Futile Good Will

In the recent post “Atheist Charity“, I quoted one example of a charge often laid against atheists: that we have not done nearly enough to help the needy among humanity, as opposed to religious groups that build hospitals, run soup kitchens, and so on.

I have a counterclaim: in terms of actual good done, rather than the narrow measure of dollars donated to charity, atheists can rightly claim credit for a great deal. Since the dawning of the Enlightenment, atheists and humanists have played a major role in scientific study of the world, and this study is what has given us the tools we can use to do actual good. All the compassion and good will in the world, whether from religion or for humanism, is futile without science to discover how the human body works and provide real ways to relieve suffering.

There are basic, limited comforts that any person can give another. We can bathe a feverish person’s brow or hold their hand; we can speak words of comfort or reassurance. And the value of this human contact should not be discounted, but in cases of serious illness, it is not nearly enough. Good intentions alone cannot cure an infection, mend a shattered bone, shrink a tumor, or replace a failing organ. Nor can they reconnect severed nerves or stem blood loss. If we wish to heal, we have to understand how the human body functions. We have to rely on science.

In just a scant few centuries, science has already brought vast improvements in our day-to-day lives. Consider how many diseases we can now treat, how many illnesses we can now cure, that were untreatable even a few decades ago. Think of how many people are alive today that would have been dead by now if they had lived in an age when we couldn’t treat appendicitis, or when we didn’t have vaccination, or when childbirth was a risky ordeal and Caesarian section a death sentence for the mother. Many lethal scourges of our past are now matters of routine treatment. Many more, though not yet cured, have been transformed into chronic, controllable ailments rather than life-threatening dangers.

Meanwhile, millennia of religious belief have produced not a glimmer of insight into the way the world actually works, nor a shred of real improvement in the human condition. When it comes to alleviating suffering in meaningful ways and not just offering comfort, superstition is utterly ineffective. All the prayers in the world cannot help a diabetic who needs insulin.

Even worse, no matter what other charitable works they do, some religious groups are actively opposing the further scientific research that holds out the hope of curing illnesses that are currently untreatable. As I wrote in “Be Rational“, it is a form of virtue to dedicate oneself to seeking out what is true, the better to use that knowledge to help one’s fellow human beings. It is not a praiseworthy act to steadfastly cling to delusion and error, refusing to investigate one’s preconceptions, and thereby rendering oneself unable to help the needy in any substantial, meaningful way. Even more immoral is to fight against the efforts of others that are seeking to do this.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Ric

    Great job, Adam. You almost had me applauding when I read the last paragraph.

    I also view the rational search for truth as virtuous.

  • Ric

    Great job, Adam. You almost had me applauding when I read the last paragraph.

    I also view the rational search for truth as virtuous.

  • James Bradbury

    Can anyone cite specific examples of religious rules holding science/medicine back, either historically or in present times?

    Didn’t they have trouble examining dead bodies in earlier times because of the religiously motivated desire to perform ceremonial burial, etc?

  • James Bradbury

    Can anyone cite specific examples of religious rules holding science/medicine back, either historically or in present times?

    Didn’t they have trouble examining dead bodies in earlier times because of the religiously motivated desire to perform ceremonial burial, etc?

  • http://www.nullifidian.net/ nullifidian

    It’s also worth pointing out that non-believers who go around doing nice things for humanity don’t usually go around saying that they do it because they don’t have god beliefs. If they mention it at all, they usually say “it’s for humanity” or “it’s the compassionate thing to do”, far better that than the theist credo: “I do it because my god(s) tell me to (and will punish me mightily if I don’t)”.

  • http://www.nullifidian.net/ nullifidian

    It’s also worth pointing out that non-believers who go around doing nice things for humanity don’t usually go around saying that they do it because they don’t have god beliefs. If they mention it at all, they usually say “it’s for humanity” or “it’s the compassionate thing to do”, far better that than the theist credo: “I do it because my god(s) tell me to (and will punish me mightily if I don’t)”.

  • Polly

    I would also add that in many cases, the charity that the religious engage in is merely a means for converting others. The primary goal is not to help alleviate suffering but to spread the faith.
    If allowing suffering would bring sinners to repentance more effectively than helping, most religious would choose the suffering. This can be seen in an unwillingness on the part of hard-line xians to cooperate to greater overall effect with non-religious charities. They will cite the passage “do not be unequally yoked.”

    I admit that Hell-avoidance is still a charitable goal. But, their delusion can result in real-life sacrifice for no good purpose, objectively speaking.

    As for the major point: I think it’s quite a stretch to lay claim to the institution of science for atheists or even Atheism. It seems more like science nurtured the growth of modern atheism, not the other way around. Materialism in methodology isn’t the same as atheism; there are many religious scientists. I don’t think we have the right to gobble up that whole pie. Science isn’t atheism, though they share more in common than with faith.

  • Polly

    I would also add that in many cases, the charity that the religious engage in is merely a means for converting others. The primary goal is not to help alleviate suffering but to spread the faith.
    If allowing suffering would bring sinners to repentance more effectively than helping, most religious would choose the suffering. This can be seen in an unwillingness on the part of hard-line xians to cooperate to greater overall effect with non-religious charities. They will cite the passage “do not be unequally yoked.”

    I admit that Hell-avoidance is still a charitable goal. But, their delusion can result in real-life sacrifice for no good purpose, objectively speaking.

    As for the major point: I think it’s quite a stretch to lay claim to the institution of science for atheists or even Atheism. It seems more like science nurtured the growth of modern atheism, not the other way around. Materialism in methodology isn’t the same as atheism; there are many religious scientists. I don’t think we have the right to gobble up that whole pie. Science isn’t atheism, though they share more in common than with faith.

  • andrea

    great article. And a perfect way for me now to respond to the whole “who donates more” nonsense.

    I do think that atheism should consider science its own, or at least agnosticism should. If were not for questioning, we would still think sickness was caused “by God’s Wrath/Will” and mental illness was caused by demons. I think you can make the argument that atheism was first, considering that ancient group that Adam has mentioned a week or so ago. Not beleving in or not being sure of God allowed those first experimenters to do what they wanted and not be cowed immobility because a some mythical punishment.

  • http://www.asktheatheists.com bitbutter

    “As for the major point: I think it’s quite a stretch to lay claim to the institution of science for atheists or even Atheism. It seems more like science nurtured the growth of modern atheism, not the other way around.”

    My feeling also. We have both theist and atheist scientists to thank for our current understanding of the world–this seems to seriously undermine the case being made here.

  • http://www.asktheatheists.com bitbutter

    “As for the major point: I think it’s quite a stretch to lay claim to the institution of science for atheists or even Atheism. It seems more like science nurtured the growth of modern atheism, not the other way around.”

    My feeling also. We have both theist and atheist scientists to thank for our current understanding of the world–this seems to seriously undermine the case being made here.

  • law & disorder

    First-time poster, so let me begin with the obligatory “I love your site, and look forward to reading and commenting for many years to come!” There, that’s done then, onward ho!

    Whatever atheism’s claim to science in toto, I think we can safely call atheism the champion of rationality, logic and science today. I’m with — Adam, is it? — Adam’s assessment that the benefits of science far exceed the benefits of charity. Consider genetically engineered crops, for one, and men like Dr. Norman Borlaug, who is credited with saving over a billion lives from famine through his research. While I can’t attest to Dr. Borlaug’s religious affiliation, the fundamental point remains: In the war between science and faith, credit goes to the former for consistently improving human life across the globe. Atheism’s defense of science does infinitely more good than religion’s race to the Dark Ages, however many charitable donations they make along the way.

    After all: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for the rest of his life.”

  • law & disorder

    First-time poster, so let me begin with the obligatory “I love your site, and look forward to reading and commenting for many years to come!” There, that’s done then, onward ho!

    Whatever atheism’s claim to science in toto, I think we can safely call atheism the champion of rationality, logic and science today. I’m with — Adam, is it? — Adam’s assessment that the benefits of science far exceed the benefits of charity. Consider genetically engineered crops, for one, and men like Dr. Norman Borlaug, who is credited with saving over a billion lives from famine through his research. While I can’t attest to Dr. Borlaug’s religious affiliation, the fundamental point remains: In the war between science and faith, credit goes to the former for consistently improving human life across the globe. Atheism’s defense of science does infinitely more good than religion’s race to the Dark Ages, however many charitable donations they make along the way.

    After all: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for the rest of his life.”

  • Alex Weaver

    As for the major point: I think it’s quite a stretch to lay claim to the institution of science for atheists or even Atheism. It seems more like science nurtured the growth of modern atheism, not the other way around. Materialism in methodology isn’t the same as atheism; there are many religious scientists. I don’t think we have the right to gobble up that whole pie. Science isn’t atheism, though they share more in common than with faith.

    Science requires a willingness to test preconceptions, accept the implications of observed evidence, and fearlessly seek the truth. Atheism generally encourages these traits, and unlike theism does not require compartmentalization in order to maintain both one’s beliefs and that approach to one’s work.

  • Polly

    As I said, science and atheism have a lot in common. They’re just not the same thing.

    It’s insulting to religious scientists to disregard their contributions. Think about it, would you tell a Xian or Jewish Nobel prize winner that they’ve put another notch in the belt of Atheism? I think you’d get some heated disagreement. We should be wary of such hubris.

  • Polly

    As I said, science and atheism have a lot in common. They’re just not the same thing.

    It’s insulting to religious scientists to disregard their contributions. Think about it, would you tell a Xian or Jewish Nobel prize winner that they’ve put another notch in the belt of Atheism? I think you’d get some heated disagreement. We should be wary of such hubris.

  • Polly

    …Or Muslim or Hindu, or any other faith! Didn’t mean to imply only xians and jews engage in science!

  • Alex Weaver

    One example of empirical evidence I would be interested in seeing, if anyone has it to share, is information on volunteerism and philanthropy among atheists as compared to theists; caring and compassion don’t have to be done by prostelizing charities in order to be real and effective (an assertion!).

    -Jim Coufal

    Sigh…

    In the recent post “Atheist Charity“, I quoted one example of a charge often laid against atheists: that we have not done nearly enough to help the needy among humanity, as opposed to religious groups that build hospitals, run soup kitchens, and so on.

    -Original article

  • Alex Weaver

    One example of empirical evidence I would be interested in seeing, if anyone has it to share, is information on volunteerism and philanthropy among atheists as compared to theists; caring and compassion don’t have to be done by prostelizing charities in order to be real and effective (an assertion!).

    -Jim Coufal

    Sigh…

    In the recent post “Atheist Charity“, I quoted one example of a charge often laid against atheists: that we have not done nearly enough to help the needy among humanity, as opposed to religious groups that build hospitals, run soup kitchens, and so on.

    -Original article

  • Marco

    I´m Christian. I don´t mean to be offensive, but the same right you have to publish this work gives me the right to Comment about it. Basically what you are saying is what Dr. House once said “Would you rather have a nicy doctor holding your hand as you die, or a synic, almost angry doctor sculding you as you get better?” and it sounds correct. But consider This

    1. You are basically saying that all the people that have ever tryied to invent something for the common wellfare are Atheists. This, if you read history, is quite untrue, since you know that amazingly smart and scientifically contributing figures such as Isaac Newton, Nicholas Copernicus, Sir Fancis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, and even Albert Einsteiin were all great God-Believing Scientists. So to distiguish Religious and Atheist People based on if they were scientists or not, seems to be an overgeneralizaton.
    2.What you are stating here, Logically, is that a person must decide weather he believes in Science OR God, basically saying that God and Science aren´t the same thing. Just to let you know, God IS a scientist, the Bible Says that “he made all the things with wisdom and science” so if you want knowledge to keep your science project going, it wouldn´t be a bad idea to ask God for some help.
    3. If you accept the previous to be correct, then you are saying that you are putting your trust and life in the hands of doctors who know a lot more than I do, yes, but not nearly as much as one needs to know in order to rescue someone´s life from illness and disease. In fact, and you´ll agree with me on this, it is common for scientists to “make a study” that reveals something that another “study” latter on contradicts. I´ve heard this very often. Now, Are you willing to put your life trusting a person who, Yes, knows a bit more than you, but still can´t find a cure for the common flu, Diabetes, HIV, many sorts of Cancer, Etc. Now, I´m not saying I don´t trust Medicine, I´m saying medicine and God aren´t opposite ends. God Gave us Knowledge and Wisdome, The probles is when we begin to trust our own wisdom and find that we aren´t smart enough, we don´t go back to the source and ask for Help.

    And contradicting what you said about prayer, there are innumerable cases of peaople that have been healed, MEDICALLY PROVEN, through prayer. Yes, you call it massive hysteria, suggestion, brainwashing, but all those are only different names for the same thing; faith. Even you have faith in something, called Evolution, Which is a religion since It´s been in the state of Hypothesis for the longest time, is only a theory, it cannot be proven, tested or repeated, and all claims of its existence are only that; claims. So basically you have faith, and that faith, from many others, is what can heal.

    I´m not against Science, I´m against Evolution and atheism. They are two very different Terms. Think about it without any prejudism, being impartial and as if you were trying to find a most excellent truth; I You are right, I have nothing to lose, If I´m right, you are doomed forever man.

  • ex machina

    1. You are basically saying that all the people that have ever tryied to invent something for the common wellfare are Atheists. This, if you read history, is quite untrue, since you know that amazingly smart and scientifically contributing figures such as Isaac Newton, Nicholas Copernicus, Sir Fancis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, and even Albert Einsteiin were all great God-Believing Scientists. So to distiguish Religious and Atheist People based on if they were scientists or not, seems to be an overgeneralizaton.

    You did not really read the article. Ebon never said this, he simply said that the rise of humanism and secular thought encouraged people to challenge the status quo, leading to important scientific progress.

    2.What you are stating here, Logically, is that a person must decide weather he believes in Science OR God, basically saying that God and Science aren´t the same thing. Just to let you know, God IS a scientist, the Bible Says that “he made all the things with wisdom and science” so if you want knowledge to keep your science project going, it wouldn´t be a bad idea to ask God for some help.

    I’m not sure what kind of an impact you expect to have by appealing to the authority of the Bible in a thread geared towards atheists. Atheists don’t believe in God and, therefore, tend to reject the Bible as an authoritative source on any matter.

    3. If you accept the previous to be correct, then you are saying that you are putting your trust and life in the hands of doctors who know a lot more than I do, yes, but not nearly as much as one needs to know in order to rescue someone´s life from illness and disease. In fact, and you´ll agree with me on this, it is common for scientists to “make a study” that reveals something that another “study” latter on contradicts. I´ve heard this very often. Now, Are you willing to put your life trusting a person who, Yes, knows a bit more than you, but still can´t find a cure for the common flu, Diabetes, HIV, many sorts of Cancer, Etc. Now, I´m not saying I don´t trust Medicine, I´m saying medicine and God aren´t opposite ends. God Gave us Knowledge and Wisdome, The probles is when we begin to trust our own wisdom and find that we aren´t smart enough, we don´t go back to the source and ask for Help.

    Fascinating, but your argument presupposes that God exists, or cares, or wishes to communicate such knowledge to us. Anyway, if medicine and God aren’t at opposite ends, why didn’t the fervent belief of centuries ago (1500-1600, for example) provide mankind with knowledge about curing disease (or even basic hygiene)?

    And contradicting what you said about prayer, there are innumerable cases of peaople that have been healed, MEDICALLY PROVEN, through prayer.

    This is a common misconception. There is no proof of this phenomenon. Ebon has an article with some links to the study proving prayer has no effect, keep digging.

    Yes, you call it massive hysteria, suggestion, brainwashing, but all those are only different names for the same thing; faith. Even you have faith in something, called Evolution, Which is a religion since It´s been in the state of Hypothesis for the longest time, is only a theory, it cannot be proven, tested or repeated, and all claims of its existence are only that; claims. So basically you have faith, and that faith, from many others, is what can heal.

    Again, a common misconception. You have misunderstood the consensus of the scientific community and the use of the word “theory.” Please read this for further explanation:
    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=000D4FEC-7D5B-1D07-8E49809EC588EEDF

    I´m not against Science, I´m against Evolution and atheism. They are two very different Terms. Think about it without any prejudism, being impartial and as if you were trying to find a most excellent truth; I You are right, I have nothing to lose, If I´m right, you are doomed forever man.

    But you have everything to lose: your life to a delusion. The wager is not as simple as that. It’s called Pascal’s wager. Read this to learn more:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascals_wager

  • ex machina

    1. You are basically saying that all the people that have ever tryied to invent something for the common wellfare are Atheists. This, if you read history, is quite untrue, since you know that amazingly smart and scientifically contributing figures such as Isaac Newton, Nicholas Copernicus, Sir Fancis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, and even Albert Einsteiin were all great God-Believing Scientists. So to distiguish Religious and Atheist People based on if they were scientists or not, seems to be an overgeneralizaton.

