but these rituals signal a personal ceremony, a thought for the day, an acknowledgment of your place in the universe, a pep talk, whatever you want it to do. Symbolic rituals with no substance but still make you feel better for some reason are neuroses. What I think you want to do is gain wisdom of some sort, feel a part of the world, know yourself deeply, acknowledge your nourishment instead of mindlessly devouring it, or something like that and symbolic rituals are just habits. If what you want is a habit, just have one.

    • JohnH2

      Kody,

      This was very insightful, much different in tone as well from what I usually get as a response from you. I disagree as to the absolute truthfulness of religion and as to the existence and nature of God. Religion often is what you describe, religion for me is, and I think should be generally, a search for truth about life and about God.

      My faiths conception of God really is quite different from any others and is very rarely argued against but is quite well defined (as far as it goes); given that something like 1% of the US population holds to my faiths conception of God (and the other 99% think it is nonsense as much as they have thought about it, there are reasons why much of Christianity has problems with saying I am a Christian) and the ease at which my faith can be ridiculed (without understanding it) then it is to be expected that rarely is my faiths conception of God looked at. Basically even if an atheist blogger has gotten completely wrong whatever more mainstream Christian idea of God they are arguing against there are probably more people that believe in that conception of God or something reasonably close in the US then who believe in my faiths conception of God (at least formally and as much as they have thought about it).

    • KentPerry

      Yeah?? Religion isn’t true? Which one isn’t true? Or are they all the same? Religions are philosophies just like Science is a philosophy. One (science) asks how, the other asks why. To say “Religion isn’t true”. True about what? You make a large post saying absolutely nothing about anything but your opinion of religions in general. I get it you have no affinity for them. All of them, regardless whether they are true or not.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      No, religions are not philosophies. They contain ideas about the world but they are not identical with ideas about the world.

    • KentPerry

      Dan Go back to school. You make as much sense as the first guy I responded to, NONE. BTW I never said they were identical in ANY way and THAT was my POINT.
      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/philosophy-religion/

    • 3lemenope

      I’m trying to figure out just what “none”, “any”, “that”, and “point” have in common, such that it would justify all-caps. Because by standard Internet parsing rules, you’re shouting at really weird moments.

    • KentPerry

      Perhaps you should concentrate on the message rather than worrying about caps or fonts that mess with your volume controls I mean seriously WTF does ANY of that BS you are talking about have to do with anything I have said in my original response post regarding religion being a Philosophy and that they are NOT all the same.

      Ill suggest it has NOTHING to do with it whatsoever and the point you are making is more of a personal attack and THAT,,

      is none of my business

    • 3lemenope

      Ooh! More data.

      Nope, still nothing.

    • KentPerry

      Nothing? You never said anything, you never asked anything. So you can expect nothing .. Don’t bitch when you got what you deserved

    • Kodie

      You said “concentrate on the message” and the message was

      Dan Go back to school. You make as much sense as the first guy I
      responded to, NONE. BTW I never said they were identical in ANY way and
      THAT was my POINT.

      Communication is difficult for you.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      You have a false dichotomy in your questions. You ask,

      Religion isn’t true? Which one isn’t true? Or are they all the same?

      To which I reply: All of them are untrue, but they are all still different. I can argue that 1+1=3 or 1+1=4 or 1+1=5; all those answers are different, but they are all incorrect. All religions are incorrect, but they clearly differ from one another in nontrivial ways and thus some are more harmful than others.

      Science isn’t a philosophy, it is a method. Specifically, it is a method for understanding the world around us. So far, it’s worked far better than any other method we’ve ever devised in explaining how and why things work. Naturalism and Secular Humanism are philosophies that assume that science is the best and/or only method for trying to understand the world, seeing as how every other method fails utterly to, you know, be right. That still doesn’t make science a philosophy.

    • KentPerry

      Ok let me ask YOU then,, what are all of them NOT true about. False Dichotomy? Ha ha sounds like a great example of a guy using big words and making them look like a contradiction. You either have a dichotomy or you don’t. I would think a false dichotomy is simply not a dichotomy at all. By the way, you haven’t explained the so called false dichotomy, you have only called my questions that and gave examples that didn’t even apply to the same logical fallacy you are alleging are in my questions. I mean it all LOOKS real smart and everything but just a more clever use of ad-hom sophistry splitting hairs over my question and how I asked it. The questions Stand as asked and obviously you got issues with the same thing those questions were pertaining to. Science most CERTAINLY is a Philosophy and the methods used to test theory are NOT the science itself. but when you make statements like this:

      Quote:”Science isn’t a philosophy, it is a method. Specifically, it is a
      method for understanding the world around us. So far, it’s worked far
      better than any other method we’ve ever devised in explaining how and
      why things work.”

      I know I am talking to someone who has NO IDEA what science is. Sheesh I hate arguing with knowitalls that prove they know JACK SQUAT
      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/einstein-philscience/

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      False dichotomy*: a type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option. Your options (implicitly) were: at least one religion is true OR all religions are the same. I argue that is a false dichotomy and there is another answer possible; all religions could be untrue and also different from each other. The two are not mutually exclusive.

