January 2007

I’d like to thank you for replying to my comment so quickly, it’s very interesting to have someone with which I can have a rational conversation with about the topic, and I’m so used to – being from a largely non-religious part of Australia – having my views confirmed by my peers that I have probably been induced into believing my agruments rational when they may be less than that. It is far less stimulating to have your ideas ratified by contemporaries on the basis of already established belief than it is to have rational argument accepted by a intelligent essayist who strives to be free from bias as you clearly do; so, I guess that is why I am still up typing till two o’clock in the morning!

Having read – and agreed with – your response to another user (concerning the main reasons for religious belief) I can see where you are coming from regarding belief for personal reasons. However, I based my (now seemingly rather hasty) assumption of theist’s lack of smarts on their own logical analysis of their beliefs; I fully understand that mostly they are born into it or just ‘feel’ that way, and this is part of my argument. If you are born into a racist family, or just ‘feel’ that black people are inferior, and you accept this despite any argument to the contrary, does that not in itself point to stupidity? People who base their beliefs on these irrational sources (I assume that we accept that intuition or hereditary beliefs are far from rational sources) not on logical argument, are the people that persecute blindy because of similar feelings. These are the people with blind faith.

I excuse the fact that I use rather general assumptions of the both the Bible and Koran and base my outlook on religion on the same, as these are the only two religions I am familiar with, and cover most of that Western world in one form or another as far as I know. Speaking specifically about the two religions, then, the point I was trying to get across is that if Islam is centred around the Koran the way Christianity is centred around the Bible, and if the two are both filled with fables and ‘eyewitness’ accounts and the like which are not provable as the authors are long gone, then how can you choose a specific religion and still maintain rational argument for your choice? Your textbook analogy misread my argument: instead of there being one textbook based on fact and observation (science) and another on assumption and presumption (creationist) – and I am assuming that this is the format of such books, not having any personal experience – there is two books, both based on 2000+ year old stories and multiple translations. See, the aspect of the books which means that they are both essentiallly the same is that they are based on humanity: it doesnt matter who witnessed the miracles, or how long ago, they were witnessed by a human who could have lied, passed to a writer who could have lied, and translated by many zealous linguists who would have lied, or at least embellished.

Mutual exclusivity (although I admit this was less than clear in my last comment) was derived only from the “worship no other idols” ethos that is present in Christianity and (again with the assumptions: I should really do more research before I claim to know things) I can only assume is present in Islam and most religions; commanding you to follow a way of life is pretty hollow if you’re allowed to accede to the demands of another god. As for the ‘base’ religious argument any theist will use, I have yet (though am open) to hear any argument on these grounds for a specific god; it seems to me what works on this base for Buddha is just as effective for Allah.

In the specific case of Muslims and Christians, the idea therefore is this: 1) To choose either religion on rational ground, you would at first have to peruse both religions. 2) You would, in this instance, rationally deduce that although they contain different arguments, neither is provable as ‘divinely inspired’ (to paraphrase yourself). 3) Both have had a overwhelming opportunity for total annihilation for even the message meant by the millennia-old auhors. 4) Both have human sources (not even the Bible claims to be directly from God’ hand) and require the denunciation of the other to reap the religious ‘rewards’ (a nice place for eternity in the afterlife).

Thus I challenge any Muslim or Christian to claim they have logical grounds for their respective beliefs.

On the issue of faith, I first want to make a clear definition between “blind” faith I have already talked about and the faith that you mention having. Blind faith is what, I believe, religious people have: they are presented with other logical explanations, yet ignore and refuse to accede even the possibility of them because of a personal opinion they won’t allow tot be budged. Your faith analogy, I think you may find after self-examination, is different in two ways.

Firstly, if you were offered a seperate and plausible explanation for the perception you are endowed with, would you immediately disregard it? I believe no truly intelligent person could. Secondly, is the belief in something which is the only conceivable option, such as the universe existing according to your senses, really faith, blind or otherwise? When the idea is supported by every single one of your contemporaries (I think you’ll find there are few if any atheists or theists which are prepared to debate the actual existence of the universe) and backed up by every experiment and observation (me typing, for example, proves to me that my universe does exist; how could I be typing if I didn’t?) we accept it as scientific Law. That is the highest regard our intelligent minds can place on a concept: if it is an incorrect Law it is above our reasoning. Surely it isn’t ANY kind of faith to accept that if it isn’t this way, my mind cannot comprehend it? I believe that true intell igence challenges any sort of faith or assumption based on pesonal feeling, nurture, etc. with rational argument; faith is the anathema of intelligence because it embodies the unknown, not the known. If you don’t know how something works, then you just have faith in the fact that it will work. If you are intelligent, you analyse and explain its parts and functions, attempt to replicate. Monkeys have faith that the rainy season will come. Humans analyse weather patterns and stock food for a longer dry season. Faith IS an anathema to intelligence.

