The Soft Landing

Although it’s much too early to look forward to a world without religion, one thing we can be confident of is that the numbers and influence of atheists will continue to grow in the near future. Census figures over the last few decades have consistently shown the rise of the nonbelievers in the educated and industrialized nations of the First World – even in America, despite its high religiosity as compared to its cultural neighbors. We can expect this trend to continue, to the point where it’s reasonable to predict that within twenty to fifty years, atheists will be a significant political lobby in their own right.

This is a hopeful vision, but there’s a potential dark side to it that concerns me. My concern stems from this thought: At whose expense will the rise of atheism occur?

It’s not likely to be from sheer population growth, considering that atheists most often come from the educated and relatively prosperous sectors of society that are correlated with smaller families. Nor do we subscribe to ideologies like Roman Catholicism or its Protestant equivalent, Quiverfull, that encourage us to raise as many children as possible. Instead, the growth of atheism will probably be through rhetoric and persuasion, winning believers over by the power of our ideas and convincing them to deconvert.

The question, then, is who will be deconverting. What types of believers will we have the most success at persuading? Who is most likely to pay heed to our arguments?

Ideally, what we want is a soft landing. We want the extravagantly supernatural faiths, those whose members believe in a world drenched with miracles and demon possessions and faith healings, to transition to a gentler, less extreme form of belief. Those more moderate churches, in turn, will fade to a more rationalist outlook that holds miracle stories to be only symbolic, similar to many Unitarian Universalists, Buddhists or secular Jews. Finally, these cultural institutions will become outright atheist. This is the blueprint for a peaceful and smooth transition to a more rational world.

But I fear it may not happen this way. What I worry about is that, instead, the moderate, mainstream religions will be the first to go. After all, their members inhabit a world similar to ours, with few outright miracles and little explicit supernaturalism. Our arguments will make the most sense to them. If that happens, what will be left behind is a world polarized between atheism and religious fundamentalism; those theists who remain will be the members of the most extremist, hardcore faiths, the ones that are separated from us by such a wide gulf in worldviews that we scarcely even agree on any basic principles with which to start talking. A world like that would likely see more outbreaks of violence, theocracy and destructive fundamentalism.

How can we avoid this outcome? Withdrawing from the field is not an option, for that would just give the extremist believers free rein to grow their own ranks. (For reasons I’ve set out elsewhere, I doubt that moderate religionists have the ability to effectively counter their fundamentalist brethren.) This could lead to an even worse outcome. We do need atheists to lobby and to speak out – but if we can’t sap the power of militant and power-hungry religion, we’re going to have a much tougher field to fight on.

For this reason, I think that atheists should team up with moderate believers – whenever and wherever they’re willing to work with us – to oppose destructive fundamentalism. We each bring our own strengths to the fight: we have the passion and uncompromising rationalism that effectively strikes at the heart of fundamentalism; they supply a welcoming but still theistic alternative, for people who need that, and the credibility to counter apologetic assertions that atheists are anarchist radicals who only want to destroy.

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.

  • Leum

    Interesting post. I don’t think we need to worry too much. I’m inclined to feel that most people have enough desire for the trappings of spirituality and religion to sustain even the most moderate strains. Also, I think our arguments make less sense to many moderates than they do to fundamentalists. After all, if you believe that the stuff is largely (or entirely) metaphorical, most atheist apologists will have their arguments met by, “Yes, and?”

    I actually saw something similar the other day. A local rabbi was talking about his interpretation of Exodus, and how he saw it as entirely metaphorical. A Christian asked, “But wouldn’t that mean Moses didn’t exist?” “Yes.” Moderate religion has holes our arguments can penetrate (especially wrt the existence of a deity), but the holes are smaller and more easily patched.

  • Chet

    After all, if you believe that the stuff is largely (or entirely) metaphorical, most atheist apologists will have their arguments met by, “Yes, and?”

    But if you believe that “God” is simply a metaphor, perhaps for human love or community, then in what sense are you not already an atheist?

    Sure, when faced with such a person, the atheist must change their approach. It’s no longer about trying to disprove the existence of God; it’s about trying to show the other person that they’ve miscategorized themselves. And as atheists maintain an increasingly public “space”, that will give cover to persons who already simply maintain belief in a God-as-metaphor to go the last inch and identify as atheist.

