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Compare opinions of world leading experts and influencers.

Should atheists directly challenge religious beliefs?

Atheists can be split into those who believe religious views are generally harmless, and those who wish to actively challenge religious beliefs. The latter group, sometimes referred to as militant atheists, often believe that harm stems from delusion, where religion is no exception.

Implications to Other Questions


Experts and Influencers

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Agree
Experts In Atheism


Richard Dawkins    Evolutionary Biologist, Writer, Atheism Activist
Agree
"What are you going to put in its place? How are you going to fill the need, or comfort the bereaved?" What patronising condescension! "You and I are too intelligent and well educated to need religion. But ordinary people, hoi polloi, Orwellian proles, Huxleian Deltas and Epsilons need religion." In any case, the universe doesn't owe us comfort, and the fact that a belief is comforting doesn't make it true.
12 May 2007    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Does God exist?
   Disagree
Is self-deception a fault?
   Agree

Sam Harris    Writer, Speaker, Atheism Activist
Agree
...let me make it clear that I do not consider religious moderates to be "mere enablers of fundamentalist intolerance." They are worse. My biggest criticism of religious moderation-and of your last essay-is that it represents precisely the sort of thinking that will prevent a fully reasonable and nondenominational spirituality from ever emerging in our world. ...imagine a world in which children are taught to investigate reality for themselves... [with] truly honest, fearless inquiry.
02 Feb 2007    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Would the world be better off without the Catholic Church?
   Agree

Experts In Philosophy


Ayn Rand    Philosopher, Novelist
Agree
Objectivism advocates reason as man’s sole means of knowledge, and therefore, for the reasons I have already given, it is atheist. It denies any supernatural dimension presented as a contradiction of nature, of existence. This applies not only to God, but also to every variant of the supernatural ever advocated or to be advocated. In other words, we accept reality, and that’s all.
01 Jan 1976    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Does God exist?
   Disagree
Is self-deception a fault?
   Agree

Austin Cline    Philosopher
Agree
...beliefs themselves do not merit automatic respect and deference. Humans certainly deserve some basic level of respect..., but beliefs aren't people. We should be polite and respectful towards the person, but we are justified in being harsh and critical of a person's claims. However much a person might take such criticism personally, we must separate ourselves from our beliefs. An attack on one shouldn't be treated as an attack on the other. ...a belief or idea [must earn] respect.
11 Dec 2007    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Does God exist?
   Disagree
Can science prove or disprove the existence of God?
   Agree

Daniel Dennett    Philosophy Professor
Agree
I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.
22 Jan 2010    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Would the world be better off without the Catholic Church?
   Disagree

Experts In Evolution


Jerry Coyne    Professor of Biology
Agree
Mooney and Forrest's implicit requirement that atheists should "make nice" with their religious, evolution-accepting opponents and never, ever criticize them. Where in tarnation did this idea come from? Why are newspaper columnists, politicians, and even grant reviewers allowed to criticize the ideas of their peers, but we scientist/atheists are not? [...] [T]he reconciliation of science and faith almost always dilutes science, especially evolution.
02 Jun 2009    Source


Experts In Biology


Paul Z. Myers    Biology Professor
Agree
There is a way to make it stop, though [...] stop hiding the facts, and show people that secular reasoning works and is far superior to faith-based delusions. Science will not and cannot adopt religious thinking without being destroyed, but citizens can learn about the power of secular reasoning, and become stronger and better people for it. That's where our attention should be focused, not on trying to reconcile science with its antithesis, but on getting everyone to think.
23 Jan 2009    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Does God exist?
   Disagree
Can science prove or disprove the existence of God?
   Agree

Experts In Media


Kylyssa Shay    Writer
Agree
... Why can't atheists just shut up and let religious folks believe and do whatever they want? ... Atheists in America care a lot about religion. This is primarily because religious groups in our country have a great deal of political power. Religious groups in America have successfully created religious laws which the entire populace, religious or not, must follow. These laws include the ban against same sex marriage, blue laws, and anti-cohabitation laws. ...
13 Feb 2010    Source