As for the fact that a person can be intelligent and still make mistakes in their reasoning, I full accept that; I hope I am possessed of some intelligence, but I accept the fact that I make frequent errors in judgement. However, I ‘bloomed’ into atheism a few years ago, when I realized how ridiculous the whole concept of religion was. What I am saying when I make the sweeping statement that religious people lack true intelligence is this: these people base their whole perception of the universe and the way they live their lives and treat others on the holes in their own logic, and when someone shows them their mistakes they refuse to budge. That is not intellience. I’d like to think that an intelligent person takes that logical argument on board, when due, and modifies their view of the world.

So, I hope I have explained to you to some degree why I feel justified in thinking religious people are, if not ‘stupid’, then at least have an intense ignorance and unbudging stubborness that combine to lend themselves to a stupid facade. People that believe their specific religion choice is based on logical argument or “quasi-scientific” evidence are clearly ignorant to my mind: I have yet to encounter a person, religious or otherwise, to remotely convince me the correctness of specific religion on a scientific basis and sincerely doubt you or I ever will. To me, anyone willing to make assumptions of such paramount importance to their lives on anything less than solid reasoning is not intelligent. I agree that many people would convert to atheism if given a ‘clean slate'; this only highlights their idiocy in placing beliefs in one of the less foolproof reasons of feeling or conditioning mentioned before.

Finally – I’m not sure this rant will fit in the comment box when I cut and paste, I sincerely hope there is no word cutoff point – I would like to propose my belief that nurturing this religious stupidity is the cause of almost all worldwide problems. Nationalism in Germany – blind faith in the superiority of your country for no other reason than you are told so – caused both world wars, ‘terrorists’ are being bred by the environment that teaches the fact that the Westerners have it better is a crime against Allah (again, excuse my politically incorrect generalization) and should be punished with heir OWN lives; and Western governments – at least, Australia’s and that of the U.S.A. – are forced by openly predjudiced religious voting factions into coddling the rest of the population that we have no duty to our fellow human beings who are worse off than us. If we stopped and applied rational thought to the situation, maybe we would say “damn, maybe we should have attempted to end their poverty BEFORE they decided they need to declare holy war”. Wow, that sentence sounds like a conspiracy theory. Thats right, were discussing relion, not politics. Well, you have supreme editing power. I eagerly await your response.

Wow — someone who writes responses as long as mine!

In an attempt to make this discussion more clear, let me make a number of statements to summarize my position:

1) I agree that there is no logical, scientific argument that seems sufficient to prove that a specific religion is true.

2) There are religious people who disagree with statement #1.

3) I don’t think that the people mentioned in #2 are necessarily unintelligent.

4) Even so, I find science-based arguments for religion pretty much doomed to failure.

5) I also find that most people who make science-based arguments for religion would be religious even without those arguments, so the arguments are essentially just word games to them.

6) Non-scientific (e.g., emotional or “faith”) reasons for being religious are impossible to refute.

7) Even if a faith-based reason for being religious in general can’t be refuted, certain religious statements (such as biblically literal creationism) can be refuted, so long as the possibility of supernatural deception is discounted.

8) In order to prove that religious people are unintelligent, you must prove it within the context of a person who has a strong religious predisposition.

9) It doesn’t matter if a person is religious, so long as that person acts morally and intelligently with religion as a given.

Now that that’s off my chest, let’s look at specific points you bring up in your letter.

You say that you base your assumption of the lack of intelligence of religious people on their own logical analysis of their beliefs. I think that this may be the crux of the whole problem. Faith-based belief generally does not do well when subject to logical analysis. If it did, it wouldn’t be faith-based. There are a lot of people out there who make quasi-scientific arguments for faith, and as sincere as these people are, their arguments are generally either really bad or uninformed. However, as loud as these people are, I don’t believe that they represent the majority of religious people. Religious people may find comfort in these arguments, but in general the arguments really have nothing to do with their reason for being religious.

