AuthorTopic: Religionís smart-people problem: The shaky foundations of absolute faith  (Read 71645 times)

Offline knarf

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Religionís smart-people problem: The shaky intellectual foundations of absolute faith




Should you believe in a God? Not according to most academic philosophers. A comprehensive survey revealed that only about 14 percent of English speaking professional philosophers are theists.  As for what little religious belief remains among their colleagues, most professional philosophers regard it as a strange aberration among otherwise intelligent people. Among scientists the situation is much the same. Surveys of the members of the National Academy of Sciences, composed of the most prestigious scientists in the world, show that religious belief among them is practically nonexistent, about 7 percent.

Now nothing definitely follows about the truth of a belief from what the majority of philosophers or scientists think. But such facts might cause believers discomfort. There has been a dramatic change in the last few centuries in the proportion of believers among the highly educated in the Western world. In the European Middle Ages belief in a God was ubiquitous, while today it is rare among the intelligentsia. This change occurred primarily because of the rise of modern science and a consensus among philosophers that arguments for the existence of gods, souls, afterlife and the like were unconvincing. Still, despite the view of professional philosophers and world-class scientists, religious beliefs have a universal appeal. What explains this?

Genes and environment explain human beliefs and behaviorsópeople do things because they are genomes in environments. The near universal appeal of religious belief suggests a biological component to religious beliefs and practices, and science increasingly confirms this view. There is a scientific consensus that our brains have been subject to natural selection. So what survival and reproductive roles might religious beliefs and practices have played in our evolutionary history? What mechanisms caused the mind to evolve toward religious beliefs and practices?

Today there are two basic explanations offered. One says that religion evolved by natural selectionóreligion is an adaptation that provides an evolutionary advantage. For example religion may have evolved to enhance social cohesion and cooperationóit may have helped groups survive. The other explanation claims that religious beliefs and practices arose as byproducts of other adaptive traits. For example, intelligence is an adaptation that aids survival. Yet it also forms causal narratives for natural occurrences and postulates the existence of other minds. Thus the idea of hidden Gods explaining natural events was born.

In addition to the biological basis for religious belief, there are environmental explanations. It is self-evident from the fact that religions are predominant in certain geographical areas but not others, that birthplace strongly influences religious belief. This suggests that peopleís religious beliefs are, in large part, accidents of birth. Besides cultural influences there is the family; the best predictor of peopleís religious beliefs in individuals is the religiosity of their parents. There are also social factors effecting religious belief. For example, a significant body of scientific evidence suggests that popular religion results from social dysfunction. Religion may be a coping mechanism for the stress caused by the lack of a good social safety netóhence the vast disparity between religious belief in Western Europe and the United States.

There is also a strong correlation between religious belief and various measures of social dysfunction including homicides, the proportion of people incarcerated, infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage births, abortions, corruption, income inequality and more. While no causal relationship has been established, a United Nations list of the 20 best countries to live in shows the least religious nations generally at the top. Only in the United States, which was ranked as the 13th best country to live in, is religious belief strong relative to other countries. Moreover, virtually all the countries with comparatively little religious belief ranked high on the list of best countries, while the majority of countries with strong religious belief ranked low. While correlation does not equal causation, the evidence should give pause to religionís defenders. There are good reasons to doubt that religious belief makes peopleís lives go better, and good reasons to believe that they make their lives go worse.

Despite all this most people still accept some religious claims. But this fact doesnít give us much reason to accept religious claims. People believe many weird things that are completely irrationalóastrology, fortunetelling, alien abductions, telekinesis and mind readingóand reject claims supported by an overwhelming body of evidenceóbiological evolution for example. More than three times as many Americans believe in the virgin birth of Jesus than in biological evolution, although few theologians take the former seriously, while no serious biologist rejects the latter!

Consider too that scientists donít take surveys of the public to determine whether relativity or evolutionary theory are true; their truth is assured by the evidence as well as by resulting technologiesóglobal positioning and flu vaccines work. With the wonders of science every day attesting to its truth, why do many prefer superstition and pseudo science? The simplest answer is that people believe what they want to, what they find comforting, not what the evidence supports: In general, people donít want to know; they want to believe. This best summarizes why people tend to believe.

