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Comment by Brian Daurelle on August 4, 2012 at 6:54pm

They're both wrong? Really? Why should they be? I certainly don't want a president who thinks the end of days are upon us, and that we should get the Jews to Israel in a hurry to hasten the apocalypse.  More realistically, I don't want a president who believes that humans were given domain of the earth by God and thus can do what they want with it, or that climate change is unlikely because Who Are We To Trifle With What God Hath Wrought, or that global warming is a welcome sign of the second coming.  Similarly, though less urgently, I wouldn't want an accountant who belongs to an anti-materialist cult, or who

Religious discrimination laws were NOT put in place to give the religous a free pass in terms of unjustified belief, but rather to combat prejudice between majority and minority religious groups, with the tacit assumption that their doctrinal differences would have no bearing on their job performance.  Any law which prohibited people from hiring or firing based on a rational-interest reason, i.e. their qualifications, would be immeadiately decried as fascism.  Certainly, what a politician believes has some bearing on his qualifications to govern, right? What if, forty years after Reagan and the radical free-market school of economic thought had wreaked financial havoc on this country, and a decade after deregulation of investment banking had led to a huge financial crisis, we had a candidate for president who advocated for both of those policies as a means to increase economic growth and stability?  Surely we'd be justified in saying that he doesn't have a clue what he's talking about (or, perhaps, he has some sort of vested interest in making people believe these things).  Why should unfounded beliefs concerning the origin of the universe and our place in it be given special exemption from the normal standards of scrutiny? 

Comment by Jhayes on March 14, 2013 at 12:50am

I too am at odds about whether these are wrong. Anti-discrimination laws are there to protect people from things they cannot really change about themselves (without some extreme measures--Michael Jackson managed to change many of these traits): color, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, height, weight, nose length, disabilities, etc. Should we really consider the religious to be born as such and unable, even with the best education, to escape such narrow thought? Here's something most people don't know: it is NOT against the law to discriminate based on political beliefs. So, if you can refuse to hire someone based on their belief that pro-life republicans should be our leaders, why can't you refuse to hire someone based on their belief that there is god controlling everything that is pro-life?

Comment by Andrew on March 14, 2013 at 8:26pm

i'd say religion is something you can't choose. If I could choose my religion, it would be an easy choice: Christian. I wouldn't have to worry about being discriminated against, and my religious practice would be much easier: simply follow 10 laws, and you don't ever have to think critically about what is right and wrong (the decisions have already been made by God). Bonus points if I get to be Catholic, since it gives me a leader to blindly follow any time a difficult interpretation of the 10 commandments has to be made.

But I can't choose my religion. I can choose to pretend to be Christian, both to myself and others, but to be true to myself, I must admit/realize that I am an atheist/agnostic. Anything else would be a lie.

Comment by Jhayes on March 14, 2013 at 10:18pm

Andrew, I'll take the debate bate. You end your argument with "anything else would be a lie." I can't disagree. To realize the enormous evidence of science that is often the foundation of an atheist's views and then try to disavow it is next to impossible. It would be like a 4 year old, who has just figured out the logic behind simple math to change her mind and try to prove that 2 and 2 are not 4, despite having acquired the logic skills to know better. By this analogy you, Andrew,  cannot choose religion, but you do not choose atheism either. You observe and know 2+2. There is no argument. But the religious do, in a sense, choose religion. How could it not take some amount of choice (or brainwashing? chosen by parents/society?) to insist that 2 plus 2 are not 4, while all evidence all around you indicates that it logically is? To understand how knowledge is acquired, and yet remain religious requires, according to the religious themselves, a leap of faith. This is a choice to believe beyond all that we can see and observe. But even if all I have said thus far is wrong, here's the big question: If believing one religion over another is not choice, then do you also believe extreme politically right or left-leaning people have no choice in how they perceive their worlds? Or is it maybe possible to change political views by gaining knowledge? Is it possible for a right-leaning capital punishment supporter to change their mind based on new information on how many innocent people are erroneously put to death and join the left-leaning anti-capital-punishment folks? If so, is it not possible for religious people to convert, or even abandon their churches based on practices? I argue that science must be taught, and religion must be ingrained. Neither are choices, statistics show that modern education, even in religious societies, produces analytic thinkers who tend to abandon religious doctrine. I argue this in hopes that the world will place more importance on strong education and pay a little less attention to who the next male, conservative, delusional old guy is going to be elected pope in order to rule over 1 billion people with threats of hell and eternal damnation. At least you and I know better! 

