A question came up in the comments section of this video that I think is a good one for the T|A community to discuss. For myself, I'm not sure what to think about it yet and have resigned myself to ponder it some more. But I would love to get feedback from the smart and witty people that make up the T|A community.


The question?


Is it defensible for an atheist to say that religious beliefs are not delusions?


It stems from Shine saying that right wing atheist S.E. Cupp (if you haven't heard of Cupp before, you are in for a treat) not wanting to admit to Bill Maher that religious people are delusional.  Shine says that "she cannot logically claim to be an atheist if she does not think that religious beliefs are delusions. If she does not think that religious beliefs are delusions, I think that she is necessarily inferring that these assertions are justified. She may say, "I don't believe in God," but she also says that she does not think that people who do believe in God are delusional. A delusion is a false belief. Because Cupp will not identify religious beliefs as delusions, she is then saying that those beliefs are not false".


Shine makes a pretty good point.  What do you folks think?

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If what we believe in is not true, it is worth nothing.

Perfect! This is exactly what I have been trying to hit at throughout my rambling paragraphs, haha. :)
"If what we believe in is not true, it is worth nothing."

I wouldn't say that.. Truth is a relative term... Everything we currently know is incomplete and therefore not True in a technical sense. The universe that Newton lived and worked in wasn't worthless. It was useful for most practical purposes..even if it wasn't absolute truth.

Einsteins universe is also incomplete and therefore UNTRUE in the absolute sense but I wouldn't say it is worth nothing.

Religious beliefs may be misguided and non-reflective of the ultimate truth, but they may not be ABSOLUTELY worthless. Something in them might be worth further inspection. They may not be useful for the reasons THEY believe they are...but for something else entirely. Its just too easy to completely dismiss something without looking at the underlying basis for its existence.
Furthermore, Religious beliefs, like Newtonian physics, were quite useful in the development early civilizations. They played an obvious and important role in the evolution of human societies, regardless of their relation to objective truth.

It is hard to imagine that the Greek Pantheon was perhaps the best theory of cosmology in the world at one time. It's imperfection seems so obvious to us now. What is often not so obvious are the holes in our own understanding (although it may be obvious to others).
Furthermore, Religious beliefs, like Newtonian physics, were quite useful in the development early civilizations. They played an obvious and important role in the evolution of human societies, regardless of their relation to objective truth.

How? Religion has suppressed reason from the outset of civilization; I see nothing positive in an institution which deliberately capitalizes upon the fear and ignorance of a population. Maybe I am just quibbling over the term "useful." Certainly, religions are useful at controlling people; perhaps this control could be argued as necessary in the development of a complex society. But I find it rather depressing to suggest that humanity is incapable of existing in cohesive social units without being mentally oppressed by the dogma of belief.

It is hard to imagine that the Greek Pantheon was perhaps the best theory of cosmology in the world at one time. It's imperfection seems so obvious to us now. What is often not so obvious are the holes in our own understanding (although it may be obvious to others).

But even in ancient Greece, the holes in the pervasive religious theories were obvious to some ancient contemporary thinkers. Although Plato deviated from the traditional Greek Pantheon, I still think that his emphasis on immaterial universal Forms operates in a religious vein; the idea that the ultimate reality is somehow unknowable to our senses is at the core of religion's emphasis upon ignorance. Democritus instead proposed atomic theory which stated that all reality was reducible to minute, indivisible physical units. Plato was apparently so incensed by the atomists that he ordered all of their books to be burnt; this suppression of contradictory ideas also reeks of religious ire. I see it as no accident that Plato remains a household name after two millennia while Democritus has largely been lost to the annals of obscure history.


Of course, Democritus founded his atomic theory purely as an idea rather than upon solid evidence as the ancient Greeks lacked the means to observe the world at the atomic level. However, the key point is that proponents of Plato's unknowable immaterialism were threatened by the proposition of a materialistic theory which could be potentially knowable.

Religion has always relied upon the unknowable for sustenance. Therefore, religion will always seek to preserve the general ignorance of a population. There is no benefit to be derived from ignorance, save for the preservation of religion itself.
Okay, that video did not really get at the entirety of what I wanted to cite from episode 7 of Cosmos. Here are two sequential clips which better elaborate upon what I was trying to convey:


I know of a great reason for religion! Population Control!!!
In all actuality, back when I was in high school, I was almost SURE that the major reason religion was ever invented was because some genius (Tesla-style super-genius, not run-of-the-mill Einstein genius) figured out that eventually, we'd have a problem with over-crowding. In order to keep the population down to a level where everyone could live comfortably, he invented religion. Considering all the killing done in the bible, and the instructions to kill anyone not in the religion, it IS a feasible idea. Later on, of course, someone figured out that they could squeeze a few bucks outta this, and thus, the birth of the modern church!!!