Why, then, do some highly educated people believe religious claims? First, smart persons are good at defending ideas that they originally believed for non-smart reasons. They want to believe something, say for emotional reasons, and they then become adept at defending those beliefs. No rational person would say there is more evidence for creation science than biological evolution, but the former satisfies some psychological need for many that the latter does not. How else to explain the hubris of the philosopher or theologian who knows little of biology or physics yet denies the findings of those sciences? It is arrogant of those with no scientific credentials and no experience in the field or laboratory, to reject the hard-earned knowledge of the science. Still they do it. (I knew a professional philosopher who doubted both evolution and climate science but believed he could prove that the Christian God must take a Trinitarian form! Surely something emotional had short-circuited his rational faculties.)
 Second, the proclamations of educated believers are not always to be taken at face value. Many donít believe religious claims but think them useful. They fear that in their absence others will lose a basis for hope, morality or meaning. These educated believers may believe that ordinary folks canít handle the truth. They may feel it heartless to tell parents of a dying child that their little one doesnít go to a better place. They may want to give bread to the masses, like Dostoevskyís Grand Inquisitor.     

Our sophisticated believers may be manipulating, using religion as a mechanism of social control, as Gibbon noted long ago: ďThe various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosophers as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.Ē Consider the so-called religiosity of many contemporary politicians, whose actions belie the claim that they really believe the precepts of the religions to which they supposedly ascribe. Individuals may also profess belief because it is socially unacceptable not to; they donít want to be out of the mainstream or fear they will not be reelected or loved if they profess otherwise. So-called believers may not believe the truth of their claims; instead they may think that others are better off or more easily controlled if those others believe. Or perhaps they may just want to be socially accepted.

Third, when sophisticated thinkers claim to be religious, they often have something in mind unlike what the general populace believes. They may be process theologians who argue that god is not omnipotent, contains the world, and changes. They may identify god as an anti-entropic force pervading the universe leading it to higher levels of organization. They may be pantheists, panentheists, or death-of-god theologians. Yet these sophisticated varieties of religious belief bear little resemblance to popular religion. The masses would be astonished to discover how far such beliefs deviate from their theism.

But we shouldnít be deceived. Although there are many educated religious believers, including some philosophers and scientists, religious belief declines with educational attainment, particularly with scientific education. Studies also show that religious belief declines among those with higher IQs. Hawking, Dennett and Dawkins are not outliers, and neither is Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.

Or consider this anecdotal evidence. Among the intelligentsia it is common and widespread to find individuals who lost childhood religious beliefs as their education in philosophy and the sciences advanced. By contrast, it is almost unheard of to find disbelievers in youth who came to belief as their education progressed. This asymmetry is significant; advancing education is detrimental to religious belief. This suggest another part of the explanation for religious beliefóscientific illiteracy.

If we combine reasonable explanations of the origin of religious beliefs and the small amount of belief among the intelligentsia with the problematic nature of beliefs in gods, souls, afterlives or supernatural phenomena generally, we can conclude that (supernatural) religious beliefs are probably false. And we should remember that the burden of proof is not on the disbeliever to demonstrate there are no gods, but on believers to demonstrate that there are. Believers are not justified in affirming their belief on the basis of anotherís inability to conclusively refute them, any more than a believer in invisible elephants can command my assent on the basis of my not being able to ďdisproveĒ the existence of the aforementioned elephants. If the believer canít provide evidence for a godís existence, then I have no reason to believe in gods.

In response to the difficulties with providing reasons to believe in things unseen, combined with the various explanations of belief, you might turn to faith. It is easy to believe something without good reasons if you are determined to do soólike the queen in ďAlice and WonderlandĒ who ďsometimes Ö believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.Ē But there are problems with this approach. First, if you defend such beliefs by claiming that you have a right to your opinion, however unsupported by evidence it might be, you are referring to a political or legal right, not an epistemic one. You may have a legal right to say whatever you want, but you have epistemic justification only if there are good reasons and evidence to support your claim. If someone makes a claim without concern for reasons and evidence, we should conclude that they simply donít care about whatís true. We shouldnít conclude that their beliefs are true because they are fervently held.

