Why Even Moderate Religion is Dangerous

Zaq
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Why Even Moderate Religion is Dangerous

Disclaimer:  This is more of an essay than a forum post, so my apologies if it's in the wrong place.  Anyway, I know I've seen similar ideas around before but I can't pinpoint where.  Here's an essay that I hope will give you ammunition in future depates.

 

Why Even Moderate Religion is Dangerous

By Zaq

 

The vast majority of people can agree that fundamentalist religion is dangerous.  It causes wars, murder, oppression, and all manner of atrocities.  But what's wrong with just a little bit of god?  Why is moderate religion so bad?  Better yet, what about pseudo-religions that don't have gods?  What's wrong with Unitarian Universalism?  Why can't I believe in karma or reincarnation?  Why do you attack my personal God?  How does any of this hurt anyone?

But the problem is more subtle than that, and it is too often hidden.  The biggest problem with fundamentalist religions are the beliefs.  There's a problem with what the fundamentalist believes, and how those beliefs hurt people.  So this is the focus, and people tend to miss the fact that there is really a second problem here, and this second problem is shared by even pseudo-religions.  In fact, the problem is actually independent of what people believe.  The problem is simply that they believe at all.

The problem is faith.

Now, we have to be careful here, because the word faith is thrown around a lot.  Except in the world of symbolic logic and mathematics, it's nearly impossible to ever prove something with 100% certainty.  The best we can do is show that something is probable.  This is how science works.  Science never proves anything 100%  It just demonstrates that its theories are probably true.  Now, if science doesn't give me 100% proof, why do I believe it?  Some people say it's because I have faith in science.  They are wrong.

Believing in something that is probably true does not require faith; it's just making the safe bet.  If science can demonstrate that the odds of me being able to fly after jumping off a skyscraper are 1 in a trillion at best, then I'd better not jump off that sky scraper.  This conclusion doesn't need faith, because it is backed by evidence.  I have evidence that what I believe is probably true and that's why I believe it.  Such belief is not faith.

Then what is faith?  Properly defined, faith is holding a belief despite no evidence or even despite evidence to the contrary.  At its best, faith says "I can't demonstrate that this is even probably true, but I'll believe it anyway."  At its worst, faith says "I can demonstrate that this is probably not true, but I'll believe it anyway."  Faith is reaching a conclusion that is NOT supported by evidence.  Faith is reaching a conclusion despite the fact that no evidence is given to support the conclusion's probable truth, much less its absolute truth.

So what's wrong with faith? There are really two problems, so I'll start with what I think is the easiest to understand.  As I noted earlier, there is a problem with certain fundamentalist beliefs.  The clear moral act is to call out such beliefs and let people know that they are problematic.  Yet any moderate person of faith will have difficulty accomplishing this moral act.  Here's why:

The fundamentalist believes something is moral, and this belief is based on faith.  The moderate believes that same something is immoral, yet this belief is also based on faith.  In order to defend the moderate position, which requires faith, the moderate is forced to make an unreasonable and thus weak attack on the fundamentalist's belief.  The moderate must assert that while faith can lead to knowledge of morality, the fundamentalist got the wrong "knowledge" despite using the moderate's own proposed methodology.  Because the fundamentalist and the moderate use the same method of deciding issues of morality, the moderate's attempts to discredit the fundamentalist are laughable at best.  They amount to "you're wrong because I believe that you are wrong."

Even worse is when the moderate refers to religious text to combat the fundamentalist.  Religious texts are not only often self-contradictory, they are open to much interpretation, just like any other literary work.  Claiming that some sacred text is the basis of morality will lead the moderate to once again make the ridiculous claim that the fundamentalist is reaching the wrong conclusions while following the right methodology.

To truly discredit the fundamentalist, one must attack the methodology of faith and of truth from scripture.  Only by demonstrating logical, rational, and evidence-backed arguments for a different moral system can one build a truly strong case against the fundamentalist.  But by supporting faith, the moderate supports the fundamentalist's methodology, and is thus unable to effectively attack the fundamentalist's conclusions.  Furthermore, when the non-believer attacks the faith methodology of the fundamentalist, the moderate will often come to the fundamentalist's defense, because he will recognize that his own methodology is under attack.  So not only do moderates fail to effectively argue against the fundamentalist, their support of faith actually undermines atheists' attempts to do the same.  By condemning attacks on the faith methodology, the moderate is condemning the most effective way to combat fundamentalist thinking.