  • mikespeir

    I’m not sure I agree with you, Ebon. As per Chet, above, it’s the moderate to liberal believer who has the least reason to come over to our side. After all, many of them aren’t much more that atheists–or, at least, agnostics–with a thin patina of belief (which, I suspect, is often simply posturing) in the supernatural, anyway. The Fundamentalist and the Evangelical are the ones whose beliefs clash so violently with the obvious. I think it’s a mistake to suggest that they’re all too blinded by their faith to notice. In fact, they’re the ones doing back-flips in their efforts to hold onto their beliefs against the increasingly incontrovertible reality empirical science is revealing. I’m not suggesting they’ll ever defect en masse, but I think the dissonance will drive many our way. I know it did me.

  • http://patwhalen@austin.rr.com Pat Whalen

    Ideas, especially bad ideas die hard. The aggressiveness of the religious right is evidence.

    The upside as religious thought fades is that secularism in government will be easier to enshrine and defend. Keeping extremist away from the tools of mass mayhem is critical. The influence of ultraconservative at the air force academy presents real danger as does the possibility of a theocratic takeover in Pakistan.

    So we are headed in the right direction.

  • Jim Baerg

    There do seem to be quite a few ex-fundamentalist, now atheist, people around.
    Eg: http://primordial-blog.blogspot.com/

    So Leum & mikespeir may be right.

  • Polly

    I think moderate religion will outlast extremism in the well-to-do nations. As people become more humane they will naturally reject the tons of ugliness in scripture. But, they will hold on to the “nice” stuff.
    Harsh environments result in harsh people.

    A friend of mine who grew up in Tokyo told me that over there everything is based on pragmatism. There aren’t any religious considerations that affect policy or people’s ideas. They have religion. It’s just that it’s not something that dictates in the…umm…real world.

  • Bechamel

    I’m another ex-fundamentalist atheist, and I’m with mikespeir. After a while (admittedly an embarrassingly long while), I realized that the way my family, my preachers, and the Bible said the world worked was very different from the way the world actually works. My deconversion was caused primarily by unanswered prayers for guidance, coupled with the Bible’s extremely overzealous claims for the efficacy of prayer (see Mark 11:23 and John 14:12).

    If I’d been raised a moderate believer, while I might have experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance, I doubt it would have been enough to completely overhaul my worldview: “There’s probably a god; what’s the big deal either way?”

  • futures

    “Finally, these cultural institutions will become outright atheist. This is the blueprint for a peaceful and smooth transition to a more rational world.”

    This prophesy will not happen. Christianity will become more powerful than what we have now. For a season the opposite may occur, but certainly atheism will be relegated to the few who are to stuck on their supposed intellectual superiority – too dimwitted or proud to see what lies underneath. Already the “new age” and “spiritual” movements dwarf your supposed atheist movement. You are probably right in that less religious societies produce fewer offspring. I wonder why. The indigenous population of Europe is shrinking coinciding with a decline in church attendance…soon they will not have enough to maintain their standards. They must import workers from other more religious countries, but those religions are Islam and Hindu.

    Your prophecies, as with your beliefs in manmade global warming, are destined to failure.

  • http://fromtheoutfield.com Matthew Batty

    I must admit that I never considered such an outcome. I suppose it is possible, and making allies of religious moderates may be helpful. Unfortunately, I don’t know many religious moderates.

    Atheists suffer from an image problem, and I think that the entertainment media could be great allies for changing our image. If young people are exposed to heroic and sympathetic secular characters, I think that eventually the world will be more accepting of rationalist views as these young people mature. For example, Jean Luc Picard in “Startreck the Next Generation” is such a character. We need such examples in new programming.

    Images in entertainment media help people to become more receptive to change. For example, I think that seeing African-Americans in leadership roles in the movies and on TV — as well as African-American teachers in the classrooms — helped many Americans get comfortable with the idea of black President.

    Polly said something about religion in Japan. I think that the Japanese approach it as they do because they don’t really have a monotheist tradition. It seems that we have more problems with the monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They have developed from the Abraham story and worship the same one “God.” While Jews are not out to convert everyone, their belief that Palestine was promised them by God has caused much conflict. Christians and Muslims believe that they must convert everyone. In general, the non-monotheistic religions don’t have the same kind of militant fundamentalism as the Abrahamaic religions.

  • Alex Weaver

    Futures: evidence or GTFO, plzthx.

  • Maynard

    I was a moderate believer who gradually drifted into atheism. I think that the majority of moderates are our best hope. I’m with MatthewB, appeal to their better senses to help ease the transition. We need to get them comfortable with the idea of non-belief and erase the misconceptions we evil bastards now have. Whether that be through celebrity or just making ourselves known to those who are our friends but may not know our views on superstition.

  • futures

    alexweaver,

    evidence for what? The spiritual movement – go to a bookstore and see for yourself.