Another problem is that fideismóbasing oneís beliefs exclusively on faithómakes belief arbitrary, leaving no way to distinguish one religious belief from another. Fideism allows no reason to favor your preferred beliefs or superstitions over others. If I must accept your beliefs without evidence, then you must accept mine, no matter what absurdity I believe in. But is belief without reason and evidence worthy of rational beings? Doesnít it perpetuate the cycle of superstition and ignorance that has historically enslaved us? I agree with W.K. Clifford. ďIt is wrong always, everywhere and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.Ē Why? Because your beliefs affect other people, and your false beliefs may harm them.

The counter to Cliffordís evidentialism has been captured by thinkers like Blaise Pascal, William James, and Miguel de Unamuno. Pascalís famous dictum expresses: ďThe heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.Ē William James claimed that reason canít resolve all issues and so we are sometimes justified believing ideas that work for us. Unamuno searched for answers to existential questions, counseling us to abandon rationalism and embrace faith. Such proposals are probably the best the religious can muster, but if reason canít resolve our questions then agnosticism, not faith, is required.

Besides, faith without reason doesnít satisfy most of us, hence our willingness to seek reasons to believe. If those reasons are not convincing, if you conclude that religious beliefs are untrue, then religious answers to lifeís questions are worthless. You might comfort yourself by believing that little green dogs in the sky care for you but this is just nonsense, as are any answers attached to such nonsense. Religion may help us in the way that whisky helps a drunk, but we donít want to go through life drunk. If religious beliefs are just vulgar superstitions, then we are basing our lives on delusions. And who would want to do that?

Why is all this important? Because human beings need their childhood to end; they need to face life with all its bleakness and beauty, its lust and  its love, its war and its peace. They need to make the world better. No one else will.

http://www.salon.com/2014/12/21/religions_smart_people_problem_the_shaky_intellectual_foundations_of_absolute_faith/
« Last Edit: December 21, 2014, 03:14:31 PM by knarf »
HUMANS ARE STILL EVOLVING! Our communities blog is at https://openmind693.wordpress.com

Offline jdwheeler42

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Re: Religionís smart-people problem: The shaky foundations of absolute faith
« Reply #1 on: December 21, 2014, 05:12:12 PM »
Why is all this important? Because human beings need their childhood to end; they need to face life with all its bleakness and beauty, its lust and  its love, its war and its peace. They need to make the world better.
Sounds like several statements of faith to me.

What is the evidence to support them?
Making pigs fly is easy... that is, of course, after you have built the catapult....

Offline Ka

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Re: Religionís smart-people problem: The shaky foundations of absolute faith
« Reply #2 on: December 21, 2014, 08:50:52 PM »
Just as soon as one of these "smart people" can give the barest suggestion of a possibility of how mentality can emerge from a non-mental substrate, I might take them seriously. As is, though, what I am reminded of is the authoritative worth of the majority of economists.

Offline Ashvin

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Re: Religionís smart-people problem: The shaky foundations of absolute faith
« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2014, 05:22:29 PM »
Ka,

Not gonna happen. They won't ever go there.

Here is a great debate/discussion between two eminent philosophers, one Christian and one Atheist, touching on that very crucial topic:

http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Keith-Ward-and-Michael-Ruse-debate-the-evidence-for-God

Offline luciddreams

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I tried to get through the entire article, but I couldn't.  Same tired old shit.  Logic and reason imprisoned by rational science.  Logic and reason are capable of more than just scientific findings.  Science itself is shaken by the foundation of uncertainty.  Science knows what it knows due to isolated findings.  Findings found under a microscope or a telescope.  Findings found by stringent observation recorded and agreed upon.  What of my findings found through empirical knowing?  The most real thing any of us can know is filtered first through our own experience of reality.  Each individual experiences reality for him/herself.  Are we to take sciences iron fist before our own experience of spiritual reality?  Isn't that the disenchantment of our world? 