Comment by Andrew on March 17, 2013 at 4:54pm

Jhayes, a couple of points of misunderstanding:
I consider atheism to be a religion, so when I say you can't choose your religion, that automatically applies to atheism as well. 
And more generally, I was talking about religious beliefs that transcend empirical tests and evidence that we do/can have. E.g. whether or not "God" exists. (There is no evidence against God's existense, only evidence in favor of other explanations for phenomena whose un-explainability resulted in the genesis of "God"). God's existence is an unfalsifiable conjecture, and it ultimately comes down to whether or not a person believes that he/it exists. And it is this belief that I am saying is not a choice. You seem to have been talking about religiously-based science-denial, like the denial of evolution or the heliocentric model of the universe or paleontology. 

Onto your question: "If believing one religion over another is not choice, then do you also believe extreme politically right or left-leaning people have no choice?" I'd like to note that this actually has nothing to do with the content of the image above; a candidate's religion should not be asked because it is (hopefully) irrelevant. It has nothing to do with whether or not it's a choice and everything to do with the relevance to the job. If I were "applying" to be a politician my political beliefs would be extremely relevant, whereas if I were applying to be a priest my religious beliefs would instead be extremely relevant.

As far as choosing political beliefs, I would say that political beliefs are a grey zone in that it really depends on what you're talking about. As a matter of fact, today I'd call myself "liberal" whereas 5 years ago I'd have said "conservative," so there's definitely the ability to change your beliefs. But then again, statistically, people follow the beliefs of their parents very strongly. So idk. But it's irrelevant anyway, as discussed above.

Comment by Jhayes on March 18, 2013 at 12:41am

Andrew. I like your responses. And while I dislike the first the most, it intrigues me the most so I'll branch to it. My father (a self-proclaimed agnostic) taught me that to be atheist was to be religious. It took me until my late 30s to determine that this made no logical sense, and here's why.

To place atheism under the category of religion is similar to placing creationism under the category of science. In finding a place in science, creationism has to focus on the idea that evolution is "theory". Similarly, making atheism a religion focuses securely on the word "believe." But theorizing does not make a scientist any more than believing something makes a theist. The process that leads to the belief that there is no god is completely different than that which leads to the belief in god.

Modern-day atheism is based on sound science; the observation of our world, the abundant evidence that fills our museums of natural history and peer-reviewed scientific  journals everywhere. A religion requires belief beyond all the evidencen (called faith). Steven Colbert probably wasn't the first to make fun of agnostics by defining them as atheists without balls. Anyone can be agnostic. My cat is agnostic. To be certain that the Earth is not flat, that the sun does not rotate around the Earth, that life evolves and that there is a boson higgs particle requires some comprehension of enormous amounts of knowledge acquired, recorded, reviewed, scrutinized, and re-acquired. So does a sound belief that god does not exist. Yet believing one does requires none of this. Weigh the evidence. I do not believe in god for the same reason that I do not believe someone who tells me there is a teapot orbiting the sun somewhere between here and there. There is no evidence. Hearsay at best.  

I am an atheist. I believe there is no god based on all of the knowledge I have been able to acquire in my lifetime (I'm in my 40s). I am convinced that I am correct, but allow myself to be proven wrong if scientific observation shows me god or evidence that proves his existence. I am no more convinced that I am correct than a believer in god is. But my conviction is based on science and observation, not faith and religion. I know I am not -- and I argue that atheism is not -- religious.

I question whether you are, and if you are, then our misunderstanding goes beyond whether atheism is a religion to the next question: what, then, do you define religion as? 

Comment by Andrew on March 18, 2013 at 10:15pm

"The process that leads to the belief that there is no god is completely different than that which leads to the belief in god." This is a promising idea, but I don't think it separates atheism from religion. I read this quote as being able to separate atheism from theism. The fact that the two conclusions are arrived at via different processes implies that they should go into separate categories, but unlike you, I am considering those categories to be atheism and theism. But this one's kind of a dead end in the way of discussion/debate, since it's almost just getting down to definitions (you are saying religion=theism, if I understand correctly), so I'll move on.