Disagree
Experts In Atheism


Bruce Sheiman    Author, Atheist
Disagree
Christians are largely grateful that an atheist actually takes their side of the debate. ... Why do I defend religion? Remember, I am defending religion not God. ... I am defending the belief in God, but not the existence of God. And since I believe that religion is a net-positive in society, I wanted to make that argument to the militant atheists who offend me and many other tolerant, open-minded atheists.
12 Feb 2010    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Would the world be better off without the Catholic Church?
   Disagree

Experts In Philosophy


Massimo Pigliucci    Philosopher
Disagree
The new ad says: “You KNOW they’re all SCAMS,” and it’s signed “American Atheists — Telling the truth since 1963.” “They” are at least five of the major religious traditions, as is made clear by a set of symbols accompanying the poster. … it is a really bad PR move, even if the target audience is in fact limited to closet atheists and agnostics. … it is an even worse PR move when it comes to the public perception of atheists considered more broadly.
11 Jan 2011    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Can science prove or disprove the existence of God?
   Disagree

Experts In Cognition


Robin Hanson    Economics Professor
Mostly Disagree
It seems to me that religion will handily win [the contest with atheism] for a long time to come. The social support that can be mustered by a few... hoping for more uniform standards... seems quite weak compared to strong interests... in the usual complex religious processes. [M]ost of society will just shrug their shoulders and ignore [the issue]. Surely this fact is known to most atheists... [s]o [this] is probably mostly about other things, such as status contests [among] intellectuals.
31 Aug 2011    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Does religion encourage good behavior?
   Agree
Is self-deception a fault?
   Mostly Agree

Experts In Media


Richard Eskow    Writer, Executive Consultant
Disagree
Most militant atheists don't even define what they mean by "religion." They use irrational and literalist beliefs - e.g. that "Jesus will return in 2007" - interchangeably with subtler forms of religious expression. They argue without proof that rational "religious moderates" are equally as destructive as fundamentalists, while making bold and undocumented statements like "religious faith perpetuates man's inhumanity to man."
06 Jan 2007    Source


Experts In Christianity


Andrew Sullivan    Journalist, Author
Disagree
There is more wisdom, depth, range, glory, nuance and truth in my tradition than can be dreamt of in your rationalism. In answer to your question, "why not leave all this behind?" my answer is simply: why on earth would I? Why would any sane person abandon such an astonishingly rich inheritance that civilizes, informs, educates, inspires and then also saves?
14 Feb 2007    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Can science prove or disprove the existence of God?
   Disagree

Neutral
Experts In Media


Henry Louis Mencken    Journalist
Neutral
We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.
01 Jan 1956    Source



Comments

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1 Point      MTC      23 Feb 2013      Stance on Question: Agree
Challenging religious beliefs is just as important as challenging any other crazy beliefs (homeopathy, flying saucers, bigfoot, etc.). In fact, in some ways it is more important, because religious belief is a lot more widespread than any other pseudoscientific belief.


1 Point      Kylyssa Shay      04 Feb 2012      General Comment
Hi, I'm Kylyssa Shay and incredibly surprised to see myself listed as an "Expert in the Media" here but, hey, cool. However, the quote pulled does not support challenging religious beliefs; it supports challenging religion in politics and explains why atheists don't just silently let religious folks take over our legal system. I don't care what people believe so long as they don't harm anyone over it or try to force religion on other people through legislation, discrimination, or scare tactics.


0 Points      Nashhinton      09 Oct 2011      Stance on Question: Agree
Atheists have every right to question or challenge other people's beliefs because they should have free speech. Theists also have every right to challenge atheistic positions because they too should have free speech.


0 Points      Benja      09 Oct 2011      General Comment
You're conflating what we have the right to do with what we should do. A husband has the right to challenge his wife's belief as to whether that dress makes her ass look fat, but it doesn't mean he should exercise that right.



2 Points      blacktrance      10 Feb 2011      Stance on Question: Agree
If a belief doesn't stand up to challenge, it shouldn't be held.


