This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← The Unbelievable Truth

The Unbelievable Truth - Comments

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 1 by Alan4discussion

So the Pew results are no doubt actually somewhat stronger than they first appear: The more you know about religions, the less likely you are to believe religious creeds and myths and thus the more likely you are to be an atheist or agnostic, whether or not you are affiliated with, or even clergy in, a church.

This seems fairly straightforward. The more people understand the real world of scientific investigation, the less likely they are to believe the fundamentalist "truths" of mythology.

when discussing our first pilot study of closeted non-believing (or other-believing) clergy, we often heard two jokes about the seminary experience that was part of the training of most clergy: "If you emerge from seminary still believing in God, you haven't been paying attention," and "Seminary is where God goes to die."

-Which explains why the more educated mainstream Christian churches are more metaphorical and less fundamentalist than the observably ignorant ranting preachers!

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 12:52:39 UTC | #528414

Roger J. Stanyard's Avatar Comment 2 by Roger J. Stanyard

After having "debated" with creationists and Iders several hundred times (online, I must add) my anecdotal experience strongly suggests that there is an inverse correlation between believing in creationism and understanding creationism.

Few of the fundies I have ever come across understand even their own creationist arguments, let alone their religion in general. Take it for granted that knoweldge of science is usually woeful as well.

The whole exercise ends up as rhetorical point scoring on their behalf.

In fact what thet are doing is pitting religious Apologetics against science but they don't even grasp that. The "science" they use is just Christian apologetics lifted off the web sites of the likes of Ken Scam or John "Necrophilia" Mackay. It's embarressingly bad. They are useless at it.

Still none of this explains why Americans are much more religious, and prone to religious extremism such as creationism and fundamentalism, than the rest of the developed world. It's clearly not as if Americans are very talented when it comes to religion (except when they run churches as businesses)

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 13:00:29 UTC | #528416

Roger J. Stanyard's Avatar Comment 3 by Roger J. Stanyard

After having "debated" with creationists and Iders several hundred times (online, I must add) my anecdotal experience strongly suggests that there is an inverse correlation between believing in creationism and understanding creationism.

Few of the fundies I have ever come across understand even their own creationist arguments, let alone their religion in general. Take it for granted that knoweldge of science is usually woeful as well.

The whole exercise ends up as rhetorical point scoring on their behalf.

In fact what thet are doing is pitting religious Apologetics against science but they don't even grasp that. The "science" they use is just Christian apologetics lifted off the web sites of the likes of Ken Scam or John "Necrophilia" Mackay. It's embarressingly bad. They are useless at it.

Still none of this explains why Americans are much more religious, and prone to religious extremism such as creationism and fundamentalism, than the rest of the developed world. It's clearly not as if Americans are very talented when it comes to religion (except when they run churches as businesses)

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 13:00:57 UTC | #528417

Zelig's Avatar Comment 4 by Zelig

"The genuinely religious person is always a rare exception in any religion", said Pascal, and with good reason.

I notice nowhere in Dennett's article is the word "hypocrite" used, in keeping with his gentler approach to this odious phenomenon. This is the real question: is it possible to wean large segments of the population away from largely socially harmful lies and stupidities? What methods in this endeavour will work and which won't?

In theory the answer must be that Yes, it is possible, since behind their transcendent disguises religions are, it must never be forgotten, rooted in practical utility (actual or perceived) in human psychology and sociology. We somehow need to help ensure that the errors and lies of religion are no longer practically beneficial to significant numbers of the population.

I doubt this can be done via simply an appeal to epistemically grounded "truth", since most people have neither the ability nor, more importantly, the inclination to value such an abstract virtue very much. Dennett's idea of all religions being a critical part of the education process is a wondeful and powerful suggestion; yet the very potency of this idea is, I fear, what will prevent it ever being widely implemented.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 13:09:30 UTC | #528420

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 5 by AtheistEgbert

The Pew study also reveals why atheist critiques of religious doctrines are largely a waste of effort: Few people believe them in any case; they just say they do.