The second problem with faith is that it inhibits our ability to gain knowledge.  This is most commonly seen in "<insert question here> isn't a scientific question" or similar claims.  It is important to note here what is generally understood but not detailed in this claim.  By "scientific", the claimant really means "scientific, mathematical, philosophical, or under the purview of any other reason/evidence/logic based methodology."  What is really being claimed here is "<insert question here> is a matter of faith."  That the only way to answer the question is by picking an answer and believing it.  This leads back to problem one, in that by making this claim the moderate must necessarily claim that the fundamentalist has used the correct method despite somehow reaching an incorrect result.  But the problem is even bigger, for faith does not actually allow for incorrect results.  Faith cannot determine that one answer is better than another, and thus all answers are equal.  By saying "<insert question here> is a matter of faith," the moderate is really saying that the question has no intellectually defensible answer.

This is a terrible epistemology.  The faith based system ultimately answers all questions with "we cannot know... so just pick one and believe it."  Faith gives us no knowledge, but it goes even further than that.  By asserting that we cannot know, faith tells us that there's no point in asking the question.  Not only does it fail to give us knowledge, it actually tells us that gaining knowledge is impossible.  It discourages other methodologies that may actually decide on a single answer, and may allow us to determine why that answer is better than the others.  Faith tells us to stop asking the question; to stop even thinking about the question.  It tells us that there's no hope for a definitive answer and so we might as well give up.  Faith does not give us an answer.  It merely stops us from asking the question.

Questions for Theists:
http://silverskeptic.blogspot.com/2011/03/consistent-standards.html

I'm a bit of a lurker. Every now and then I will come out of my cave with a flurry of activity. Then the Ph.D. program calls and I must fall back to the shadows.


Kavis
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Similar points have been

Similar points have been made a number of times, but this is the first time I've seen it posed quite like this.  Hamby and others  have excellent essays on this subject, but from what I've seen, they tend to run in the moderate-enabler vein.  I'd just like to add a couple comments:

What's The Harm? is a sobering reminder of the dangers that even moderately irrational thinking can pose.

I don't think faith really qualifies as an epistemology, terrible or not.  Its guesses don't lead to knowledge at all, explain anything, or reveal anything about the nature of knowledge. 

 

Religion is a virus.
Fight the infection.


Zaq
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Kavis

Kavis, thanks for pointing out other information on the subject.  I'll get tons of use out of the "What's the Harm" sight.

Also, so many people I know keep claiming that faith/belief is a valid epistemology that I figured I'd critique it as such.

 

I posted this same essay in a facebook note, and one of my friends (theist) is going the postmodernism rout of "well logic and evidence are just made up concepts anyway"   Oh well, I dealt with it in my philosophy of science class.  I suppose I can deal with it now.

Questions for Theists:
http://silverskeptic.blogspot.com/2011/03/consistent-standards.html

I'm a bit of a lurker. Every now and then I will come out of my cave with a flurry of activity. Then the Ph.D. program calls and I must fall back to the shadows.


Wonderist
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Nice essay. Concise, and

Nice essay. Concise, and accurate.

Zaq wrote:

I posted this same essay in a facebook note, and one of my friends (theist) is going the postmodernism rout of "well logic and evidence are just made up concepts anyway"   Oh well, I dealt with it in my philosophy of science class.  I suppose I can deal with it now.

I think the best response to pomotardism (I coined that word, BTW!  ) is to focus on prediction. Truth is the ability to make accurate and reliable predictions. Yes, science is made of concepts, but these concepts make predictions, and these predictions are accurate and reliable. Other concepts fail to make predictions, or when they make them they are not accurate or reliable.

It's really that simple. The great thing about this form of epistemology (which is a form of pragmatism) is that it really cannot be faked. You can either make accurate and reliable predictions, or you can't. And the more accurate and reliable the predictions are, the 'more true' the concept/theory is. Intuition alone tells us the Sun will rise tomorrow. Science and technology will tell you at what precise second the Sun will rise. When intuition fails us, as it often does, this difference becomes even more stark. Quantum theory and Relativity come to mind. They make totally counter-intuitive predictions. And yet these predictions are borne out time and again.

Let's see what kinds of predictions the pomotard can produce. "None" will be a close approximation.

Really, postmodernism has nothing going for it. It's a religion of its own, comforting those who lack the courage to face reality head-on. It is a form of terror; a dreadful fear of the Unknown. It is so afraid of the Unknown that it is unwilling to investigate and find any actual answers to any actual questions. Like the faith you describe, it attempts to discourage us from even asking questions. "Nothing can be known! Nothing at all! And I'm absolutely sure of that!"

