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

← Religious truth

Religious truth - Comments

Haizum74's Avatar Comment 1 by Haizum74

"Arguments and facts are irrelevant. Do any of you have further thoughts on the matter, or other examples of people worshipping what they know to be a fake?"

Pick a religion!!!

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 13:22:19 UTC | #527140

DamianIcely's Avatar Comment 2 by DamianIcely

The virus of the mind knows of no sure cure. The circular logic is strong in these ones.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 13:34:28 UTC | #527148

inquisador's Avatar Comment 3 by inquisador

Good post. You could call this phenomenon a kind of dualism, in which people simultaneously believe and disbelieve in something. Postmodernism is also involved, in the sense that there is held to be no absolute truth, only partial or relative truth, and everyone has their own individual version of it, which is as valid as anyone else's. This leads to a fuzzy indecisive view of the world in which you are to be admired for being open-minded enough to accept the 'balance' of opposing views, even though that leads to bullshit being accepted as equal to hard fact. So I satisfy my appetite for indulgent fantasy by going to church, while appeasing my intellect with denial of the belief at the same time. What a happy, fulfilled and well-balanced individual am I? Like a man with a chip on each shoulder.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 13:38:31 UTC | #527150

DamianIcely's Avatar Comment 4 by DamianIcely

What about all those crying virgin marys? I've seen umpteen tevelision programmes debunking them.

But you have a point. When it comes to supernatural / spiritual / paranormal things people seem to have an immunity to common sense.

Take all of those television programmes about haunted houses. When you ask people if they actually believe that a bit of play with night vision on a handheld camera constitutes a ghost sighting they often say: "No I know its not real - but what if it was".

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 13:38:45 UTC | #527151

Czar's Avatar Comment 5 by Czar

If you are talking about the Shroud of Turin, it is very inconclusive as to whether or not the relic is actually the shroud that Jesus laid in. The main experiment concluded that it was created in the middle ages, but that experiment did not have a very good methodology and has been subject to much controversy.

I am not committing myself to the idea that it is real, but it is inconclusive.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 13:50:12 UTC | #527156

TheRationalizer's Avatar Comment 6 by TheRationalizer

I saw a documentary recently about a face print on a piece of cloth which was claimed to be a print of Jesus's face on a cloth offered to him by a bystander to wipe his face as he carried his cloth.

One woman (a Nun) had been so mesmerised by this cloth that she moved to Germany so that she could worship in the church that hosted it.

The documentary got a facial recognition scientist to run some metrics on the print to compare it to the Turin Shroud. The results were conclusive, it was not the same face. If I recall correctly the Nun basically said it is real "to me" and wanted to continue to live her live believing that either the Turin Shroud must be fake, or for some reason the same face left two very different prints; anything other than to admit she had wasted decades of her life on a fake snot rag.

Personally I'd have said "Wow, thanks! I might have wasted ALL of my life on it!" and left.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 13:51:17 UTC | #527158

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 7 by AtheistEgbert

Religion isn't based on reason; it is based on unreason (faith).

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 13:55:23 UTC | #527161

hitchens_jnr's Avatar Comment 8 by hitchens_jnr

I think it was in one of Richard's videos where he went to Jerusalem and saw the actual hole in the ground where the cross was erected!

"Relics" generate interest and income for religious foundations and tour operators. That's all the explanation you need.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 13:57:12 UTC | #527163

foundationist's Avatar Comment 9 by foundationist

My point was not just about relics, although this is an area where the duality between knowledge and faith is very visible indeed. After some consideration I might include a lot of ancient mythology into it. I'm no expert on this topic, so I might be mistaken, but I don't see how the ancient Greeks could believe that the sky is carried on the shoulders of a giant. It was well known to educated people and sailors that the world is round. I don't think they actually believed Mount Olympus to be the physical home of their gods. It was quite possible to climb it even in that era, and I reckon many people must have done it just out of curiosity.

I think that for the religious mind there is a second kind of truth, other than the mundane truth of us literal-minded people. The story of Atlas with the whole weight of the heavens on his shoulders next to the beautiful garden with the Hesperides and their golden "apples", wink wink, nudge nudge, as well as the throne of "Zeus of Olympus, lord of counsel" on the snow-covered mountain peeks create powerful images, emotions like a holywood movie. They posess a vitality that goes beyond reason and makes them survive even direct exposure.