    You did not really read the article. Ebon never said this, he simply said that the rise of humanism and secular thought encouraged people to challenge the status quo, leading to important scientific progress.

    2.What you are stating here, Logically, is that a person must decide weather he believes in Science OR God, basically saying that God and Science aren´t the same thing. Just to let you know, God IS a scientist, the Bible Says that “he made all the things with wisdom and science” so if you want knowledge to keep your science project going, it wouldn´t be a bad idea to ask God for some help.

    I’m not sure what kind of an impact you expect to have by appealing to the authority of the Bible in a thread geared towards atheists. Atheists don’t believe in God and, therefore, tend to reject the Bible as an authoritative source on any matter.

    3. If you accept the previous to be correct, then you are saying that you are putting your trust and life in the hands of doctors who know a lot more than I do, yes, but not nearly as much as one needs to know in order to rescue someone´s life from illness and disease. In fact, and you´ll agree with me on this, it is common for scientists to “make a study” that reveals something that another “study” latter on contradicts. I´ve heard this very often. Now, Are you willing to put your life trusting a person who, Yes, knows a bit more than you, but still can´t find a cure for the common flu, Diabetes, HIV, many sorts of Cancer, Etc. Now, I´m not saying I don´t trust Medicine, I´m saying medicine and God aren´t opposite ends. God Gave us Knowledge and Wisdome, The probles is when we begin to trust our own wisdom and find that we aren´t smart enough, we don´t go back to the source and ask for Help.

    Fascinating, but your argument presupposes that God exists, or cares, or wishes to communicate such knowledge to us. Anyway, if medicine and God aren’t at opposite ends, why didn’t the fervent belief of centuries ago (1500-1600, for example) provide mankind with knowledge about curing disease (or even basic hygiene)?

    And contradicting what you said about prayer, there are innumerable cases of peaople that have been healed, MEDICALLY PROVEN, through prayer.

    This is a common misconception. There is no proof of this phenomenon. Ebon has an article with some links to the study proving prayer has no effect, keep digging.

    Yes, you call it massive hysteria, suggestion, brainwashing, but all those are only different names for the same thing; faith. Even you have faith in something, called Evolution, Which is a religion since It´s been in the state of Hypothesis for the longest time, is only a theory, it cannot be proven, tested or repeated, and all claims of its existence are only that; claims. So basically you have faith, and that faith, from many others, is what can heal.

    Again, a common misconception. You have misunderstood the consensus of the scientific community and the use of the word “theory.” Please read this for further explanation:
    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=000D4FEC-7D5B-1D07-8E49809EC588EEDF

    I´m not against Science, I´m against Evolution and atheism. They are two very different Terms. Think about it without any prejudism, being impartial and as if you were trying to find a most excellent truth; I You are right, I have nothing to lose, If I´m right, you are doomed forever man.

    But you have everything to lose: your life to a delusion. The wager is not as simple as that. It’s called Pascal’s wager. Read this to learn more:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascals_wager

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    While not all scientists are atheists, it’s not at all unfair to point out that in many fields, substantial majorities of them are – overwhelming majorities, actually, among the most highly qualified and respected scientists. Atheists don’t need to claim exclusive ownership of science to be able to fairly claim that we have made major contributions to the growth of humanity’s understanding; nor is it unfair to observe that religion, as a whole, has far more often been an impediment to science than an aid to it.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    While not all scientists are atheists, it’s not at all unfair to point out that in many fields, substantial majorities of them are – overwhelming majorities, actually, among the most highly qualified and respected scientists. Atheists don’t need to claim exclusive ownership of science to be able to fairly claim that we have made major contributions to the growth of humanity’s understanding; nor is it unfair to observe that religion, as a whole, has far more often been an impediment to science than an aid to it.

  • OMGF

    …and even Albert Einsteiin were all great God-Believing Scientists.

    Albert Einstein was a pantheist at best. You might want to check your sources.

    …so if you want knowledge to keep your science project going, it wouldn´t be a bad idea to ask God for some help.

    Science works precisely because it does not rely on supernatural help.

    In fact, and you´ll agree with me on this, it is common for scientists to “make a study” that reveals something that another “study” latter on contradicts. I´ve heard this very often. Now, Are you willing to put your life trusting a person who, Yes, knows a bit more than you, but still can´t find a cure for the common flu, Diabetes, HIV, many sorts of Cancer, Etc.

    Unlike religious thought, science is open to new evidence and new experimentation. That is one reason why science works, and a big part of what Ebonmuse was trying to say. Religious thought is entrenched and that sort of outlook does not lend itself to new discovery. Scientific thought is the opposite of that, always open to new evidence, and leads to great discovery. Although science has not cured everything as you point out, it is simply not true that it has done nothing, nor is it true that the advances that have been made are worthless unless it can cure everything.

  • Jim Coufal

    In speech communication, an assertion is a statement made to bring about belief, but done so without evidence. A calim is a similar kind of statement, but with evidence. Evidence herein doesn’t mean belief or faith, it means empirical, rational, repeatable hard evidence. There are many assertions being made on both sides in this thread, but little evidence. Those writing from the atheistic side dissapoint me in this regard, while such lack of evidence is expected from theists. Being rational is making claims, not assertions.

    One example of empirical evidence I would be interested in seeing, if anyone has it to share, is information on volunteerism and philanthropy among atheists as compared to theists; caring and compassion don’t have to be done by prostelizing charities in order to be real and effective (an assertion!).

    Finally, I’m floored by Marco’s statement that “massive hysteria, suggestion, brainwashing…are only different names for the same thing; faith.” Marco, are you admitting you have been brainwashed and have submitted to mass hysteria? Is so, how can you expect to be taken seriously?

    Jim

  • Jim Coufal

    In speech communication, an assertion is a statement made to bring about belief, but done so without evidence. A calim is a similar kind of statement, but with evidence. Evidence herein doesn’t mean belief or faith, it means empirical, rational, repeatable hard evidence. There are many assertions being made on both sides in this thread, but little evidence. Those writing from the atheistic side dissapoint me in this regard, while such lack of evidence is expected from theists. Being rational is making claims, not assertions.

    One example of empirical evidence I would be interested in seeing, if anyone has it to share, is information on volunteerism and philanthropy among atheists as compared to theists; caring and compassion don’t have to be done by prostelizing charities in order to be real and effective (an assertion!).

    Finally, I’m floored by Marco’s statement that “massive hysteria, suggestion, brainwashing…are only different names for the same thing; faith.” Marco, are you admitting you have been brainwashed and have submitted to mass hysteria? Is so, how can you expect to be taken seriously?

    Jim

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ John P

    Although science has not cured everything as you point out, it is simply not true that it has done nothing, nor is it true that the advances that have been made are worthless unless it can cure everything.

    True. Science has not cured everything. (Imagine the place of religion today if it had?)

    However, I think it’s safe to say that every single cure for every single disease and affliction from the beginning of recorded history to date has been accomplished by science, and science alone. Not a single cure for any disease can be laid at the feet of religion (unless of course, you believe the Jesus cured the occasional leper and the blind that he happened to run into. To bad he didn’t have the foresight to extinguish leprosy and blindness from the world, along with cancer, ALS, MS, Cystic Fibrosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, all forms of mental illness, and a host of many others all the way down to hangnails. For that matter, why did he create them in the first place?)

    And getting off the derail, Ebon’s post points out that there were probably many people, scientists, who did the right thing for humanity without any acknowledgment of their non-religious motivations. A very good case could also be made that the great scientists mentioned above would most likely be atheists today if they knew what we know today. For example, if Newton knew of Darwin’s work, would he still believe in a Creator, in this day and age when the power of the Church is so diminished? I think not. He was too smart for that.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ John P

    Although science has not cured everything as you point out, it is simply not true that it has done nothing, nor is it true that the advances that have been made are worthless unless it can cure everything.

    True. Science has not cured everything. (Imagine the place of religion today if it had?)

    However, I think it’s safe to say that every single cure for every single disease and affliction from the beginning of recorded history to date has been accomplished by science, and science alone. Not a single cure for any disease can be laid at the feet of religion (unless of course, you believe the Jesus cured the occasional leper and the blind that he happened to run into. To bad he didn’t have the foresight to extinguish leprosy and blindness from the world, along with cancer, ALS, MS, Cystic Fibrosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, all forms of mental illness, and a host of many others all the way down to hangnails. For that matter, why did he create them in the first place?)

    And getting off the derail, Ebon’s post points out that there were probably many people, scientists, who did the right thing for humanity without any acknowledgment of their non-religious motivations. A very good case could also be made that the great scientists mentioned above would most likely be atheists today if they knew what we know today. For example, if Newton knew of Darwin’s work, would he still believe in a Creator, in this day and age when the power of the Church is so diminished? I think not. He was too smart for that.

  • Mrnaglfar

    For Marco:

    Number of diseases cured by religion and religion alone: 0

    2.What you are stating here, Logically, is that a person must decide weather he believes in Science OR God, basically saying that God and Science aren´t the same thing. Just to let you know, God IS a scientist, the Bible Says that “he made all the things with wisdom and science” so if you want knowledge to keep your science project going, it wouldn´t be a bad idea to ask God for some help.

    Instead of asking god for help, how about asking a doctor, or an expert scientist in that field, or even do reading and research of your own? I guarentee you’ll find the answers a lot sooner, and in fact, find answers at all. When was the last time you ever heard of a random someone cure a disease and say “god just told me how”? Likewise, even if you find a claim like that, how reliable can it be if that person also happens to be a doctor or someone who has an extensive knowledge of science.

    If you say people are being forced to choose between god and science, ask yourself a few simple questions. If you or your loved ones were sick with a bad disease and you had a choice between taking them to a hospital or sitting around and praying for them to get better, which would you pick? If you break a leg, would you pray for god to make it better or get it put back in place and in a cast by a doctor?

    And again, the bible is not a source of real information. The thought behind those who look to the bible is that they don’t need evidence, and if you don’t need evidence there goes all scientific research. A study can correct another study because that’s how science works. It changes and it doesn’t instantly have an answer for every problem and a cure for every disease. These things come in small steps (like evolution), unlike the line of religious thought where “if you can’t immediately prove everything to me beyond any doubt then it must mean that MY religion is right”. This, of course, is total bullshit.

    Just because some great thinkers happened to be religious in a time when religion was the norm does not mean it’s because of religion they were great thinkers. Same way Ghandi was a racist when racism was the norm in his time, but that doesn’t mean he did the wonderful things he did because he was a racist.

    And let’s not forget, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus etc. hold beliefs on the same philosophical level as those who believe in voodoo, the flying spaghetti monster, and psychics who claim to talk to the dead.
    God Gave us Knowledge and Wisdome, The probles is when we begin to trust our own wisdom and find that we aren´t smart enough, we don´t go back to the source and ask for Help.
    Here’s a contrary thought. God didn’t give us wisdom or knowledge, and as a matter of fact, god doesn’t exist. Rather, it was my personal animal spirit, Veesha, who gave all people knowledge and created the world on the back of a giant turtle upon which we all live today. All who do not worship my animal spirit will spend forever burning in fire, while all those who do will forever live in a land of monopoly and poptarts. If you can show, in any reasonably way, that your belief in Christianity is any more valid then my hypothetical, I’d be amazed.

  • Polly

    @John P:

    A very good case could also be made that the great scientists mentioned above would most likely be atheists today if they knew what we know today. For example, if Newton knew of Darwin’s work, would he still believe in a Creator, in this day and age when the power of the Church is so diminished? I think not. He was too smart for that.

    My problem with that is that there are smart scientists alive today that are religious – for whatever reason. I have a very sorry excuse for an apologetics book written by Francis S. Collins to prove it. He headed the team that mapped the human genome. And there are others.
    go figure

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    There’s another facet of this story going on over on “This Week in Evolution”: R. Ford Dennison has been posting some caveats to people planning to start a Ph.D. (in Biology or other sciences) here, here, and here. These posts show realistically what kind of a sacrifice it is to choose the path of becoming a scientist (even though that’s not really the point he’s trying to make).

    It’s sad to think that such lifelong contributions would show up in statistics as smaller than a wealthy executive contributing to his church.

  • Lunacrous

    The question isn’t how many scientists are religious. The question is, how many have tested religious beliefs with the same rigor that would be applied to any other hypothesis and are religious after doing so? The fact that they are dealing with a non-falsifiable hypothesis based solely on hearsay and imagination, with no observable phenomena connected to it, should go a long way toward resolving the question.

  • valhar2000

    God’s a scientist; that’s rich! But, there you have it. Religious thought changes all the time, possibly as much as scientific thought does. It does so, however, in response to societal conditions, and the perpetrators of the change dishonestly claim that that is what the religion was really about all along.

    Be that as it may, Polly and others are correct in pointing out that, given the absolute, if not relative, abundance of religious scientists, it is not correct to associate science to atheism as closely as Ebonmuse does.

    I think it is more appropriate to point out that an atheistic (or rather, a skeptical) worldview does not interfere with the practice of science, whereas a religious worldview has a high probability of doing so, even if in many cases it does not noticeably do so.

  • valhar2000

    God’s a scientist; that’s rich! But, there you have it. Religious thought changes all the time, possibly as much as scientific thought does. It does so, however, in response to societal conditions, and the perpetrators of the change dishonestly claim that that is what the religion was really about all along.

    Be that as it may, Polly and others are correct in pointing out that, given the absolute, if not relative, abundance of religious scientists, it is not correct to associate science to atheism as closely as Ebonmuse does.

    I think it is more appropriate to point out that an atheistic (or rather, a skeptical) worldview does not interfere with the practice of science, whereas a religious worldview has a high probability of doing so, even if in many cases it does not noticeably do so.

  • http://www.asktheatheists.com bitbutter

    While not all scientists are atheists, it’s not at all unfair to point out that in many fields, substantial majorities of them are – overwhelming majorities, actually, among the most highly qualified and respected scientists. Atheists don’t need to claim exclusive ownership of science to be able to fairly claim that we have made major contributions to the growth of humanity’s understanding;

    Atheists and theists alike have made major contributions to our understanding of the world, so this seems an irrelevant response to the charge that atheists do less charitable work than theists (whether or not this claim is true).

    nor is it unfair to observe that religion, as a whole, has far more often been an impediment to science than an aid to it.

    This, on the other hand, is the basis for a much stronger reply I think.

  • Mobius 118

    If you can show, in any reasonably way, that your belief in Christianity is any more valid then my hypothetical, I’d be amazed.
    -Mrnaglfar

    The only reason why Christianity is more valid than Veesha is the amount of people who believe.

    But all religion is bullshit anyway, so, based on the lack of evidence for any faith, I dumped mine and took up atheism.

    Anyway, religious scientists, although just as valuable as atheist ones, might have a different agenda than those without belief. Or they just call themselves faithful for the sake of it.

    There’s a metric shitton of ‘believers’ who don’t know jack about their own faith. It’s possible that the majority of the religious scientists are in that group. But in anycase, the contributions science has made to the quality of life, for animals as well as plants, have been astronomical, considering that the church thought that:

    A. Earth was flat. This was later debunked by sailors, and resisted by the church because the bible said otherwise.
    B. Healing illness was against God’s will. Since faithhealing is a resounding failure, I’m gonna stick to medicine and good living habits to keep healthy.
    C. My favorite…The church goers assumed that all atheists are unhappy, because happiness can only be found through faith. This is a resounding 10 on my bullshit meter, because I know many people who are absolutely fucking miserable under the heel of the church. My atheist friends here are much more spiritual, doing things out of kindness instead of dogmatic reasons. I find more happiness and peace without some skydaddy watching my every move with binoculars.

    Good day.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ John P

    @ Polly

    My problem with that is that there are smart scientists alive today that are religious – for whatever reason. I have a very sorry excuse for an apologetics book written by Francis S. Collins to prove it. He headed the team that mapped the human genome. And there are others.
    go figure

    I’d agree, but my point really wasn’t that that Newton, per se, would be an atheist, but that most of those past scientists, especially the ones before Darwin, would probably be atheists. When 93% of the top tier scientists today don’t believe, if you extrapolate that % to the past, and assume the same level of knowledge, it’s safe to say that 93% of of the top tier scientists from the past would also be atheists. Since Newton is probably in the top 5 of all scientists who ever lived, the odds are even better for him. That’s the argument I alluded to.

    As for Collins, I don’t consider him a top tier scientist, even if he is in the National Academy of Science (which I don’t know). Notice that he simply “headed the team” of the human genome project. While he may have a degree behind his name, he’s really just a business man and an administrator. The fact that he’s religious, and has an audience for his book does not impress me.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ John P

    @ Polly

    My problem with that is that there are smart scientists alive today that are religious – for whatever reason. I have a very sorry excuse for an apologetics book written by Francis S. Collins to prove it. He headed the team that mapped the human genome. And there are others.
    go figure

    I’d agree, but my point really wasn’t that that Newton, per se, would be an atheist, but that most of those past scientists, especially the ones before Darwin, would probably be atheists. When 93% of the top tier scientists today don’t believe, if you extrapolate that % to the past, and assume the same level of knowledge, it’s safe to say that 93% of of the top tier scientists from the past would also be atheists. Since Newton is probably in the top 5 of all scientists who ever lived, the odds are even better for him. That’s the argument I alluded to.

