Live-blogging Reasonfest: Greg Epstein

Live-blogging Reasonfest: Greg Epstein February 11, 2012

The contents of this post represent the opinions of JT Eberhard, not the Secular Student Alliance.

And we’re off with Greg Epstein.

Starts off talking about how groups now are more defined by what they do and what they don’t believe than what they don’t.  But we’ve always been defined by that.  We support reason, therefore we must necessarily oppose the forces which produce unreason.  On this planet it’s the institution of religion that is reason’s most threatening foe.

Talking now about the necessity of producing a community for humanists.  What will it take, he asks us, to grow our numbers like never before.  Will let you know how he proposes to do it.

He’s talking about growing pre-existing community groups like those on  He wants a systematic approach.

This doesn’t seem like a terribly revolutionary thought.  Community groups can already affiliate with the Center for Inquiry, American Humanist Association, and American Atheists.

Oh boy!  He just said the question “Do you believe in god?” is a useless and irrelevant question.  No!  Absolutely not!  When you ask somebody opposing gay rights and you ask them why, you can bet the answer’s all-but-certainly about to come back: god.  We must know why people behave a certain way, so we must know what they believe that drives those actions so we can try and change those beliefs.

Epstein says, instead, that it’s more important what people believe about god.  For this I’ll let Greta Christina rebut.

Now he’s talking about being young and realizing the world was full of people of different traditions.  We have no problem with traditions, but we also realize that traditions can be tied to some very wonky beliefs about the operation of the universe.  We should not eschew the expectation that people be reasonable simply because irrationality is bound to a particular tradition.

He’s talking about how he went to the East to study Buddhism and learned that people were generally not terribly serious about their beliefs.  He says that those people generally view their religious documents as human opinion and myth.  He drops the point there, but it bears pointing out that lots of religious people really do believe what they profess to believe in and that it results in opposition to gay rights, planes flown into buildings, Rick Santorum/Rick Perry being taken seriously, and other injustices and travesties.

Brings up the negative version of the golden rule: Don’t do unto others what you would not have done to you.  He then notes that it’s not “Do unto others what god says.”  Well, yes.  If a very large group of people globally didn’t abide by the latter then noting the difference would be very reassuring.

When we say that we’re good without god, Epstein would like the focus to be on the good, not the without god.  Unfortunately this is not the problem.  The truth is that we’re not merely good without god, we’re better without god.  We’re better without god because we’re better without irrationality, and religion pulls people into irrationality like a whirlpool.  It’s not merely about whether people believe in god or not, it’s about whether or not they are abiding by their moral obligation to try and be reasonable.  Religious people typically fail that obligation.


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