This is probably the reality. People really don't care about their own religous belief, they simply follow what they're told.

There are also plenty of lazy intellectuals, followers of philosophy or theology who don't think but take the opinions of their favourite philosophers or theologians as an authority. Even though God does not exist, and religion is completely irrational, they wish to promote religion because they think it's good for society, that it gives society it's morals and identity. This is the current irrationality sweeping conservative academia, politics and media.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 13:25:38 UTC | #528424

greenwich's Avatar Comment 6 by greenwich

The Pew study also reveals why atheist critiques of religious doctrines are largely a waste of effort: Few people believe them in any case; they just say they do.

Could we somehow contrive to introduce Dennett to Dawkins, Sam Harris and the people who have made a cottage industry of finding and circulating the bad bits from the Old Testament and the Quran? If they find Dennett's view convincing they might even stop doing that. Then we could have a more intelligent dialogue between atheists and religious people, since the latter would no longer be presumed to be uncritical followers of those bad bits.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 13:41:43 UTC | #528428

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 7 by Nunbeliever

I think it is quite obvious why religious people know so little about their own religion. Because knowledge is not what faith is made of. I mean, I do not know how many times I have told christians about all the horrible stuff that is in the bible but many just do not believe me! They frankly do not think the bible contains all these atrocities and they do not bother to check out the facts.

This leads me to think that religiosity is not so much about dogmatic thinking per se but about social and cultural cohesion. I think that for most religious people being a christian is not so much about believing in certain things that the bible says but it is more about being a member of the local community or even being an american or a member of the "good guys". All these ridiculous ideas are in my opinion more or less to be considered side-effects. This might also explain why most religious people will not change their minds even when confronted with clear evidence that they are wrong about certain things. Because it is not about the facts, it is about being a good member of a particular society. It is all about collective identitity.

I think this is very important to reflect upon if we really want to get rid of religion and dogmatic thinking. It is not enought to simply educate people. We have to change our societies and give people alternative collective identities. We have to break the bonds between religious people in other words. We have to isolate them from each other and make them susceptible to new ideas and rational thinking. That is why I love college and universities. People usually move away from home. Mostly to a new city and a totally new environment. In a way fresh college students are open books!

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 13:44:53 UTC | #528429

chawinwords's Avatar Comment 8 by chawinwords

I do wish more people who visited these pages would spend a bit of time actually listening to and studying the sermons of the most powerful preachers and theologians mentioned; especially those in the religiously insane U.S.

Or perhaps to understand the reach of so many television broadcast channels dedicated to their messaging. As well, to have a deeper understanding of the financial commitment they have made in making ordinary people have an ever-greater personal investment, devoid of critical examination, in the indoctrination of an actual unseen spirit world, or, that how powerful, once that indoctrination reaches the plateau becomes, of actually believing, totally: "I have a faith in those things unseen because I have been told they exist."

Once there, these people (billions), when confronted with skepticism, much more than seem to have a sort of impenetrable veil pass down over their eyes, it is concrete and it also works as a shield between all their senses and reality. They, in a deep measure, feel sorry for (pity) those not so indoctrinated and insulated from reality.

I have always thought that, at some point, as when the lion's teeth sink deep into a zebra's throat, there is something in the brain's evolutionary process that shuts down the zebra's pain sensors (lots of examples) as the brain's realization of imminent death approaches. And that surrender to religious indoctrination is much the same, but in this case, critical identification with reality shuts down and becomes just as hopeless, just as impenetrable.