0 Points      john r. arrowood      11 Feb 2013      General Comment
True. They use our political system toward their own agenda while citing scripture and holding up their bibles as if they proven to be fact. If religions want to make any claims, I say make them prove it. But of course they can't prove a thing as it is only a delusion. I will always feel sorry for those who waste their lives on myth and superstition.



1 Point      Mark Embleton      19 Jan 2011      Stance on Question: Agree
There's no 'should' about it, we're already doing it at Atheism UK. Irrational religious beliefs have restricted human progress by several centuries and continue to be the cause of death, persecution and misery for countless millions. It is incredible that in the 21st century there are billions of humans who demand respect for believing in man-made fairy stories despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I have recycled the acronym WiFi for this purpose - Willful ignorance, Faulty intellect.


1 Point      Tordmor      13 May 2010      Stance on Question: Mostly Disagree
Religion is the one of the most fundamental believes one can have. To directly challenge those believes serves no purpose other than to offend those people. A better way is to give people general guidelines how to examine one's believes and justify them with observation. Only after that becomes a habit would it make sense to ask them to apply these methods to their religious believes. A direct challenge only makes people shy away from rationality and helps to enforce wrong believes.

I only disagree mostly, because challenging religious believes has a benefit for those still on the fence who might otherwise be led to believe that religious nonsense was an acceptable believe. However even there I think it's better to teach people how knowledge can be acquired through rationality. And let them figure out religion for themselves.


0 Points      Benja      14 May 2010      General Comment
You can still challenge someone's beliefs while being respectful. A lot of atheists fail immediately by overly exuding their non-belief and using language like "religious nonsense" (sadly I'm guilty of this). I undoubtedly have some beliefs that are completely wrong, but if someone told me my beliefs were nonsense, I'd really have to bite my tongue to not be offended.

In addition, someone else's belief can entail a good deal more than we realize. When an atheists says "God does not exist" they are making a specific metaphysical claim, but when a theist says "God exists" they are not only making a metaphysical claim, but are also expressing to some extent, their whole approach and attitude to life. If an atheists says to a theist "God does not exist", it's interpreted as "Your whole approach and attitude to life is wrong". And that's going to be plain false. Jeff M, a Christian who's in the thread below, has for example, spent a good deal of time helping autistic children. What is the ultimately the meaning of a world view? Is it about the words or the actions? If his belief in God entails acting in such ways, then I think his world view has something very right about it.

So I think we can perhaps directly challenge religious beliefs, but if so we need to be both respectful and specific in such challenges. As a starter, I'd argue that the unqualified statement "God does not exist" doesn't meet either of those criteria. I will however say that there is a limit here. If someone for example believes in a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible and refuses to budge an inch when a specific argument shows a glaring contradiction with this view - then I would call their view nonsense (the Catholic Church actually referred to the literal interpretation as intellectual suicide).



0 Points      the27th      09 May 2010      Stance on Question: Mostly Disagree
No. It's disruptive and it can be quite cruel.


0 Points      Hugh Geaney      04 Nov 2011      General Comment
Religious thinking suppresses human advancement. Often, cruelty is the only means of getting people to abandon frankly laughable beliefs.



1 Point      JGWeissman      17 Apr 2010      Stance on Question: Neutral
It seems to me that religion is more about group identification than crazy beliefs; the crazy beliefs are a symbol for the group, a flag to rally around. This makes it difficult for the religious to give up their crazy beliefs on rational grounds, especially for reasons presented by an outsider, because they have to also give up the group identification.

I believe it is more productive to promote social groups which allow for a more healthy epistemology, to allow people to meet their social needs without needing to signal allegiance to crazy beliefs. This allows the religious person who has doubts a line of retreat to abandon their religion, to have an alternative way of achieving the benefits their religion used to provide.

It will also help to teach general rationality, drawing examples from less mind killing topics. This helps people to recognize on their own how crazy their religious beliefs are, so they don't need to feel defensive like when an outsider criticizes their beliefs. See Raising the Sanity Waterline.