    As for Collins, I don’t consider him a top tier scientist, even if he is in the National Academy of Science (which I don’t know). Notice that he simply “headed the team” of the human genome project. While he may have a degree behind his name, he’s really just a business man and an administrator. The fact that he’s religious, and has an audience for his book does not impress me.

  • Polly

    @John P:

    As for Collins, I don’t consider him a top tier scientist, even if he is in the National Academy of Science (which I don’t know). Notice that he simply “headed the team” of the human genome project. While he may have a degree behind his name, he’s really just a business man and an administrator. The fact that he’s religious, and has an audience for his book does not impress me.

    You’re the first I’ve heard actually say that, atheist or theist. You know, from what little reading I’ve done on his part in it, that thought, guiltily, crossed my mind. I say that with reluctance because he’s seen as a towering and crucial figure in the human genome project. But, I don’t know enough to assert anything with confidence.
    His lack of sophistication regarding CS Lewis and other Xian canards did cause me to strongly doubt his intellectual credentials outside the area of genetics, though.

    I don’t disagree that Newton would most likely be atheist, but people are religious for all kinds of reasons and scientists are not immune, though the vaccine of reason certainly seems to have a high degree of efficacy among them.

  • Paul

    In Britain the Christian church was the basis of our law, our education system, our hospitals – all stemming from a belief in Christ’s fundamental message to “love our neighbour”. In addition, faith was the driving force behind great reformists like Wilberforce who opposed the slave trade all his life and succeeded in changing the lives of millions for the better. Another one was Lord Shaftesbury who fought for better conditions for women and children and the abolition of their working down the mines. He also founded schools for working class children. Today Christians in Britain give 4 times more than the average citizen.

    Whatever you believe about God and without trying to draw comparisons with anyone else, it is only fair to recognise the contribution the Christian faith has made in encouraging many, many people to be generous in spirit towards their fellow man; some of them generous beyond measure.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ John P

    @ Polly
    Having read his Wikipedia entry, I’m a little more impressed with his credentials. I think I had him mixed up with the other Human Genome guy, who was more of a businessman that Collins. I remember reading an article in the NY Times years ago about their “race” to map the genome, and it seemed that the two of them were in the race to see who could claims the right to make the most money out of the science. So I may stand corrected, and perhaps he’s one of the 7% that simply defies the norm.

  • Polly

    “…and perhaps he’s one of the 7% that simply defies the norm”
    and comprehension. :)

    @Paul: I’ve been meaning to see the movie about Wilberforce’s life that’s coming out (or came out). I don’t think we should perceive Xians or the religious as a monolithic group and I think there’s a lot more that we, as humans, share than either side seems to want to admit.
    It’s the Xian notion of salvation that separates us (or other religions’ similar notions), but for us atheists, we really don’t need to divide up the human race any more than whatever cultural or linguistic barriers are already present. We can work as uniters because we have no doctrinal axe to grind other than humanism – i.e. compassion for HUMANS. We can help to emphasize the best of, and in, each faith through winsome influence.

    Alright now everybody hold hands and sing… OK I’d better stop. Too much coffee.

  • Paul

    @Polly

    I couldn’t agree more. I am passionate about my faith and, for me, that means I’m passionate about helping and working with others – my family, friends, work colleagues, complete strangers who come forward for prayer ministry in church – of whatever belief. I think we should all work more closely where we can and accept each others’ differences where we can’t. Easier to say than do, I accept. Judging from this site, some of us Christians have generated real hate, sometimes sadly I suspect for no good reason. I was an atheist, so I try to understand different viewpoints.

  • ex machina

    In Britain the Christian church was the basis of our law, our education system, our hospitals – all stemming from a belief in Christ’s fundamental message to “love our neighbour”.

    They try to say the same thing in the US as well, but it is patently untrue. Most of your laws (and ours) developed out of Roman Common Law. And the Romans were a bunch of pagans. While it certainly had an impact (along with thousands of other factors), attributing any western legal system mainly to Christianity is a distortion of history.

    Whatever you believe about God and without trying to draw comparisons with anyone else, it is only fair to recognise the contribution the Christian faith has made in encouraging many, many people to be generous in spirit towards their fellow man; some of them generous beyond measure.

    It’s also only fair to recognise the devastating effect Christianity has had on the world in the form of racism and imperialism.

  • ex machina

    In Britain the Christian church was the basis of our law, our education system, our hospitals – all stemming from a belief in Christ’s fundamental message to “love our neighbour”.

    They try to say the same thing in the US as well, but it is patently untrue. Most of your laws (and ours) developed out of Roman Common Law. And the Romans were a bunch of pagans. While it certainly had an impact (along with thousands of other factors), attributing any western legal system mainly to Christianity is a distortion of history.

    Whatever you believe about God and without trying to draw comparisons with anyone else, it is only fair to recognise the contribution the Christian faith has made in encouraging many, many people to be generous in spirit towards their fellow man; some of them generous beyond measure.

    It’s also only fair to recognise the devastating effect Christianity has had on the world in the form of racism and imperialism.

  • http://www.alisonblogs.com Alison

    Of course, the charitable giving by the faithful is a specious number anyway. Aside from donations to churches and sectarian charities, how can it be tracked? Additionally, donations to churches are not really charitable giving, inasmuch as they benefit the givers directly – they pay for the building and grounds, upkeep thereof, salaries of church employees, and so on, with a small percentage left over for outreach and charity. As for sectarian charities, while it may be likely that the givers belong to the same denominations as the charity, that’s not a given. I’ve donated to a number of charities of various stripes, and never once have I been asked to provide my religious affiliation. Therefore, giving by the faithful is an falsely inflated number, and giving by agnostics/atheists/others isn’t accurately tracked. It’s absolutely pointless to even begin an argument about who’s more altruistic than whom if your sole support comes from a dollar figure that’s nowhere near reality. Unless and until those dollar figures are tweaked for non-charitable expenses AND man-hours of charitable work are calculated for all people (not just the ones who are part of an organized religion), money is a completely invalid criterion for altruism.

  • Paul

    @ ex machina

    According to my source, England (and hence the US) was hardly influenced by Roman Law at all, unlike most of Europe. And of the many who have championed racism, Christ wasn’t one of them – the Good Samaritan account was an attack on the racists of the time. Not sure which was more devastating – imperialism or the vacuum left behind when it collapsed. After all the fall of the Roman Empire heralded the Dark Ages. But I guess that’s a bit off-topic!

    @ Alison
    I think the figures came from a survey which asked about people’s faith as well. Since Christians are encouraged to give generously we shouldn’t be too surprised that they do. However I agree – it doesn’t account for voluntary work. That would also be an interesting survey. Sorry, I didn’t mean to start a ‘holier than thou’ argument… perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it.

  • Paul

    @ ex machina

    According to my source, England (and hence the US) was hardly influenced by Roman Law at all, unlike most of Europe. And of the many who have championed racism, Christ wasn’t one of them – the Good Samaritan account was an attack on the racists of the time. Not sure which was more devastating – imperialism or the vacuum left behind when it collapsed. After all the fall of the Roman Empire heralded the Dark Ages. But I guess that’s a bit off-topic!

    @ Alison
    I think the figures came from a survey which asked about people’s faith as well. Since Christians are encouraged to give generously we shouldn’t be too surprised that they do. However I agree – it doesn’t account for voluntary work. That would also be an interesting survey. Sorry, I didn’t mean to start a ‘holier than thou’ argument… perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @ Paul

    People cited bible verses to support the slave trade and idea that blacks were inferior. People cite bible verses to condemn homosexuals (though not racism, still falls under that same general category) as well as they had been cited during the women’s rights movement, and with the idea of sin, holds that all who do not believe in it are morally flawed people. The dark ages were basically rule of the church, and shit, we all see how well that worked out. Not to mention Christian ideals of morality aren’t exactly novel to Christians. Most (if not all) of the religious holidays were taken from pagan festivals, and laws against murder, theft, adultery, and so forth existed far before Christianity was even an idea. It’s just a reshuffling of the preexisting deck.

    As for giving to charities, I really feel that’s a poor excuse for generosity. I’m not saying it’s wrong or anything, but for every dollar one donates to charity, roughly 90 cents or so never see the people it’s meant to take care of. As for Christian charities, the goal isn’t to allivate suffering so much as it is conversion. Like Mother Tersea’s home for the dying: It wasn’t a place where people went to get help or get made better, it’s a place where they lay on a cot, suffer, and die under the rule of the church. It’s hard to alleivate suffering when one believes very much in suffering

  • heliobates

    In Britain the Christian church was the basis of our law, our education system, our hospitals – all stemming from a belief in Christ’s fundamental message to “love our neighbour”.

    @Paul: The British legal system owes far more to Common law, which predated Christianity, and the Norman (i.e. Germanic) courts of equity than to the system of Church courts. In fact, the establishment of secular courts and statutory laws frequently caused conflict between the church and state. Yes, the people making the laws were Christian, but they sought to establish an independent body of laws and statutes and often were at odds with the Church. To attribute the development of your legal system entirely to Christianity’s or the Church’s influence is a whopping post hoc fallacy.

    In addition, faith was the driving force behind great reformists like Wilberforce who opposed the slave trade all his life and succeeded in changing the lives of millions for the better.

    Commendable. But if it was Wilburforce’s faith which gave him the moral courage to oppose slavery, then how do you explain all of the presumably devout Christians who established the slave trade in the first place? Sure Wilberforce was a committed Christian. So were the slavers he opposed. Ya know, since we’re striving for balance and all…

    Another one was Lord Shaftesbury who fought for better conditions for women and children and the abolition of their working down the mines. He also founded schools for working class children.

    Ditto for Shaftesbury. We take nothing away from his accomplishments when we point out that it was his moral courage which drove him to oppose the Christian establishment. Some old saw about correlation and causality, eh?

    For a more recent example, let’s look at Rev. Martin Luther King who fought against segregation and racism in an almost entirely Christian southern U.S.

    Undoubtably, some Christians have made amazing contributions, however the Church as a whole has largely established and then defended the status quo against which these reformers had to fight in order to bring about change.

    Today Christians in Britain give 4 times more than the average citizen.

    I’m supposed to be impressed with that, but devoid of context, it’s a meaningless assertion. Give to whom? If most of their giving is Church tithes, then British Christians are really just paying membership dues. What portion of their giving goes to demonstrably charitable (not just tax-exempt) causes?

    @ex machina:

    Most of your laws (and ours) developed out of Roman Common Law.

    Common law came from Germanic, particularly Anglo-Saxon, cultures. Roman law was what we know as civil law today. The U.S. uses common principles such as stare decisis but also encompasses constitutional administrative and statuatory law and has tried to chart its own course.

    Paul is still wrong about insisting that Christianity was largely responsible for the development of British legal system, though he does have a point about pre-20th Century education and hospital systems.

  • ex machina

    According to my source, England (and hence the US) was hardly influenced by Roman Law at all, unlike most of Europe.

    I’m not sure what on earth you could be talking about. The idea of a legal system (laws, courts, representational government, civil rights) as we understand it today, far predates the rise of Christianity. England, as well as most of Europe draws from this tradition.

    And of the many who have championed racism, Christ wasn’t one of them – the Good Samaritan account was an attack on the racists of the time.

    But the religion that resulted most certainly was a champion of racism (and religious persecution). Although I concede that Jesus’ words may have been hijacked by those who are less than ethical, my overall point, that Christianity by and large isn’t beyond reproach, still stands.

    Not sure which was more devastating – imperialism or the vacuum left behind when it collapsed. After all the fall of the Roman Empire heralded the Dark Ages. But I guess that’s a bit off-topic!

    Why would you advocate the continuation of the Roman Empire as if we would be better off if it had never fallen? Are you in favor of the systematic conquest and exploitation of other cultures?

  • ex machina

    Helio . . . thanks for clarifying about civil/common/roman law, I realized I had misspoke after I said it.

  • OMGF

    For a more recent example, let’s look at Rev. Martin Luther King who fought against segregation and racism in an almost entirely Christian southern U.S.

    Just to head off the inevitable, “Well Xianity influenced MLK to be non-violent” canard, it should be noted that he got that from Ghandi who was Hindu. Of course, Ghandi got his idea from Jainism.

  • heliobates

    Just to head off the inevitable, “Well Xianity influenced MLK to be non-violent” canard, it should be noted that he got that from Ghandi who was Hindu. Of course, Ghandi got his idea from Jainism.

    Thanks for having my back, OMGF. I would also reiterate to our hypothetical opponent that he faces a connundrum if he’s asserting that Christianity is responsible for the good that MLK did without explaining how Christians established and fought for the status quo against with MLK/Wilberforce/Shaftesbury struggled.

    If Christianity “made” MLK, then it also “made” George Wallace.

  • Paul

    Wow! It feels like I’ve stepped into a den of lions! I don’t think I’ve experienced quite so much heat in such a short time. You guys really hate Christians and just about everything they stand for. Even when they do good (which I guess you believe is isn’t often), you’re saying it’s their non-Christian nature triumphing over their faith.

  • OMGF

    You guys really hate Christians and just about everything they stand for.

    No, I do not hate Xians. That you automatically assume that speaks volumes about you, however.

    Even when they do good (which I guess you believe is isn’t often), you’re saying it’s their non-Christian nature triumphing over their faith.

    I believe that people pick and choose which parts of the Bible they wish to follow. In as such, they are not actually following Xianity, but some modified version of it. This begs the question, however, how they choose what is good to follow and what isn’t. That, of course, comes from our ever evolving cultural norms that are apart from Xianity. It simply does not follow that one can follow Xian norms to figure out which Xian norms are worth following.

    Of course, this is all side-stepping. You are obviously avoiding the holes in your argument by making emotional appeals. You want to be able to state that when someone does a good thing, it is because they are a Xian, but if they do a bad thing, it is not because of their Xianity. Or, if two different Xians do opposite things, then the one who is doing what you consider good is the one following Xian doctrine. We are simply pointing out the hole in your logic. By doing this, we are accused of hatred? Get a grip.

  • ex machina

    Wow! It feels like I’ve stepped into a den of lions! I don’t think I’ve experienced quite so much heat in such a short time. You guys really hate Christians and just about everything they stand for. Even when they do good (which I guess you believe is isn’t often), you’re saying it’s their non-Christian nature triumphing over their faith.

    Not so much, its just that your arguments fall flat (My wife is wrong sometimes, but that does not mean I hate her). And besides, this site is called “Daylight Atheism” so I think a little opposition to your perspective should be expected.

    Some Christians definitely do good and have done good. No doubt about that. But in your first post you tried to give Christianity credit for “the basis of our law, our education system, our hospitals” which is untrue; and said that Christians are patently more generous than non-Christians (your comment about Christians giving 4x more), when the whole point of the original article was to say that contribution in terms of monetary donations is not a complete measure of good will.

    Positive social change comes from a lot of sources, sometimes religious, sometimes not. The same is true for negative social forces. But I take offense at the idea that Christianity has a monopoly on compassion, as it most certainly does not. I just ask that you acknowledge the truth.

  • Paul

    It’s not automatic. I only assumed it from the angry and aggressive tone of some of the responses. That’s how it came across. But hey, let’s forget it and move on.

    You’re right that some people do pick and choose… that’s a separate rabbit hole.

    You’re last para – I agree that would certainly be a flawed line of argument had I used it. I didn’t.

  • Paul

    @ex machina
    Of course Christianity does not have a monopoly on compassion. But a real faith in Christ does seem to influence people to have greater compassion than they had before – just my observation.

  • OMGF

    You’re last para – I agree that would certainly be a flawed line of argument had I used it. I didn’t.

    Then you recognize that your argument about Wilberforce and Shaftesbury rightly got the shaft? Good.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Wow! It feels like I’ve stepped into a den of lions! I don’t think I’ve experienced quite so much heat in such a short time. You guys really hate Christians and just about everything they stand for.

    We don’t hate Christians! But we do disagree with what Christians stand for, that’s true, and we’ll argue against it with passion. The rise of passionate atheism is taking a lot of people by surprise, I think. We really don’t hate you, though. We’re just standing up for the views we support.

    To consider your original point:

    In Britain the Christian church was the basis of our law, our education system, our hospitals – all stemming from a belief in Christ’s fundamental message to “love our neighbour”.