    Christianity is destined to become more spiritual as even the Christ said in the Bible…”My words are spirit.” Watch and see. Christians need to leave this world behind – so far they haven’t done so, but as Christians come to understanding it will all change. In this respect the Amish have it right. An Amish minister said to his congregation, “we are not of this world.” He is right about that. This whole article is conjecture, and a vain belief that there is no God, and the equally vain belief in eradicating religion.

    From the article:
    “I think that atheists should team up with moderate believers”
    Is this a joke?

    This article is about radical Islam, and radical religion – and I agree we need to be concerned with its’ spread. I as a Christian also wonder about radical atheism, after all, if it looks and acts like a religion, well….
    A quote, “Dawkins Britain’s crusading atheist looks set to fight on for his ideal utilitarian society, a brave new world in which secularism reigns supreme, while lives, values, and freedoms are ruled by scientists.”
    And from Dawkins himself: “But I think we have got to look very carefully at the rights of parents-and whether they should have the right to indoctrinate their children.”
    http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/article.php3?id_article=1914

    atheists worship at the altar of science.

    Ah but hope for science;
    http://townhall.com/columnists/DineshDSouza/2008/11/24/when_science_points_to_god

  • Alex Weaver

    We’re aware of the existence of believers. How does anything else you’ve claimed follow from this?

  • Dave K Welch

    I’m having a thought (no really… ): it is we who are presented as, and identify ourselves as ‘non-believers’. Now forgive my newly acquired Ellerspeak, but not only are we speaking in their language when we call ourselves ‘non-believers’, we also seem to be coming off as the negative somehow, something with an inability. This seems wholly unacceptable and quite ass backwards. WE believe in what is real and natural … reality. It’s they who insist on the disbelief of these things. So who are the real ‘non-believers’??? Just saying.

    Regards
    Dave

  • Christopher

    I’m having a thought (no really… ): it is we who are presented as, and identify ourselves as ‘non-believers’. Now forgive my newly acquired Ellerspeak, but not only are we speaking in their language when we call ourselves ‘non-believers’, we also seem to be coming off as the negative somehow, something with an inability. This seems wholly unacceptable and quite ass backwards. WE believe in what is real and natural … reality. It’s they who insist on the disbelief of these things. So who are the real ‘non-believers’??? Just saying.

    Ah, but factual reality requires no faith to accept – only the ability to rely on your senses and reason (however subjective they may be, they are still more reliable than some uncritically-accepted creed or doctrine). We are non-believers because we don’t need beliefs: just a cold, hard look into the abyss known as existence.

  • TommyP

    @ Futures:

    Honeycake, the difference between atheism and stuff like Christianity, Judaism and Islam is usually summed up in one word: dogma. While a responsible atheist will strive to rid themselves of dogmatic thinking and actually look at things objectively, most members of the Abrahamic traditions wallow in dogma, and thus are almost perfectly blind to new evidence and the basic facts of day to day existence.

    And also sugarplum, science does not have an altar. Science is simply our best attempt to know what is true about the world. This is as opposed to one of our less rigorous and far less ideal approaches, like maybe spinning a bottle or reading the bible. Note that any scientist who sinks into dogmatic thinking and statements is sooner or later shunned by their peers and eventually shamed by new evidence. Similar things usually do not happen in religion, as adherence to dogma despite new evidence is usually greatly rewarded.

  • Dave K Welch

    Jeesh futures. The christian superstition is so lame ass new as compared to most religions and superstitions it had to hi-jack most of it’s essential tenants. Slap yourself a couple of times and ask yourself if you really believe in virgin births and talking snakes (Simpsons aside) and that your bible is actually the word of your god. How completely do you have to push reality aside to accept that just because somebody told you some god gave him a revelation, and oh by the way here it is please accept this as fact and scripture, that you would willingly just say :”Really All right!!”? Are you not even a little embarrassed? I could never figure that out: “Hi I’m Joe and I believe in the tooth fairy”. “How come”? “Someone told me to”. And I hope you weren’t quoting or linking to DeSouza as proof or evidence of an ‘aha’ moment you had. The guy isn’t all that intellectually honest. A wanna be Stein.

    There. My Monday morning rant and it’s still only Saturday!!

    Regards
    Dave

  • Leum

    futures, I can’t address your linked article about Dawkins; I have not read him, nor do I wish to do so. However, I can and shall address Mr. D’Souza’s article. His thesis rests on the idea that the universe has been fine-tuned for life (“‘The universe in some sense knew we were coming’”).

    This anthropic principle has never held water and still fails to do so. The universe is not fine-tuned for life, life is fine-tuned to exist in the universe. Hence we see anaerobic organisms in anoxic conditions, water-breathing organisms* in the water, and eyes that see in the visible light spectrum where said spectrum is transparent.

