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Greta Christina — Top One Reason Religion is Harmful

I know I’ve directed your attention towards this argument before, but I honestly believe it is the coup de grâce in the debate over whether or not faith based belief is inherently beneficial or harmful.  Before I go on any further, I need to make my standard disclaimer.  In deference to Greta’s post, I used the word religion in the title.  However, I am speaking only of one particular variety of religion, namely the kind that relies on faith based reasoning.  It is acceptable in some circles to define certain ethical philosophies as religions, even though they are not based on the supernatural, deities, or magic.  Personally, I’m very wary of granting any religion a pass on this, but in deference to the possibility that there might be a genuinely scientific ethical philosophy that calls itself a religion, I restrict my criticisms only to faith based religions.

Here are Greta’s words:

I’m realizing that everything I’ve ever written about religion’s harm boils down to one thing.

It’s this: Religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die.

It therefore has no reality check.

And it is therefore uniquely armored against criticism, questioning, and self- correction. It is uniquely armored against anything that might stop it from spinning into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality … and extreme, grotesque immorality.

I’ve made this argument before, and most of my readers are probably familiar with it.  However, today, I want to address a counter-claim from those who believe faith-based religion to either be benign, beneficial, or neutral as a moral force.   Many of these people will claim that the negative aspects of religion are counter-balanced by its ability to mobilize groups of people towards socially beneficial behaviors, such as charity, caring for the sick, self sacrifice, and the mobilization of large groups of people towards the common good.

This counter-argument is really a common theist argument in disguise.  Atheists and the non-religious have been portrayed by the religious as morally depraved, unhappy, missing out on something, etc, for as long as they’ve been visible.   The thing is, nobody’s ever stopped to demand evidence.  The assumption that religion inspires people to be more moral is just a reverse version of the same claim — a claim that has never been demonstrated scientifically.

And let’s review our basic critical thinking, shall we?  What do we do with claims for which there is no evidence?  We assume them to be false until proven true.

Just to be clear, let’s state this again in a different way.  Before we discuss causality, we must address whether or not there is even a difference in behavior.  Is there a difference in the amount of good moral behavior between faith and non-faith based belief systems?  In order to claim that faith has a positive effect on people’s morality, we must first demonstrate that there is, in fact, a difference that demands an explanation!

I have yet to see the evidence.

On the other hand, here’s a very, very long list of bad moral behavior that is at the very least strongly correlated with faith based religious belief.    We can also talk about very specific examples of religious ideology and bad behavior.  I have used myself as an example before, and my critics are unusually silent.  To recap, when I was a Christian, I was bigoted against gays.  I believed gays to be morally depraved, sinful, and genuinely evil people.  The only reason I believed this was that I believed god had said it was true.   I had no other evidence either for or against the belief.  Because of my religious belief, I treated gays poorly, excluded them from social activities, and spoke badly about them to anyone who would listen.  This is undeniably bad moral behavior.

Are there non-religious homophobes and bigots?  Yes, there are.  I don’t think I’ve ever said that religion is the only cause of bad behavior.  I’m quite tired of that objection, as a matter of fact.  The only question at hand is whether or not religion does cause bad behavior.  In at least one example — me — I can testify that it does.  This is still a long way from being able to say that faith based religion causes bad behavior on a large scale, but wait… didn’t we just look at a long list of bad behaviors that are strongly correlated with faith based reasoning?

To be fair, there have been occasional studies that have at least demonstrated a correlation between religious practice and a couple of good moral behaviors, but we’re not talking about big differences.  We’re talking about differences of a few percentage points.  I have never claimed that there aren’t people who believe God wants them to build houses for free, or donate all their extra money to charity.   However, when I look for large-scale mass movements of humans, I simply don’t see anything positive that balances with the negative.

Where’s the corresponding long list of good behaviors that are strongly correlated with faith based reasoning?  Where is the effort to end poverty that is correspondingly as large as the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition?  Where is the effort to promote egalitarianism and equal rights that is as large as the effort to criminalize, marginalize, and legally discriminate against gays?

Frankly, I’m tired of having the burden of proof shifted on me.  When I claim that faith based reasoning has no reality check, I’m stating the obvious.  When I claim that faith based reasoning can be used to justify otherwise unjustifiable actions, I am stating the obvious.  Yet, for some reason, when I move from this claim to the observation that sometimes faith actually does get used to justify otherwise unjustifiable actions, I’m raked over the coals.