The ability to predict the future, accurately and reliably, blows this pomo reality-denialism out of the water.

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kidkazoo (not verified)
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You can't just define what

You can't just define what faith means to everyone.  To me it doesn't assert we cannot know, it asserts that we cannot know everything.  My faith doesn't discourage any methodology to finding answers.  Maybe other people's faith tells them to stop asking questions but mine doesn't. Mine encourages questions.  It only tells me there's no hope for a definitive answer to every question, because every definitive answer we get just raises more questions.  Don't hijack my faith, alter it, and use it as a weapon against my point of view.


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Was my comment denied? If it

Was my comment denied? If it was can you explain why, so next time I know how to better word my posts?


A_Nony_Mouse
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Zaq wrote:Disclaimer:  This

Zaq wrote:

Disclaimer:  This is more of an essay than a forum post, so my apologies if it's in the wrong place.  Anyway, I know I've seen similar ideas around before but I can't pinpoint where.  Here's an essay that I hope will give you ammunition in future depates.

Why Even Moderate Religion is Dangerous

By Zaq

The vast majority of people can agree that fundamentalist religion is dangerous.  It causes wars, murder, oppression, and all manner of atrocities.  But what's wrong with just a little bit of god?  Why is moderate religion so bad?  Better yet, what about pseudo-religions that don't have gods?  What's wrong with Unitarian Universalism?  Why can't I believe in karma or reincarnation?  Why do you attack my personal God?  How does any of this hurt anyone?

...

Not half bad.

As background, the fundies started as the Christian Fundamentals movement in the first decade of the 20th c. It was a decade long effort to find the things they could all agree on. There isn't much. That is why it is expressed to simply and has so little to it. The few common things became the only things for them.

Jews stole the land. The owners want it back. That is all anyone needs to know about Israel. That is all there is to know about Israel.

www.ussliberty.org

www.giwersworld.org/made-in-alexandria/index.html

www.giwersworld.org/00_files/zion-hit-points.phtml


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UNderstanding this... what next?

I just finished putting up a blog/question regarding action as a response to these sentiments.  If you want , go to irreverencecafe.com and it'll redirect to it.  It's referring to, and hoping to react to, the ongoing faith based initiatives in Washington. It's not much but I don't want to retype it. ha. 

I've become so thoroughly frustrated with this ongoing debate over religion (not this post, referring to society at large) that I can't even stand to listen to apologists or 'masterdebaters' any more. 

I'm getting so tired of arguing about something as stupid, as unfounded, as dehumanizing and as divisive and harmful as religion.  I want to put effort in removing it from the public arena.  I want to see it gone from government, schools, all public institutions, services, etc....  everywhere.  I want atheists and non theists to stop treating religion like it's benign if only developmentally retarded.  It is an insidious and subversive force.

Apparently sixteen percent of America is non-theist (or identify themselves as non-religious...something like thatSmiling  How do we mobilize this population?

I'm sorry, I don't mean to go off from the point of your post.  I just got excited reading that another atheist/non-theist (lately I'm starting to prefer anti-theistSmiling  in the world doesn't see religion like a teddy bear, something harmless left over from a less mature and enlightened time.

Now....  what real action can be taken?


Zaq
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stuff

Re: Postmodernism.  Interestingly enough, by denouncing truth postmodernism actually backs itself straight into the first problem I've outlined.  It's almost like a pincer movement.  Arguing against problem 2 causes the theist to fall into problem 1 and vice-versa.  I like it.

 

Liam, I'm glad I could provide you with an exiting and invigorating read.  I know it gets tiring sometimes, so maybe we'll have to take shifts.  You slug it out in the philosophical arena on Tuesdays, I'll take Thursdays, and we'll alternate weekends 

Political activism is where its at, RRS, the SCA, what have you.  Like you said, there are plenty of atheists out there.  Our job is to reach them and give them the courage they need to stand up to religion.

We have to let them know that they are not alone, so we must be vocal.  We cannot hide, we cannot stay quiet.  We have to make our beliefs known and well-known, so that we may inspire those who have yet found the courage to speak out.  It took me a long time to finally stand by my beliefs, but I hope that what I've learned from the experience may help others who are facing the same dificulty.

Questions for Theists:
http://silverskeptic.blogspot.com/2011/03/consistent-standards.html

I'm a bit of a lurker. Every now and then I will come out of my cave with a flurry of activity. Then the Ph.D. program calls and I must fall back to the shadows.