Are the people who make the arguments unintelligent? It depends on the argument. I’d say that in general the foolishness most often shown by religious people is the need to try and justify their religious beliefs rationally when they’d do far better saying that they have faith for personal reasons and letting it go at that.

You ask, “If you are born into a racist family, or just ‘feel’ that black people are inferior, and you accept this despite any argument to the contrary, does that not in itself point to stupidity?” This is an excellent question. If someone is born racist, how would you convince them not to have an emotional reaction when they see a person of the race that they were raised to hate? You can convince this person not to act racist, you can convince this person that racism is wrong, but you can’t convince them not to have feelings that they were raised to have. True, those feelings might go away in time, but even though you can say that the feelings are stupid, you can’t say that a person is foolish for having feelings –only for acting foolishly based on those feelings.

Applying this to religion, there are some people who, after being shown the best possible proof in the universe, will still feel that there is a loving, personal god out there and that Jesus died for their sins. These feelings are part of their being and not subject to cancellation by logic.

It’s very important — both for us and for religious people –to keep in mind that any belief based on feelings of this sort is necessarily limited. You can’t convert someone based on your personal feelings, and you are on morally shaky ground trying to pass laws or compel others to action based on these feelings. I’m guessing that this (and in some cases insecurity) is why so many religious people look for justifications for their beliefs outside of their personal emotional context.

I think that if we look again at your example of someone born racist, we can see something of the future of religion and atheism. Let’s say that there is someone who was raised racist and can’t get over those feelings, but is convinced that those feelings are intellectually incorrect. That person will raise her children without a racist context, even though inside she is still technically racist. Her children will be free from racism both in thought and deed. I think we are seeing the same sort of thing happen with religion in the U.S. There is still a religious majority, but their degree of devoutness is (on average) on the decline. Therefore, more children are being raised without that internal need for religion, and for that reason their potential to be convinced at some point that religion is unnecessary is much higher than their parents’ was.

As an aside, some religions do try and keep up with science while maintaining elements of faith. The modern Catholic church, for example, does not believe that the entire Bible is literally true (Catholics are not creationists). They still aren’t perfect from a science perspective, but I’d say that they’re a lot more intellectually defensible than some fundamentalist religions.

On another point, I think my textbook analogy was fairly accurate — it was just looking at the problem from a religious person’s perspective. You and I would agree that the Bible and Koran are not divinely inspired. However, to a person who believes in the Bible (for example), the Bible is inspired and the Koran is not. For them, any argument based on similarity of the books is going to fall flat — not because they’re unintelligent, but because they have a different context. (This gets even more complex because Moslems and Christians consider some of the same texts to be holy.)

Yet another aside, I like to avoid pointing out that religion could be based on lies. The Bible is the religious book I’m most familiar with, and it’s entirely possible that it was written by completely sincere individuals. If you disagree, we can talk about this in more detail some time if you like.

You are right that the “worship no false gods” commandment is common to Christianity and Islam. However, how this commandment is interpreted varies quite a bit depending on the specific religious group. For example, some religions believe that if you do not agree with their exact beliefs you are doomed for eternity, while others believe that even if you are wrong about god (or lack there of) you can still achieve paradise. You are correct that all religions are pretty much mutually exclusive in the sense that they all think they are correct and others are at least incorrect. I have read many arguments for a specific god (namely the Christian god), and although I found them badly flawed, I would at worst call them ignorant.

Where your point is best made, I think is when we get into discussing different sects and how a religious person without other bias would go about deciding which was “correct.” I think it has to come down to how one feels, as I have never seen an argument for (for example) Southern Baptist vs. Catholic that was both worthwhile and not based on pragmatism.

Your four-step process for deciding between Islam and Christianity is pretty much correct (although I would quibble with details — for example, some Christians believe that the Bible was divinely inspired if not actually written by God, and the Ten Commandments were supposed to have literally been written by the divine hand. The problem is that in step 1 you talk about how one would go about choosing between the two religions, and in the vast majority of cases that’s an artificial circumstance. Almost nobody sets out to decide between Christianity and Islam in this way, and if they did I’d guess that their needs are such that they will either end up deist, atheist, or choosing a religion based on fulfillment of social needs as opposed to metaphysical fact.