Atheists should challenge religious beliefs, but the most effective challenges are indirect.


0 Points      Benja      18 Apr 2010      General Comment
I agree group identification is a key part of religion, but so are the crazy beliefs. The crazy beliefs solve a non-crazy problem. The raw facts suck: we all eventually die, and the universe lacks justice. Religion solves the problem in the simplest possible way: deny the facts. Atheists can't, but that comes at a price. They either have to invest more emotional and mental energy in dealing with it, or use the "not think about it" approach (which is ignoring, rather than denying the facts). Personally, I don't mind the energy I've put in - it's part of my identity now - but I understand not everyone would be inclined to do that. I regard religion as an understandably appealing lower-cost option here.


1 Point      Jeff M      21 Apr 2010      Stance on Question: Disagree
I find it interesting that we lump 'religion' into one ball, whether it be true or false. Do all religions point either toward truth or error? They do not point the same direction, so why must we choose religion vs. atheism? That makes little sense. What matters is the truth. My spiritual experiences are quite real, not fantasy. I test spiritual matters, as I try to do with all other areas of life. Quantum physics sounds crazy, but guess what? It appears to be revolutionizing our scientific understanding.

Remember, when someone says we came from apes, or single-cell organisms, I (and 'religious' people like me) think they are either completely nuts, or in denial that deep down they know better. It's laughable to say we try to escape truth with religion. That's backwards. Have you never experienced intuition, love, passion? Oh, I forgot, those are just chemical reactions. Can we predict the future by knowing the current state and direction of all particles? No, I think we can be pretty sure that there is more to this world than collisions and polarity.

You tell me how you think I am ignoring or denying the truth in an area of life and am using faith to escape, and I will honestly and openly show you otherwise. And if I am escaping, I will show you how I do not have to compromise my faith to stop escaping. I get so tired of people ignorantly equating faith with ignorance. Your atheism creates many more problems than it solves, first and foremost that it is erroneous. This "new kid on the block" way of thinking is so riddled with fallacy that it like many other cults, should have never gotten off the ground. But, like them, it did. It has become a religious rant against religion, filled with pride and prejudice.

So you higher thinking atheists, come and show your overwhelming evidence of evolutionary progress, and prove there is no God. Are you open minded enough to engage in true, heart-felt communication? If so, I would love that.


0 Points      Benja      29 Apr 2010      General Comment
"Do all religions point either toward truth or error?"
See Do all religions ultimately express the same God?

"What matters is the truth."
See The Moral High Ground Pitch.

"It's laughable to say..."
See The Marginalizing Pitch.

"like many other cults..."
See The Name Calling Pitch.

"Are you open minded enough..."
See The Closed Minded Pitch.


1 Point      Anonymous      03 May 2010      General Comment
I read these topics as you suggested. They are tidy titles, but they may be harsh and mis-representative of my intent. In particular, the Moral High Ground Pitch is a tactic, but I did not use it. I was simply stating that some responses tend to come across as pithy; this was my response to the former opinion that truth is best demonstrated, not claimed/stated. I stand by my notion that the real goal is to seek the truth, whether by stating it, demonstrated it, or any other valid means at our disposal.

It seems there is always another philosophy to consider, another criticism a stark disagreement. That isn't always bad, because we are in a process of growth; challenge can be wonderful. At the same time, though, I hope each of us really seeks truth, and not just correcting one another.

I don't desire to become "philosophy-proof" to the point that I think my views can't be argued against. I don't believe that exists. I believe Jesus was right, and look what the philosophers did to him, including those who called themselves followers of God.

As far as the "Name Calling Pitch", nope. I was not sarcastic. There are cults. There is also spiritualism among certain atheist groups. They want spirituality, so long as God is not involved. Compared to the often deterministic views among most atheists, this does strike me as cultish.