When the plot-holes of the antique polytheistic man-like gods became to large to hold on to them mankind turned to the more abstract, ethereal and plausible god of the Jews. Yet the first thing the Romans did was to change him and give him the face of Jupiter (nobody who has ever seen the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel can overlook good ole Jupiter). They kept many other legends around as well. Cristopherus for instance combines the story of Jason carrying Hera through the river with the Atlas image of a giant carrying the entire world. Religion survives not because it is logically convincing or compelling, it survives because the emotional messages "make sense".

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 14:33:02 UTC | #527185

inquisador's Avatar Comment 10 by inquisador

Comment 6 by the rationalizer,

I saw a documentary recently about a face print on a piece of cloth which was claimed to be a print of Jesus's face on a cloth offered to him by a bystander to wipe his face as he carried his cloth.

Gosh, that bystander was quite the sadist. After that Jesus had to carry two heavy cloths!

What's that? you mean it was a cross?

How could he wipe his face on a cross?

Ok I'm sorry about the poor attempt at humour. Don't crucify me for it.

I thought your recent video was excellent by the way.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 14:58:47 UTC | #527209

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 11 by SaganTheCat

catholics and their "artifacts"!

I was brought up to believe that idolitry is a sin in a house full of gaudy statues

i'm reminded of a Blackadder scene:

Baldrick: Moving on to the relics, we’ve got shrouds from Turin, wine from the wedding at Cana, splinters from the true Cross…then of course there’s all the stuff made by Jesus in his days in the carpentry shop. Pipe racks, coffee tables, cake stands, book ends, crucifixes, nice cheese board, waterproof sandals, fruit bowls, oh I haven’t finished this one yet.

Percy: But this is disgraceful, my lord, all of these are obviously fake!

Edmund: Yes.

Percy: How will people be able to distinguish between these and real relics?

Edmund: They won’t, that’s the point.

Percy: Yes, well you won’t be able to fool everyone. Look, I have a true relic.

(Percy pulls out a wooden box.)

Edmund: What is it?

Percy: A bone from the finger of our lord. It cost me thirty-one pieces of silver.

Edmund: Good lord, is it real?

Percy: It is my lord. Your stand amazed, Baldrick.

Baldrick: I am. I thought they only came in boxes of ten. I could have let you have one for a couple of groats. Fingers are very big at the moment

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 15:05:34 UTC | #527214

lilalindy's Avatar Comment 12 by lilalindy

Comment 4 by DamianIcely

What about all those crying virgin marys? I've seen umpteen tevelision programmes debunking them.

Private Eye did the crying nuns advert - if they were to be made, they would have had a small 'tank' at the back in which you place the water/tears.


Then flying mosque - actually a minaret roof being pulled up on cables but the video quality is so poor that for most of the time, you can't see them too well (look and you will see them though). I assume that the crowd is there to cheer on the completion of a stage in the building of their place of worship (they will be able to see the wires) and not, as the video suggests, looking at a miracle.

Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism)

Look at to see Lord Ganesha drinking milk (apparently - isn't capillary attraction wonderful) and then leaking it out again (sort of assuming that a more direct route of dribbling down its front is less likely)

I suppose that if you did produce porcelain crying virgin Marys with top-up water tank at the back (or, looking at the new air fresheners, a pressurisable container in base with a motion sensor so that it only cries when you walk in front of it), there would be plenty of people who would buy them.

When's the next series of Dragon's Den being recorded?

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 15:29:39 UTC | #527222

Rob Schneider's Avatar Comment 13 by Rob Schneider

To sum up a train of thought I've been writing about lately, the difference between rationalists and believers... about "belief"... is an issue of choice, muddied by an early life implantation of the meme, "preserve the belief at all cost" (or "keep the faith.")

We all have to take action, based on a belief (that is, without guarantee of a result coinciding with the belief.)

The rationalist takes action, assesses the results and integrates that evidence into future calculations and beliefs(hypotheses about future states).

The "irrationalist" selectively integrates evidence. Favorable evidence confirms the belief. Unfavorable evidence must be ignored or rationalized into the pre-existing belief. "Oh, Jesus let little Johnny die, even though we prayed for him to live. Prayer works, it's just that we don't know God's plan, and God answers prayers in his own way."

So, the believer's CHOICE to ignore evidence allows him/her to venerate sham relics... but he only can make that choice because of a second CHOICE: the choice to preserve and defend the meme of "Keep the faith, regardless of evidence" was planted during a very susceptible time for catching and retaining mind-viruses: Childhood. I dare say that if not actively and repetitively taught to "choose faith over evidence" then very few humans would do this, in today's world.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 15:39:17 UTC | #527226

Reversenorm's Avatar Comment 14 by Reversenorm

"It never happened, yet it is still true!" Sandman #19

This quote epitomizes what myself and my friends consider to be the basis of religious/spiritual "truth." It is uttered by the Neil Gaiman's rendition of Puck after having seen Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Stories have a particular way of making a reality all their own that no amount of factual evidence can shake. The suspension of disbelief gets extended and extended. Until the enlightenment this suspension of disbelief was such that libraries didn't even have separate sections for fiction and non-fiction. The stories were just their and weather they pertained to factual evidence or just for their own sake was irrelevant.