      As for what makes all religions untrue, they all believe in supernatural things. Whether it’s spirits, ghosts, energy such as qi, an afterlife, gods, goddesses, God, or Goddess, they all believe in something that is somehow untestable and thus unfalsifiable. Which, to my mind, makes them utterly useless as a source of knowledge about the world.

      As for the methodology of science- yes, it came about through philosophical thought. It’s actually very difficult to draw a line between natural philosophy and natural science in the early days; it’s easier now, but only because the two have diverged significantly in their methodology. Philosophy has become much less empirical than it once was; it’s actually discouraged in some post-modern thought to measure philosophy against the impact it would have in the ‘real world’ if true or taken to its logical extremes. If you want to call science the branch of epistemology that is rooted solely in empirical evidence, that would be a very idiosyncratic but not entirely incorrect definition. Still, I would argue that science in and of itself is not a philosophy. It doesn’t do anything beyond look for knowledge without synthesizing that knowledge into an overall view of the world. People who are not naturalists can and do perform scientific experiments to discover new things about the world; we still call them scientists even if they hold supernatural views about things because we describe their methods and their work, not their beliefs. Naturalism is the term for the philosophy to which you refer.

      *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma

    • Kodie

      Religions begin by assuming there is any kind of question “why” that there is a valid answer to. We’re just animals. Science asks and answers how it happened, and religions don’t answer anything that needed to be asked in the first place. Science solves problems, and religion makes problems and pretends to solve them. Then they stick with traditional superstition and address many real problems in a superstitious way. No supernatural things exist to manipulate us and judge us. Only real humans and real other things down here. We clearly have an impact on our planet, each of us, and all of us collectively, and by our planet, I include other humans. Religions stick it on some other body to transform ourselves, or favor it above anything real, do the right thing because “he” says so. If Dan says “do this,” I can question Dan, and Dan can try to convince me that it’s a good idea, and I never have to agree with him. We can part ways, or continue to argue. But if god says “do this,” my only recourse to that is superstitious obedience. Because god never says to do anything. Only people who are superstitious and never come up with a good enough reason why I should do what they advise, if it’s only for god.

      I think what they were talking about before I butted in was two incorrect hypotheses, neither of which worked on its own, but one of which worked coincidentally. Life is a series of coincidences and planned incidences. Prayer also works coincidentally. Whenever you get what you wanted, you think that’s god, and whenever you don’t get what you wanted, you think that’s god challenging you to find some other solution, for yourself. It’s always that way, whether or not you pray. Nobody gets everything they asked for and sometimes they do. We all have to face challenges when things go another way than we’d rather, and that’s just how life works. No supernatural intervention, no gratitude required. Changing one’s ways does tend to alter the outcomes, but not always. But it’s like this – if you think your life will feel better after a good morning walk to breathe in and behold the nature, do it. But don’t try to tell people that they shouldn’t use birth control, since you’re not the one walking in their shoes. If there is a god to displease, no one really does know what it wants. Might as well mind your own business if you want to be superstitious about things.

    • KentPerry

      Science came about and was funded primarily by Religious congregations. For someone so religious about science, you only offer your personal opinions and again, I get it you got issues with religion ALL religions. You have made some one sided comments like: Science solves problems and religion makes problems. I won’t even respond to that kind of Juvenal assessment in what is an apples and oranges comparison from the gate. First of all it is just as asinine a statement to make that one can ONLY make Problems while the other just Solves them, yet science doesn’t seem able to explain life, how it started or why, without using words that demote metaphysical occurrence. I find it rather curious when I read some of these peer reviewed works and have not seen one that I wasn’t able to pick out all the metaphysics used in their descriptions.

      “No supernatural things exist to manipulate us and judge us”

      That’s what you believe and you are free to do so. Naturally I have my opinions but like yours, they are not about making statements of fact and calling it science.
      No supernatural exist? You can’t even prove matter exists and there is mountains of scientific data suggesting matter doesn’t exist save for the sensations images and limits imposed on us and created in our brain.

      No God like being?

      I can’t agree to that going by the evidence we have so far that seems to suggest it is the only explanation there could be and the most logical conclusion one can make is that this universe and this planet, the life forms that are on it, the delicate balance of nature and the symbiotic, interdependent life forms that exist seemingly in lock step with the existence of others. If you want to believe this is all some cosmic coincidence, that’s your opinion. But don’t go making statements about what is or is not in existence. If all physical matter was created by God, you wouldn’t have any physical evidence to compare it to simply because you would not know what physical matter NOT made by God, even looked like. Much-less

      what it doesn’t look like

    • Kodie

      So what, Kent? Why is it so important to you that you’re right and I’m wrong? I’m not here trying to convince you, I’m addressing the thread and the OP from my perspective. Dan says, “Your thoughts?” and I am neither a philosopher nor a scientist, but I have thoughts. Some people seem to appreciate it, even a believer. You post nothing that convinces me that I’m wrong or you’re right, you don’t even get into substance. You’re just mad at science.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana Hope

    There are religious Christian movements – e.g. 19th century liberals – that said the supernatural is an illusion and yet maintained that religion is meaningful. I am not in that boat, but some people are.


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