    Attributing it all to a belief “love your neighbour” might be going a bit far. The hospitals, maybe, (although “love your neighbour” and the impulse to do good don’t require religion) but the Church’s influence on the education system had at least something to do with the desire to train new priests — that, and the fact that historically the Church has been deeply associated with philosophy and art, sometimes to the point of having a monopoly on those things. Philosophy and art are of course good things, and if it is a choice between having philosophy and art supported by the Church and having no philosophy or art at all, then I would naturally prefer the former. Still, I am unequivocally certain that the rise of secular learning and secular art has been a good thing, a freeing of the human spirit — not to mention essential in order for science as we know it to arise.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Wow! It feels like I’ve stepped into a den of lions! I don’t think I’ve experienced quite so much heat in such a short time. You guys really hate Christians and just about everything they stand for.

    We don’t hate Christians! But we do disagree with what Christians stand for, that’s true, and we’ll argue against it with passion. The rise of passionate atheism is taking a lot of people by surprise, I think. We really don’t hate you, though. We’re just standing up for the views we support.

    To consider your original point:

    In Britain the Christian church was the basis of our law, our education system, our hospitals – all stemming from a belief in Christ’s fundamental message to “love our neighbour”.

    Attributing it all to a belief “love your neighbour” might be going a bit far. The hospitals, maybe, (although “love your neighbour” and the impulse to do good don’t require religion) but the Church’s influence on the education system had at least something to do with the desire to train new priests — that, and the fact that historically the Church has been deeply associated with philosophy and art, sometimes to the point of having a monopoly on those things. Philosophy and art are of course good things, and if it is a choice between having philosophy and art supported by the Church and having no philosophy or art at all, then I would naturally prefer the former. Still, I am unequivocally certain that the rise of secular learning and secular art has been a good thing, a freeing of the human spirit — not to mention essential in order for science as we know it to arise.

  • Polly

    @Paul: Over here it is a permanent state of argumentation. Don’t be dismayed. It’s a clash and the testing of opinions, nothing more. While I can’t speak to the inner workings of everyone’s minds, I will say that sarcasm and the occasional obnoxious comment are mere side-effects of heated discussion.

    I think part of what you are getting is also the backlash of many old arguments. Some of the things that you assert may seem innocuous, even obvious, to you, but have been used to support the notion that atheists are inherently less moral, less good, *fill in the stereotype here*. Even if that’s not what you intend (and I don’t claim to know your intentions) it’s instantly recognizable from loads of experience; like a chess expert who’s seen every opening move before.

  • heliobates

    Wow! It feels like I’ve stepped into a den of lions! I don’t think I’ve experienced quite so much heat in such a short time.

    What heat? If your idea of discussion is placid agreement, then yes, this online community will come across as “spicy”. Seems to me that you made a specious rhetorical assertion and got called on that.

    You guys really hate Christians and just about everything they stand for.

    You said that Christianity was responsible for the British legal system. I pointed out that you’re wrong. What’s hateful about that? I didn’t attack you for being a Christian, I attacked your rhetoric because it’s factually incorrect.

    Even when they do good (which I guess you believe is isn’t often), you’re saying it’s their non-Christian nature triumphing over their faith.

    Who said that, Paul?

    I have to wonder at how quickly you folded. What exactly about having your position challenged upsets you so?

    Care to address the counter-arguments that I made about Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, and MLK? They’re directly on point.

  • Matt R

    You’re all wrong! A cacophony of raving madmen! Bwahahahaha!

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Alex Weaver

    Undoubtably, some Christians have made amazing contributions, however the Church as a whole has largely established and then defended the status quo against which these reformers had to fight in order to bring about change.

    More importantly, is there any evidence whatsoever that those same people would not have made more or less the same contributions if they weren’t Christians?

  • heliobates

    But a real faith in Christ does seem to influence people to have greater compassion than they had before – just my observation.

    People can have the same “observation” about Buddhists, or Baha’is, or participants in large group awareness training and New Age-y “human potential” movements.

    It still doesn’t prop up your flimsy argument.

  • Matt R

    Hello All,

    Sorry about that last post, I just got a little carried away with the spirit of the debate. Wow! 45+ responses in less than 2 days. Good work Adam! Be careful or you may get accused of sensationalism! :)

    Some questions for the group:

    I have a counterclaim: in terms of actual good done, rather than the narrow measure of dollars donated to charity, atheists can rightly claim credit for a great deal.

    What do you think that “actual good done” means? How would you say it is measured? This is not a loaded question. I want to make sure I understand the statement clearly. When I read it, it implies to me that the good done by science is “real” good whereas the good that comes from religion and religious ideas is somehow “false” good. I think it is inaccurate based on the emotional and spiritual benefits that people receive from religion.

    Meanwhile, millennia of religious belief have produced not a glimmer of insight into the way the world actually works, nor a shred of real improvement in the human condition.

    Again, here is the implication that all the improvements brought about by religion were not “real” but somehow “false” and all the improvements brought about by science are “real” and therefore far superior. Again, I believe this is inaccurate.

    To counter the rather bold claim that religion has not produced a “shred of real improvement”, I submit the indisputable fact that many people are made very happy by religion for their entire lives. Based on Universal Utilitarianism, people’s happiness is the ultimate good. Therefore if people are able to practice a religion without making others unhappy, and make themselves happy in the process, it is good. Therefore, religion has provided a shred of real improvement.

    I also think the characterization of religion and science as being diametrically opposed is artificial and inaccurate.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    Alex,

    You wrote:

    More importantly, is there any evidence whatsoever that those same people would not have made more or less the same contributions if they weren’t Christians?

    I imagine there is about as much evidence for this as there is for whether all the non-theists who have made significant scientific contributions would have done so even if they were theists.

    Have I misunderstood your point? You seem to be saying that the religiousness of the individual making the discovery may have had little to do with the actual contribution. It is equally possible that the atheism of an individual also had little to do with the discoveries made by that person. Either way speculation amounts to little and gets us nowhere.

    I believe this because the argument here seems to center on the results of two competing ideas, namely atheism and theism. These two things are only ideas and can accomplish nothing by themselves until they are acted upon by a person. Therefore, if we are measuring the effectiveness of a particular viewpoint and we speculate that a person would do the same thing if they held the opposing viewpoint, then the measure of effectiveness becomes meaningless because it cannot differentiate between the usefulness of the competing viewpoints.

    To put this in the scenario at hand:

    We are measuring the ability of atheism to produce “real good” for humanity as opposed to theism’s ability to produce “real good” for humanity. The only way that atheism or theism can produce anything is for humans to act on these ideas. The current actions we are considering are things that produce “real good”. Ebonmuse has proposed that science, as opposed to religion has produced the only “real good”. Someone has countered by stating that there are those theistic people who are still able to do “real good”. You have, I think, speculated that these theistic people may have done “real good” even if they were non-theists. If this is the case, then the measure of the ideas becomes pointless because the person would have done “real good” regardless of being theist or non-theist. All we could glean from such a possible situation is that one’s position on the existence or non-existence of God is irrelevant in his or her ability to do “real good”.

    Cheers,

    Matt

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Mrnaglfar

    I submit the indisputable fact that many people are made very happy by religion for their entire lives. Based on Universal Utilitarianism, people’s happiness is the ultimate good. Therefore if people are able to practice a religion without making others unhappy, and make themselves happy in the process, it is good. Therefore, religion has provided a shred of real improvement.

    Drugs can make people happy too, doesn’t mean they’re overall for the best. If people did practice religion without making other’s unhappy, then there would be no problem. But they do make other’s unhappy (in regards to attacks, wars, trying to deny homosexuals rights, trying to deny women rights, and so on). All things that do good in that policy need to be weighed against the evil they do, and that scale tips far in the direction of religion being painful.

    Again, here is the implication that all the improvements brought about by religion were not “real” but somehow “false” and all the improvements brought about by science are “real” and therefore far superior. Again, I believe this is inaccurate.

    What improvements are these that have been brought about by religion and religion alone? I can’t think of any. Is it how it’s opposed to teaching children about sex, or how it trys to deny people rights, or how it starts incredibly devastating conflicts over who has the better imaginary friend? How about the people who have killed or been killed in the name of it? Did religion start educations that weren’t based on the bible , or try to expand on edcuation that differed with their beliefs?
    If you want to claim making people believe they’ll live forever does some real good in the world, can’t we just tell kids that, and likewise if we need religion to, which one of the countless ones should it be?

  • OMGF

    Ebonmuse has proposed that science, as opposed to religion has produced the only “real good”.

    That’s rather imprecise. Science, as opposed to religion, has produced insight into the world according to Ebonmuse. Nowhere did he say that only science brings “real good.”

    I believe this because the argument here seems to center on the results of two competing ideas, namely atheism and theism. These two things are only ideas and can accomplish nothing by themselves until they are acted upon by a person. Therefore, if we are measuring the effectiveness of a particular viewpoint and we speculate that a person would do the same thing if they held the opposing viewpoint, then the measure of effectiveness becomes meaningless because it cannot differentiate between the usefulness of the competing viewpoints.

    When it comes to science, theism can and does pose a roadblock at times that atheism does not. Theistic “thought” is to believe in irrational assumptions without proof, to eschew searching for answers, and to not question. This is antithetical to science.

  • heliobates

    To counter the rather bold claim that religion has not produced a “shred of real improvement”, I submit the indisputable fact that many people are made very happy by religion for their entire lives. Based on Universal Utilitarianism, people’s happiness is the ultimate good. Therefore if people are able to practice a religion without making others unhappy, and make themselves happy in the process, it is good. Therefore, religion has provided a shred of real improvement.

    You cut right to the heart of why these discussions usually lead to infinite regress. As you rightly demand a definition of “real improvement” or “actual good”, we can demand an operative definition of “religion” and “happiness”.

    Pascal Boyer will, with impressive scholarship, demonstrate that what almost every Westerner—atheist and believer alike—means by “religion” refers only to a narrow, geo- and cultural-centric explication of the phenomenon.

    I’ve always found it a curious and self-defeating tack that someone who espouses a particular faith such as Christianity would point to other religions as proof that Christianity is somehow true. When making a statement such as “Religion provides X” instead of the testable “Christianity has provided X”, the believer sails straight for the shoals of subjectivism. If Jaians and Buddhists and Jews are all authentically religious, then what, besides tradition, is the argument for Christianity in the first place? Might as well be a Hindu: they get Ganeshi and the Kama Sutra. If Christianity, as Christians claim, is the authentic voice of God, how do Christians explain that two thirds of the world’s population seems to tune in a different signal?

    Ebon posed this question well well and I’ve yet to see an answer that satisfies me. Maybe Paul will take a kick at this when he’s finished his sulk?

  • Jeff T.

    @Marco

    I am pretty familiar with KJV of the Bible and I cannot recall the verse:
    —”he made all the things with wisdom and science”—

    Which bible version are you quoting from?

    I do recall the verse from KJV that states ‘the wisdom of man is foolish to god and the wisdom of god is foolish to man’. If you take this verse literally then it implies there is a conflict between religious belief and the scientific method.

  • Jeff T.

    After my last post, I realized that the question posed by Ebon could perhaps be rewritten to: Which has benefitted humanity the most? The foolish wisdom of man, or the foolish wisdom of god?

    I will go out on a limb here and side with the foolish wisdom of man, which does unfortunately omit jumping up and down on pews, passing out in aisles, and reaching into baskets full of rattlesnakes…

  • Alex Weaver

    I will go out on a limb here and side with the foolish wisdom of man, which does unfortunately omit jumping up and down on pews, passing out in aisles, and reaching into baskets full of rattlesnakes…

    Speaking of snake-handling and such, have any Christian denominations adopted licking wall outlets as religious rituals yet?

    Seriously; the tendency to encourage bizarre, self-destructive behavior is one of the biggest telling points against religion, even the varieties that don’t start holy wars.

  • Lunacrous

    But a real faith in Christ does seem to influence people to have greater compassion than they had before – just my observation.

    So those who have been influenced to greater cruelty, rather than greater compassion, did not have a “real” faith in Christ? I’m guessing they weren’t True Scotsmen, either ;)

    All we could glean from such a possible situation is that one’s position on the existence or non-existence of God is irrelevant in his or her ability to do “real good”.

    In which case, we’re left with the question of why anyone should suspend reason, believe in unsupportable ideas, then call this act of intellectual dishonesty “faith” and praise it as some sort of noble deed.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    To counter the rather bold claim that religion has not produced a “shred of real improvement”, I submit the indisputable fact that many people are made very happy by religion for their entire lives.

    I feel rather misrepresented, Matt. In the context of my post, I think it was clear what I meant. In fact, I explicitly addressed your point: religion can make us feel good, but when it comes to tangible improvement in the state of the sick and needy – that is to say, actively alleviating their condition, rather than just offering comfort and reassurance – the only effective method that increases our ability to do this is science.

  • Alex Weaver

    Here’s a nice way of putting it: “Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime. Teach a person to sit around talking to themselves waiting for fish to fall out of the sky and they starve.”

  • heliobates

    Here’s a nice way of putting it: “Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime. Teach a person to sit around talking to themselves waiting for fish to fall out of the sky and they starve.”

    I prefer the Inquisitorial framing of that argument:

    Build a man a fire and he’ll be warm for a night. Set him on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.

  • heliobates

    Here’s a nice way of putting it: “Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime. Teach a person to sit around talking to themselves waiting for fish to fall out of the sky and they starve.”

    I prefer the Inquisitorial framing of that argument:

    Build a man a fire and he’ll be warm for a night. Set him on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet
    More importantly, is there any evidence whatsoever that those same people would not have made more or less the same contributions if they weren’t Christians?

    I imagine there is about as much evidence for this as there is for whether all the non-theists who have made significant scientific contributions would have done so even if they were theists.

    Okay, nice one, Matt. I actually think you’ve called us on something, there. It’s true that atheism (or at least the questioning of religious assumptions) is associated with science, and it’s true that charity has historically been associated with churches. You can question the importance of the correlation in both places. I suspect most of us believe one to be better supported than the other, but that takes extra evidence if we want to argue for it!

    Ebonmuse’s point is slightly different, though. I think he’s arguing that given this institutional split, with the Church helping charity and hindering science, the contribution from science is more important and useful.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet
    More importantly, is there any evidence whatsoever that those same people would not have made more or less the same contributions if they weren’t Christians?

    I imagine there is about as much evidence for this as there is for whether all the non-theists who have made significant scientific contributions would have done so even if they were theists.

    Okay, nice one, Matt. I actually think you’ve called us on something, there. It’s true that atheism (or at least the questioning of religious assumptions) is associated with science, and it’s true that charity has historically been associated with churches. You can question the importance of the correlation in both places. I suspect most of us believe one to be better supported than the other, but that takes extra evidence if we want to argue for it!

    Ebonmuse’s point is slightly different, though. I think he’s arguing that given this institutional split, with the Church helping charity and hindering science, the contribution from science is more important and useful.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Ebonmuse,

    My intent was to moderate you claim that religion has not produced a shred of real improvement. Although you did, in the beginning of your article, concede that religion can comfort people, toward the end you smoothly transitioned into religions producing “not a shred of real improvement”. I am pointing out that the language you used there is not consistent with reality or even your own philosophy, namely UU.

    I do not disagree with what I perceive to be the main thrust of your post, that non-theists make positive contributions to society. Of course they do. I disagree with the notion that religion does not produce *real* good and that religion is somehow inherently opposed to science.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    mrnaglfar,

    Your counter argument utterly misses my point and also is irrelevant as science is also responsible for a great many atrocities. To try to quantify such subjective things as “religion has produced X good vs Y bad” is impossible and ridiculous. Do you have any actual evidence to support your notion that religion has produced more bad than good? Indeed, how could one possibly measure such a value? Your statement that religion has caused more bad than good, rather than an empirical measurement, is a subjective value judgment based on your assumptions.

    To restate my point:

    I think Ebonmuse said that religion does not contribute any “actual” improvements to the human condition.

    In response, I said it did. Whether it has caused problems (which it has) is irrelevant to my central point.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    mrnaglfar,

    Your counter argument utterly misses my point and also is irrelevant as science is also responsible for a great many atrocities. To try to quantify such subjective things as “religion has produced X good vs Y bad” is impossible and ridiculous. Do you have any actual evidence to support your notion that religion has produced more bad than good? Indeed, how could one possibly measure such a value? Your statement that religion has caused more bad than good, rather than an empirical measurement, is a subjective value judgment based on your assumptions.

    To restate my point:

    I think Ebonmuse said that religion does not contribute any “actual” improvements to the human condition.

    In response, I said it did. Whether it has caused problems (which it has) is irrelevant to my central point.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    Nowhere did he say that only science brings “real good.”

    You are correct, however he did say that religion has failed to produce shred of real improvement in the human condition. I disagree with this. I think this can be paraphrased to “real good”. In my paraphrasing, precision was lost though.

    When it comes to science, theism can and does pose a roadblock at times that atheism does not. Theistic “thought” is to believe in irrational assumptions without proof, to eschew searching for answers, and to not question. This is antithetical to science.

    You are incorrect that theistic thought is to believe in irrational assumptions. There are undoubtably many theists who do believe in irrational however to characterize the substance of theistic thought as believing in irrational assumptions without proof is inaccurate. Think of all the apologetic websites around. Are they saying “belive this without evidence?” No, they are saying here is evidence that you should believe. There is, of course, varying degrees of validity to the evidence and some of it is just not true, but the point is that they are trying to present evidence.