The "Closed Minded Pitch": again, sure-- it exists, but just because I said "open minded" does not mean I used it. Christians are accused of being closed minded. I responded fairly, I believe. I am not totally open minded; in fact, nobody is. I do believe if one is open minded enough to seek God with heart, mind and body, they will find him. I fully believe this world was made by a loving God (I know, posts exist) who wants us to encounter him. But we often reduce him, as it is said "God created man in his own image, and man returned the favor."


0 Points      Benja      03 May 2010      General Comment
"I hope each of us really seeks truth, and not just correcting one another"
As do I.

"As far as the 'Name Calling Pitch', nope. I was not sarcastic. There are cults"
Sarcastic or not, name calling is pejorative. If we are to debate the merits of atheist and theist viewpoints, it's not conducive to respectful communication to label the other side pejoratively. My opponent might strike me as having a cultish view, but if I'm going to debate that person, I have to leave that sentiment at the door if I want to respectfully communicate with that person.

"I do believe if one is open minded enough to seek God with heart, mind and body, they will find him."
Yes, but I believe if one is open minded enough to seek the truth, one will find that God does not exist. By me saying this to you, does it help convince you of my position? If not, then why do you think your statement would help convince me of your position? Claiming one's own side cares more about the truth, and is the result of an open-mind etc., demonstrates one's conviction to one's view, but does nothing to demonstrate the truth of the view itself.

It seems what you really believe in here is demonstrating your conviction (the act of which makes one a better Christian). Your concern with demonstrating whether your conviction is correct is minor in comparison. In other words, your conviction to God is far more important to you than a proof that He exists. Furthermore, I doubt your conviction even allows you to objectively question whether God exists. You'd have to argue from a position of not assuming God exists - and look - everything you say oozes of the presumption of His existence.

"I fully believe this world was made by a loving God"
See Is God Just?


1 Point      Jeff M      04 May 2010      General Comment
You made some great points here, and I appreciate that.

"...cults...name calling..."
I wasn't trying to call anyone a name, but I suppose I did come across that way. Rather, I mean that some atheists (as with some Christians, and so on) focus their energy toward destroying religion-- not just because it is inaccurate, but with a zeal that appears stronger than those natural drives which would seem to occur in a world without God. I used the term 'cult' to refer to that which is not in the typical framework of the bulk of a movement. But the term may give way to a better one.

"does it help convince you of my position?"
No, it probably does not, for a person who is convinced. But to someone who is not totally convinced, maybe the hole in their passion can be filled by mine, not that mine is perfect. So you're right, I am interested in "demonstrating {my} conviction." But I pray it is a form of evidence for someone if they receive it as such. I wouldn't say my interest in demonstrating it is correct is minor, though. I can't prove to anyone God is real, I can only give supporting information. What I call proof, another calls evidence; what an atheist may call proof against God's existence, from what I have seen thus far, I call evidence.

At the risk of sounding presumptuous (and I really don't want to), I also believe there is a place where argument ends. Whether that is now, when we die, or whenever, I don't know. If someone were to think my mother were a terrible person, I would disagree forever, because I know her well enough to know that doesn't ring true. I might not know the details, and probably couldn't convince her enemy to think highly of her. While I may try to persuade them with reason, I'd also gladly show my love for her. Maybe this would speak to them, that I am either crazy, or maybe there's more about her which they have not yet experienced. Maybe our simple love can answer questions where words do not suffice.


0 Points      Benja      04 May 2010      General Comment
We've been focusing a lot on our disagreements, so (at the risk of sounding presumptuous) I'll take a step back and consider some of our agreements:

I'm highly inclined to believe in objective morality. So I disagree with atheists who claim that atheism leads to moral nihilism (interestingly, you can see that Richard Dawkins has recently changed his mind on this issue). I think it's very likely that for any moral issue we disagree on, there is an even bigger moral issue we do agree on. The simple reality is that both of us would like to see war, hate, and ignorance replaced with peace, love, and understanding. It's really just a disagreement about how to best achieve those ends.