Yet… the same critics fail to justify their own claim — that religion elevates people’s morality to any significant degree.

To conclude, let me make sure to articulate the double standard very clearly:

  • Faith is unique in that it allows, and perhaps even encourages, justifying the unjustifiable.  The cause of this is the lack of a reality check.
  • Good behavior can be, and often is, justified with a reality check, quite apart from faith.  In fact, it’s quite simple to justify any good behavior without faith.
  • The defenders of religion are the ones making an unjustified claim — that faith also has the property of increasing the intensity or frequency of good acts which can and are perfectly justifiable without faith.

Until it is demonstrated that faith does, in fact, increase the amount of good in the universe, we’re left with several disturbing realizations:

Faith can be used to justify the unjustifiable.  There is a very long list of unjustifiable bad behavior that has been directly attributed to faith by the very people committing the acts.

We have no corresponding long list of exceptionally good behavior directly attributed to faith by the very people committing the exceptionally good acts.  We have no evidence that faith is used to justify the justifiable significantly more often than it is justified without faith.

In light of these facts, I find it disingenuous at best for anyone to suggest that it is we, the atheists, who must justify our claim that religion is a force for evil.





22 thoughts on “Greta Christina — Top One Reason Religion is Harmful

  1. Since we’re posting other’s blogs, I might as well post this one:

    I can repeat Hitchens’ objection. Hitchens has to name an immoral action taken, or an immoral statement uttered by a person of faith that could not be taken or uttered by a non-believer.

    The immediate comeback would likely to be to name some evil and to claim that it was done in the name of God. It is certainly true that no non-believer can honestly claim to be doing evil in the name of God. However, this is not a relevant difference. The same can be said on behalf of the good that people do. No atheist can honestly claim to be doing good in the name of God. However, he can honestly claim to be doing the same good. Similarly, no atheist can honestly claim to be doing evil in the name of God. However, he can still do the same evil.

    Is there any evil that a theist could do that an atheist could not do (for some reason other than belief in God)?

    There is none.

    Consequently, just as claims asserting the good that religion does contain the bigoted assumption that these are goods that no atheist would do, asserting the evil that religion does contains a bigoted assumption that these are evils that no atheist would do.

    Just as this is no slight insult against atheists to claim that these are goods that atheists would not do, it is no slight insult against theists to claim that these are evils that no atheist would do.

    Cherry Picking

    Another example of this bigotry at work starts with the well-observed fact that theists ‘cherry pick’ their religious beliefs. When some atheists, such as Hitchens, attempt to explain why certain evils are done in the world, they say “because of scripture.” When they make this claim they are offering what is, in fact, a scientific explanation for a set of observations. The observations are certain evils allegedly done in the name of some God. The explanation is, “because of scripture.”

    As a rational explanation for this set of observations, it utterly fails.

    Imagine watching a group of workers as they pick cherries. You seek an explanation for what they are doing. As a worker plucks a cherry from the tree, you ask, “Why did you do that?” He answers, “Because it is a cherry.”

    Immediately, you know that this is not inadequate. The hypothesis that the reason for his action is to pick cherries is falsified by the fact that there are a lot of cherries on the tree that he will not pick. He will only pick a certain subset of all the cherries. This tells you that, “Because it is a cherry,” is, at best, an incomplete answer.

    The same is true of those who cherry-pick scripture for their moral system. Somebody comes along and asks, “Why did you pick that particular moral prescription?” The answer comes back, “Because it is scripture.” However, a great deal of scripture is ignored. This is enough to prove that the answer, “Because it is scripture,” is, at best, inadequate.

    Somewhere there must be a standard that they are using to determine which scripture they pick and which they leave behind. Where does this standard come from? This standard that they use to determine which scripture to pick and which to leave is the true source of morality. Whatever this source is, it is NOT scripture.

    This problem is compounded by the fact that our cherry pickers are not picking cherries. In the case of religious ethics, religious people do not only pick scripture that fits their ethics (leaving the rest behind), they pick moral principles that are not to be found in scripture. They accept the abolition of slavery and certain principles fundamental to democracy even where there is nothing in scripture that advocates a democratic form of government.

    Where do theists get these principles?

