Thursday, April 06, 2006

Religion, Again - Updated

Some time ago, my friend Lance Mannion had this to say in his post titled, “A Praise of Folly:”

“Bigotry, hatred, intolerance, tyranny, and violence can wear a Christian mask as well as a Muslim one. (Son of Billy Graham) [Franklin] Graham has this in common with Richard Dawkins. He thinks the problem is religion and not human nature.”

Indeed.

Taken out of context, it would appear that Mr. Mannion has the opinion that they are equally extreme on opposites sides of the spectrum. This is not the case, but there are some who believe exactly that. I’ve heard people say that science is just another belief system; that nothing can be proven. In fact, there is a passage in Carl Sagan’s excellent “The Demon Haunted World” where he points out that people who believe that sort of thing have no qualms about hopping on an airplane to fly to a seminar where that is to be the featured topic, never stopping to think that there would be no airplane to take them there if that was true.

Reading Mr. Mannion’s excellent post prompted me to reiterate the following, although if you don’t have a lot of time today, I suggest that you skip my post and read this editorial by Richard Dawkins, also referenced by Lance in his original essay.

Many people like to dismiss the polar opposite to an extreme position on the grounds that it is on equal footing, albeit opposite. This is sometimes true, but not always. For instance, there are people who insist that the moon landings were staged and that an elaborate hoax has been perpetrated against the world at large. They have written books, erected websites and even aired a television show presenting the “evidence.” I would say that most of us dismiss the conspiracy theory for what it is and don’t think too much about it, but I’m certain that there are people, let’s say the astronauts who actually walked on the moon that have a very strong opinion to the contrary. In this case, they are indeed polar opposites with extreme positions, but I wouldn’t class them as having anything in common.

Richard Dawkins is right, and Franklin Graham is wrong. Their positions are not equivocal. At the heart of science is the search for truth. Religion is in the business of getting people to believe lies. Science requires evidence to support its claims. Religion dismisses evidence when it contradicts their claims. The conclusions of science are subject to change based on the acquisition of new evidence. Religion is impervious to new evidence. Indeed, each of the major religions all have this one thing in common: There is absolutely no evidence, no facts, no logic, no critical thinking, nothing whatsoever to support their absurd beliefs.

Religion may not be THE problem, but it certainly is a big one. Religion is based on lies. When we as a people are confronted with a challenge, shouldn’t we base our decisions, our plans, our remedies, our courses of action on the best possible information? People like Franklin Graham say “no.” People like Richard Dawkins say “yes.”

I’m with Dawkins.

People who believe that Jesus is going to come back soon and clean up the mess we are making of the planet are not only wrong, not merely delusional. They are dangerous. People who believe that their imaginary god wants them to convert, dominate, marginalize or destroy other people who believe in a different imaginary god are dangerous. People who believe in the fantastic, the ridiculous and the absurd are dangerous, and right now they have are driving the bus.

Lance also said this:

“I don't want to live in the Christian America Franklin Graham and his like are trying to bring about.”

Obviously I share that sentiment, but I have to say I’m not holding my breath. The more I learn and the longer I live, the more I believe that the religious hold the seeds to the destruction of all that we hold dear, and perhaps to of all mankind.

***
Lance Mannion responds:

AL, you've got to get out of the South.

Up here in the Northeast, the odds are really good that when I run into someone who is deeply religious, they are also socially and politically liberal and are in fact far more likely to be working to change the world for the better than I am.

[Dawkins] thinks the problem with the world is religion in general. Graham thinks the problem with the Mideast is that it contains Muslims. Both think that if they could just convert everybody to their point of view things would get better.

But the problem is people. Religion is just one among many excuses people use to justify the worst elements of their nature. Take away their religion and they would still be greedy, lustful, gluttonous, full of pride and envy and avarice. Persuading them to be better, to act virtuously instead of viciously isn't necessarily a matter of talking them out of their religious beliefs, but persuading them to act according to the beliefs they profess to hold.

Which was the basis of the Civil Rights movement.

And what Jesus was trying to do, when you get right down to it.

***
My Response to Lance:

I agree with some of what you say, but not all of it.

But the problem is people.

That is obviously true. It is also superfluous to the discussion. The pro-gun people argue all the time, "guns don't kill people, people kill people." While that is true, that doesn't justify placing automatic assault rifles into the hands of whoever desires them. If some wing-nut blows a circuit and decides to open fire in a shopping mall with an assault rifle, he does a lot more damage than someone with a 5 chamber revolver. If the person didn't lose his mind, no problem right? But once he does, the availability of weaponry can have an impact on the amount of damage he can do.

Take away their religion and they would still be greedy, lustful, gluttonous, full of pride and envy and avarice. Religion is just one among many excuses people use to justify the worst elements of their nature.

Agreed.

But like the assault rifle in my analogy, religion exacerbates the problem.

It is a recipe that has the wrong ingredients and the incorrect instructions. It stops people from thinking. It distorts reality. It deters people from contemplating their own mortality, which I believe is essential to the human experience. It justifies the hatred of entire groups of people. It is the enemy of reason, which makes it the enemy of mankind.

Up here in the Northeast, the odds are really good that when I run into someone who is deeply religious, they are also socially and politically liberal and are in fact far more likely to be working to change the world for the better than I am.

And like the point you made about how people would be evil in the absence of religion, the same could be said about the goodness of the sort of people you have described in that comment as well.

I think Richard Dawkins is 100% correct. The elimination of religion would not eliminate all of our social problems, but it would be a big step in the right direction.

This of course is an exercise in futility, because it will never happen.

"The believing mind is externally impervious to evidence. The most
that can be accomplished with it is to induce it to substitute one
delusion for another. It rejects all overt evidence as wicked."

"I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind -- that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking."

"I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious."