    Unless you want to argue for a recently created Earth, the fact is that we have clear evidence that evolution (or the intelligent designer) has re-tuned and rewired life as it has entered new conditions.

    It may seem a stroke of luck that Earth is positioned so perfectly for life as we know it, but I suppose (as did Douglas Adams) that puddles remark upon how well they fit into their holes. But to conclude that the hole was made for the puddle is illogical. Life as we know it appeared on Earth because the conditions here were ripe. If they hadn’t been, we wouldn’t be here. This is no more miraculous than rolling 2161663616. That particular order is astronomically unlikely, but it doesn’t require a miracle.

    That this corner of the universe if fine-tuned for life need not be miraculous. It’s unlikely, yes, but no more so than the myriad other possible universes. Assuming otherwise leads inevitably to the conclusion that the universe exists so that Terry Pratchett can make a living by selling novels about a world on the back of a giant turtle. I mean, why else would the conditions in the universe be so perfectly situated to enable his career?

    *This is an oversimplification.

  • Leum

    Note: die argument totally stolen from Greta Christina.

  • Dave K Welch

    Oh Gosh futures, you got me going… so: I can easily imagine you asking me for what evidences I have for the things that I believe in and I could go on about science and verifiable information and all that. But that’s you just turning the argument around to take the focus off your superstitious beliefs and why you believe them. I’ve known about Thomas Paine for some time and I just happened to get through the first couple of sections of An Age of Reason while stuck at an airport recently. This stuff was written in the 1790′s! It shows the evolution (yes, the EVOLUTION) of the mythology of what had become the christian superstition up to that point. This bible all you christians get so worked up about is quite frankly one of the more poorly written, jumbled up compositions and collections of works ever to be assembled. I would be ashamed to call myself a “believer” and provide this text as a reason why I believe, never mind ascribe it to my god. Give your head a shake man.

    Regards
    Dave

  • http://2nonbelief.blogspot.com Uruk

    I’m an ex-fundie, too. I deconverted primarily due to three things:

    1) Learning that two contradicting ideas cannot both be true.

    2) The challenge that my beliefs were in spite of the evidence against it.

    3) I actually started paying attention to what my Bible was really saying.

    Maybe siding with moderates can help. Moderates of faith disagree while still having fruitful and civil conversation– unlike fundies. But, spreading logical thinking seems key. Without that, fundies can’t understand how a literal reading of the Bible is simply crazy.

    Even religion evolves; that fact may be on our side. Over my 12 years in Pentecostalism I’ve witnessed a council of churches go from calling women “Jezebel” for wearing earrings and make-up to accepting it. Now women can wear pants, too and cut their hair. People listen to the doctrine, but don’t really take it as seriously as in the past. The numbers are dwindling. Hundreds come on Sunday morning, but only the small core believers come through the week. And I observed this in the buckle of the Bible belt.

    I don’t think you’ll see religion vanish completely any time soon. But I think it’s just a matter of time . . . maybe not in our lifetime . . . but some time in the future we might see even the most rigid faiths become watered down.

  • Dave K Welch

    Leum

    “I can’t address your linked article about Dawkins; I have not read him, nor do I wish to do so.”

    Since you put this out there for anyone to see, may I ask why you wouldn’t want to read what one of the preeminent writers on the subject might have to say about a topic you are obviously interested in? Not trying to come off as argumentative, especially in-light of the more than two bit’s I’ve already put in to this post, but it seems Dawkins should be a respected and well read author in these parts.

    regards
    Dave

    Regards
    Dave

  • futures

    “fundies can’t understand how a literal reading of the Bible is simply crazy.”

    Dave,Uruk,
    You can’t take the Bible literally, it then falls apart as is repeated so often by atheists. God didn’t create the universe in 6 days. The virgin birth is also figurative, Christ was/is born, crucified and raised in man(woman) and on and on.
    This is not the venue to explain what I know.

    K Welch,
    Because most atheists, like most Christians don’t really work at understanding what they believe.

    Leum,
    A good and decent response, however incorrect it is, at least you have thought about it. I am a Christian and believe that evolution is probably correct. Evolution is not the main subject of that article. The point is, the universe began from an infinitely small glob of energy and for some reason exploded into what is now a massive universe teeming with life.(I believe the universe has many planets that sustain life)
    The concluding paragraph sums it up better than my feeble writing efforts.
    “No wonder atheists are sporting billboards asking us to “imagine…no religion.” When science, far from disproving God, seems to be pointing with ever-greater precision toward transcendence, imagination and wishful thinking seem all that is left for the atheists to count on.”