    You are correct that certain modern brands of religious thought can hinder scientific thought, though.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    Nowhere did he say that only science brings “real good.”

    You are correct, however he did say that religion has failed to produce shred of real improvement in the human condition. I disagree with this. I think this can be paraphrased to “real good”. In my paraphrasing, precision was lost though.

    When it comes to science, theism can and does pose a roadblock at times that atheism does not. Theistic “thought” is to believe in irrational assumptions without proof, to eschew searching for answers, and to not question. This is antithetical to science.

    You are incorrect that theistic thought is to believe in irrational assumptions. There are undoubtably many theists who do believe in irrational however to characterize the substance of theistic thought as believing in irrational assumptions without proof is inaccurate. Think of all the apologetic websites around. Are they saying “belive this without evidence?” No, they are saying here is evidence that you should believe. There is, of course, varying degrees of validity to the evidence and some of it is just not true, but the point is that they are trying to present evidence.

    You are correct that certain modern brands of religious thought can hinder scientific thought, though.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Heliobates,

    You cut right to the heart of why these discussions usually lead to infinite regress.

    These discussions usually lead to infinite regress because YOU’RE WRONG!

    Ok, just kidding. I am in an internet “Troll of the year” competition and I was practicing for regionals next week.

    Seriously,

    You are right about the infinite regress.

    Regarding religious plurality, I think it is a valid question. My best speculation is that different people relate to God differently and that some people are in religion for reasons other than to relate to God.

    Cheers,

    Matt

    As you rightly demand a definition of “real improvement” or “actual good”, we can demand an operative definition of “religion” and “happiness”.

    Pascal Boyer will, with impressive scholarship, demonstrate that what almost every Westerner—atheist and believer alike—means by “religion” refers only to a narrow, geo- and cultural-centric explication of the phenomenon.

    I’ve always found it a curious and self-defeating tack that someone who espouses a particular faith such as Christianity would point to other religions as proof that Christianity is somehow true. When making a statement such as “Religion provides X” instead of the testable “Christianity has provided X”, the believer sails straight for the shoals of subjectivism. If Jaians and Buddhists and Jews are all authentically religious, then what, besides tradition, is the argument for Christianity in the first place? Might as well be a Hindu: they get Ganeshi and the Kama Sutra. If Christianity, as Christians claim, is the authentic voice of God, how do Christians explain that two thirds of the world’s population seems to tune in a different signal?

    Ebon posed this question well well and I’ve yet to see an answer that satisfies me. Maybe Paul will take a kick at this when he’s finished his sulk?

  • Mrnaglfar

    I think Ebonmuse said that religion does not contribute any “actual” improvements to the human condition.

    In response, I said it did. Whether it has caused problems (which it has) is irrelevant to my central point

    So you’re point was , and correct me if I’m wrong:
    I submit the indisputable fact that many people are made very happy by religion for their entire lives.

    I’ve actually never met one of these people. People I’ve seen who are religious aren’t much happier then those who don’t have religion. Likewise, is that saying that without religion they would be unhappy? I seriously doubt that too.

    If you want to say religion has done some “real good” for the world, you might want evidence to back that up instead of asking us to disprove that point. For instance, if religion truly comforted people about the idea of death, why are funerals not celebrations? If people truly believe the dead are living on in a better world, then why does the idea of death still upset people who’s religion believes otherwise?

    Or how about the idea of Sin in christianity, which constantly tells people there are a long list of things wrong with them if they don’t follow each of their religion’s beliefs? Let’s also assume that a Xian has any friends who don’t belong to their faith; according to the Xian doctrine, those friends will spend an eternity in hell. I don’t think most people enjoy the idea of anyone spending an eternity there, much less someone they like.

    It’s not a question of whether religion “has the ability to some good in some form to someone somewhere”; the question is does it reliably do more good than harm? Putting lead into gaseoline improves the gas mileage cars get (if I remember that correctly), but companies were forced to remove it because of the harm it was causing to the environment.

    So I ask again, what measurable improvements has religion brought to the world, and second question, do those (if there are any) outweight the damage religion causes?

  • http://www.asktheatheists.com bitbutter
    But a real faith in Christ does seem to influence people to have greater compassion than they had before – just my observation.

    So those who have been influenced to greater cruelty, rather than greater compassion, did not have a “real” faith in Christ? I’m guessing they weren’t True Scotsmen, either ;)

    lunacrous: you made the exact reply i wanted to hear here.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Your counter argument utterly misses my point and also is irrelevant as science is also responsible for a great many atrocities. To try to quantify such subjective things as “religion has produced X good vs Y bad” is impossible and ridiculous. Do you have any actual evidence to support your notion that religion has produced more bad than good? Indeed, how could one possibly measure such a value? Your statement that religion has caused more bad than good, rather than an empirical measurement, is a subjective value judgment based on your assumptions.

    I would say there is evidence you can point to that religion has done more harm then good, insofar as it’s supported slavery, murder, war, has fought against science that trys to solve problems (like those who believe AIDs is god’s punishment to gay people or feel sexual education should not be taught in school), on top of the idea of Sin telling people there is something wrong with them for not following the religion. Denying all knowledge that does not comform with their beliefs (which they have no evidence for, yet still push to be taught in schools). Combine that with things like the attack on the abortion clinics, 9/11, random suicide bombings, physical abuse of young children by priests, degradation of women in the middle east and here, and let’s not forget scaring little kids into the idea of hell, as well as letting them know all their other friends who don’t follow their religion will be going to as well forever. And so on.

    You did claim that:
    I submit the indisputable fact that many people are made very happy by religion for their entire lives.

    I would say that’s far from indisputable. I haven’t met in my lifetime someone who has been made consistently, profoundly happy by religion; the religious ones don’t seem more or less happy then the non-religious ones.

    Even those who believe their religion aren’t exactly comforted by it. If they were, funerals should be celebrations about how a loved one is now off living forever in a better place. Who wouldn’t be happy about that? Yet that belief in an afterlife doesn’t seem to comfort people, and at best, is an unwillingness to accept the truth.

    It’s not a question of whether religion CAN do good, it’s a question of the good it does, the good we can see at least, outweighting all the readily bad things we can point to that it does (and there is quite the list there). Under Utilitarian purposes at least. Likewise, if it was found that, let’s just say for instance Hindus, were more “happy” then Xians, would you recommend all Xian’s convert to the Hindu faith, if happiness is the ultimate goal?
    So it gets back to the point of “what purpose DOES religion actually serve that’s good for people?”

  • Matt R

    Mrnaglfar,

    I would say that’s far from indisputable. I haven’t met in my lifetime someone who has been made consistently, profoundly happy by religion

    I have. I have met many. Your only recouse at this point of the debate is to declare that those people whom I have known well were lying or were deceiving themselves that religion actually had made them happy.

    the religious ones don’t seem more or less happy then the non-religious ones.

    Again, irrelevant. Comparing two different people is of no use in this matter. There are so many things which affect happiness that it is pointless to do so. You cannot, in all seriousness, compare two people, on religious and one not religious and declare, based on their respective happiness whether religion or non-religion makes someone happier. There is absolutely no control of confounding variables. Furthermore, the discussion is not “are religious people happier than non-religious people”, it is “does religion do any good”? I still hold that religion makes people happy, which is good.

    You have failed to address that point beyond stating that some people whom you have known are religious and are not always profoundly happy. This point is irrelevant. I do not expect that religion would make someone always happy. Nothing makes anyone happy all the time. However the fact remains that religion makes people happy, which is good. There is no escaping it.

    I would say there is evidence you can point to that religion has done more harm then good…

    This comes as no surprise to me. You are currently defending the idea that religion does no real good. Therefore any bad, no matter how small automatically means that religion does more bad than good. No, I am not surprised at all.

    Can you put a quantitative empirical number on these things; a “badness coefficient” if you will? Of course not. It cannot be done. Therefore, you assessment that religion does more harm than good remains a subjective value judgment. You may assert all day and provide lists of the “evils of religion” but it will make little impact unless you can provide some sort of objective scale by which you can quantify the evil done by religion. When you do provide such a scale, please provide me with the means by which we can quantify the “good” and “evil” done by a particular system, then I will gladly apply the system to the good things religion has led to and we will make a comparison. Until then, we will merely be spouting our own subjective value judgments based on our own presuppositions into the air. It will be fruitless.

    Xians, would you recommend all Xian’s convert to the Hindu faith, if happiness is the ultimate goal?

    Irrelevant. The relevant merits of differing religious systems does not play into the matter at hand. Where on earth did you gather the notion that I believe that happiness is the ultimate goal? I do not adhere to Universal Utilitarianism.

    Even those who believe their religion aren’t exactly comforted by it. If they were, funerals should be celebrations about how a loved one is now off living forever in a better place. Who wouldn’t be happy about that? Yet that belief in an afterlife doesn’t seem to comfort people, and at best, is an unwillingness to accept the truth.

    I have witnessed firsthand many situations which directly contradict your assertion.

    t’s not a question of whether religion “has the ability to some good in some form to someone somewhere”; the question is does it reliably do more good than harm?

    If this is the case, then you are having a different dicsussion than I am. I am replying to the notion that religion does no real good at all.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    Mrnaglfar,

    I would say that’s far from indisputable. I haven’t met in my lifetime someone who has been made consistently, profoundly happy by religion

    I have. I have met many. Your only recouse at this point of the debate is to declare that those people whom I have known well were lying or were deceiving themselves that religion actually had made them happy.

    the religious ones don’t seem more or less happy then the non-religious ones.

    Again, irrelevant. Comparing two different people is of no use in this matter. There are so many things which affect happiness that it is pointless to do so. You cannot, in all seriousness, compare two people, on religious and one not religious and declare, based on their respective happiness whether religion or non-religion makes someone happier. There is absolutely no control of confounding variables. Furthermore, the discussion is not “are religious people happier than non-religious people”, it is “does religion do any good”? I still hold that religion makes people happy, which is good.

    You have failed to address that point beyond stating that some people whom you have known are religious and are not always profoundly happy. This point is irrelevant. I do not expect that religion would make someone always happy. Nothing makes anyone happy all the time. However the fact remains that religion makes people happy, which is good. There is no escaping it.

    I would say there is evidence you can point to that religion has done more harm then good…

    This comes as no surprise to me. You are currently defending the idea that religion does no real good. Therefore any bad, no matter how small automatically means that religion does more bad than good. No, I am not surprised at all.

    Can you put a quantitative empirical number on these things; a “badness coefficient” if you will? Of course not. It cannot be done. Therefore, you assessment that religion does more harm than good remains a subjective value judgment. You may assert all day and provide lists of the “evils of religion” but it will make little impact unless you can provide some sort of objective scale by which you can quantify the evil done by religion. When you do provide such a scale, please provide me with the means by which we can quantify the “good” and “evil” done by a particular system, then I will gladly apply the system to the good things religion has led to and we will make a comparison. Until then, we will merely be spouting our own subjective value judgments based on our own presuppositions into the air. It will be fruitless.

    Xians, would you recommend all Xian’s convert to the Hindu faith, if happiness is the ultimate goal?

    Irrelevant. The relevant merits of differing religious systems does not play into the matter at hand. Where on earth did you gather the notion that I believe that happiness is the ultimate goal? I do not adhere to Universal Utilitarianism.

    Even those who believe their religion aren’t exactly comforted by it. If they were, funerals should be celebrations about how a loved one is now off living forever in a better place. Who wouldn’t be happy about that? Yet that belief in an afterlife doesn’t seem to comfort people, and at best, is an unwillingness to accept the truth.

    I have witnessed firsthand many situations which directly contradict your assertion.

    t’s not a question of whether religion “has the ability to some good in some form to someone somewhere”; the question is does it reliably do more good than harm?

    If this is the case, then you are having a different dicsussion than I am. I am replying to the notion that religion does no real good at all.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    Mrnaglfar,

    If there was an edit function, I would choose to moderate my above post. I would not change the content, but I would change the wording to be more understanding and respectful. I apologize for my terseness and abruptness.

    Apologies,

    Matt

  • Mrnaglfar

    Hey, no worries Matt. It’s debate; I understand.

    Your only recouse at this point of the debate is to declare that those people whom I have known well were lying or were deceiving themselves that religion actually had made them happy.

    You cannot, in all seriousness, compare two people, on religious and one not religious and declare, based on their respective happiness whether religion or non-religion makes someone happier.

    Those two seem kind of contradictory. You seem to claim it is religion is making these people happy, and then in the next sentence saying there’s no way to tell if religion is making them happy. I would agree with you on there are too many confounding variables, but I think we disagree greatly on whether those happy religious people would be happy without religion. I see no reason they shouldn’t be just as happy with or without it.

    Where on earth did you gather the notion that I believe that happiness is the ultimate goal?

    However the fact remains that religion makes people happy, which is good.

    If the real good you’re saying religion does is that it can make people happy, then I assume you mean happiness is the goal of this ‘real good’, which doesn’t exactly make my question about if one religion made people happier, or did more “real good”, would you recommend people convert to it (even if it was in complete opposition to what you believe)? And drugs also make people happy (and I have nothing against drug use) but it doesn’t mean drugs are good for them. I also do not adhere to Universal Utilitarianism, I just thought it was in the context of things frequenting the site. I do, however, feel making people feel good is a good thing in general.

    I have witnessed firsthand many situations which directly contradict your assertion.

    You’ve witness celebration funerals? People who hear of a friend’s or child’s death and smile and say “They’re in heaven now; good for them” and go about their day whistling and skipping? That seems, again, at best to be self-delusion, and also a cheapening of the worth of this life.

    If we want to tally up the all ‘bad’ religion has done, we could use a direct measure of how many people have died/killed in it’s name (9/11 and all the suicide bombings, crusades, inquisitions, those who have been stoned to death, etc). It’s hard to measure oppression, but when most religions talk about how many natural human acts are sinful and wrong, we could use some scale of mental tramua, especially since these things are taught to your children. We could measure how many times religion has attempted to stop education processes (including sex ed, which leads to an increase in teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs).

    When we want to tally up the good, so far the best I’ve seen is that religion *might* be a causal factor in certain people’s happiness, but as you said yourself, there are too many confounding variables to determine if that’s truly the case. Are there other ‘real goods’ religion does?

  • heliobates

    I have met many. Your only recouse at this point of the debate is to declare that those people whom I have known well were lying or were deceiving themselves that religion actually had made them happy.

    Or Mrnaglfar can point out the inevitable categorical confusion which causes infinite regress in this type of argument. In Adam’s blogpost, he’s talking about societal good which can be measured using statistical reasoning. The believer (Paul started it, but you’re flinging the gauntlet back down) will immediately insist that individual good can be demonstrated by religion, and thereby conflates the two. It’s a sort of fallacy of composition and, as you pointed out, results in two people arguing past each other.

  • OMGF

    Matt R,

    You are incorrect that theistic thought is to believe in irrational assumptions.

    Oh? And what is the assumption of a supernatural god if not begging the question and irrational?

    Think of all the apologetic websites around. Are they saying “belive this without evidence?” No, they are saying here is evidence that you should believe.

    And all of it is predicated on accepting the irrational assumption of god – begging the question.

    There is, of course, varying degrees of validity to the evidence and some of it is just not true, but the point is that they are trying to present evidence.

    That they are trying does not mean that they are succeeding.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    That they are trying does not mean that they are succeeding.

    You are correct, however our dispute is not over whether they are succeeding, our dispute is over whether they are trying to make people believe things without evidence. The fact that they are *trying to provide evidence* is devastating to your point. You may think that their evidence is not good, and that is fine, but the fact that that they are using evidence to make a case for their position shows that they are not simply expecting people to believe for no reason.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    The fact that they are *trying to provide evidence* is devastating to your point.

    No, actually it isn’t. That theistic thought rests on irrational, illogical axioms leads itself to irrational, illogical thought, which is the antithesis of scientific thought. Period. That apologists try to produce evidence for their claims shows how beholden they are to the scientific method, not how religious thought somehow helps people think scientifically.

  • Lunacrous

    The fact that they are *trying to provide evidence* is devastating to your point.

    No. If they were following the evidence where it leads, you would be right. But they’re just assuming Goddidit and trying to fit the evidence around this preconception as best they can. Not a new endeavor, and certainly not an impressive one.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    You appear to be deviating from your original stance. You wrote:

    Theistic “thought” is to believe in irrational assumptions without proof

    I disagreed with this by demonstrating that there are a wealth apologists who base their arguments on evidence. You retorted by saying that these proofs beg the question and that they “are not working”.

    You are incorrect in characterizing all theistic arguments as begging the question. They do not. Some do. But some do not.

    Arguing that their arguments do not work does little to refute my stance that theists base their ideas on evidence. At best, it shows that you disagree with their evidence or that you feel that you can effectively refute their evidence.