Give me a good reason to not believe my own interpretation of mystical reality.  I mean beyond what the ubiquitous scientist has to say on the matter.  There is more to reality than the table of elements.  There is more to reality than the flat lands of two dimensional knowing, or three dimensional for that matter. 

I've penned many times on this board that the most real experience of my life has been an out of body experience.  It carried a reality I've not known before it.  Yet I'm to believe that this reality is nothing more than electrical/chemical reactions in the meat space of my brain.  If that's true than there really is nothing more than an organ that senses and interprets reality for the masses.  A collective brain that determines what is and is not real.  I choose to believe, and not on faith, that reality is more than meat space.  The collective scientific mind believes that the scientific method quantifies reality.  It is nothing more than individual isolated experiments concluding one thing or another. 

The other day my youngest son fell asleep while I was holding him.  I was standing in the pacific ocean at the time.  The waves were doing what they do, and they lulled him to sleep.  There beneath the sun and in the midst of the wind, and there on the Earth with the water crashing...and lay on the beach with my son sleeping on my chest.  I listened to the waves and the wind, and I felt the sun.  I watched the sea birds fly over head.  I thought to myself that I could do this everyday, and that this was what life was about.  My wife and my other son were playing in the ocean.  What does science have to say about all of this?  That I procreated, that some chemicals in my brain said "what a nice feeling." 

This was a spiritual experience of this mundane reality.  All of the elements came together and informed my existence for a brief moment of domesticated bliss. 

I'm not a Christian, and I don't believe in "God."  I believe in many gods, but foremost I believe in nature.  I believe in the nature we came from and are an irrevocable part of.  I believe all of these things because I choose to believe them.  Just as the scientist choose to believe that their isolated experiments result in the truth.  They can't see the forest for the trees. 

Science is a belief, just as is atheism.  Everything is a believe...believe it or not.  So do yourself a favor and stop putting rationality in a box.  To be clear, I believe in the scientific method, in logic, reason, and rationality...but I also believe in my own experience.  Things are gray more than they are black and white. 

Offline Eddie

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Been readin' Edward Abbey as of late.


There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience.

 And then there is California.


Edward Abbey
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline Eddie

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ďWhy can't we simply borrow what is useful to us from Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, especially Zen, as we borrow from Christianity, science, American Indian traditions and world literature in general, including philosophy, and let the rest go hang? Borrow what we need but rely principally upon our own senses, common sense and daily living experience.Ē


― Edward Abbey,
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline luciddreams

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“Why can't we simply borrow what is useful to us from Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, especially Zen, as we borrow from Christianity, science, American Indian traditions and world literature in general, including philosophy, and let the rest go hang? Borrow what we need but rely principally upon our own senses, common sense and daily living experience.”


― Edward Abbey,


Yeah, California is a nice place to visit, but it's a shitty place to be born. 

As to the above quote...that's why I love Druidry so much.  It's about what you experience...not unlike what Buddhism has going on.  The Buddha basically said "if you want to be enlightened then follow this eightfold path."  As in, figure it out for yourself with your own experience.  Or as the zen saying goes "small doubt, small enlightenment.  Big doubt, big enlightenment."  Or something like that. 

Offline Eddie

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I don't think Ed necessarily meant that in a nice way. What you wrote about you and your boy made me think of it, that's all.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline luciddreams

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I don't think Ed necessarily meant that in a nice way. What you wrote about you and your boy made me think of it, that's all.

I know nothing about Ed.

Offline Eddie

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Re: Religionís smart-people problem: The shaky foundations of absolute faith
« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2015, 07:11:26 PM »
Doomer way before his time. Prescient. Drank himself to death and died at 62, back in 1989. Wrote Desert Solitaire and The Monkeywrench Gang, and The Journey Home, and some others.