    I am a futures trader. I would tell you as any good trader knows, “don’t marry your position,” or, to quote Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

    In conclusion, it is not important that atheists turn around and suddenly believe our Creator, because everyone is destined to unite in God, that is the promise of The Bible, and that is what I know. Again, go to a Borders and check the shelves. How many atheist titles are there as opposed to religious and spiritual titles. This should give some indication of were your atheist movement is at. Anything you read on the internet, including me, should be taken with “a grain of salt.” Go see for yourself.

  • Chet

    The point is, the universe began from an infinitely small glob of energy and for some reason exploded into what is now a massive universe teeming with life.(I believe the universe has many planets that sustain life)

    You may believe that, but you believe it in spite of the evidence; there is only one single planet in the entire visible universe known to support life, and it’s the one we live on.

    It’s not a very compelling argument for fine-tuning if you have to invent a great deal of life that nobody’s ever seen in order for the argument to work. Arguments based on false premises (“the universe is teeming with life”) are, themselves, most likely false.

    That’s the greatest objection to the fine-tuning argument – if the universe is “fine-tuned” for life, why is there so little of it? It’s like saying that a fork is fine-tuned for soup. Sure, that argument makes sense if you compare eating soup with a fork to eating it with chopsticks, but as soon as you see a spoon, you realize the argument is absurd. The universe that is fine-tuned for life is the universe of Star Trek, where intelligent civilizations abound at every star – not ours, where by all observations we’re alone.

    How many atheist titles are there as opposed to religious and spiritual titles. This should give some indication of were your atheist movement is at.

    I don’t think anybody disputes the idea that atheists are outnumbered by the religious (even though atheists outnumber a number of individual religions.) And certainly every atheist is all-too-aware of how hard it is to compete with wishful thinking.

    But we’re not going to lose hope, especially since pretty much all of us lived through a time when atheism was a dirty word, associated only with the enemies of freedom and justice, and now nonbelief in God is so accepted that even the American president can act like we’re good people. That’s quite a thing. Things are getting better for atheists and atheism, and despite your pessimistic concern-trolling there’s no indication that’s going to turn around anytime soon. So much the worse for you, of course.

  • Dave K Welch

    futures

    Of course you can’t take the bible literally. But then you are stuck taking another human beings interpretation (or your own) of what the content really means. I suggest to you my friend that it is the theists who are outnumbered and the evidence is in the literature you point to. Because there is no verifiable evidence for that which you claim, everyone has there own interpretation. That’s why there are so many religions and superstitions and every day another Mormonism or something equally and just a little more ‘out there’ is popping up. Do a little research of your own my friend. Your monotheist notions are only the latest iteration of mythical wishfulness. Your idea of ‘KNOWING’ what you believe in your bible will get you killed if you try ‘KNOWING’ that way about anything else you do in everyday life.

    Regards
    Dave

  • Justin

    You are probably right in that less religious societies produce fewer offspring. I wonder why. The indigenous population of Europe is shrinking coinciding with a decline in church attendance…soon they will not have enough to maintain their standards.

    A better understanding of societies would tell you that developed societies have fewer children because of two reasons: mothers do not need to have as many children to ensure that some of them survive and women are not seen as baby factories in developed societies.

    You are mistaken (again) if you think that the population will continue to decrease to zero. It will inevitably pick up again.

    On the topic of the fine-tuned universe, I found these two studies on links from Wikipedia:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-ph/0604027

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0807.3697

    These studies, if I understand them correctly, address the possibility of a universe, similar to ours, without things like the weak nuclear force.

    To be fair, here’s another study discussing the problems with the hypothetical universe in the first two:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-ph/0609050

  • Dave K Welch

    Just to clarify my post; there might be a lot of superstitious people, but each one of them is an island of myth unto themselves. No two of them agree on all the differing opinions of any given set of beliefs because they cannot. There is no verifiable evidence to prove a point. All they can agree on is the contradiction of coming to know something by faith, because it feels ‘right’ to them.

    Regards
    Dave

  • Alex Weaver

    Futures:

    We’re aware of the existence of believers. How does anything else you’ve claimed follow from this?

  • David Ellis

    I’m with those who are in disagreement with your basic premise. Most of the ex-christians I know are exes from a conservative, fundamentalist background (including myself).

    I think most ex-christians are people who tend to have a tempermental inclination toward things like science where they pick up on the importance of critical thinking and, when they apply it to their religious beliefs, drop them as unfounded after a period of study and reflection on the issue.

    Such people are as likely to come from fundamentalist backgrounds as moderate or liberal religious backgrounds.