    The attitude that the only way theists can believe in God is by irrational assumptions is similar to the assumption that the only way to be an atheist is to deny the revealed truth of God. Both make the same error in that they do not allow for the “honest atheist” or the “honest theist”. It is natural to see someone who forms a very different opinion as being “irrational” or “uncritical”, but there are very rational and critical people who have decided that God exists. They just interpret the evidence differently than you do.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Lunacrous,

    No. If they were following the evidence where it leads, you would be right.

    You are assuming that all rational people will “follow” the evidence to the same conclusion that you have come to and that is not correct. You may assert that theists are incorrect, and that is fine, but to assert that they are all irrational is incorrect.

    But they’re just assuming Goddidit and trying to fit the evidence around this preconception as best they can.

    You are basing this assessment on your own assumptions. If you look into the matter, you will find that there are many theists who believe because of evidence. You are incorrect in characterizing all theists as “creating” evidence to support assumptions. Either you are unfamiliar with the topic or you are deliberately trying to mischaracterize theists. The fact is, just because someone thinks differently than you, does not automatically make them irrational.

    I also think that you may not be familiar with the thrust of the argument here. OMGF stated that theistic thought is based on assumptions without evidence. That is false. People are theists because of evidence. You may dispute the evidence or state that you find the evidence unconvincing, however when you characterize theists in general as simply believing “because”, you are incorrect.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Entomologista

    I´m not against Science, I´m against Evolution and atheism. They are two very different Terms. Think about it without any prejudism, being impartial and as if you were trying to find a most excellent truth; I You are right, I have nothing to lose, If I´m right, you are doomed forever man.

    I’m against random capitalization and theists who think Pascal’s Wager is a worthwhile argument.

  • Lunacrous

    People are theists because of evidence. You may dispute the evidence or state that you find the evidence unconvincing, however when you characterize theists in general as simply believing “because”, you are incorrect.

    People also believe in alien visitation, bigfoot, and psychic powers because of evidence. But do their claims stand up to repeated, independent testing? Does their evidence, reasoning, and methodology stand up to peer review? Was the nonexistence of aliens, bigfoot, or whatever deity ever a possible conclusion for their research? Did they, after coming up with a hypothesis, do everything they could to prove it wrong? Are their claims even falsifiable? Are they holding their claims about the very nature of the universe to the same standards we would hold any much less expansive and grandiose hypothesis, or are they just going with what seems to fit the evidence after they think about it for a bit? Possibly think about it very hard and for a very long time, with lots of discussion. Which is a wonderful thing, but absolutely no substitute for independently verified empirical evidence.

  • OMGF

    Matt R,

    I disagreed with this by demonstrating that there are a wealth apologists who base their arguments on evidence. You retorted by saying that these proofs beg the question and that they “are not working”.

    They are indeed begging the question. The only way that one can find evidence for god is if one assumes god a priori. This is begging the question.

    You are incorrect in characterizing all theistic arguments as begging the question. They do not. Some do. But some do not.

    Feel free to point out one that does not. Oh, and I know about your beliefs, and you do the same thing.

    Arguing that their arguments do not work does little to refute my stance that theists base their ideas on evidence.

    I was merely stating that their arguments do not work to make their beliefs rational. As Lunacrous pointed out, they start with the belief and then make the arguments to fit that belief.

    Both make the same error in that they do not allow for the “honest atheist” or the “honest theist”. It is natural to see someone who forms a very different opinion as being “irrational” or “uncritical”, but there are very rational and critical people who have decided that God exists. They just interpret the evidence differently than you do.

    Oh, I don’t doubt that there are “honest theists” who think they really are rational. Take yourself for instance. I also don’t doubt that there are very rational and critical people who decide on god. Again, take yourself for instance. But, simply because they tend to be rational and critical doesn’t mean that their god belief is. That would be a logical fallacy (I believe it is the genetic fallacy.) The truth is that when one posits god, then one is thinking irrationally. This holds even if that person makes all kinds of rational arguments afterwards. All of those rational arguments are based on an irrational argument.

    If you look into the matter, you will find that there are many theists who believe because of evidence.

    Just so you don’t think you’ve already answered one of my points, there is no evidence of god. The only way to think there is is to a priori assert that there is a god that the evidence can point to.

  • Matt R

    Lunacrous,

    People also believe in alien visitation, bigfoot, and psychic powers because of evidence. But do their claims stand up to repeated, independent testing? Does their evidence, reasoning, and methodology stand up to peer review? Was the nonexistence of aliens, bigfoot, or whatever deity ever a possible conclusion for their research? Did they, after coming up with a hypothesis, do everything they could to prove it wrong? Are their claims even falsifiable? Are they holding their claims about the very nature of the universe to the same standards we would hold any much less expansive and grandiose hypothesis, or are they just going with what seems to fit the evidence after they think about it for a bit? Possibly think about it very hard and for a very long time, with lots of discussion. Which is a wonderful thing, but absolutely no substitute for independently verified empirical evidence.

    I refer to the rhetorical technique you have employed above as “question carpet-bombing”. You have bombarded me with a host of loaded questions which make vague, sweeping generalizations about theists in general. It is not conducive to stimulating discourse therefore unless you are willing to make precise statements and develop them with supporting ideas, I think that this discussion has become stagnant and rant-ish.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    OMG,

    Feel free to point out one that does not. Oh, and I know about your beliefs, and you do the same thing.

    Naturally you think I use circular reasoning, since I believe in God and the only way to justify such a belief is through circular reasoning. By your estimation I *have* to beg the question.

    The only way to think there is is to a priori assert that there is a god that the evidence can point to.

    A clarification please:

    Are you saying that finding evidence for God is begging the question because one is looking for evidence of God and that this is an irrational process? To restate my question, are you saying that it is irrational and “begging the question” to hypothetically propose X then search for evidence to see if X is supported by evidence?

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    OMG,

    Feel free to point out one that does not. Oh, and I know about your beliefs, and you do the same thing.

    Naturally you think I use circular reasoning, since I believe in God and the only way to justify such a belief is through circular reasoning. By your estimation I *have* to beg the question.

    The only way to think there is is to a priori assert that there is a god that the evidence can point to.

    A clarification please:

    Are you saying that finding evidence for God is begging the question because one is looking for evidence of God and that this is an irrational process? To restate my question, are you saying that it is irrational and “begging the question” to hypothetically propose X then search for evidence to see if X is supported by evidence?

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    Mrnaglfar,

    Hi, sorry for the delay, I kept getting distracted by OMG and Lunacrous.

    I wrote

    Your only recouse at this point of the debate is to declare that those people whom I have known well were lying or were deceiving themselves that religion actually had made them happy.

    …and…

    You cannot, in all seriousness, compare two people, on religious and one not religious and declare, based on their respective happiness whether religion or non-religion makes someone happier.

    Then you wrote:

    Those two seem kind of contradictory. You seem to claim it is religion is making these people happy, and then in the next sentence saying there’s no way to tell if religion is making them happy. I would agree with you on there are too many confounding variables, but I think we disagree greatly on whether those happy religious people would be happy without religion. I see no reason they shouldn’t be just as happy with or without it.

    Those two quotes are regarding two different things. The first is based on a premise that an individual is generally an accurate assessor of what makes him or her happy. Therefore, if an individual states “religion makes me happy”, I think it is generally valid to believe that the person knows what he or she is talking about. I would feel rather silly telling someone that I knew better than they did whether something made them happy or not.

    The second statement I made was in reply to your statement that religious people and non-religious people seem equally happy to you. My second statement was intended to show that as an outside observer, not asking the subjects whether religion makes them happy, you are inadequate to determine whether religion makes them happy. If you had asked religious people if religion made them happy and they said “no”, then I think that it is valid to say that religion does not make them happy.

    Now, your next question will no doubt be, “how can Matt tell if religion is making people happy?” Well, first off, religion makes me happy, and secondly I know many people who say that religion makes them happy.

    You’ve witness celebration funerals? People who hear of a friend’s or child’s death and smile and say “They’re in heaven now; good for them” and go about their day whistling and skipping? That seems, again, at best to be self-delusion, and also a cheapening of the worth of this life.

    No whisling or skipping, but peace and hope that transcends grief. And at many funerals they are declared to be “celebrations” for the very reason that someone has gone home.

    That seems, again, at best to be self-delusion, and also a cheapening of the worth of this life

    So really, it’s a lose-lose situation. If theists are sad at funerals, they are hypocrites who really don’t believe, but if they are not, then they cheapen human life and delude themselves! What a predicament!

    If we want to tally up the all ‘bad’ religion has done, we could use a direct measure of how many people have died/killed in it’s name (9/11 and all the suicide bombings, crusades, inquisitions, those who have been stoned to death, etc). It’s hard to measure oppression, but when most religions talk about how many natural human acts are sinful and wrong, we could use some scale of mental tramua, especially since these things are taught to your children. We could measure how many times religion has attempted to stop education processes (including sex ed, which leads to an increase in teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs).

    …and if we want to tally up all the ‘good’ it has done, we could use a direct measure of lives saved through providing food to starving people at home and abroad, founding of hospitals, building orphanages, educating people on agriculture, helping build buildings for people in need, relief efforts in natural disasters, and inspiring people who have the tools of science to take those tools to people who are in need.

    Some other things that are hard to measure: The hope for a better future, the joy of belonging to a church family, the peace that comes from healing of emotional wounds, the peace and joy that comes from following good moral principles found in religious tradition, the fulfillment of having purpose, the support to persevere difficult times, and the joy of mystical religious experience.

    Religion really does make people better morally and emotionally. This is not the case with everyone, everyone is different, but there are many people who really benefit from religion.

    To say that the intangible benefits of religion are not “real good” is to deny feelings which are central to the human experience.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    Mrnaglfar,

    Hi, sorry for the delay, I kept getting distracted by OMG and Lunacrous.

    I wrote

    Your only recouse at this point of the debate is to declare that those people whom I have known well were lying or were deceiving themselves that religion actually had made them happy.

    …and…

    You cannot, in all seriousness, compare two people, on religious and one not religious and declare, based on their respective happiness whether religion or non-religion makes someone happier.

    Then you wrote:

    Those two seem kind of contradictory. You seem to claim it is religion is making these people happy, and then in the next sentence saying there’s no way to tell if religion is making them happy. I would agree with you on there are too many confounding variables, but I think we disagree greatly on whether those happy religious people would be happy without religion. I see no reason they shouldn’t be just as happy with or without it.

    Those two quotes are regarding two different things. The first is based on a premise that an individual is generally an accurate assessor of what makes him or her happy. Therefore, if an individual states “religion makes me happy”, I think it is generally valid to believe that the person knows what he or she is talking about. I would feel rather silly telling someone that I knew better than they did whether something made them happy or not.

    The second statement I made was in reply to your statement that religious people and non-religious people seem equally happy to you. My second statement was intended to show that as an outside observer, not asking the subjects whether religion makes them happy, you are inadequate to determine whether religion makes them happy. If you had asked religious people if religion made them happy and they said “no”, then I think that it is valid to say that religion does not make them happy.

    Now, your next question will no doubt be, “how can Matt tell if religion is making people happy?” Well, first off, religion makes me happy, and secondly I know many people who say that religion makes them happy.

    You’ve witness celebration funerals? People who hear of a friend’s or child’s death and smile and say “They’re in heaven now; good for them” and go about their day whistling and skipping? That seems, again, at best to be self-delusion, and also a cheapening of the worth of this life.

    No whisling or skipping, but peace and hope that transcends grief. And at many funerals they are declared to be “celebrations” for the very reason that someone has gone home.

    That seems, again, at best to be self-delusion, and also a cheapening of the worth of this life

    So really, it’s a lose-lose situation. If theists are sad at funerals, they are hypocrites who really don’t believe, but if they are not, then they cheapen human life and delude themselves! What a predicament!

    If we want to tally up the all ‘bad’ religion has done, we could use a direct measure of how many people have died/killed in it’s name (9/11 and all the suicide bombings, crusades, inquisitions, those who have been stoned to death, etc). It’s hard to measure oppression, but when most religions talk about how many natural human acts are sinful and wrong, we could use some scale of mental tramua, especially since these things are taught to your children. We could measure how many times religion has attempted to stop education processes (including sex ed, which leads to an increase in teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs).

    …and if we want to tally up all the ‘good’ it has done, we could use a direct measure of lives saved through providing food to starving people at home and abroad, founding of hospitals, building orphanages, educating people on agriculture, helping build buildings for people in need, relief efforts in natural disasters, and inspiring people who have the tools of science to take those tools to people who are in need.

    Some other things that are hard to measure: The hope for a better future, the joy of belonging to a church family, the peace that comes from healing of emotional wounds, the peace and joy that comes from following good moral principles found in religious tradition, the fulfillment of having purpose, the support to persevere difficult times, and the joy of mystical religious experience.

    Religion really does make people better morally and emotionally. This is not the case with everyone, everyone is different, but there are many people who really benefit from religion.

    To say that the intangible benefits of religion are not “real good” is to deny feelings which are central to the human experience.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Lunacrous

    Very well, I’ll make this simple. Theism makes claims about the nature of reality. Those claims should be held to the same standards as any other scientific hypothesis. So, here are the important questions.

    Are the claims falsifiable?

    Has the evidence supporting those claims been verified through repeated, independent experimentation? If so, under what protocols?

    Have the evidence, reasoning, and methodology supporting those claims been subject to peer review?

  • Lunacrous

    Very well, I’ll make this simple. Theism makes claims about the nature of reality. Those claims should be held to the same standards as any other scientific hypothesis. So, here are the important questions.

    Are the claims falsifiable?

    Has the evidence supporting those claims been verified through repeated, independent experimentation? If so, under what protocols?

    Have the evidence, reasoning, and methodology supporting those claims been subject to peer review?

  • OMGF

    Matt R,

    Naturally you think I use circular reasoning, since I believe in God and the only way to justify such a belief is through circular reasoning. By your estimation I *have* to beg the question.

    That is correct. You have a chance to correct me if I’m wrong, however. I’ve only asked for one example.

    Are you saying that finding evidence for God is begging the question because one is looking for evidence of God and that this is an irrational process? To restate my question, are you saying that it is irrational and “begging the question” to hypothetically propose X then search for evidence to see if X is supported by evidence?

    I knew I should have clarified when I wrote it, but was lazy instead. I was simply restating what I said above, that you necessarily must beg the question because all the “evidence” that you find is only evidence if you assume that it leads to your conclusion beforehand. Looking for evidence is probably only irrational in that finding it is certainly irrational (minus some event where god makes his/her/its presence known through ways that are verifiable.)

    So, to your restatement, no, that is part of the scientific method. Searching for god, however, does not fit that bill. Again, you must employ circular reasoning and begging the question in order to find evidence for god, therefore it is not a rational idea.

  • OMGF

    Matt R,

    Naturally you think I use circular reasoning, since I believe in God and the only way to justify such a belief is through circular reasoning. By your estimation I *have* to beg the question.

    That is correct. You have a chance to correct me if I’m wrong, however. I’ve only asked for one example.

    Are you saying that finding evidence for God is begging the question because one is looking for evidence of God and that this is an irrational process? To restate my question, are you saying that it is irrational and “begging the question” to hypothetically propose X then search for evidence to see if X is supported by evidence?

    I knew I should have clarified when I wrote it, but was lazy instead. I was simply restating what I said above, that you necessarily must beg the question because all the “evidence” that you find is only evidence if you assume that it leads to your conclusion beforehand. Looking for evidence is probably only irrational in that finding it is certainly irrational (minus some event where god makes his/her/its presence known through ways that are verifiable.)

    So, to your restatement, no, that is part of the scientific method. Searching for god, however, does not fit that bill. Again, you must employ circular reasoning and begging the question in order to find evidence for god, therefore it is not a rational idea.

  • Matt R

    Lunacrous,

    Excellent reply! I suspect we will be getting somewhere shortly…

    Theism makes claims about the nature of reality.

    I think that the primary claim that theism makes about reality is that there is God or Gods. Different theistic beliefs contain other ideas, but I think that the existence of God or Gods is the key belief from which all others stem. Are we in agreement? I assume we are and will proceed.

    Those claims should be held to the same standards as any other scientific hypothesis.

    I think that what you mean here is that since the scientific method has proven itsself to be a useful tool to explore reality, arguably the most useful tool available to us, that we shoud use it as much as possible when describing reality. Is this correct?

    So to sum up my perception of your position, you think that the proposed existence of God should be verified through use of the scientific method before a person accepts it.

    Are the claims falsifiable?

    Because of the nature of most claims about God, I do not think they are not absolutely falsifiable. Let us reflect on the much-renouned flying spaghetti monster. Being intrinsically invisible, the FSM is not absolutely falsifiable, however the fact that there is little reason to belive (sorry FSM) in the entity, I think it is reasonably falsifiable.