    “Scripture” utterly fails to explain the phenomena in question. Yet “scripture” is what certain atheists such as Hitchens say is the source of great evil. That evil does not come from scripture, it comes from whatever source people use to determine which parts of scripture to accept, which to reject, and which to add to scripture.


    There is one last problem with the idea that evil comes from scripture. This is the historical fact that, whatever made it into scripture is something that people thought of and accepted well before they wrote it into scripture.

    Scriptures were not handed down by God. It seems strange to have to say this to an audience that is made up substantially of atheists. However, the proposition, “Scripture is responsible for this evil,” can come only if we forget, momentarily, where scripture itself came from. It came from a set of ideas that humans adopted without any divine intervention at all – ideas that a pre-scripture people still came to think of as good ideas.

    This directly contradicts Hitchens’ claim that, “Morally normal people wouldn’t do these things if they didn’t think God was desiring them to do so.” Morally normal people were the ones who decided (and are still deciding) that a God wants them to do these things. The reason they claim that God desires these things is because they want God to desire these things, and they want God to desire these things because they want these things. Or, at least, they wanted these things at the time they were inventing and defining God.

    Everything in scripture is evidence of what humans are capable of dreaming up and finding acceptable in the absence of scripture, because this was where scripture came from.


    Every evil that has found its way into scripture is an evil that humans are capable of accepting in the absence of scripture. If this were not true, then these evils would not have found their way into scripture to begin with.

    Every evil that people cherry-pick out of scripture is an evil that humans are capable of accepting in the absence of scripture. If this were not true, then people would not see these evils as ripe for the picking. They would ignore these evils, as they ignore all passages that report things that they reject.

    Religion is not the source of these evils.

    One of the sources of evil is a human tendency to divide the world up into groups of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – and to embrace easily refutable claims that ‘us’ – the master race, the chosen people – are immune to the evils that afflict ‘them’ – the lesser beings. It is found in the ease with which people embrace and cheer those who say, “If we can only rid the world of ‘them’, the world would be a better place.”

    The idea that religion is the root of all evil is one of those easily refutable claims. It takes only a few minutes of reflection to hold that the evils that we find in religion are evils that have a source outside of religion, and that atheists have no magical immunity from the true source of evil.

    It is an issue of which theory best explains and predicts a set of observations. Either religion is the root of all evil (in which case we are left wondering how that evil got into scripture in the first place), or people have an inherent affinity for philosophies that divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’ that tend to blind them to poor arguments used in defense of these divisions. This explains both the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ of scripture, and why many atheist fail to see the flaws in their own ‘us’ versus ‘them’ philosophies.

    This alternative hypothesis predicts that if religions were to disappear, and atheists ruled the world, that atheists would find other (equally unreasonable) reasons to divide the world into groups of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and the violence would not diminish. We cannot end the violence by ending religion. We can only end the violence by fighting the root causes of evil that afflict the religious and non-religious alike.

    As long as atheists divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’ on religious grounds, they leave themselves vulnerable to the causes of evil that can be found in our nature. If religion is the root of all evil, we can ignore the tendency to embrace unreasonable claims that ‘we’ are inherently superior to ‘them’ and must rid the world of ‘them’ if we are to know peace. We can simply refuse to ask, “Is this claim that ‘they’ are responsible for all evil – and it is not to be found elsewhere – truly reasonable?”

    Posted by Alison | November 18, 2009, 5:34 am
  2. The long, wordy objection quoted above totally misses the rather obvious and crucial bit about faith’s utter lack of reality checks. This isn’t about what *motivates* evil behavior – it’s about what allows people to feel perfectly justified and righteous about evil behavior, and about what makes it impossible for them to be persuaded that their behavior is evil.

    The main motivations for evil behaviors generally boil down to tribalism and selfishness. I am using ‘tribalism’ as a catch-all world for the very human habit of dividing the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’, and vilifying ‘them’ – the broadly exhibited human habit you disingenuously try to characterize as the main fault of atheists, even though it is quite obviously one of the most distinguishing characteristics of religious traditions, with their perpetual internecine squabbles and habit of dividing into sects and sub-sects. ‘Selfishness’ would seem self-explanatory, but since some people persist in confusing the two, I would like to distinguish it from self-interest. There is nothing wrong with being motivated by and acting in one’s own self-interest: Doing so becomes selfishness only when it is done with wilful and knowing disregard for the interests of others.