    I have sometimes wondered, in line with the thinking of many of the others above who think moderates LESS likely to deconvert to atheism, whether I would ever have bothered to seriously question religion in the first place if it werent for the fact that I was raised as a creationist (of the young earth variety) and could see from my study of science how implausible it was—once I began questioning one religious doctrine I examined them all. And found them wanting. But maybe that process never would have begun if I had been raised to belief Genesis was metaphor.

  • David Ellis


    Your prophecies, as with your beliefs in manmade global warming, are destined to failure.

    Why is it that religious conservatives almost always reject the idea of man made environmental damage?

    One would think that damaging the environment would fit pretty well with their apocalypticism and view of human beings as sinful (thus as bad caretakers of the natural world).

  • Leum

    “I can’t address your linked article about Dawkins; I have not read him, nor do I wish to do so.”

    Since you put this out there for anyone to see, may I ask why you wouldn’t want to read what one of the preeminent writers on the subject might have to say about a topic you are obviously interested in? Not trying to come off as argumentative, especially in-light of the more than two bit’s I’ve already put in to this post, but it seems Dawkins should be a respected and well read author in these parts.

    I think my word choice was too strong. I lack a desire to read Dawkins, I don’t have a desire not to read him. I just haven’t heard anything that makes The God Delusion sound that interesting, although I might pick up one of his books on evolution someday. I’m certainly not boycotting him, and have read a few of his essays.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    I just haven’t heard anything that makes The God Delusion sound that interesting, although I might pick up one of his books on evolution someday.

    Leum, as someone who read the selfish gene on first publication and pretty much everything Dawkins wrote on evolution since, I strongly recommend him on that subject. I have read the God Delusion and frankly there are better critiques of religion and more convincing arguments.

  • futures

    A lot of religious conservatives have bought into Gore’s global warming scheme.

    Scientists, like the rest of us, have enormous egos, and the need for grants, subsidies and other donations – hence the fear mongering. But, at least there are finally a few scientists changing positions, and soon enough Mr. Gore will be laughed at, just like the snake oil salesman he is. Gore and Moore(Michael) are both ministers of misinformation, but they are rich because of their scheming. Go ahead and buy carbon credits from Gore’s company.

    Perhaps religious conservatives are able to “test the spirit” of a man before believing him. For atheists, who worship scientists, everything scientists say must be true because they show pictures of polar bears stuck on an iceberg, and that hockey stick graph – it sure looks and sounds scientific. This whole warming thing is going to make you atheists, who are so brainy and rational, look like real dumbasses. I have included a link, which illustrates how dumb people can be. I have known from the very beginning this was BS. You can buy Polar Bear hunting licenses in Canada – you know, the same Polar Bears that are endangered.

    http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Minority.Blogs&ContentRecord_id=2158072e-802a-23ad-45f0-274616db87e6

  • MS Quixote

    Can anyone delineate, roughly, the general criteria that discriminate moderate believers from fundamentalists? Thanks.

  • Alex Weaver

    Futures:

    We’re aware of the existence of believers. How does anything else you’ve claimed follow from this?

  • Leum

    Quixote, it’s not easy. Fundamentalism and moderation are a continuum. We can say with certainty that some religions are fundamentalist and others are moderate, but the middle ground can be tricky. It’s like death, really. There’s a point where you’re absolutely alive, and a point when you’re absolutely dead, but defining the exact moment of death is almost impossible.

    In general, I’d say moderate religions tend to accept the value of other religions (more than one way to God attitudes–even if all those ways are still within the broader tradition, e.g. all Christians go to Heaven, not just Lutherans), not advocate the political or social oppression of others, view some or all of their teachings as metaphorical, see their understanding God (or other fundamental principle) as incomplete and imperfect (i.e. do not claim that their actions are definitely and absolutely what God wants), etc.

    But this isn’t a litmus test. The fundamental difference has more to do with attitude than doctrine in many ways. If there be a defining characteristic of each, I’d say the fundamentalist believes that “all that is important is known” (Jon Walter Williams, The Praxis) and the moderate believes that there is not necessarily any correlation between something being known and something being important.

  • Leum

    Jon Walter Williams

    That should read Walter Jon Williams.

  • Dave K Welch

    MS Quixote

    I would imagine the criteria would be varied depending on factors like semantics, subject matter, world point of view, and whether or not you were speaking to someone who was superstitious or not. Wikipedia : ‘Fundamentalism refers to a belief in, and strict adherence to a set of basic principles (often religious in nature)’. Moderates won’t kill you or threaten you because you do not have the same set of basic principles as them. Fundamentalism with respect to religions is scarier because they step across moral boundaries on a whim (ie: if their superstition dictates they should, and not because of any reality based reasons).