By the way, if you don't know of Nikola Tesla, I suggest you learn. The man was super-humanly incredible:
http://www.badassoftheweek.com/tesla.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaxD_4n3KMg
Like many great geniuses Nickoli Tesla was incredibly intelligent, and mad as a hatter!
This reminds me of Isaac Asimov's The Relativity of Wrong. The pertinent thesis in regards to the inadequacies of both Newton and Einstein: "Theories are not so much wrong as incomplete." I think that there is a huge difference between "untrue" and "incomplete;" the former contradicts reality whereas the latter merely fails to adequately describe reality. I do not think that the incomplete nature of knowledge serves to degrade the truth in that knowledge.

Religious beliefs may be misguided and non-reflective of the ultimate truth, but they may not be ABSOLUTELY worthless. Something in them might be worth further inspection.


Religious beliefs are misguided because of the fundamental structure of religion itself which glorifies ignorance. Once you engage in further inspection, you are deviating from the concept of religion itself and entering the realm of science. Religion is fundamentally opposed to inspection as this is the first step in the transition from ignorance to knowledge.
It all depends on which definition of delusional you're using. If you're using the most basic definition--belief in something that is demonstrably false--then the charge is a legitimate one. But frankly, that's not how most people use the word. Most people take it more seriously, and use (or think they're using) the psychiatric term, which involves a pathological belief, and is often associated with mental illness, and I'd say that, used in that way, delusional isn't quite fair.

We're also talking about the difference between connotation and denotation. Delusion may be denotatively correct, but because the context may be in question, it might not be connotatively correct. If, when people hear a person is delusional, they think "that person is hearing voices" or "that person thinks the CIA is out to get them," then the meaning isn't being accurately communicated when you say "someone who believes the talking snake caused all the problems in the world is delusional."
I agree that Cupp is likely shying away from the negative connotation associated with the word "delusional." However, in this video posted recently by Gaytor, the host pushes Cupp in regards to her opinion about George Bush claiming to have followed God's directions during his presidency. Cupp gushes about how wonderful this is that Bush "answered to something higher than himself," prompting the host to continually point out that she herself must think that these "directions" from God are delusions as she herself claims to not believe in God's existence. Instead, Cupp continues to defend Bush's directions from a God she claims is nonexistent; she never adequately reconciles the contradiction to my satisfaction.

But back to the point about the term "delusional," I do not think that she can use any negative misinterpretation of the word to justify her vehement opposition to its use. In reality, when the religious masses claim to hear the voice of God, are they really any different than an individual schizophrenic who experiences vivid hallucinations? Although there are different degrees of delusions, a false belief is still a delusion regardless of how mild it is or how many people may share it.
I completely agree with Shine and I, when I saw that particular episode of Real Time, went on a similar rant about Cupp with my boyfriend. As far as I can tell, Cupp is afraid of the connotation that "delusion" carries. If she is truly an Atheist, then she is a coward. Something tells me that Cupp is more concerned with selling books and making money than being honest with herself or inciting rational discussion.
I think, at the very least, that Cupp is wallowing in some pretty severe cognitive dissonance. Of course, I'm extremely inclined to think that her entire charade is nothing more than a cute hook to sell books and get air time on FoxNews.

Regardless of the likely disingenuity of her position, I guess that the crux of my issue is whether her saying that someone else's belief is not false would be the same as her saying that the belief is true. Does this make her an indirect theist? Is such a concept even valid?

Also, I'm bothered by how she continually closes her declarations of atheism with the word "yet," as in, "I don't believe in God--yet." She is constantly reminding her audience that she is "open to conversion" and of how she "envies the faithful." I also see these sentiments to be indirectly acknowledging the veracity of God. Although the general atheistic stance is that we have not been convinced of a deity's existence, I think that Cupp is actively looking to be convinced. By actively looking to be convinced, I think that she is presupposing that something exists of which to be convinced. Therefore, I think that she is ultimately presupposing the existence of god.

I see Cupp's quest for faith as an utterly predictable prologue to her inevitably forthcoming "How I found Jesus" book, and fundamentally antithetical to the entire position of atheism.

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