    Tribalism and selfishness are not distinctly religious traits, they are widespread human traits. What *is* a distinctly religious trait (although not universal among religious traditions or persons) is the habit of deciding the truth of claims about the world without regard to (and often in flagrant opposition to) reason and evidence – in a word, faith. And that, as always, is where the trouble lies.

    Of course, almost no one simply *decides* to be evil and engage in evil behavior: Everyone is the hero of their own story. Often, evil behavior (and for that matter, good behavior and morally neutral behavior) isn’t the product of any real reflection or substantial decision-making process at all. Most actions spring from largely subconscious motivations – desires and attitudes that can be a mix of tribal and universal, selfish and other-regarding. But when we do evaluate and reflect on our actions and the actions of others – often after the fact – our determination of heroism (the actions of me and mine, usually) or villainy (the actions of those other people) is shaped by our beliefs, the various claims about the world – claims about both matters of fact and matters of value – that we consider to be true. Faith commits people to many beliefs about the world that are manifestly untrue, and many more for which no evidence or reasoning has ever been provided (and in some cases could never be provided). Therefore, their moral judgments are not just flawed, but incorrectably flawed – because the beliefs aren’t based on evidence and reasoning in the first place, so cannot be corrected by better evidence and reasons.

    It is demonstrably true that people are capable of moral growth and learning: They can learn to see the “others” they have feared and vilified are just people like themselves; they can learn to recognize and care about the harm their selfish actions cause others. The problem with faith is that it serves as a vast, impenetrable barrier to that process of moral growth and learning. Embracing moral truths about the shared humanity of and equal consideration due to all people is prevented by faith beliefs which contradict those truths – and many faith beliefs surely do. Gays are sinners, shunned by God, their very identity a moral failing. Women have a subordinate role, ordained by God, and deserve perpetual secondary status in the family and in society at large. We are right with God, and they are infidels. People can let go of those moral untruths, but only when they let go of the faith beliefs that they use to justify them.

    So the problem with religion isn’t about moral motivation: Everyone shares the same basic moral motivations, positive and negative. It’s about the justifications one uses for one actions: Bad justifications based on false beliefs rooted in faith are spread by faith, like a moral virus. Genuine critical thinking – in a word, doubt – is the only immune system humans have against false beliefs, and therefore against bad moral judgments. And when I say doubt, I mean real epistemological doubt – the sort of doubt that refuses to assent to any claim which is not supported by substantial evidence and legitimately reasoned arguments, not the sort of emotion-driven pseudo-doubt that many believers claim to “wrestle with,” but which is always overcome by stronger countering emotion rather than by reason and evidence. To reject real doubt is to reject legitimate moral judgment, and thus to be more prone not only to follow evil (tribal, selfish) motivations and commit evil actions in the first place, but also to falsely justify them to oneself as good after the fact. Worse yet, faith makes one immune to any arguments showing why such actions are in fact evil.

    Of course, unsupported faith beliefs which encourage and/or justify evil actions are not unique to religion: Some political ideologies have been just as faith-based. But, as Greta Christina noted, political ideologies put into action in the world are subject to reality checks: To get followers, they have to make promises about rewards in THIS world, and will eventually be rejected if they fail to deliver (which is why Communism is mostly dead). Religious faith has no reality check, and so is uniquely and perniciously dangerous.

    Posted by G Felis | November 18, 2009, 1:49 pm
  3. This always seems to happen. One person will have a post, then I’ll reply to it, then a totally different person will reply with a totally different argument.

    Anyway, I think that Hamby knows my objections, considering that I’ve been objecting to the argument as long as he’s been making it.

    Frankly, I know Hamby’s tactics, he’ll just duck and or ignore them and then repeat the his argument again and again until I give up, so I’m not going to go through that again.

    I just wanted to get another perspective here [from the atheist ethicisit] so that it’s not just me rambling on.