    Regards
    Dave

  • MS Quixote

    “Quixote, it’s not easy.”

    It’s not, but trying to follow y’all’s comments was difficult without a general sense of what you mean by the terms. Thanks for the clarification.

  • Justin

    The link that Futures gives you leads to that list of 650 scientists who doubt global warming, collected by Senator Inhofe. It’s worth noting that not all the people on that list actually doubt global warming. Some, like meteorologist George Waldenberger have asked that their names be taken off the “new and improved” list, and others state that their research has been quotemined.

    You can buy Polar Bear hunting licenses in Canada – you know, the same Polar Bears that are endangered.

    The hunting isn’t the problem, its habitat loss. Whether you accept it or not, the Arctic ice cap is shrinking.

    For atheists, who worship scientists, everything scientists say must be true

    We do not worship anything or anyone. I’ve come across my fair share of nonbelievers who doubt global warming.

    Scientists, like the rest of us, have enormous egos, and the need for grants, subsidies and other donations

    If money, grants and donations are the goal, why bother with a global warming conspiracy? Why bother at all? It seems very inefficient.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    As I wrote in the comments section of a post at The Atheist Experience, the fine tuning argument depends on everything being just right. But when you look at the history of the Earth’s existence, it wasn’t always fine tuned for us. If we were to be teleported back in time and found ourselves on Earth as it was 4 billion years ago, we would die almost instantly because the air would be poisonous to us.

    All of the Abrahamic faiths basically present us with a universe where we were poofed into existence by some all powerful being and that our little planet is somehow the central front in some cosmic battle between good and evil. But when you look at the vastness of the universe and what a triflingly small part of it that is occupied by us, coupled with the fact that our brief moment here on Earth is part of a process that took billions of years, it makes the Christian, Muslim or Jewish claims look absolutely absurd to me.

    The universe isn’t fine tuned for us. We are here because of conditions that allowed our mammalian ancestors to thrive tens of millions of years ago. All it takes is for a large asteroid to hit us or a radical shift in climate and humanity is history. Life is likely to still exist on this planet a million years from now, but it doesn’t mean humans will.

  • http://blocraison.blogspot.com Paul Fidalgo

    I thought this was a very well-considered and important post, so I went and wrote all about it on my own plot of interwebs. Great work!

  • http://www.brucealderman.info/blog/ BruceA

    I know five former Christians who have deconverted. All of them came from Catholic or Evangelical churches, which I would place more toward the fundamentalist end of the scale than the moderate.

    I think Leum points to the key, in defining the difference between moderates and fundamentalists:

    If there be a defining characteristic of each, I’d say the fundamentalist believes that “all that is important is known” (Jon Walter Williams, The Praxis) and the moderate believes that there is not necessarily any correlation between something being known and something being important.

    The fundamentalist belief plays right into the hands of science, which has been stunningly successful at finding answers. When science and faith are seen as opposing forces, it’s hard for science not to win. On the other hand, a faith that is comfortable with unknowns is less likely to see science as a rival.

    An analogy I’ve used is that fundamentalists see faith as a kind of science, while mainstream Christians (“moderates”, if you prefer) see it as more of an art. Fundamentalists are therefore more likely to abandon their faith if they don’t see results. Moderates are more likely to rewrite the poem, so to speak, based on experience.

  • Virginia

    Dear BruceA, on the rational debate level, science will win Fundamentalist belief — but my experience shows that the very threat of science “winning” causes them to harden their “minds”, toughen up their stance, and step up / increase their viciousness to science and rational thinking — by pupulism and fear mongering — a trend that I am very very worried in Hong Kong.

  • Valhar2000

    I have often heard that it is easier to convert fundamentalists than moderates, and the explanation offered makes sense. According to some, fundamentalists believe that there is a Truth, and that finding it is important. While this will cause many fundamentalists to stick to their dogma through thick and thin, it causes some of them to study the world and the evidence, in the hopes that they will find this all-important Truth, and then deconversion follows.

    According this same argument, moderate believers are more likely to beleive that the are many paths to salvation, or whatever, and that there is no pressing need to resolve contradictions and incorporate new knowledge unless they happen to feel like doing so.

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

    “futures” is another incarnation of Dutch, who apparently isn’t capable of taking a hint. He won’t be returning.

  • http://unreligiousright.blogspot.com/ UNRR

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 2/2/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  • Virginia

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8K2KLT20Ic&

    I think you can understand what the Bible story is about — one parody produced in Hong Kong against Genesis story of Sodome and Gomora and incest of Lot — told by a lady with a childlike voice like a bed time story — and got banned in YouTube.