It takes courage to listen to and to watch the sorcery in action, and an awareness not to be caught in the trap. It also provides a deeper understanding of a human's role in submitting to an ancient, addictive form of sorcery.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 13:56:41 UTC | #528430

Narvi's Avatar Comment 9 by Narvi

@Greenwich: You're ignoring the large portions of former believers who needed someone like Dawkins to kick them into actually thinking about things. I'd never be able to enjoy Dennett if I hadn't first been introduced to the writings of Dawkins and Hitchens.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 13:57:34 UTC | #528431

Ygern's Avatar Comment 10 by Ygern

Comment 6 by greenwich

Could we somehow contrive to introduce Dennett to Dawkins...

They've been friends for some time now. Thank you for trying.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 14:06:57 UTC | #528433

Gryphon's Avatar Comment 11 by Gryphon

Comment Removed by Author

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 14:23:12 UTC | #528436

Zelig's Avatar Comment 12 by Zelig

Comment 5 by AtheistEgbert :

Even though God does not exist, and religion is completely irrational, they wish to promote religion because they think it's good for society, that it gives society it's morals and identity. This is the current irrationality sweeping conservative academia, politics and media.

This is often said, but I seriously doubt there's a great deal of truth in it. People are overwhelmingly "selfish" and I see no evidence to suggest that large numbers of people truly care about the "good of society" in any exalted sense. The reason for the widespread hypocrisy is not to be found in misplaced philanthropic motives, that excuse is itself part of the self-serving euphemistic deceit routinely practised.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 14:25:42 UTC | #528437

Gryphon's Avatar Comment 13 by Gryphon

As some before me, I found this the most interesting bit:

The Pew study also reveals why atheist critiques of religious doctrines are largely a waste of effort: Few people believe them in any case; they just say they do.

I can see how some believers might ignore our arguments when we refer to a literal interpretation of scripture or teachings, as they will say "I don't believe that". However, I can also see people starting to question their religion: "The church teaches that? I don't believe that but I call myself a catholic/muslim/..." It could be the beginning of an investigation into their beliefs. It might be interesting to see what the most common response is and how to best talk about these arguments.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 14:29:34 UTC | #528438

Moosebite's Avatar Comment 14 by Moosebite

@ Egbert:

I agree that this is very much the case. I got my self-proclaimed christian girlfriend to admit to not really believing in any specific doctrine, and that she was only christian because of the family she was born in to. Despite this she still calls herself a christian, attends church (not very often) and believes in god.

I have argued before in these forums that the real cause for people to 'believe' is not through acceptance or admiration of biblical literature and theological arguments. I would posit that the religious claim to 'believe' merely because they think it has a practical influence on their lives - to which it would be detrimental to abandon these beliefs.

It is ineffective, in my experience, to try to talk to a theist about the logicality and theological justifications for their beliefs. At least to start with. The thing to address is people's practical justifications - what it contributes to their lives that they couldn't do without, and that they think they can't get from anywhere else. This is tough, because for most people this includes their moral teachings. And it's hard to convince a theist that morality isn't derived from something divine and mysterious; that it isn't some set of rules which transcends human analysis.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 14:41:46 UTC | #528441

KJinAsia's Avatar Comment 15 by KJinAsia

Comment 2 by Roger J. Stanyard :

Still none of this explains why Americans are much more religious, and prone to religious extremism such as creationism and fundamentalism, than the rest of the developed world. It's clearly not as if Americans are very talented when it comes to religion (except when they run churches as businesses)

I think you answerd your own puzzle in the parentheses. And the businesses have been thriving for centuries.

Religiosity in the US will go the way of Europe if/when those that exploit it are less able to profit from it.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 14:54:28 UTC | #528444

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 16 by Alan4discussion

Comment 13 by Gryphon I don't believe that but I call myself a catholic/muslim/...

People don't usually simply take a leap of faith away from their religious beliefs. They either drift away as they gain understanding, or are pushed by abuse from people they thought were trustworthy friends.

There are also social and cultural pressures. Discrimiation in employment for some groups and against others:- Assination or religious genocide in extreme situations. - The unscrupulous manipulation of family members against dissenters (well known in some cults), and legislation.
In mediaeval England, bastards could not inherit property and priests would require vows before marriage..... not to mention 10% tithes (taxes) to the church! Hence religious wars over the succession of kings.