I just read The Monkeywrench Gang and I'm most of the way through The Fool's Progress. Good stuff, but it just tends to make me sad.


We are slaves in the sense that we depend for our daily survival upon an expand-or-expire agro-industrial empireóa crackpot machineóthat the specialists cannot comprehend and the managers cannot manage. Which is, furthermore, devouring world resources at an exponential rate. We are, most of us, dependent employees.



Paradise is not a garden of bliss and changeless perfection where the lions lie down like lambs (what would they eat?) and the angels and cherubim and seraphim rotate in endless idiotic circles, like clockwork, about an equally inane and ludicrous -- however roseate -- unmoved mover. That particular painted fantasy of a realm beyond time and space which Aristotle and the church fathers tried to palm off on us has met, in modern times, only neglect and indifference passing on into oblivion it so richly deserved, while the paradise of which I write and wish to praise is with us yet, the the here and now, the actual, tangible, dogmatically real earth on which we stand.Ē


« Last Edit: January 07, 2015, 07:21:02 PM by luciddreams »
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline luciddreams

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Re: Religionís smart-people problem: The shaky foundations of absolute faith
« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2015, 07:21:27 PM »
Doomer way before his time. Prescient. Drank himself to death and died at 62, back in 1989. Wrote Desert Solitaire and The Monkeywrench Gang, and The Journey Home, and some others.

I just read The Monkeywrench Gang and I'm most of the way through The Fool's Progress. Good stuff, but it just tends to make me sad.


We are slaves in the sense that we depend for our daily survival upon an expand-or-expire agro-industrial empireóa crackpot machineóthat the specialists cannot comprehend and the managers cannot manage. Which is, furthermore, devouring world resources at an exponential rate. We are, most of us, dependent employees.



Paradise is not a garden of bliss and changeless perfection where the lions lie down like lambs (what would they eat?) and the angels and cherubim and seraphim rotate in endless idiotic circles, like clockwork, about an equally inane and ludicrous -- however roseate -- unmoved mover. That particular painted fantasy of a realm beyond time and space which Aristotle and the church fathers tried to palm off on us has met, in modern times, only neglect and indifference passing on into oblivion it so richly deserved, while the paradise of which I write and wish to praise is with us yet, the the here and now, the actual, tangible, dogmatically real earth on which we stand.Ē


So I take it he was an Atheist?  I know I could just wiki it, or google it, but then what good would this conversation be?  I prefer to pretend like we're having a few drinks on the deck of the Toothstead.  I'm not afraid to put my ignorance on display.  As if the internet is honest and this medium is proof of any type of individual intelligence.  I could wiki myself into geniusville given I have the propensity towards wasting my life away to appear intelligent to the audience. 

So how did Ed not mean whatever I said with my last second to last post on this thread?  He seems like somebody I'd get along with...due to his reality embracing words.   

Offline Eddie

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Re: Religionís smart-people problem: The shaky foundations of absolute faith
« Reply #12 on: January 07, 2015, 07:24:36 PM »
He said:

 I'm not an atheist, I'm an earthiest.

 he!
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline luciddreams

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Re: Religionís smart-people problem: The shaky foundations of absolute faith
« Reply #13 on: January 07, 2015, 07:26:29 PM »
He said:

 I'm not an atheist, I'm an earthiest.

 he!

Fuckin' A Eddie...I'm an earthiest to!!!


Offline Eddie

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Re: Religionís smart-people problem: The shaky foundations of absolute faith
« Reply #14 on: January 07, 2015, 07:30:46 PM »
So how did Ed not mean whatever I said with my last second to last post on this thread?

What?

You mean about California? I haven't really read that quote in its proper context, so I'm not completely sure. But I know he hated the encroachment of "civilization" on the desert southwest, especially he hated Glen Canyon Dam. He generally wanted the wilderness to stay wild. I think he didn't really like people all that much, to tell you the truth. But he was himself quite a character. Married several times. Had affairs. Then lost the last one to cancer or some illness, and never got over her completely.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

 

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