This type of thinking goes a long way in our modern world to keep people believing in all sorts of things. For instance my weird friends will likely tell you that they believe in the existence of faeries. Just because there isn't a single specimen of a faerie, nor will there ever be one, is no reason not to accept their validity with respect to how it informs their judgment about the value of nature or being wary of saying boastful things (for faeries like to play tricks on the boastful, which is where the knock on wood thing comes from, it's to appease the mischievous faerie). My friends know, beyond any shadow of a doubt that there no faeries, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

Okay so why do people engage in this bizarre activity?

I think it's a left brain right brain issue (now to be clear I don't know enough about the functioning of the brain to assert that it is in fact a left brain right brain issue but the way most people understand the difference makes explaining these modes of thinking clearer), or what Karen Armstrong (yeah I know RD doesn't get along with her which is why I think you'll know about her) would call Logos and Mythos. This Mythos or right brained thinking pattern is about constructing and identifying patterns, creating a unified whole. The world wouldn't make much sense if it were just a bunch of facts listed, without this kind of associative thinking we wouldn't be able to draw causal relationships. On the other hand we have Logos or left brained thinking, with it's purposee of separating things from one another, fact from fiction, defining words, language in general, as well a logic.

Now for people like my friends who have separated these modes of thinking and acknowledge when they are using one or the other there is no contradiction in the idea that faeries exist even though there aren't any. The difficulty comes when one kind of thinking controls the other. If Mythos thinking supersedes, patterns form willy-nilly based on the most pervasive story being told. Thus what is a simple coincidence or outright falsehood becomes a miracle, that no number of facts can erase. If Logos thinking is in control (I may be in this category) the value and applicability of many organized social systems become inane. Authority (the story about who's in charge) and tradition (the story about a cultures identity) are summarily rejected.

On a final note, I suspect that one of the major difficulties in convincing people who still take the religion story too literally is that the scientific atheist story is simply not very compelling in terms of plot. The story about God is pretty darn exciting, murder, miracles, love, wars it's got everything. What's Atheism got? Darwin visiting some islands looking and thinking a lot, pretty dull if you ask me. However, one of the best things about Richard Dawkins is that many of his books attempt to expand and deepen this narrative, but we've got a lot of catching up to do, they've been at if for 5000 years plus.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 16:21:25 UTC | #527255

Reversenorm's Avatar Comment 15 by Reversenorm

@comment 14

Also, this thing about the way stories effect the mind isn't based on any hard science, it's my hunch or hypothesis. If anyone knows about science done in this area please let me know.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 16:31:24 UTC | #527259

Fujikoma's Avatar Comment 16 by Fujikoma

It's no different than when you realize that adults aren't truthful and honest, or that there's no santa (never had that problem) or monstor under the bed (I watched too many 'Creature Feature' horror films as a small child). The only gap is the one religious people create because they can't comprehend life without the perpetual fairy tale.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 16:34:46 UTC | #527261

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 17 by Alan4discussion

-With apologies to those who saw this on an earlier thread where a creationist persisted in claiming the Noah's flood story was literally true: My response was as follows-

Comment 64 by Alan4discussion

Don't we Love our stories:

So:- Once upon a time there was a man called Noah, who was a fisherman or boat builder living by a lake: around the time sea levels were rising as the ice sheets melted.

Like the modern dry areas of the Dead Sea and Death Valley, this area was below the sea level of the time. One day chatting to a travelling merchant, or noticing rivers of sea water flowing into the lake every spring tide and then every high tide, he also noticed the lake level was rising, so he decided to build a big boat - while most of the popualtion sat in denial.

As the rising waters from the Mediterranean ripped throught the Bosporous Noah's lake boat floated around for a while, as he had no idea how to navigate on the sea. He was washed east by the increasingly forceful flood, eventually being washed up on the eastern shore of the Black Sea and could well have been carried far inland.

Mt Ararat is quite a distance from the present shore but is a known local mountain, which would be known to nomadic Isrealites - who were even further away. Being nomadic tribes with little idea about the sea, they made up stories about rain and their God-did-it to unbelievers. The Black sea is a large enough area for local villagers to consider the flood to have covered ALL OF THEIR WORLD. Centuries later archaeologist divers found remains of the villages on the sea bed.