H.L. Mencken

***
One other thing. Here is a link to a short video that features James Randi and some of his adventures in exposing the bogus claims of Uri Gellar and Reverend Popoff. It is both interesting and entertaining, but my favorite part is the point that me makes at about 8 minutes into it.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Jeremy said...

Or, as Dawkins himself put it: "Show me a cultural relativist at 30,000 feet and I'll show you a hypocrite."

All well and good, and as you know I am in agreement with you. But as you yourself quote, with approval, "It is impossible to reason someone out of something that he did not reason himself into in the first place."

In fact, I quoted you, quoting Swift, on my own recent post on the subject, wherein I gave up trying to persuade anyone of anything, while acknowledging that my failure to do so contributes to their ability to destroy me, inadvertently or otherwise.

1:25 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

... I gave up trying to persuade anyone of anything, while acknowledging that my failure to do so contributes to their ability to destroy me, inadvertently or otherwise.

I understand. It really does seem hopeless.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Soundsurfr said...

The way it used to be.
The way it oughta be.
The way it's gonna be, again.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

It is incredible, what some people believe. Most people are rather benign in their beliefs: they aren't trying to force me to agree with them. What that really means is, religious beliefs are so ingrained in the culture that they can "afford to let me" keep my non-belief.

Still, as a recent poll indicated, atheists are hated more than many other groups, like Muslims. Because - how awful - we don't buy into the majority's stupid nonsense which holds sway only because it's the majority's view.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Lance Mannion said...

AL, you've got to get out of the South.

Up here in the Northeast, the odds are really good that when I run into someone who is deeply religious, they are also socially and politically liberal and are in fact far more likely to be working to change the world for the better than I am.

Dworkin thinks the problem with the world is religion in general. Graham thinks the problem with the Mideast is that it contains Muslims. Both think that if they could just convert everybody to their point of view things would get better.

But the problem is people. Religion is just one among many excuses people use to justify the worst elements of their nature. Take away their religion and they would still be greedy, lustful, gluttonous, full of pride and envy and avarice. Persuading them to be better, to act virtuously instead of viciously isn't necessarily a matter of talking them out of their religious beliefs, but persuading them to act according to the beliefs they profess to hold.

Which was the basis of the Civil Rights movement.

And what Jesus was trying to do, when you get right down to it.

7:08 AM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Lance,

I agree with some of what you say, but not all of it.

But the problem is people.

That is obviously true. It is also superfluous to the discussion. The pro-gun people argue all the time, "guns don't kill people, people kill people." While that is true, that doesn't justify placing automatic assault rifles into the hands of whoever desires one. If some wingnut blows a circuit and decides to open fire in a shopping mall with an assault rifle, he does a lot more damage than someone with a 5 chamber revolver. If the person didn't lose his mind, no problem right? But once he does, the availability of weaponry now can influence the amount of damage he can do.

Take away their religion and they would still be greedy, lustful, gluttonous, full of pride and envy and avarice. Religion is just one among many excuses people use to justify the worst elements of their nature.

Agreed.

But like the assault rifle in my analogy, religion exacerbates the problem.

It is a recipe that has the wrong ingredients and the incorrect instructions. It stops people from thinking. It distorts reality. It stops people from contemplating their own mortality. It justifies the hatred of entire groups of people. It is the enemy of reason, which makes it the enemy of mankind.

Up here in the Northeast, the odds are really good that when I run into someone who is deeply religious, they are also socially and politically liberal and are in fact far more likely to be working to change the world for the better than I am.

And like the point you made about how people would be evil in the absence of religion, the same could be said about the goodness of the sort of people you have described in that comment as well.

I think Richard Dawkins is 100% correct. The elimination of religion would not not eliminate all of our social problems, but it would be a big step in the right direction.

This of course is an exercise in futility, because it will never happen.

"The believing mind is externally impervious to evidence. The most
that can be accomplished with it is to induce it to substitute one
delusion for another. It rejects all overt evidence as wicked."

"I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind -- that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking."

"I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious."

H.L. Mencken

8:54 AM  
Blogger Who-Knows? said...

I have been trying to decide whether religion is the problem or people for ages. As much as I poke fun at religion, and argue with religious people, I am also posed with the dilemma that these people are my colleagues and family, so there is only so much arguing a relationship can endure. I have become keen on Bo Fowler's idea in his awesome book, Scepticism Inc., that people matter more than truth. Sure religion is absurd, and makes people do dumb things. But also, many honest people follow it and try to be good people by doing so.

In a way the problem does boil down to whether people are going to be good or not, not whether religion is good. As we all know, people make up religion and how scripture is interpreted, so those same people have a responsiblilty not to tell people to act foolishly.

I do think religion is crap, but like Jeremy lamented, I too have failed to talk anyone out of it.

When I used to be a religious nut, I began to question myself because I couldn't convince people to believe. How ironic.

But getting along with people and creating peace has got to matter more anyway, regardless of what the truth about reality is.

3:56 AM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Who-knows:

Excellent points and perspective.

Thanks.

7:12 AM  
Blogger BronxBarbie said...

Interesting dialogues; I feel it is a combo of both. As far as the Bible it can and has been supported by archeology, science, and research for the most part. However there are many religions and variations of teachings as well, and sometimes folks will use any scripture or custom/teaching to support their acts and behavior (whether "good" or plain debased)



But given the fact that so much has been done in the name of Religious sanctioning and lots of folks follow the Leaders of such's instructions blindly (without investigation or because they were brought up in it) I'd have to say due to their blatant brainwashing (and track record of such)that a load of religious organizations must be accountable for teaching a load of weak minded followers to follow their lead in treacherous acts (like killing in wars) and the like.

Holla back if ya like at http://thejscene.blogspot.com

4:00 PM  

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