"Modern-day atheism is based on sound science" Ok, this is just wrong. Science is based on sound science. Atheism is based on the belief that there is no god. "...evidence that fills our museums of natural history and peer-reviewed scientific  journals" Evidence of what? That gods don't exist? Even in principle, such evidence could not exist; a theist could always just say, "but God is just making it appear that he does not exist" or something, which of course cannot be disproven. The idea of "God" is in many cases unfalsifiable (which is one reason it is not even a valid scientific hypothesis, much less a theory). Of course, it really depends on what god you're talking about. Even people who claim to be of the same religion often have different ideas about what their god actually does/is. I know some Christians who, upon describing their religion, seem more like pantheists than anything else. They just get lured into the label "Christian" because of the beautiful metaphorical language. 

"My cat is agnostic" Don't be so sure. Psychologist B. F. Skinner did some experiments demonstrating that pigeons can develop superstitious tendencies... there's actually a pretty amusing video of his pigeons spinning around in hopes that it will cause food to appear. It mostly had to do with classical conditioning, but it's not far off from what I've seen in many religious people. My sister claims, "I think we're programmed by God to tell when someone's about to die, because whenever someone dies I always remember having thought of them the day before." Classical confirmation bias and/or classical conditioning. Our brains, and those of animals, have evolved to recognize patterns and act on them, even when we don't understand them. Because in many cases, it just works.


Comment by Andrew on March 18, 2013 at 10:16pm


"I do not believe in god for the same reason that I do not believe someone who tells me there is a teapot orbiting the sun somewhere between here and there. There is no evidence." From this I can tell that you are either using atheism ("there is no god") as a default belief (or, put more scientifically, a Null Hypothesis), or that you are applying Occam's Razor. In the first case, you have made your leap of faith in choosing your null hypothesis. Any scientist/statistician can tell you that the philosophy behind choosing a null hypothesis is a kinda shaky one: the null hypothesis is simply the one that you already assume. A statistical test with very little data (like trying to discern God's existence) will have opposite results depending on which hypothesis you consider to be your Null and which you consider to be your Alternate. Anyway like I said before, any hypothesis of God's existence cannot even be valid since it's not falsifiable, so the scientific/statistical test I'm talking about is bunk anyway (this fact has led me to agnosticism ("God's existence cannot be tested, even in principle," give or take)). 
In the case that you are applying Occam's Razor, you would be comparing two models of the universe, and you would have to demonstrate that a no-god model of the universe would be simpler and more descriptive than a there-is-a-god model of the universe. In that case, I'd agree with you, but then again you wouldn't really be discovering anything about objective truth, only picking one model of the universe over the other. I.e. there is no implication that your model is actually objectively correct; only that it is more useful and possibly "more likely" (whatever that means) to be correct.

"my conviction is based on science and observation" Science/observation have not proven God's nonexistence; they have only failed to prove his existence. Of course, as before, it depends what "God" you're talking about. If your idea of God includes dogmas implying science is wrong, then yes, scientific knowledge certainly counts as evidence against God's existence. But it's not a proof; it's only evidence. Just as an experiment with p<0.0001 still has a possibility of being wrong, so does our body of scientific evidence. Only (correctly done) mathematical proofs have zero possibility of being wrong. 


Comment by Andrew on March 18, 2013 at 10:17pm


"what, then, do you define religion as?" Ah, ok, here is the heart of the discussion then. I define a person's religion as the set of their religious beliefs, and I define religious beliefs as any beliefs someone assumes to be true with insufficient evidence, for whatever reason. This reason is sometimes "Well, if I don't assume anything, I can't prove anything, so I'll just assume this one thing." This is how we get the foundations of mathematics, for instance. All of math relies on a few critical axioms, and the assumption that these axioms are true are in a way a religious belief. They are based on how the human mind perceives certain areas of math, and their truth lies only in that perception. They cannot be proven, even in principle. (I apologize for the mathy example; I'm a math geek so I think about these things.) Likewise, I assume there is no god. For me, this is merely the way my mind perceives the universe. Because it is the way I picture the universe a priori, it is my "null hypothesis" and in order to reject it I would need sufficient evidence (that God exists). But the lack of such evidence does not support the null hypothesis, it merely fails to reject it. This is like how statisticians never say "the data confirms the null hypothesis," but rather, "the data fails to reject the null hypothesis." Anyway, that's essentially why I consider my atheism to be a religion: because it ultimately is only supported by my a priori model of the universe. Now, where this a priori model comes from is a different question, and certainly another interesting one to think about, since many people have very different a priori models in their heads.

Comment by Anthony Dodd on April 14, 2013 at 9:03am

Declaring atheism as a religion is akin to declaring abstinence a sexual position, or baldness as a hair color.  Try again.

I say my imaginary friend "Fred" is the creator of the universe.  Prove he isn't.

Case closed.


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