Sunday, December 23, 2007

Imagine: No Religion

My recent criticisms of the sign, "Imagine: No Religion" has raised the question of whether or not I think humanity would be better off without religion.

If you are going to ask me if I think we would be better off if there was no religion, I will ask in return, "Compared to what?"

I can easily imagine a world without religion. It is a world in which no people exist.

Is this a better world?

I would say not.

I can imagine a lot of other possible worlds in which there is no religion - no beliefs about Gods, or no belief that a God exists - that I would not count as good as the existing world.

So, my answer to the question, "Would be be better off without religion" is "It depends. What's the alternative?"

So, does that mean that we are better off with religion? Am I somebody who holds that religion is a good thing - that we need a little religion in our lives?

No.

Religion is a set of false beliefs. People seek to fulfill their desires, and act so as to fulfill their desires given their beliefs. False beliefs lead people astray - preventing them from realizing those states that actually fulfill their desires.

I have compared a religious life to a life inside an experience machine. The person is living a lie, and many of his imagined accomplishments are fake. Think of a person in an asylum who is convinced that he has personally cured cancer. He may be quite happy - quite pleased with what he had done. However, he had not cured cancer, so his happiness counts for little.

He is living a lie - just like the people who think that they have spent their lives serving God or promoting what some primitive tribesmen falsely called 'good' 2000 years of more ago. The "good" that they pursue does not exist - these are false goods mistakenly said to be important by primitive cultures that did not know any better.

So, am I in favor of "no religion" or against it?

One of the arguments that I have made is that, on a social level, it is better to try to unite the best 80% of humanity against the worst 20%. Doing this in the other direction will guarantee that the best 20% will lose, and the worst 80% gets to control the course of the human race.

If we were to institute such a project, this would mean (1) that a substantial majority of the best 80% will believe in God, and (2) some of the worst 20% will not. One cannot simply take a person, discover that the person does or does not believe that a God exists, and know whether to categorize him as an ally or an enemy. We need to know more about the person than that.

This does not imply that it is wrong to criticize religion. The best 80% are well aware of the fact that they may be mistaken, and being challenged in one's beliefs is a useful way to helping to make sure that one is not pursuing a course that is better off not pursued. On the other hand, the worst 20% will be disposed to be upset about having their beliefs challenged - who will want to censor or otherwise silence their critics.

If we keep fighting the worst 20%, and if we keep winning, I suspect that, in the long run, we will eliminate religion. This, however, is a prediction, not a project.

Every religious person on the planet holds beliefs that I take to be false. At the same time, so does every atheist. I can honestly say, of every person on the planet, that he holds at least one proposition to be true that I hold to be false, or holds one proposition to be false that I hold to be true. If the fact that somebody holds a false belief is enough for me to condemn him and to refuse to form an alliance with him to better humanity, then I must condemn everybody.

Including myself . . . because I will guarantee that I hold at least one proposition to be false that is in fact true, and at least one proposition to be true that is in fact false.

And I hold that false belief because I unquestioningly picked it up from my parents and my culture.

I just don’t know which of my beliefs this is.

You, reader . . . yes, I’m talking to you . . . you hold at least one proposition to be true that I hold to be false. We do not agree on everything. Does this fact, and this fact alone, imply that we must be enemies? Can’t we put those differences aside for a while and work together – join forces on a project to eliminate what we both agree to be some of the worst problems that face humanity?

That point of difference might be that you believe that T-Rex was a predator while I think that T-Rex was a scavenger. That point of disagreement might be that you think that happiness is the sole end of all human action, while I hold that human brains hold a number of desires like it holds a number of beliefs and each desire identifies a separate end to human action. That difference might be that you hold that you hold that at least one God exists and I hold that it is not the case that at least one God exists.

People who cannot allow and accept that there are and will always be points of disagreement between them and those they call friends and with whom they make alliances are going to live lives without friends and allies.

Another question that I was asked by a member of the studio audience is this one:

If the population of the United States was 90% atheist and/or anti religious and only 10% Christian, do you think the chances of a Christian being elected President would be very good?

Well, this is a trick question. I think that atheists carry no special immunity against bigotry. Because of this bigotry it may well be the case that a Christian could never be elected in such a society. However, I would object to such a standard.

I will say this with absolute certainty – that every candidate that runs for public office holds at least one proposition to be true that I hold to be false. The atheist and the theist candidate running for office will both have beliefs that I do not share. I obviously hold that the theist’s beliefs about the existence of a god are not true. The atheist will also have beliefs that I will hold to be not true.

Only the most irrational bigot would conclude that the mere fact that one is a theist is enough of a reason to vote against him – regardless of what the other differences might be.

However, there are a lot of different types of Christians. A Christian who believes that we must trigger the Rapture by declaring war on the infidels, who stands before the podium and argues that the Bible demands an immediate attack on the forces of Islam with all of the weapons at our disposal, will not get my vote.