It is only in recent years with civil marriage / partnerships etc. that the stranglehold has been broken in some civilised parts of the world.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 15:14:19 UTC | #528449

AisforAtheist's Avatar Comment 17 by AisforAtheist

Among believers in astrology, pitifully few even realize that the entire scheme was dreamed up by a human. Fewer still could name Ptolemy, or when he lived.

Fully 54% of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who started the Protestant Reformation.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 15:17:25 UTC | #528451

Rob Schneider's Avatar Comment 18 by Rob Schneider

Let me see if I get this thread's conclusions straight:

-- People don't really believe in the specifics of their religions.
-- People cling to their "faith" more out of a team/tribe loyalty... social identity.

-- Attacks on specific dogmatic points are rejected simultaneously because the believer, ignorant of the specifics, has no defense AND because the attack is perceived as being against the team/tribe social identity group.

All well and good, so far. But is the conclusion (somewhat in alignment with Nunbeliever) that we need to show people why the team they belong to is not really beneficial to them OR society? Must we conclude that to achieve this conversion, alternative social identities or group affiliations must be "waiting in the wings" because human desire to "belong" trumps human desire for living according to consistent truths?

Does "belonging" have more survival value than "knowing?" (Perhaps this is the source of the folk wisdom, "It's not what you know, it's who you know.")

This seems to put us in an almost intractable position, resolved only through long-term evolution: If evolving out of the need for social identity and group affiliation provides some survival advantage for the individual, we'll inevitably win. Right? That's a mighty big "If".

We are essentially arguing to the religious, "Hey, survival pressures no longer require you to be part of a team/tribe. Trust us." It's a tough sell, having to overcome self-doubt ("Can I make it without the God I was raised with?"), constant pressuring from people selling the opposing position, and in some cases violent demonstration that team/tribe loyalties will determine your survival.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 15:18:12 UTC | #528452

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 19 by AtheistEgbert

Comment 12 by david1111 :

This is often said, but I seriously doubt there's a great deal of truth in it. People are overwhelmingly "selfish" and I see no evidence to suggest that large numbers of people truly care about the "good of society" in any exalted sense. The reason for the widespread hypocrisy is not to be found in misplaced philanthropic motives, that excuse is itself part of the self-serving euphemistic deceit routinely practised.

Most of our western leaders throughout the last two centuries believed earnestly in their hearts that what they were doing was the good of society or more recently, they were bringing freedom to the world. This is indeed a fiction or delusion within the minds of our leaders. Tony Blair is a great example where the delusion gripped him into a crusade to force freedom onto people through violent means.

They are simply deluded or mad, because they don't understand that their motives are entirely selfish. And they project their own demons onto other nations or people. They become more paranoid and this spreads among the masses, thus indirectly increasing their power even more.

Our modern politicians are completely powerless when faced with the truth and reality of the world, and so they gain power by deception. The current deception is now to block and censor all dissent, control the media, and encourage and foster the 'values' of respect and tolerance. These two values will do more to spread inequality and unfreedom than ever before. It will lead back to the authoritarian states of the past.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 15:40:00 UTC | #528454

chawinwords's Avatar Comment 20 by chawinwords

"Fully 54% of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who started the Protestant Reformation."

You think this fact is bad, well, just try to get an ordinary Protestant to read all the writings of Martin Luther, or to find out his favorite place for receiving his enchantments (scriptural interpretations)was while he was sitting on the toilet, passing gas and evacuating his bowels.

Fits, though!

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 15:56:26 UTC | #528459

elenaripoll's Avatar Comment 21 by elenaripoll

@AtheistEgbert

I predict a revolution, but where as in history it is normally the students, I think it's gonna be across the nation and a bit like the Pope Protest, the good the bad and the ugly will join in protest!!