This is loosely based on a National Geographic article on the flooding of the Black Sea Basin as seas rose during the melt after the last ice age.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 16:42:58 UTC | #527266

Rob Schneider's Avatar Comment 18 by Rob Schneider

Wow... Reversenorm... Post 14 is one of the best I've seen on this site. Well written!

Particularly your second to last paragraph. I, too, fall into the category of thinker who questions the "authority" and "tradition" stories.

Although I'll leave verification of this assertion to better scientific minds, I believe we "evolved" the ability to analyze cause and effect. Unfortunately we evolved the ability to ASCRIBE cause and effect before that, so we got a lot of superstitious behavior built into religions long before we got scientific method untangling the whole thing.

But, if the ability to think scientifically is a "survival advantage," we should see the world progressively become more scientific/rational/critical thinking. Unless, some people have the capacity more than others, and the people who have not received the capacity still cling to a "kill the other tribe that threatens us" mentality.

I'd love to see humanity 300 years from now. Religion gone, or scientists purged? Evolution, where is your predictive capacity?! :-)

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 16:52:36 UTC | #527269

foundationist's Avatar Comment 19 by foundationist


Well, the original version of the story of Noah predates the biblical version by many centuries. It is being told - already as an old legend - in the Gilgamesh Epic, the oldest piece of poetry and literature that mankind has. In the original version Utnapishtim or Ziusudra as the Assyrians and Sumerans respectively called Noah was warned by Enki, the god of magic, wisdom and the underground ocean (from which all the Fresh water comes), that the gods decided to wipe out all mankind in a flood. Not because of sin, the gods were just being nasty. He built a boat and put all his cattle and his family on it, then sailed until the flood was over, and landed in the land Dilmun (probably Bahrain). He later was the only human to be granted immortality.

The story has too many detailed parallels with the Noah version for it to be merely coincidences. For instance, Utnapishtim sends out three consecutive birds to look wether the flood has truly ended. When the third - a raven, not a pigeon - doesn't come back, he knows it must have found land elsewhere. The passages where the boats measurements are described are remarkably similar. I would very much like to read the article in the National Geographic, since the legend doesn't originate anywhere near the black sea, but in Sumer in southern Iraq. This is where Abraham lived and from where he or his followers have probably taken the story to their new country. If it is based on a real flood, it must have been a rather local event in Southern Iraq, maybe devastating the city states of the Sumerans, who where then recolonized by the people from Dilmun.

Once again, it is the story that survives after all the relevant facts (the place, the deities and the moral) have been replaced. The detail with the three birds is the most simple narrative trick that is used in every fairy tale (The third and yougest prince will succeed in the task) or saucy anecdote (the third guy coming into the brothel will have something humorous happen to him). That's why it survived the complete switcheroo of historical and religious and even moral context.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 17:19:31 UTC | #527277

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 20 by aquilacane

suspended affirmation

A form of "imaginary truth" knowingly held above "actual truth" for the purpose of falsely validating what is known to be a fallacy.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 17:31:21 UTC | #527282

ShesTheBeth's Avatar Comment 21 by ShesTheBeth

I think this has a simple answer - the expectation of reverence and respect impressed by the church over millennia has left its mark. The faithful still wish to believe in the magic, even though reason tells them otherwise. It's a form of denial.

I am as fascinated by this phenomenon as when I watch the reactions of some people (adults) as they watch magic shows. Some believe that what they are seeing is somehow wondrous and inexplicable, when in fact, everything is an illusion and easily explained by physics or optics. But most adults watching the show know it's illusionary, yet they are entertained none-the-less. Maybe the non-committed religious types are satisfying this need to be entertained, or to put it another way, to be "impassioned".

I think we have a biological imperative about our brain chemistry that makes us want to believe in magic. It may be the same chemistry that makes us want to love - when love, in fact, is just the bond that drives us to propagate and to protect our offspring. There's nothing magical about it, but it's difficult for us to accept that our strong feelings are just brain chemistry.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 17:45:19 UTC | #527292

Corylus's Avatar Comment 22 by Corylus

Comment 21 by ShesTheBeth :

Completely off-topic: I just had to say I love the avatar!


As you were all.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 18:09:32 UTC | #527301

mlgatheist's Avatar Comment 23 by mlgatheist

Arguments and facts are irrelevant.

They have their faith and nothing will shake that faith and they will either ignore anything that disagrees with their belief or they will attack (and try to destroy) whatever disagrees with their belief.