I am not one who holds that a minority view has a right to be represented – that we should ignore the religious beliefs of candidates and focus only on the non-religious matters. Where religious beliefs support policies that bring death and destruction, we should very much consider those beliefs in deciding who to vote for. I will insist on taking a person’s religious views into consideration when deciding who to vote for.

Yet, I consider it absurd to suggest that the only thing worth looking at – or even the first and most important thing to look at – is whether a candidate, friend, or ally believes that there is a god.

6 comments:

tina said...

I am so undecided on who to vote for. My first time voting.

Scott Simmons said...

"Including myself . . . because I will guarantee that I hold at least one proposition to be false that is in fact true, and at least one proposition to be true that is in fact false."

I think this might be one:

"The best 80% are well aware of the fact that they may be mistaken, and being challenged in one's beliefs is a useful way to helping to make sure that one is not pursuing a course that is better off not pursued."

I have a sinking feeling that this is wildly optimistic ...

Anonymous said...

"Religion is a set of false beliefs."

Look up "religion" on dictionary.com and you won't find this particular definition, because it is not an accepted definition for the word. The word that should be used in this sense is "delusion". A delusion is a false belief by definition, while "religion" is not. It would be acceptable to say "All religions are delusions (as a premise or conclusion)" without immediately dooming the argument, but as it is, any argument based on the statement in question was doomed from the outset.

Redefining words at whim makes communication impossible, and in an argument, using an incorrect word to replace another word (even unintentionally) is called "equivocation", and is a fallacy.

"People seek to fulfill their desires, and act so as to fulfill their desires given their beliefs. False beliefs lead people astray - preventing them from realizing those states that actually fulfill their desires."

The first statement is true, but there are several problems with the second. I can demonstrate that false beliefs do not necessarily lead to not fulfilling one's desires.

If I wanted something that costs $90 and I paid for it with a counterfeit $100 bill (without knowing it was counterfeit), and the cashier did not check for authenticity, I would have arrived at my desired state using false beliefs. One counterexample is enough to show that a statement is not necessarily true (in the logical sense).

Also, the author has decided that he is the source of all words, and can magically exchange the terms "religion" and "false beliefs", so I will substitute the word "religion" for "false beliefs" in the second statement and use it as a premise in an argument.

1) A person desires to adhere to his religion.

2) Religions lead people astray - preventing them from realizing those states that actually fulfill their desires.

3) Sorry, I can't come up with a linguistically or logically valid conclusion because I have equivocated.

"I have compared a religious life to a life inside an experience machine. The person is living a lie, and many of his imagined accomplishments are fake. Think of a person in an asylum who is convinced that he has personally cured cancer. He may be quite happy - quite pleased with what he had done. However, he had not cured cancer, so his happiness counts for little."

This is a horrible argument from analogy. I'll make a better one. A devout Christian (or Muslim, or Jew)(who by definition holds false beliefs, because a religion is a set of false beliefs) believes that God has given him a strong intellect and shaped his life in order to enable him to search for a cure for cancer. He goes to medical school and finds an actual cure for cancer. He praises God because he was able to do so and gives all the credit to God. He is truly grateful to serve God and humanity in this way. Too bad for him, because his happiness is not real.

Anonymous said...

I must correct myself, I said the last quotation was an argument from analogy when it is simply an analogy. Its horribleness still holds, however, as my analogy easily demonstrates.

It seems like the author has never examined in-depth and from a non-hostile perspective the teaching of any actual religion, because most people don't act like they are supposed to according to their own religions. Therefore, their behavior cannot be used to safely infer anything about whether religion is good or bad, only that they themselves do not adhere to their own religion's teachings. It is almost certain that the same idiots who give religious people a bad name would remain idiots if they did not have religion.

On a related note, the author has stated elsewhere, "atheism implies no moral code". I believe also that it can safely be said "atheism does not imply that its adherents are more intelligent than theists" and conversely that "theism does not imply that its adherents are idiots."

martino said...

Hi Anonymous

@Alonzo:"Religion is a set of false beliefs."

@Anon:"Look up "religion" on dictionary.com and you won't find this particular definition,"

I do not think you are looking at this charitably. It was obviously not IMHO intended as a definition, indeed it makes no sense as a definition, it was a description in terms of beliefs. Can a religion also contain true beliefs, yes (and I am sure they all do), but, arguably, not in virtue of being a religion. It is the false beliefs contained in any religion (whatever they are) that can cause problems. What problems?

@Alonzo:"People seek to fulfill their desires, and act so as to fulfill their desires given their beliefs. False beliefs lead people astray - preventing them from realizing those states that actually fulfill their desires."

@Anon:"The first statement is true, but there are several problems with the second. I can demonstrate that false beliefs do not necessarily lead to not fulfilling one's desires."(my emphasis)

Alonzo did not claim this and I read his argument, charitably, as:
"False beliefs can lead people astray - can preventing them from realizing those states that actually fulfil their desires."