  • Maynard

    Fundies and moderates are both ripe for deconversion, it’s just how the message is presented. Fundies will probably need that wall of information that keeps them from getting around it because they hold their beliefs so close.

    I really like BruceA’s likening religion to “art” for the moderates. Half of them probably never really consider whether or not it’s true, they are just used to what they consider the pretty pictures. You can show them the hidden horrors in what they’ve always enjoyed or provide them with a new style that they never before experienced.
    They may rewrite that poem, but we can influence the new version.

  • http://www.brucealderman.info/blog/ BruceA

    Maynard -

    Just for the record, BruceA is a religious moderate. And, truth be told, my faith has been influenced by questions raised by agnostics and atheists. But in my experience, a faith that is moldable is much more resilient than one that is rigid.

    There seems to be a widespread misunderstanding — among both freethinkers and fundamentalists — that “religious moderate” is synonymous with “moderately religious”. I use the “art” analogy because art is something that is subjective yet deeply meaningful, speaking to the core of one’s being. In my experience, that describes the faith of a lot of religious moderates.

  • Maynard

    BruceA,
    Sorry, did not mean to offend you if I did.
    I, like you are, was once a religious moderate. It was the flexibility that left me confused. I “molded” myself right out of it. It was too easy to jump around from (religious) idea to idea and claim “that’s what I meant” In the end, what was the point?
    The religion/art comparison still works with me. Art is subjective and only truly valid to the individual. What’s the difference between my kid could paint that and Jackson Pollack? For each person it’s different, but I’m not changing my life over J.S. Bach anymore than I did for Todd Snider.

  • http://www.brucealderman.info/blog/ BruceA

    Maynard -

    Fair enough. And no offense taken.

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

    Can anyone delineate, roughly, the general criteria that discriminate moderate believers from fundamentalists? Thanks.

    I liked Leum’s answer very much, and I’d like to expand on it just a little.

    In my view, the defining characteristic of a religious fundamentalist is that they believe that the inerrant, final, and inarguable Truth about God has been discovered. What this means is that in the fundamentalist’s view, there is no room for pluralism or secularism – we know exactly what God wants from us, and there’s no possible justification for doing anything else. Religious moderates, by contrast, would be those who acknowledge the possibility that they are mistaken about some aspect of their faith, and that other groups’ differing perspectives might be valid as well.

    I grant that, by this definition, not all fundamentalists are aspiring theocrats. It’s quite possible to believe that you know exactly what God wants, but that he has nevertheless left it up to human beings to decide their own destiny. But it does follow that all aspiring theocrats are fundamentalists. The absence of doubt is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for the dangerous desire to force your will on others.

  • Dave K Welch

    Semantics perhaps but you give too much importance to the ‘god’ part of it “…the defining characteristic of a religious fundamentalist is that they believe that the inerrant, final, and inarguable Truth about God has been discovered”…. the god part of it is really quite irrelevant. Irrational belief is irrational belief. Gods are faeries in someone else’s superstition.

    Regards
    Dave

  • macevoy

    i think “soft landing” is much too optimistic. fundamentalists are much more strongly motivated to overcome resistance to their views than “moderates” will be to “cure” fundamentalists, and any collaboration between “moderates” and atheists will poison the fruit that you want fundamentalists to eat.

    i also think you underestimate the self perceived emotional plight of fundamentalists, who recognize their religious culture is dying and who see reprehensible (in their eyes) social and moral decay increasing in the world they live in. viewed globally, they are also typically individuals with severe emotional problems and/or limited educational attainment, and they predominantly socialize within subcommunities of similar people who support their views and reaffirm their sense of alienation from the larger world around them.

    at bottom, fundamentalist (magic based, dogmatic, conservative, retributional) religion is a public mental health problem. it must at all costs be kept out of the educational and governmental institutions, and it must be gradually marginalized by sustained and consistent policy. only progress in science, education and social programs can get rid of it.

  • Andrew

    A moderate believer myself, I doubt you’ll be convincing us in mass anytime soon. Fundimentlist believers are more likeley to agree that evolution is the ‘silver bullet’ against God, are unwilling to consider any form of eschetology besides a futerist view, or hold ‘the Bible must be completely inerrent word of God or completely false’ view, and most athiest crticisms of Christianity focus on these sorts of issues, which we can simply ignore. I actually think its rather telling that the vast majority of athiests I’v met were former fundies.

    I do think its possible moderate believers will be willing to work alongside athiests on some issues.