I remember once seeing a religious man explain that even if non-believers could prove jesus did not exist, it would not matter. He would still be a christian because it is the message that truely matters.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 18:10:17 UTC | #527303

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 24 by AtheistEgbert


Perhaps happiness dictates their selective memories. If they were to acknowledge that their thinking was wrong, then they would lose a sense of identity, because their identity is so tied up with their comfortable memories. So they have an emotional investment not to doubt.

I think sceptics don't form such rigid emotional investments to truth because truth isn't connected with our happiness.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 18:10:52 UTC | #527304

lilalindy's Avatar Comment 25 by lilalindy

Dwarka is another post glacial flooding, noted in the Mahabharata, dating to over 5,000 years ago. I seem to remember some underwater ruins off the coast of Japan or Malaysia (or somewhere around there) in New Scientist around 30 years ago that were supposed to be around 10,000 years old.

There is also another possible sunken city (probably - eastern 'wanting it to be there' with sonar images that show it vs western 'doesn't want anything that demonstrates those 'damn natives' to have had the technology to make stoneage ports on trading routes therefore the sonar images are all artefacts - who knows???) that dates to around 29,000 BCE.

Post Ice Age Flooding, there was apparently a lot of it around and many societies had their own legitimate flood stories that have, through a process of embellishment over time - akin to Chinese whispers - been turned into myths. Clearly what you see around you is your world and in a time when travel was a bit limited, in some cases, their 'whole' world flooded.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 18:21:15 UTC | #527309

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 26 by Alan4discussion

Comment 19 by foundationist

He built a boat and put all his cattle and his family on it, then sailed until the flood was over, and landed in the land Dilmun (probably Bahrain).

After the ice age the seas rose all over the world, inundating many coastal plains, so there are flood stories from all over the world.

The spectacular ones are where the sea has come over the lip of a basin and then cut down to relase a deluge. In other areas the rise would have simply crept up the shore over a much longer time. For example; divers have found roads with wheel tracks on them quite deep under the Med. leading up to modern islands which were once hills.

To stone age or bronze age peoples these foods would be mind boggling and could certainly be expected to be included in folklaw!

Mt. Ararat is mentioned in the Noah story, so the Black Sea looks like the most likely flood of a suitable size and type at around the right time. As you say these stories get passed around, making checking more difficult.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 18:34:06 UTC | #527315

lilalindy's Avatar Comment 27 by lilalindy

Comment 21 by ShesTheBeth

I am as fascinated by this phenomenon as when I watch the reactions of some people (adults) as they watch magic shows. Some believe that what they are seeing is somehow wondrous and inexplicable, when in fact, everything is an illusion and easily explained by physics or optics. But most adults watching the show know it's illusionary, yet they are entertained none-the-less.

Watching a magic show is suspending disbelief, a bit like going to the cinema. In Avatar, you know that the whole thing is a CGI-fest but you don't want that, you suspend disbelief and enjoy it for the story that it is with the 3D making it all that more real for your brain to interpret visually.

The problem with a lot of religious people is that they have never learned to differentiate objectively between reality and fiction. They usually don't have the education, enquiring mind or tools to enable them to question things - they are used to taking things for granted because they have always done that. One person that influenced me, just by one thing that he said, was my pure maths teacher. He said something along the lines of, 'never assume anything to be true. Always as why or how.'

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 18:35:27 UTC | #527316

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 28 by Alan4discussion

Hi Foundationist, you ask for:

or other examples of people worshipping what they know to be a fake?

I have put a link to my comment on another thread about shrines to Jesus Malverde - the saint of Drug Barons - revered in Mexico.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 18:43:01 UTC | #527321

Buerggiste's Avatar Comment 29 by Buerggiste

The desire for what they wish to be true is the locomotion. In their type of selfish mind, facts and evidences are irrelevant. Their greed for eternity and a perfect heaven outweighed whatever thingy.

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 20:06:53 UTC | #527354

Roedy's Avatar Comment 30 by Roedy

GENUINE placebo pills! You have heard about the miraculous placebo effect. Now you can have genuine placebo pills made with a proprietary mixture of USP pure dextrose and fructose in your home for four easy payments of $19.99. If you call now, we will make one payment for you. $60 shipping and handling not included. If you call within the next 5 minutes, we will include a 10 ml bottle of miracle spring water blessed by Reverend Ernest Angley himself in which he personally placed a drop of the blessed blood of Jesus from his private stache. (Jesus Gonzales)

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 22:48:01 UTC | #527436