..although I do have a little faith in cameron and clegg so far, slowly slowly does it...

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 16:01:50 UTC | #528460

elenaripoll's Avatar Comment 22 by elenaripoll

@Robert Schneider aka BeyondBelief

A recent study showed a part of the brain does light up IF you genuinely believe in God and think of him, same part that lights up for some people when they think of chocolate, or sex or computer games or drugs, so I really think god believers are hooked on "God" (from birth sadly) also explains why we see born again Christians every so often, as they are prob looking for a vice, and walk into the path of the drug God!!! (its freely available on every friggin street corner from what I see lol)

So....same with drug addicts, they have to want to come off the drug first, so I think the key is to provide them with a pack of information that is positive, and places to meet meet to talk with other ex 'God' addicts e.t.c e.t.c, but make these places vibrant and social e.t.c

I don't think it's as much as a need to belong, as a need to be with people whom think the same as you, possible why depression rates are as high in atheists as in god believers, it's a desire to feel part of the community and receive responsive care regulary no matter your age/sex, think of all the times you visit a shop were the staff are genuinely friendly and not just going through the motions (because real people spot fakes fast!), it makes you feel happy, even if only for a moment!

All drug addicts feel lonely inside, and want to be free from their addiction, but are afraid to quit e.t.c e.t.c

If a program was in place to help people come off their 'God' drug, then I bet getting volunteers would be easy from atheist communities (when they exist on day lol)

The same study said that people whom believed in God didn't die from fatal illnesses as quick as those whom didn't, but I think a belief in anything will keep you fighting longer, and as many are losing faith in the NHS in UK, this probably accounts for people not believing in God not lasting as long so to speak!!

A belief in yourself, now that would help drugs fight off disease harder maybe dunno.

There is a guy in UK being taken to court because he is selling his services to cure cancer, but is not a doctor, he basically says you have to put faith in yourself to cure yourself from cancer blah blah blah, sounds like a load of crap, but loads of witnesses are turning up in court with their ultrasounds showing terminal cancer, the letter saying they refused drugs, and only used his services, and then the proof that they are cured...!!

all a bit MAD really lol

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 16:29:26 UTC | #528465

Moosebite's Avatar Comment 23 by Moosebite

Our modern politicians are completely powerless when faced with the truth and reality of the world, and so they gain power by deception. The current deception is now to block and censor all dissent, control the media, and encourage and foster the 'values' of respect and tolerance. These two values will do more to spread inequality and unfreedom than ever before. It will lead back to the authoritarian states of the past.

It's almost as if cultural relativism is actually becoming more and more viable as a system of morality for these people. It would be interesting to investigate if the notion of mutual respect is becoming the default in all social interactions. What a horrible world it would be to live in if this became the case. Imagine the things we could get away with if respect toward others was the default position. I could shit on an altar during a catholic mass and demand respect for the beliefs that drove me to such an action, especially if the congregation doesn't understand said beliefs.

In this light, the future entails either a sensible, rational society where everyone has equal rights; rights that are protected and maintained, or a chaotic all-out societal experiment which will doom the human race. The first is more progressive, but the second sounds more exciting.

It's win/win!

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 16:36:07 UTC | #528469

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 24 by Steve Zara

Comment 19 by AtheistEgbert

Our modern politicians are completely powerless when faced with the truth and reality of the world, and so they gain power by deception. The current deception is now to block and censor all dissent, control the media, and encourage and foster the 'values' of respect and tolerance. These two values will do more to spread inequality and unfreedom than ever before. It will lead back to the authoritarian states of the past.

In my lifetime I have seen equality and freedom spread across the world more than I ever dreamed possible when a child. I saw peace come to Ireland, democracy come to South Africa, the end of the terrifying Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall. But now, thanks to posts such as this, I realise it's all been a huge conspiracy; we are all doomed, doomed I tell you!