    Posted by Alison | November 18, 2009, 10:00 pm
  4. Ah, but what I presented is *not* a totally different argument. Your response – or rather, atheistethicist’s generic counterargument to what he or she takes to be the argument of Hitchens about religion’s moral problems (which I won’t vouch for, since I haven’t read Hitchens’ argument) – completely fails to address the central element of Greta Christina’s (and Hamby’s) argument, which is all about how the lack of a reality check makes faith morally pernicious. So I focused on explaining that particular element of the argument, restating the *same* basic argument as it applies specifically to the question of motivation, a matter which atheistethicist’s argument goes on about at some length. What I attempted to show was how and why the focus on motivation is a red herring that simply distracts from the real criticism of faith in relation to ethics, and is not in any way a substantial response to that criticism.

    Faith leads to immoral actions because our actions are shaped by our beliefs about the world, and faith by its very nature either bypasses or directly opposes the only method we have for ever justifying any beliefs about the world – critical thinking grounded in evidence and reason. Whether evaluating the morality of your actions or evaluating your factual beliefs, the first step in any legitimate process of evaluation is not to start from the assumption that you already know the truth of the matter; one must begin from a position of doubt, not faith. One must ask, “Could I be wrong about this?” Faith is nothing more than the assumption that you can know something is true without any process of evaluation or justification; faith by its very nature must disregard or overcome doubt, or it is not faith.

    It is one thing to start from a position of doubt and answer those doubts with evidence and reasoning. It is another thing to reject doubt from the outset and decide what to believe as a matter of faith: The latter is, whether one’s goal is factual truth or moral action, a recipe for disaster.

    Absolutely nothing I can see in the long, rambling argument from atheistethicist you quoted has any real relevance to the argument from Greta Christina and Hamby you posted it in response to, and I responded by explaining why and how the atheistethicist argument simply misses the main thrust of the argument, and did so by clarifying that argument in terms that directly speak to what you posted. And your only response is to ignore my response while chiding Hamby for ignoring your arguments in the past? Somehow, I get the impression that Hamby wasn’t the problem in those prior interactions.

    Posted by G Felis | November 19, 2009, 2:47 am
  5. It turns out that I’ve been telling Alison for at least a year that she’s missing the entire point. I’m glad someone with more training and eloquence agrees. Thanks G.

    Posted by hambydammit | November 19, 2009, 5:33 pm
  6. GFelis, I don’t know if you’ve read Hamby’s posts on the “Rational” Response Squad website, but he has said explcitily there [and in this OP] that if it weren’t for Religion than these problems would be significantly reduced or even no longer exist.

    My point is that it’s not going to work like that, which is why I posted the atheistethicist blog.

    Given basic human irrationality, it doesn’t matter how doubtful, or skeptic we are, the human brain isn’t wired for that, so you are basically going against human nature. [If you want to do that, feel free to get a job at your local absitence only education advocacy group, and you can exchange ideas how to accomplish this.]

    Which is preciously why these things will happen in the absence of Religion, and that going after the justifications of the actions will get you chasing your tail, considering the irrationality of human nature, they’ll just come up with new ones, regardless of how much doubt is emphasized.

    See? Notice how I didn’t disagree that faith is irrational, that faith is assumption without justification?

    Somehow, I get the impression that Hamby wasn’t the problem in those prior interactions.

    So I’m the problem? Let’s see here from the top of my head:

    I quoted Scott Atran who actually does empirical research into this subject, and Hamby just dismissed him, missed the point and said he was a good writer. Way to be scientific.

    Somebody made a claim that religion can cause psychosis. I asked for scientific evidence for this claim and Hamby then countered saying it’s “obvious” and that he doesn’t need scientific evidence to prove that people at baseball games eat hotdogs.

    Yeah, gee I’M really the problem here.

    Posted by Alison | November 19, 2009, 6:22 pm
  7. Careful how you represent my arguments, kiddo. Here’s what I argue:

    * Faith based reasoning (religion) is a unique force against critical thinking and the scientific method, which are the *only* reliable ways to reach true conclusions on any subject whatsoever, including the moral value of actions. Since faith based reasoning can only produce less accurate answers to questions of morality, it’s plainly obvious that faith based belief causes bad moral decisions. If you took all faith based moral reasoning out of the world, there could only be more accurate answers to questions of morality.