Of course one can reason from false beliefs to true conclusions (notice the 'can'). If a premise of an argument is false, the conclusion may or may not be true, but the argument fails in that it cannot show this one way or another.

@Anon:"One counterexample is enough to show that a statement is not necessarily true (in the logical sense)."
This fails since your argument is based on an uncharitable interpretation of Alonzo's statements and a charitable one is available, as I have shown, and quite unproblemtical

You next point is a straw man as it trades off your previous mis-interpretations. Moving on.

@Alonzo:"I have compared a religious life to a life inside an experience machine. The person is living a lie, and many of his imagined accomplishments are fake. Think of a person in an asylum who is convinced that he has personally cured cancer. He may be quite happy - quite pleased with what he had done. However, he had not cured cancer, so his happiness counts for little."

@Anon:"A devout Christian (or Muslim, or Jew)(who by definition holds false beliefs, because a religion is a set of false beliefs) believes that God has given him a strong intellect and shaped his life in order to enable him to search for a cure for cancer. He goes to medical school and finds an actual cure for cancer. He praises God because he was able to do so and gives all the credit to God. He is truly grateful to serve God and humanity in this way. Too bad for him, because his happiness is not real."

Finally a far more interesting point.

However, the reason for the experience machine thought experiment is to show that that one can be satisfied, based on the false belief that a desire fulfilled, when it is, in fact, thwarted. Similarly one can be frustrated, based on a false belief that a desire is thwarted, when it is, in fact, fulfilled.

The question is not as to whether the religious discoverer of cancer's happiness (satisfaction) is real, but rather whether the happiness is based on fact or fiction. To the degree it is based on the belief that he has fulfilled some desire of god (such as that god gave him the ability and wanted him to succeeded etc.) his real happiness is based on a fiction, since that state of affairs has not been fulfilled.

The question is do you want to live in a world where people are happy under false pretences? And what is the cost of those false pretences on others? Religion does not necessarily impose such costs, but some of it's (false) beliefs can used this way.

oo said...

Some people think that all people who subscribe a spiritual belief system are religious and follow a "religion." This premise is totally false and shows a clear lack understanding
in recognizing what religion is. Let me expand on that.

Religion is a dead and rotten thing
that depends on ritual, form and blind belief among other things. People who follow religion have generally allowed someone to tell them how and what to think. They either don't study the materials related to their religion or they don't understand what they are reading and are willing to be intellectually lazy about it.

Religious people find happiness in chants, rituals, rites, in monotone prayers, certain religious books that support their particular belief system, lifeless religion that offers no genuine hope even though some offer ideas
about what they believe lies beyond the grave, doing good deeds, paying
whatever offerings that they believe please god, dressing a certain way when they attend their meetings, interaction with like-minded believers that is superficial and worldly, and more that is offensive to God and should
be to anyone seeking truth.

Religion reeks of self-righteous bigotry, cultic mindsets, herd mentality, and narrow-mindedness that excludes some or includes too many unbelievers. In some cases religion is deadly and believes that non-believers should be killed
or imprisoned or persecuted. In other groups there is a very passive nature in believers and they would never do anything that might offend anyone because they believe that is the way to peace for everyone. The problem with that is that not all people religious or irreligious care what they think and have no problem mocking or torturing them because they are the people who fall for everything and stand for nothing.

Then, there is a breath of fresh air that has come into the world that despises religion because of what it does to others and how it throws a bad light on God and his desire to help people know and love him. This breath of fresh air
came into being sd a child in a manger in Bethlehem of Judea. This breath of fresh air has since been mocked by men in all
arenas of life because of those who
preceded him and many who still live today and misrepresent God by their religious lives that offend God and everyone who knows him and loves him.

The difference that seems to be so hard for unbelievers to accept is simple, and for those who believe themselves to be the intellectual elite it is impossible apart from a humbling that wakes them up to the reality that they are far less than they believe themselves to be.

That place of humbling comes at the
foot of the cross on Calvary where God came to earth and revealed his purpose for his creation through Jesus Christ's life, death and resurrection.

Religion was eclipsed by something that goes far beyond mere intellect
or deeds or ritual or the religious
things men depend on to get them by
in life. Religion was replaced by relationship. Now all men are able
to have a very loving and personal relationship with God and religion can only take a back seat and look on with wonder and awe!

A world without religion would be a better world indeed. A world without a relationship with God through Jesus Christ is a very sad world indeed. It is a world devoid
of any real hope and leaves all of us with no future that is worthy of
living for or looking forward to.

I would that all men were in my place to see what I have seen and experience the love of God that I have been privileged to have since knowing Christ as my Savior! In a world where Christ reigns there is hope and peace that people strive for in many ways and never find. I pray that you will find out for yourself before you are ushered out
into eternity without it. It would
be the greatest tragedy anyone can ever have to face.


In Christ's Service;


Rick Shaffer