So allow me to post this link so that we might at least manage the occasional wry smile as we drift into oblivion:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlBiLNN1NhQ

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 17:23:09 UTC | #528480

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 25 by AtheistEgbert

Comment 24 by Steve Zara :

In my lifetime I have seen equality and freedom spread across the world more than I ever dreamed possible when a child. I saw peace come to Ireland, democracy come to South Africa, the end of the terrifying Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall. But now, thanks to posts such as this, I realise it's all been a huge conspiracy; we are all doomed, doomed I tell you!

It's a seductive fantasy to believe that since democracy--in the guise of America and Britain--beat the Germans in world war II, that we must be the good guys. And therefore, we can spread democracy around the world and defeat those evil communists and dictators.

But, if you were to dig just a bit deeper into the CIA activities globally over the past fifty years and the various wars started or funded by America, then you'll see that things aren't so black and white or rosy. You'd think all this activity would have stopped after the fall of the USSR, but we have the fight of global terrorism, and two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This seductive fantasy and narrative about democracy just doesn't make sense.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 18:05:53 UTC | #528491

Verisimilitude's Avatar Comment 26 by Verisimilitude

Comment 19 by AtheistEgbert

Our modern politicians are completely powerless when faced with the truth and reality of the world, and so they gain power by deception.

Can you give examples of such "complete powerlessness"? And what deceptions are you referring to?

The current deception is now to block and censor all dissent,

And yet we see people freely protesting against the policies of their governments in many countries all over the world: in the streets, in the media, on the internet and in the ballot booth. How is this reality consistent with your contention that politicians are blocking and censoring all dissent? Or is it only a deception that politicians block and censor all dissent?

control the media,

Can you give examples of this please. For example, please explain how the UK or the US governments censor their respective media?

and encourage and foster the 'values' of respect and tolerance. These two values will do more to spread inequality and unfreedom than ever before.

I don't understand how encouraging and/or fostering respect or tolerance lead to inequality or less freedom (as long as citizens are free to ignore/disregard such encouragement and/or fostering) - how does this follow?

It will lead back to the authoritarian states of the past.

Just choosing some authoritarian states of the past at random: Franco's Spain, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Kim Il Sung's North Korea, Apartheid South Africa - none of these regimes came about because their predecessor regimes encouraged and fostered the 'values' of respect and tolerance.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 18:08:58 UTC | #528493

hungover's Avatar Comment 27 by hungover

I'm sure it represents general ignorance levels. They should have asked control questions about commonly known facts etc to guage the overall level of education on broad subjects. Im sure its just smarter people in general know more stuff which just happens to include religion. Apologies if the test does include these kinds of controls or if this point has already been raised. Im too lazy to look into the details of the test.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 18:17:10 UTC | #528496

Enlightenme..'s Avatar Comment 28 by Enlightenme..

Plan A: Treat the long, steady retreat into metaphor and mystery as a process of increasing wisdom, and try to educate the congregation to the new sophisticated understandings.

Plan B: Cloak all the doctrines in a convenient fog and then not just excuse the faithful from trying to penetrate the fog, but celebrate the policy of not looking too closely at anyone's creed - not even your own.

Hmmm, What about;

Plan C: Ally yourself and your methodology with all the right-wing reactionary doctrinaires, anti-vaxers, AGW-deniers, moral majority & anti science anti 'big-government' nuts..

In an ideological war against The Stalinist, libral, eugenicist, babykilling scum.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 19:33:33 UTC | #528524

Marie Lauritzen's Avatar Comment 29 by Marie Lauritzen

I'm not really surprised.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 19:43:26 UTC | #528527

katt33's Avatar Comment 30 by katt33

Too often people blindly follow and really down study what they are following, so they are doing all the rote stuff, but not really knowing why they are doing it.

Once one enters into a sphere if respect for knowledge, respect for others and their right to believe, but still seeking true knowledge, things change.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 20:14:40 UTC | #528538