    * Scott Atran is a good author, but neither his scientific research nor his eloquent writing addresses the point I just made, so I dismissed his argument, as well as the atheistethicists. Not because they aren’t using reason or science, but because *THEY’RE NOT ADDRESSING MY POINT.*

    By the way, I find your defeatist view of humanity absolutely repulsive, not to mention empirically absurd. With your interest in physics and math, you should be especially offended at the idea that the human animal cannot stretch beyond his evolutionary hard-wiring. The human mind cannot comprehend the actuality of quantum mechanics. We’re not hard wired for it. Yet, quantum physicists all over the world are unlocking the secrets of the universe because of this other human hardwired trait — our ability to deal with approximations and analogies in order to conceptualize the inconceivable.

    And yeah, humans can’t improve their own morality. There’s nothing better in the world since the scientific revolution in terms of morality…

    Except for the virtual abolition of slavery in most of the world. Equality for women. The end of forced child labor. Socialized medicine. Universal healthcare. Gay rights. Legal personhood for children. Shelters for women who are victims of domestic abuse. The American Civil Liberties Union. The UN Ethics Office.

    Finally, my reference to hot dogs at baseball games was in response to your baffling assertion that we don’t know for sure that faith based reasoning causes certain behaviors. Remember? And then I pointed out that prayer is a behavior for which faith based reasoning is the only reasonable explanation.

    But then… somehow, you’re able to just waltz in here and claim (WITHOUT PROOF) that humans are hard wired for irrational morality, and nothing anybody can do will change the amount of good or bad in the world.


    Posted by hambydammit | November 19, 2009, 8:59 pm
  8. I’ve never said that we can’t improve morality. I never said that science can’t contribute to morality.

    The baker across the street who isn’t racist or homophobic, isn’t some great moral philosopher or psychologist. We’re also hardwired to do good.

    Glad you mentioned QM, as did all the new agers who use it to “support” their claims of ultimate reality, people who actually use QM correctly are few and far between. It’s as if ummm…. the exception doesn’t disprove the rule.

    Some people just aren’t hardwired to grasp scientific concepts. Ever heard the concept of “right brained people” and “left brained people”? Same concept here.

    For some people, poetry/music flows naturally. The rest think the Spice Girls are the best thing since Bach.

    Autism would be the extreme form of not being able to grasp emotional arguments.

    Another case in point, notice how most of the people commiting these atrocities are men? Notice how most MMA fighters are men? Women just aren’t as hardwired to aggression as men are. The Women who are in MMA or do try to wipe out a ethnicity are few and far between compared to the men who do it.

    Tell you what, you want empiricalism? Men are hardwired different than women, but we can overcome this hardwiring right? Grab a box of chocolates and cry when your favorite Soap Star gets cheated on by her boyfriend with her grandma.

    I’m just using that as an example, I don’t watch Soaps while eating chocolate, I was being snarky to show a point. You can’t just suddenly switch to being a woman.

    As for my “repulsive” view on humanity, it’s called being realist.

    Humanity is fucked. We’re toast. Nuture can only take us so far until nature runs it’s course.

    Posted by Alison | November 20, 2009, 1:01 am
  9. Is there an argument in there?

    Posted by hambydammit | November 20, 2009, 1:42 am
  10. Is there an argument in there?

    I was defending my claim [from which I waltz in, how arrogant!] that we’re not going to over come human nature.

    Humans are irrational. We’re hardwired to take emotion over logic.

    Here’s a quick question:

    Why does Absitence only education fail?

    Answer: It goes against our hardwiring.

    Why will it continue to fail?

    It goes against our hardwiring.

    Your “solution” to this goes against our hardwiring. Do I have to draw you a picture?

    Or here’s an clear picture, you write a lot about this stuff:

    Will we ever be able to stop men from lusting for women? Even if they have a wife/girlfriend? Guess the answer. No, seriously guess, and then guess WHY.

    And yet, you don’t think there’s proof that we can’t go against our hardwiring? You think there’s no proof that humans are inheritly irrational?

    You say you read psychology studies, how many times have psychologists predicited results based on human irrationality?

    “Nah, what moron would pick the short line just because 5 other people he doesn’t know picked it? PFfffft that will never happen.”

    Posted by Alison | November 20, 2009, 4:55 am
  11. Alison, your argument flat out ignores some basic facts. Here they are.

    Faith isn’t hardwired. It’s learned.

    Scientific/rational thinking isn’t hardwired. It’s learned.