    I think that God is generally the same way. I think that there are claims about God which can be reasonably falsified. If enough claims about God are reasonably falsified, then I believe that the concept of God becomes equivalent to the universe as the source of our existence.

    It seems to me that there is undeniably a cause behind or a source of our existence, or else we would not be here. The question is regarding the *nature* of that cause/source. We can contemplate whether the cause is a fundamental force in our universe, like gravity. Perhaps it is more complicated, like multi-dimentional interactions. Perhaps it is so complicated that it is itsself conscious. Perhaps it cares that we are here or not. These are questions about the nature of the cause. At some point, we refer to the cause as God. Generally we do this if the cause is considered conscious or “personal”.

    So I think that God as simply the driving force behind the universe is undeniable, but God as a complex being who is conscious and perhaps cares about what happens is the questionable matter.

    This is a lot of stuff, so I will let you react to it before we progress.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    Lunacrous,

    Excellent reply! I suspect we will be getting somewhere shortly…

    Theism makes claims about the nature of reality.

    I think that the primary claim that theism makes about reality is that there is God or Gods. Different theistic beliefs contain other ideas, but I think that the existence of God or Gods is the key belief from which all others stem. Are we in agreement? I assume we are and will proceed.

    Those claims should be held to the same standards as any other scientific hypothesis.

    I think that what you mean here is that since the scientific method has proven itsself to be a useful tool to explore reality, arguably the most useful tool available to us, that we shoud use it as much as possible when describing reality. Is this correct?

    So to sum up my perception of your position, you think that the proposed existence of God should be verified through use of the scientific method before a person accepts it.

    Are the claims falsifiable?

    Because of the nature of most claims about God, I do not think they are not absolutely falsifiable. Let us reflect on the much-renouned flying spaghetti monster. Being intrinsically invisible, the FSM is not absolutely falsifiable, however the fact that there is little reason to belive (sorry FSM) in the entity, I think it is reasonably falsifiable.

    I think that God is generally the same way. I think that there are claims about God which can be reasonably falsified. If enough claims about God are reasonably falsified, then I believe that the concept of God becomes equivalent to the universe as the source of our existence.

    It seems to me that there is undeniably a cause behind or a source of our existence, or else we would not be here. The question is regarding the *nature* of that cause/source. We can contemplate whether the cause is a fundamental force in our universe, like gravity. Perhaps it is more complicated, like multi-dimentional interactions. Perhaps it is so complicated that it is itsself conscious. Perhaps it cares that we are here or not. These are questions about the nature of the cause. At some point, we refer to the cause as God. Generally we do this if the cause is considered conscious or “personal”.

    So I think that God as simply the driving force behind the universe is undeniable, but God as a complex being who is conscious and perhaps cares about what happens is the questionable matter.

    This is a lot of stuff, so I will let you react to it before we progress.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    OMGF,

    I knew I should have clarified when I wrote it

    Isn’t intuition interesting!

    That is correct. You have a chance to correct me if I’m wrong, however. I’ve only asked for one example.

    If you are willing to oblige me, I am actually interested in hearing you make a case for some of your favorite instances of theists begging the question in order to provide evidence for God.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    OMGF,

    I knew I should have clarified when I wrote it

    Isn’t intuition interesting!

    That is correct. You have a chance to correct me if I’m wrong, however. I’ve only asked for one example.

    If you are willing to oblige me, I am actually interested in hearing you make a case for some of your favorite instances of theists begging the question in order to provide evidence for God.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    Matt R,
    From your response to Lunacrous

    Being intrinsically invisible, the FSM is not absolutely falsifiable, however the fact that there is little reason to belive (sorry FSM) in the entity, I think it is reasonably falsifiable.

    Why do you say that? Do you believe that there is more reason to believe in Yahweh? How do you make that distinction?

    I think that God is generally the same way. I think that there are claims about God which can be reasonably falsified. If enough claims about God are reasonably falsified, then I believe that the concept of God becomes equivalent to the universe as the source of our existence.

    Wait, so you default to there being god unless it is disproven to you? And you think you are being rational by doing so?

    If you are willing to oblige me, I am actually interested in hearing you make a case for some of your favorite instances of theists begging the question in order to provide evidence for God.

    Sure thing, here’s an example right here (you should recognize it):

    It seems to me that there is undeniably a cause behind or a source of our existence, or else we would not be here.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    I think that you know what I mean when I say that there is a cause or source of our existence. You do, don’t you? When you read my comment to lunacrous, you don’t really think that I was trying to make a case for a personal God, do you?

    I am being serious. Was it not painfully clear that I was stating the obvious fact that there is *something* that is the cause of reality as we know it? Was it not obvious that I think this *something* could be a natural force, the universe itsself, some sort of Big Bang sort of event, or some sort of conscious entity. Certainly my meaning was not so obscure as to escape your understanding.

    So what is the miscommunication here?

    I am not being belligerent, I am being serious. Although I get irritated when I feel that I have been misrepresented, I also understand that I may not communicate clearly enough. If I need to be more careful in my wording, I will endeavor to do so.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    Matt R,

    I think that you know what I mean when I say that there is a cause or source of our existence. You do, don’t you? When you read my comment to lunacrous, you don’t really think that I was trying to make a case for a personal God, do you?

    I do know what you mean. That’s why I listed it as an example. Personal god or impersonal god, you are commiting the fallacy none-the-less.

    I am being serious. Was it not painfully clear that I was stating the obvious fact that there is *something* that is the cause of reality as we know it?

    It is only “painfully obvious” because you are begging the question. Thank you for proving my point. And, no I don’t feel I am misrepresenting anything, because I’m not reading anything more into it than you feel the universe was “caused”. We don’t know that, and it is not obvious. That you think it was caused, however, probably leads you to believe in something that caused it, and that something must be a god (that’s the usual argument at least even if you are making your statement less obvious through your provisos.)

    Look, if you feel I am misrepresenting you, it’s not on purpose. I hate that as much as you do. So, please clarify. However, wherever you go with it, your statement that the universe was definitely caused, else we would not be here is begging the question.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    I will try to be more clear. I am not exactly trying to say that “the universe was caused” in the sense that it had to have been created by an entity of some sort. I am trying to make a more fundamental statement based on causality. Every observation made in our universe supports the concept that things happen because of causes. Therefore it makes sense to me that there either was a beginning to our universe and that something somehow caused that, or that our universe (or a multi-verse of some sort) has always existed and there is some sort of force or group of forces which drive their existence. That is all I am trying to say. If I have made myself clear, you should be thinking to yourself right now “well of course there is a cause for things, everyone knows that!”. I was just trying to lay a foundation that we could agree on and then go from there to discuss that one of the differences between theists and atheists is that theists believe that this force is an entity whereas atheists believe this force is just a force.

    That’s it, no theistic chicanery, just good old stating the obvious before moving on to more complex ideas.

    With that said, I do not feel that I am begging the question by expecting to find an underlying cause in a universe which has time and time again been proved to be causal. I think that I would be begging the question if I started with the assumption that the underlying cause/force has X,Y, and Z attributes which happen to match up perfectly with my own religious tradition. However, that is not what I am doing.

    I hope that is more clear.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    Matt R,

    Every observation made in our universe supports the concept that things happen because of causes.

    I’m not sure that’s the case when you start talking about the quantum regime. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong about that.

    Also, those observations are dependent on the laws of the universe being what they are. Those laws break down during the big bang to slightly afterwards. We can’t make the same assumptions about the early universe that we would make about the universe as it is right now.

    Therefore it makes sense to me that there either was a beginning to our universe and that something somehow caused that, or that our universe (or a multi-verse of some sort) has always existed and there is some sort of force or group of forces which drive their existence.

    Or they just are. Why must something “drive their existence.”

    With that said, I do not feel that I am begging the question by expecting to find an underlying cause in a universe which has time and time again been proved to be causal.

    Maybe, maybe not. We don’t know if your assumptions are valid. But, that’s not what we were discussing. We were talking about begging the question in regards to finding evidence for god. If you assert that we are here, therefore we are created, and therefore god exists because he is the creator, then you’ve begged the question. My point still stands.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    Or they just are. Why must something “drive their existence.”

    If they “just are” then they are the first cause. Something has to “just be”. That thing which “just is” is what I consider to be the source/cause.

    But, that’s not what we were discussing

    That *is* what we were discussing. I offered for you to bring up a case where a theist was making a circular argument. You chose to lift a comment I had made to Lunacrous because you thought that it was circular reasoning. Now that I have explained what I meant to you, it turns out that it is not circular reasoning, but a misunderstanding. This is *exactly* what we were talking about.

    Since you did your part and brought up what you thought was an example of theistic circular thinking, I will propose to you some evidence that I think can be interpreted in favor of God’s existence without first assuming God’s existence.

    This evidence the firsthand religious/mystical experience I have had with God. If it were not for this experience that I have had, I would most likely be very much agnostic if not outright atheist. This is because I recognize the problems with many theistic arguments.

    Let me emphasize that for anyone other than me, I understand that this is anecdotal evidence and not very useful, but for me it is first hand experience and very useful.

    I do not feel that my interpretation of my mystical/religious experience is begging the question. In evaluating my mystical/religious experience, I can start with the premise:

    This experience is a willful product of my mind, a spontaneous product of my mind, or it is due to outside influence which may or may not be transcendental or spiritual. From there I can make inferences to rule out possibilities which I think are more unlikely and accept ones which I think are more likely. At the end of the process I come to the conclusion that I think the most likely explanation is that I have interacted with something external to me. Notice I do not propose this as concrete fact. I know I could be wrong. I am going off of the best evidence I have. Therefore I feel that I have evaluated my evidence fairly to the best of my ability, without begging the question, and have arrived at the conclusion that there is something out there to interact with which is most often described as “God”.

    So…

    That’s it.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    Matt R,

    If they “just are” then they are the first cause. Something has to “just be”. That thing which “just is” is what I consider to be the source/cause.

    Again, I don’t agree. If there is something that “just is” that doesn’t mean it has to be the “first cause” if there is such a thing.

    That *is* what we were discussing. I offered for you to bring up a case where a theist was making a circular argument. You chose to lift a comment I had made to Lunacrous because you thought that it was circular reasoning. Now that I have explained what I meant to you, it turns out that it is not circular reasoning, but a misunderstanding. This is *exactly* what we were talking about.

    If you truly didn’t mean it as a theological statement, fine. It was still a sloppy statement on your part and completely splitting hairs IMO to take this as you have. Was not your point that that first cause is god? Is that not where you were going with it? If so, then my point stands. If not, then why even say it?

    This evidence the firsthand religious/mystical experience I have had with God. If it were not for this experience that I have had, I would most likely be very much agnostic if not outright atheist. This is because I recognize the problems with many theistic arguments.

    And yet don’t recognize the problems with your own. I hate to inform you, but my point stands and you are still begging the question. Actually, I already said that I was aware of your personal theology as you’ve said it before on this blog and I already warned you that you are guilty of irrational thinking.

    This experience is a willful product of my mind, a spontaneous product of my mind, or it is due to outside influence which may or may not be transcendental or spiritual. From there I can make inferences to rule out possibilities which I think are more unlikely and accept ones which I think are more likely. At the end of the process I come to the conclusion that I think the most likely explanation is that I have interacted with something external to me. Notice I do not propose this as concrete fact. I know I could be wrong. I am going off of the best evidence I have. Therefore I feel that I have evaluated my evidence fairly to the best of my ability, without begging the question, and have arrived at the conclusion that there is something out there to interact with which is most often described as “God”.

    Why am I reminded of the underpants gnomes? Basically, you are saying ‘it could be me or god, yadda yadda yadda (no detail), god.’ Can you fill in the blanks and still tell me that you haven’t begged the question/reasoned in a circular way, or maybe made an argument from incredulity? The only clue you give is “make inferences to rule out possibilities which I think are more unlikely and accept ones which I think are more likely.” OK, did you consider invisible, pink unicorns, the FSM, the floating teapot, leprechauns, Thor, Baal, or any other thing you or I or anyone could conjure up? Why not? Did you exhaust the list of natural explanations for things that have happened to you? Have you studied the psychology of the human mind and the placebo effect? Have you looked at the history of religion and religious thought, especially in an evolutionary sense?

    To come to god at all, would require you to conjure up some weird fantasy thing that fulfills your expectations. When those expectations are fulfilled, then god is. How convenient and wholly illogical.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    If you truly didn’t mean it as a theological statement, fine. It was still a sloppy statement on your part and completely splitting hairs IMO to take this as you have. Was not your point that that first cause is god? Is that not where you were going with it? If so, then my point stands. If not, then why even say it?

    It was the beginning of an exchange I was planning to have with lunacrous. Since you are the only one who replied to it, I guess lunacrous was not interested.

    Why am I reminded of the underpants gnomes?

    Because one of the debate techniques you frequently employ is to ridicule your opponent’s position by comparing it with positions which are ridiculous. It is very transparent.

    You have also not shown why my thinking in this matter is circular. I think this is because you cannot. All you have done is said that I have not considered enough alternative possibilities that explain my experience. The obvious implication is that if I examined enough possibilities, I certainly would come to my senses and realize that the explanation is something other than God. This reveals your own personal and rather extreme bias. The fact is that I *have* considered other things. My list of considerations is understandably not exhaustive as my sole occupation is not researching all the things which you can come up with that may explain my experiences, but my thinking is ongoing and so far, I think that I have encountered the divine.

    It is also important to note that your accusation that I have not considered enough possibilities does not mean that I have employed circular thinking. For me to employ circular thinking, my conclusion must be based on a premise that assumes my conclusion. You have failed, so far, to show how my thought process assumes God’s existence as a premise.

    This is about all I have to say on this topic. I think I have given you ample opportunity to craft a skillful argument against me. All you have done so far is the same old song and dance with barrages of questions and glow-in-the-dark fairy tale creatures, so I am pretty much done with this thread.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    Matt R,

    Because one of the debate techniques you frequently employ is to ridicule your opponent’s position by comparing it with positions which are ridiculous. It is very transparent.

    A debate technique of mine? Stop making ridiculous statements!

    You have also not shown why my thinking in this matter is circular.

    Sure it is. You assume god. You assume god has all these properties that fulfill your expectations. You find all your expectations, therefore god is true. Oh, but I already said this, so your claim that I haven’t done anything but ridicule you and throw questions at you is patently false.

    I’m not saying you haven’t considered other things. What I’m saying is that putting god on the table is irrational from the get-go. If it were rational to include god in your list, it would similarly be rational to include the afore-mentioned invisible, pink unicorns. So, why is it irrational? For many reasons, really. No evidence of god, etc.

    I’ll also note your attempts at a “beginning of an exchange” with whomever leave me less than satisfied. I think you are attempting to back out of that argument, that god was the first cause because you recognize that it is irrational. Yet, you started down that path because you think that god was that first cause. It’s transparent how you hide from the argument. So, stop projecting your faults onto me and own up to it.

  • OMGF

    I didn’t have much time before, so I’ll expand now.

    In order to conclude the supernatural did it, you have to eliminate the natural. This is due to the fact that there is no evidence for the supernatural. Anyone who claims otherwise is in error. Since there is no evidence, one must rule out all other possibilities. The questions I posed to you, Matt R., were other possibilities. It is evident that you have not ruled out those other possibilities. In fact, it is not possible to completely rule out nature unless one can find a natural law that has been violated. This leaves the supernatural in the position of not being rationally selectable. Thus, when one turns to the supernatural, one is not being rational.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Matt,
    Those two quotes are regarding two different things. The first is based on a premise that an individual is generally an accurate assessor of what makes him or her happy. Therefore, if an individual states “religion makes me happy”, I think it is generally valid to believe that the person knows what he or she is talking about. I would feel rather silly telling someone that I knew better than they did whether something made them happy or not.

    I would go so far as to say religion has the ability to make people happy. Keep in mind however, I say RELIGION can make people happy, not anything intrinsic about any one religion or belief. And likewise, because it makes them happy, doesn’t make it true or good (Excessive drug use can make people happy, but we don’t say cocaine is doing ‘real good’ for the human condition). I would also say that the same people who religion makes happy could/would be just as happy without religion. Finally, I would also say religion has the ability to make people unhappy, though things like oppressing women in the middle east, killing people and tearing families apart, leading people to reject and cast blame on things/people that are perfectly natural and harmless to others (homosexuality for instance).

    Simply making some people feel good isn’t enough for something to be considered doing ‘real good’.

    The second statement I made was in reply to your statement that religious people and non-religious people seem equally happy to you. My second statement was intended to show that as an outside observer, not asking the subjects whether religion makes them happy, you are inadequate to determine whether religion makes them happy. If you had asked religious people if religion made them happy and they said “no”, then I think that it is valid to say that religion does not make them happy.

    Now, your next question will no doubt be, “how can Matt tell if religion is making people happy?” Well, first off, religion makes me happy, and secondly I know many people who say that religion makes them happy.