You challenge a Muslim or Christian to show that they have logical grounds for their respective beliefs. If you mean that you dare a religious person to show you a compelling argument for your converting to their religion, then I think you are pretty safe. However, I’d say that, “When I read the Bible I can feel God’s love and I know in my heart that Jesus is my personal savior,” is not an illogical statement, it’s just not a rational statement (that is, it’s a statement of faith and emotion as opposed to one of pure reason). A religious person could also say that they asked for a sign that their religious belief is true and soon after received a sign, therefore demonstrating that they are correct. Again, this is a logical argument, even though a non-religious person would not find it compelling because there are probably non-supernatural explanations for the “sign.”

Regarding “blind” faith, again you are correct from a non-religious person’s perspective. A religious person may very well have a reason for their faith, it’s just not a rationalist’s reason. There is also a lot of range on this subject — I have met many religious people who are happy to grant the plausibility of other logical explanations and yet are religious either because they don’t find those explanations sufficient or they can’t stop feeling that religion is true.

Next we come to my discussion of whether everyone has faith. If I was offered a separate, plausible explanation for reality, would I disregard it? No, but I might consider it irrelevant. For example, what if I’m really unconscious in some laboratory and everything I perceive is being fed to me electronically by a computer? It could be, and I have no way of judging the likelihood. However, this possibility that we’re all living in the Matrix is irrelevant to me because without knowledge of the metaphysical truth I will not change my behavior. I make the same kind of argument in the face of the possibility that there is a deity out there despite my thinking it highly unlikely.

Continuing with the Matrix hypothesis, it is irrelevant that the falsity of this possibility is stated by my contemporaries (since if the hypothesis is true they may be computer simulations), and your typing proves nothing since, if the hypothesis is true, you aren’t typing.

I treat the universe as a given because it is convenient to do so. I do the same for the immutability of the laws of science and the existence of the past. You can’t prove any of these things, and there are alternate possibilities, but I take these as given because they make sense to me and are consistent with the world I see. I have no problem with people saying I have faith in these things. To me, faith isn’t a bad word — it’s just something people should strive to have as little of as possible in order to defend against being convinced that something unreal is true.

Now we come to my favorite sentence in your letter: “What I am saying when I make the sweeping statement that religious people lack true intelligence is this: these people base their whole perception of the universe and the way they live their lives and treat others on the holes in their own logic, and when someone shows them their mistakes they refuse to budge.”

I like this sentence because it so clearly outlines everything we’re discussing here. We’ve already covered my belief that religious people generally aren’t basing their beliefs on logic at all. But what’ really important here is that you discuss they way that religious people live and how they treat others. That, I think, is where we should measure their intelligence. If a religious person recognizes that religion is based on faith as opposed to reason, it is completely possible for them to be intelligent and logical in their world view, actions, and treatment of others from that point. In fact, as atheists I think it should be one of our goals to strongly encourage this kind of behavior, both because it will lead to the elimination of those facets of religion that are truly illogical and self contradictory, and because it gives atheist the greatest chance to thrive in the future.

I said before that some people do not have the potential to be atheists. The fact is, some people very desperately need religion to be true. If someone’s emotional health depends on their believing that there is a “higher power” out there, is it illogical for that person to believe in the higher power? That is a very difficult question, and it would be hard for me to either say that we should try our best to show such a person that there is no god or to condemn that person as unintelligent. Instead, we should at most help that person deal with the difficulties that cause the need for a concept of god — and in many cases even that might not be a worthwhile effort.

Finally, let’s look at whether lack of rational thinking has led to world horrors. I’m going to pretty much agree with you on this. Where we differ is in the solution. I believe that people don’t have to give up their need for religion in order to be intelligent and behave rationally and morally. In fact, there are plenty of atheists who don’t behave intelligently, rationally, and morally. That’s why our focus should be on behavior and developing good thinking habits, as opposed to on the detail of whether one is religious.

I think that for religious people the key to this is getting them to stop trying to make logical arguments for faith and start admitting that they have what you call “blind faith.” Everyone should learn how to have a logical discussion on a topic, and right now (at least in the U.S.) there seems to be a fear of science and reason among some groups because they see such things as a threat to their faith. If we can convince people that they don’t have to give up faith (which they may desperately need) in order to be rational, if we can show them that it is no sin to examine your own beliefs, and if we can convince them that they should make their own decisions based on reason instead of blindly following the words of a religious leader, then I think we can eliminate the very problems you mention without pulling the rug out from under those who can’t live as atheists.

Posted on January 30, 2007 at 11:42 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Dealing with religious folks, Discussion

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