    It is possible to teach *any* child to accept beliefs because they are endorsed by authority and/or are emotionally satisfying, and it is possible to teach *any* child to reject authority and emotion and instead evaluate claims based on evidence and reason – even though these are directly opposed ways of establishing beliefs. While not every child will be *equally* inclined to the former or the latter by virtue of the genetic/early developmental influences on their personality and psychology and intellectual ability, nor will every child be *equally* capable of absorbing the lessons they are taught, it is certainly the case that (1) every child starts out with both the inclination to accept authority (which is essential to early learning) and the inclination to experiment and evaluate evidence on its own (which is also essential to early learning), and (2) it is possible to shape a child’s development much more strongly in one direction or the other by education and example. Leaving children aside, those old enough to have firm inclinations one way or the other will not necessarily have any willingness to be educated (or educate themselves) or even the capacity to change in either direction, but *some* will.

    Why are all these claims true? Because the capacity to learn new ideas and habits is definitively and without doubt a part of human nature. The human brain is highly plastic, and human behavior is highly flexible. Your position on the rigidity of human behavior is flat-out contrary to fact.

    And frankly, I’m not sure the conclusions you draw would be warranted even if you didn’t have the basic facts wrong, because your discussion of human nature ignores the particular aspects of human nature at stake in this argument. Just because no human is ever going to be a perfectly rational being is no reason to think that humans – in specific and in general – cannot learn to be more rational (or, sadly, less rational).

    Your reasoning seems to hinge entirely on one claim, a claim which any sensible person will grant: Some aspects of human behavior are hardwired. But any sensible person will *also* grant that many aspects of human behavior are very, very flexible and subject to change – or there couldn’t be ex-believers like our blog host. So your claim that some human behaviors are hardwired does NOT in any way support your claim that the particular aspects of human nature which must be fixed and unchangeable in order to support your conclusion are among those which are hardwired – no matter how many random and irrelevant examples of supposedly hardwired human behaviors you pull out of your… hat.

    Posted by G Felis | November 20, 2009, 3:16 pm
  12. GFelis

    I know some behavors can be learned, among humans and other animals. I can train a dog to balance a treat on it’s nose when it’s first instinct is to eat it. A parent can teach a child to put their toys away instead of leaving them on the floor. A principal can teach a child that it’s wrong to shove the nerd in the garbage can.

    I am a strong advocate of science education. I have a science degree.

    I’m not saying that we can’t change behavior, but if we want to, then we better go about it ummm scientifically.

    One of the most scientifically advanced countries is Japan. It house advanced labs, the most distinguished professors. Scientists will fight fist over foot to get a research position in Japan. It is one of the least religious countries in the world. It also has a high HDI, high quality of life etc…

    It has one of the lowest murder rates in the world. They’re not killing others, they’re killing themselves, as it also has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

    Is it really the lack of science education? We can’t just shrug our shoulders and say

    “Well, maybe if we tell them it’s not a good idea to kill themselves…”

    So yes, I know that we can change behavor. It’s no coincedence that ad agencies shell out millions to hire psychologists!

    And come on, when was the last time you saw scientific honesty in a commercial?

    When I was in a mall food court, some loser looked at me and when he got close I can tell he practically bathed in AXE body spray. He was honestly surprised when I awkardly looked away.

    AXE sells millions a year. Not because they are scientifically proven to work, but because guys want to get laid, and advertisers know that.

    If the AXE commercials were just some guy in a lab coat listing the poly-carbonates contained within [and the fact it’s not that different from their competitors] will that work better than “This spray will get you laid”? Even IF we all get science education?

    Posted by Alison | November 20, 2009, 5:14 pm
  13. What the hell does any of that have to do with the matter at hand? WTF?

    Okay, let me try again – and I’ll keep it very short so maybe you won’t completely miss the point.

    Just because no human is ever going to be a *perfectly* rational being is no reason to think that humans – in specific and in general – cannot learn to be *more* rational. Being more rational is a good thing. And faith stands in direct opposition to any given believer becoming more rational – which means that faith is standing in the way of something good, which makes faith bad.

    Absolutely none of your random rants about this or that bit of irrational human behavior undermines the argument stated above in the slightest. Repetition of irrelevant points does not make those points more relevant. Non sequiturs are not arguments.

    Posted by G Felis | November 20, 2009, 5:30 pm
  14. I wrote:

    This always seems to happen. One person will have a post, then I’ll reply to it, then a totally different person will reply with a totally different argument.