    Observation and asking people directly can often lead to differing answers. I would say by watching them, talking to to them and not mentioning religion specifically, I get to see more of who they are normally. Also, self-reporting is a useful tool, but not the end-all-be-all of research (actually quite the opposite). Most people are quite bad at self reporting, typically unaware of many things and can easily be led on to give the answers the questioner wants (and there is a lot of evidence for that). And as was mentioned before, there are many, many confounding variables. Religion could make one person happy because it brings social acceptance from others within their family or community, in which case it’s not the religion that’s making them happy, but the social bonds that come with it. I’m not saying that religion can’t make people happy (I covered that above), but I am saying I can’t see it being the casual factor to their happiness; they can be just as happy without it quite easily.

    No whisling or skipping, but peace and hope that transcends grief. And at many funerals they are declared to be “celebrations” for the very reason that someone has gone home.

    Unless of course they picked the wrong religion and the person they’re mourning for is now going to spend all of eternity burning in some hell. That is part of the Xian doctrine I believe, in terms of accepting Jesus. How could you comfort a member of a different faith or no faith that way?

    So really, it’s a lose-lose situation. If theists are sad at funerals, they are hypocrites who really don’t believe, but if they are not, then they cheapen human life and delude themselves! What a predicament!

    Well, yeah. Death is painful, lose is terrible, but to simply ignore the issue and say “they’re off, living in heaven forever (provided of course they didn’t go to hell)” is just nonacceptance; something along the lines of a child covering their ears and saying “lalalalalaIcan’thearyou”. Religion has a way of teaching people that “this life is fleeting, and we should concern ourselves for the next life”, which I feel certainly does devalue this life, and leads people to care for it less preciously. Apparently (according to the idea of heaven), the greatest pleasure anyone can experience is to die. Kinda cheapens this life doesn’t it?

    …and if we want to tally up all the ‘good’ it has done, we could use a direct measure of lives saved through providing food to starving people at home and abroad, founding of hospitals, building orphanages, educating people on agriculture, helping build buildings for people in need, relief efforts in natural disasters, and inspiring people who have the tools of science to take those tools to people who are in need.

    If people go off to help others like that, it’s fantastic. Sadly, what most of the donations to religion go towards is not actually helping people. Some of it will, but most of it won’t. It would be interesting to see exactly how that donation money is spent, but I don’t have sources to charities that publish their books (or the charities that don’t publish their expenses). As for religion inspiring people to take science and help others, again, fantastic. If science is helping other people, that’s wonderful, but then that help isn’t really coming from religion. Religion has never genetically engineered crops that can save starving people, science has. Likewise, there are many non-religious people who will do the same, so it’s hard to say religion is causing them to be helpful (in other words, how can one say religion was the cause when non-religious people will also engage in the action, and some religious people won’t help? There are again, too many confounding variables, probably merely incidental to a larger cause).

    Some other things that are hard to measure: The hope for a better future, the joy of belonging to a church family, the peace that comes from healing of emotional wounds, the peace and joy that comes from following good moral principles found in religious tradition, the fulfillment of having purpose

    Good moral principles like killing anyone working on the sabbath, disobedient children, homosexuals, and oppressing women? After all, those are all in the bible as moral principles as well, yet we don’t see those as ‘good’. If we can pick and choose which parts of the bible we think are ‘good’ morals and which are ‘bad’ then we’re clearly using our own morality, and not that found in the book. As for having a purpose, are you saying without religion life is meaningless and bleak? Healing emotional wounds (and causing them) are not specific to religion, belonging to a family or group isn’t either. You’re mistaking some of the things related to religion with religion.

    Religion really does make people better morally and emotionally. This is not the case with everyone, everyone is different, but there are many people who really benefit from religion.

    Better morally and emotionally? I suppose that depends who you’re asking. I don’t feel it does, and I would wager statistics are on my side. Check out percentages of prison populations and see if religious groups have fewer representative percentages than atheists.

    To say that the intangible benefits of religion are not “real good” is to deny feelings which are central to the human experience.

    And to claim the intangible feelings brought on by heroine are not “real good” is also to deny those feelings.

  • Matt R

    OMGF,

    I think you are attempting to back out of that argument, that god was the first cause because you recognize that it is irrational. Yet, you started down that path because you think that god was that first cause. It’s transparent how you hide from the argument. So, stop projecting your faults onto me and own up to it.

    The point at which one calls me a liar is generally where I end a discussion.

    Because one of the debate techniques you frequently employ is to ridicule your opponent’s position by comparing it with positions which are ridiculous. It is very transparent.

    I crossed the line here, though. I apologize. I will not address you in such a disrespectful way in the future.

    If you would like to continue our discussion, I am willing and interested.

    Apologies,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    mrnaglfar,

    Quite a lengthy reply indeed! No wonder it took so long in coming. You make many statements which I would like to address, however for the sake of brevity, I will only speak to those which are more related to the topic.

    First off, I think it would simplify matters greatly if you desist in asserting that religion has resulted in bad things. We both agree on that point, so continually asserting it simply takes up space.

    I would like to address the idea of whether making people happy is “real good”, but first I would like to address the other, more tangible goods religion does.

    Some of it will, but most of it won’t. It would be interesting to see exactly how that donation money is spent, but I don’t have sources to charities that publish their books (or the charities that don’t publish their expenses).

    Although it would be interesting to look at the percentages of monies which actually go directly to help those in need, it is quite peripheral to the matter of whether religion does actual good. The fact remains that there are religious organizations which are very conscientious in keeping administrative costs at a minimum and maximally transferring help to those in need, thus doing “real good”.

    If science is helping other people, that’s wonderful, but then that help isn’t really coming from religion. Religion has never genetically engineered crops that can save starving people, science has.

    Although science has greatly increased the ability of religiously motivated people to do good will, it has been able to do so for many years without it. Genetically engineered corn is not needed to feed the hungry. Regular corn will do. It is erroneous to suggest that without science people have no way to help each other. Yes, science improves that ability, but it is not the source of that ability.

    Likewise, there are many non-religious people who will do the same, so it’s hard to say religion is causing them to be helpful (in other words, how can one say religion was the cause when non-religious people will also engage in the action, and some religious people won’t help? There are again, too many confounding variables, probably merely incidental to a larger cause).

    There are many religious charity organizations on the internet who explain that their reason for helping others is religiously motivated. I think that most people are reliable determiners of what motivates them. So if someone says “I went on a mission trip because I think God wants me to help less fortunate people” I think it is rational to believe them unless they manifest symptoms of mental illness.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Mrnaglfar

    Matt

    Although it would be interesting to look at the percentages of monies which actually go directly to help those in need, it is quite peripheral to the matter of whether religion does actual good. The fact remains that there are religious organizations which are very conscientious in keeping administrative costs at a minimum and maximally transferring help to those in need, thus doing “real good”.

    I wouldn’t say that how much of that money does go the poor so long as some does is peripheral at all. Charities are one of the ‘good’ things religions are often given credit for when it comes to matters like this. There are secular and religious organizations and charities with that idea in mind (help the poor and suffering), that I wouldn’t doubt. I would just be curious to see how much money they all take it and how much they give out. For instance, in the case of Mother Teresa, her charity, I’ve been told, has taken in millions and virtually none of it has gone back to helping the poor. This would make sense since that charity is not about reducing suffering, her home for the dying is just that; a place for people to go and die. They don’t get medical help, they just lay on little cots and die under the watchful eyes of nuns and the rules of the church. It’s little wonder her charity does not publish it’s expense books. Now this doesn’t mean that there are NO religious charities that do good, I’m sure there are. But, simply intentions are not good enough.
    I’m not trying to say that helping people is bad. If people feel their religion makes them help others, than great. But a vast majority of religious people do not go those great lengths to help, and most of the ones that want to help do so in the form of a donation. I would say those who are truly helpful to mankind in real caring ways are not so because of religion, regardless of if they say so (Because of the self-reporting errors we commonly make). I can say that by pointing out, as I just mentioned, a majority of people (religious and non-religious alike) do not go to great humanitarian lengths. I would say those real givers would be so with or without their religion behind them.
    I could even back this up with a fantastic new psychological study done on morality in chimps. In this study, there are two chimps who can see each other. One can act to gain access to food, but in doing so will shock the other chimp. If the first chimp can see it’s actions are directly hurting the other chimp, it will actually starve itself rather than harm the other. Just some fun food for thought.

    Although science has greatly increased the ability of religiously motivated people to do good will, it has been able to do so for many years without it. Genetically engineered corn is not needed to feed the hungry. Regular corn will do. It is erroneous to suggest that without science people have no way to help each other. Yes, science improves that ability, but it is not the source of that ability.

    Regular corn would do just fine it could grow in the area well (which in most cases it couldn’t) and supplied enough of a harvest to feed enough people (which also in most cases couldn’t). Science is not the source of people helping each other, on that we agree, but it certainly aids in our ability to do so, especially in hospitals. Of course, to say science isn’t the source of helpfulness is not to say religion is. It’s people, who I bet would help each other regardless of either. I also wouldn’t say, as mentioned above, that religion makes people any more of less inclined to do so. What hinges on it is probably degree of relatedness, evolved social brains , reciprocal altruism, empathy circuits, social strivings, etc; helping others can help you.

    I think that most people are reliable determiners of what motivates them

    Actually, psychology has shown quite the opposite is true, most especially in evolutionary psychology. Most of our behavior is almost running on automatic; our desires, feelings, goals, interests, and others. We can be primed by language to say or remember things that never happened. When we are in different surroundings we act far differently, remarkably unaware as to why we want to do the things we do. You could say we have a lot less freewill then we give ourselves credit for.

  • OMGF

    Matt R,

    I crossed the line here, though. I apologize. I will not address you in such a disrespectful way in the future.

    Yeah, that’s right, and don’t let it happen again! ;)

    Seriously though, thanks for that and I will offer an apology in return. My words were certainly more forceful than necessary.

    I think my point on the necessity of ruling out all natural processes before one can rule in the supernatural was what you were looking for, in terms of an argument for my position. If you would like, feel free to respond to that point.

    I also searched to see if Ebonmuse had a post talking about this. My searches have so far come up empty, however.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Hi OMGF,

    Thank you for your gracious response. I think that our very different opinions on some very polarizing issues sort of set us up. Thank you for your acceptance of my apology. I will be on vacation for several days, but I will think about my response to your point about exhausting natural explanations for my experience.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    Matt R,
    Have a great vacation. I’ll keep an eye out for your response should you choose to make one.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Mrnaglfar,

    I wouldn’t say that how much of that money does go the poor so long as some does is peripheral at all.

    You are correct that it is not peripheral to the matter of how much good religion does. What I was attempting to communicate was that I felt that the fact that some religious “charity” organizations actually are huge cons is not relevant to you proving that religion does *no* real good, unless you could show that all religious charity organizations are cons.

    Actually, psychology has shown quite the opposite is true, most especially in evolutionary psychology. Most of our behavior is almost running on automatic; our desires, feelings, goals, interests, and others. We can be primed by language to say or remember things that never happened. When we are in different surroundings we act far differently, remarkably unaware as to why we want to do the things we do. You could say we have a lot less freewill then we give ourselves credit for.

    This paragraph is interesting to me. I figured that you would bring up this point because I have heard the idea before somewhere. I am interested to read some material on this matter, if any is available in public domain. I have read a study about words provoking changes in behavior, I think here maybe, and would be interested to see what other things have been discovered.

    Back to the debate…

    It seems to me that your primary rebuttal is that even though religious people *think* they are motivated by religion to do good things, that they actually are not. I still think this position is too tenuous. I also note that although you are quick to suppose that religion is probably not the real reason that religious people do good things, you have not mentioned once the possibility that the religious people who do bad things may do bad things even if they were not religious. I think that you are right in supposing that some people may not be motivated by religion, but I think many are motivated by religious ideas to do good things.

    I have to go and will be gone for awhile, I will have more upon my return.

    cheers,

    matt

  • Mrnaglfar

    matt

    Well, I can’t say for certain that people aren’t motivated by religion, but as was mentioned there are too many confounding variables: Religious people who don’t do good, none religious who do, economic and social standings, childhood and current relationships, outside circumstances and events, empathy levels and all the other variables I can’t think of at this present moment.

    As for if people would do bad things without religion, again, it’s not something I can say for certain, but I would venture a guess in that a lot of discrimination, murders, and oppression would not take place, and here’s why. When it comes to non-religious people who do terrible things (Stalin and Mao are two people love to bring up) it’s often more apparent as to their motives (in the case of those two, being a radical dictator probably has most to do with it over a lack of belief in a particular deity, with the interests of their state and personal power often coming into direct play. In short, they don’t do the evil they do because they are atheists, but rather because they have other motives)and there seems to be a lack of agreement in the general atheist population about exactly what is right (except of course for cross-cultural universals, like looking down on murder, rape, and theft). But here’s an interesting quick thought on men like that; everyone says Stalin killed a mass amount of people, yet it wasn’t Stalin himself, but rather those who were supporting him actually carrying out these murders; Stalin merely ordered the killings. Presumably, many of the people serving these figures were, at least in part, religious and also presumably took part in the killings.

    So how can I say religion drives people to do harm? The matter as to which particular religion it is is unimportant to the matter, what matters is that religion can make these people feel as if such behavior is rewarding. It’s all again related to the same things helping is related to: A social brain and social strivings, rewards vs. punishments, and all the things I’ve mentioned before. If people believe that murdering people in the name of god will make them ‘blessed’ by a higher power and grant them eternal life, those are serious social gains for them. Also, if the bible (or whatever religious book people claim to be drawing their morals from) says a certain group shouldn’t be tolerated (homosexuals for instance), then the members of that religion who don’t tolerate them gain social acceptance within their community. Remember, these religions do not just preach good; they preach what suits them best. If the leaders of the group want peace and love, they can find it in the book; if they want hate and death, they can find that too. For instance, I would say it’s harder to convince a rational thinking, non-believer to discriminate or harm someone for merely not being like the atheist for two reasons: One, they’re typically more likely to think about the issue first over taking it on faith, and two, as mentioned above, there’s a lot less agreement within the atheist population over particular issues.

    So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the religious systems have ways of granting social power to a select few arbitrary people, and dole out social acceptance to those who follow their line of thought (whether for the betterment or worsening of people). There’s no process or particular logic about what religions choose to teach at any given time, but so long as it’s in the book, it can be preached as right when it suits the religion. This agreement doesn’t exist within atheists because atheism is not a belief structure, just a lack of belief in other religions. It’s harder to hold social sway without reason.

    I know that’s choppy, hopefully I can clear it up more. It’s been a long day.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    Hi, my vacation was good, thank you for the well-wishes.

    I think my point on the necessity of ruling out all natural processes before one can rule in the supernatural was what you were looking for, in terms of an argument for my position.

    I think it is impossible to rule out all possible natural causes before considering supernatural ones, especially since there are undoubtedly natural causes which are not known of yet.

    On a side note, I am not sure that I necessarily see God as being outside of nature, so I use the terms “natural” and “supernatural” more for convenience of discussion than as an actual communication of how I think of God.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Hi mrnaglfar,

    Remember, these religions do not just preach good; they preach what suits them best. If the leaders of the group want peace and love, they can find it in the book;

    These people who manipulate religious ideas to suit their own beliefs and benefits are not a good example of being influenced by religion. They are manipulating the religion to suit themselves. I think that these sort of people, in the absence of a religious system, would use another social entity to achieve their goals if it suited them.

    So how can I say religion drives people to do harm?

    This matter was never in contention. Undoubtedly some religions do cause some people to cause harm.

    I think that your main point is “Religion leads to bad”. I think you have supported that argument well and agree that there are instances in which religion leads to bad things.

    My point is that Religion leads to good. I think that I have supported that idea we. I think that the discussion may have run its course, but if you have more, I am willing to comment some.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    Matt R,
    Glad to hear you had a good vacation. I need to have one of those…Anyway:

    I think it is impossible to rule out all possible natural causes before considering supernatural ones, especially since there are undoubtedly natural causes which are not known of yet.

    We agree on this.

    On a side note, I am not sure that I necessarily see God as being outside of nature, so I use the terms “natural” and “supernatural” more for convenience of discussion than as an actual communication of how I think of God.

    I would think that it’s a necessity of the entity that created all of nature to be outside of that nature.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    I would think that it’s a necessity of the entity that created all of nature to be outside of that nature.

    I think that most Christians would probably agree with you and it is an intuitive way of looking at the whole matter. I think that there are some other ways of thinking about it though. I think it is possible that God is part of our universe. I think it is also possible that God created the known universe and is a part of it and not separate. Offhand I think that it is not realistic to figure out which is true, if any, but it is interesting for me to think about.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    Matt R,

    I think it is also possible that God created the known universe and is a part of it and not separate.

    If this is true, then the universe is part of god and is eternal. You’re starting to sound like a pantheist. ;)

  • http://jesusupdates.com/category/bible blogging the bible

    I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good.
    I don’t know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if
    you are not already ;) Cheers!


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