    I would like to re-write that as:

    One person will make a post with several arguments. I respond to one of the arguments then other people and the poster will focus on one of the OTHER arguments.

    Posted by Alison | November 20, 2009, 6:44 pm
  15. Alison, what GFeliz and I (and half of the RRS members) are trying to tell you is that you are not responding to any of the arguments being made.

    By the way, you are aware that the PhD GFeliz gets to write after his name was granted after he wrote a dissertation on the development of morality, right? Just an FYI.

    Posted by hambydammit | November 20, 2009, 11:19 pm
  16. What if I made a blog post or topic on RRS about the children starving in Africa. I say that it’s obvious that if the African land were more fertile and it rained more, then that problem would be significantly reduced or even eliminated since infertile land and drought contribute to it.

    I mean it’s obvious right? If they could grow more food, they would and if they grow more food, they would have more food to eat.

    Or if I said the tsunamis/floods/hurricanes hit non-populated areas then there would be less deaths.

    However, it is absolutly irrelevant if I can’t magically make it rain more in Africa, or tsunamis/floods/hurricanes hit only unpopulated areas.

    When you point this out, that I can’t wave a magic wand and make African land fertile for crops, I say you aren’t addressing my main argument.

    It’s logical if it had more fertile land, then it would be able to grow more crops, but is it practical?

    Like we can save the human race if we can change the atmosphere of Mars and then go there when the Earth is over capacity. Obvious, but not practical.

    Posted by Alison | November 21, 2009, 5:20 pm
  17. Are you making an argument? Non sequiturs and analogies are not arguments.

    Posted by hambydammit | November 21, 2009, 8:23 pm
  18. Now be fair, hambydammit. It is *possible* to make an argument by analogy, if the situation is at least somewhat analogous in relevant ways. The situation Alison proposed here has no similarity to or bearing on the matters currently being disputed here whatsoever, I’ll grant you. But in general, an analogy can be part of an argument. [/snark]

    Posted by G Felis | November 22, 2009, 2:44 pm
  19. Well, yes… an analogy can be *part* of an argument, but an analogy is not an argument. All I see in Alison’s post are factoids about this or that, each of which seems to be intended as some sort of analogy.

    I dunno. I was just hoping for a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition, not just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.

    Posted by hambydammit | November 22, 2009, 4:03 pm
  20. You’re clearly expecting too much, you festering heap of parrot droppings! If you weren’t such a malodorous pervert… Oh, you wanted an argument? This is abuse…

    Posted by G Felis | November 22, 2009, 4:09 pm
  21. [quote]This counter-argument is really a common theist argument in disguise. Atheists and the non-religious have been portrayed by the religious as morally depraved, unhappy, missing out on something, etc, for as long as they’ve been visible. The thing is, nobody’s ever stopped to demand evidence. The assumption that religion inspires people to be more moral is just a reverse version of the same claim — a claim that has never been demonstrated scientifically.[/quote]
    Maybe not, but under Christianity, there is a clear basis for morality: the Bible. Moral questions can be resolved by looking to the teachings of Christ, or, in some circumstances, the Old Testament. Is it difficult to interpret the Bible? Yes. But whatever else you want to say about it, it is clearly pro-charity. The many works of healing Christ performed in his life amount to a clear mandate for Christians to minister to the poor. So we can see clearly how a Christian might come to do charity. Atheists, however, have no moral foundation comparable to the Bible. *So it is clear how a Christian might come to do charity for the poor, and it is less clear how an atheist might come to do comparable acts of charity.*

    Moreover, a church can serve as an organizing center for a community’s charity efforts, and often does. Churches often create soup kitchens, and many churches organized trips to New Orleans after the flood. So let’s compare a hypothetical Christian community with a hypothetical atheistic community. We can see clearly how the Christian community would organize its charity efforts, but not how the atheistic community would organize similar efforts.

    So we expect religious individuals to do charity, and religious communities to sprout well organized volunteer efforts. It’s not clear that atheistic individuals will be charitable, or that atheistic communities will sprout well-organized volunteer efforts.

    Posted by Ctrl Y | November 23, 2009, 3:13 pm
  22. Please read my post on the real nature of Christian morality:

    It explains in great detail how God cannot be a source for morality. (And thus, the Bible, or Christianity.)

    Posted by hambydammit | November 23, 2009, 4:26 pm

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