I also believe life has meaning. Like those who believe in God - sometimes it's a struggle and it's challenging to find this meaning - ironically that's part of what makes life meaningful - the process of understanding. Perhaps what I call an understanding of life and the universe, you would call an understanding of God, but perhaps to some extent we're arguing over definitions. In the end, for both of us, I think we both agree that the real fruit of that understanding is how we make our own and other people's lives better.

I may also disagree with you whether the universe is just, but if we put aside that disagreement for a moment, just like you, I'd like to make it become more just than it currently is. We can't change the past, but we can change the future, and it turns out we both have a positive vision for the future of the world. I can't prove the world will become better, so to some extent, like you, I rely on a kind of faith that it will and that my efforts matter.

I could say much more, but I'll stop here for now.


1 Point      Jeff M      05 May 2010      General Comment
Yes, it's good to remember and celebrate the common ground.

I've been familiarizing myself with the site, and reviewing my prior posts. My first posts were more defensive than I realized. I'm starting to better understand the culture here, and I like it.

Thanks for letting me venture outside the original question a bit within this thread. How would you suggest I find or post questions regarding specific evolutionary processes? For example, I'm curious to see the evolutionary explanation of how long the mammalian reproductive system took to complete, and evidence of how the transition from a prior system-- and its subsequent disappearance-- transpired.

(We might not differ much regarding the just universe!)


0 Points      Benja      05 May 2010      General Comment
"My first posts were more defensive than I realized."
I actually think you've been remarkably tolerant. It can be incredibly difficult to talk to people with differing world views - what matters is a genuine willingness to engage, and I've been inspired by your attitude.

"How would you suggest I find or post questions regarding specific evolutionary processes?"
Start off by posting on the evolution question. The way it works, is that if any particular sub-debate gets big enough, someone adds a new question. Note that new questions are only added if there's actually experts out there debating that issue. If it's a simple factual debate, a simple link to the evidence is all that is used.



1 Point      Adam Atlas      04 May 2010      General Comment
"I disagree with atheists who claim that atheism leads to moral nihilism (interestingly, you can see that Richard Dawkins has recently changed his mind on this issue)."

I see Dawkins has praised Sam Harris's upcoming book defending objective morality, but prior to that, did he ever claim/"concede" that atheism leads to moral relativism or nihilism (different from his statement that he had previously believed the idea "that science can say nothing about morals")? I can't recall if he covered metaethics in The God Delusion or any of his other works that I've read, but it doesn't sound like him. (Most atheists I know are moral subjectivists but not relativists or nihilists.)


0 Points      Benja      04 May 2010      General Comment
I just started looking at adding meta-ethical questions to TakeOnIt, and from what I've read so far I realize I may be guilty of sloppy interpretations of the various positions. If you'd like to suggest some questions in this area, it would be great.

Concerning Dawkins, one of his quotes on this page was that "The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference." Given humans are part of the universe, it would follow there can be no good and evil in humans either, which would seem to imply moral nihilism. However, maybe I've got that wrong.






0 Points      Jeff M      03 May 2010      General Comment
Sorry, that post was from me again, Jeff.




1 Point      Benja      21 Apr 2010      General Comment
"What matters is the truth"
Truth is best demonstrated, not claimed.

"Quantum physics sounds crazy"
Atheists are for rational beliefs and against irrational beliefs, regardless of whether the belief is intuitive or not. Quantum mechanics is rational + unintuitive.

"Have you never experienced intuition, love, passion? Oh, I forgot, those are just chemical reactions."
Atheists don't believe the best or only way to describe Microsoft Word is by reducing it to electrical charges and discharges in transistors. Ditto for the thoughts and emotions in our brain.

"Can we predict the future by knowing the current state and direction of all particles? No, I think we can be pretty sure that there is more to this world than collisions and polarity."
Yes, future states are a predictable consequence of the laws of physics (and randomness will not help your argument). However, being inside the universe we're trying to predict limits our ability to predict. But that limitation doesn't imply there is "more to this world". In any case, why are you trying to deny your predictability? What is so terrible about it?

"You tell me how you think I am ignoring or denying the truth in an area of life and am using faith to escape"
Atheists feel compelled to believe something due to logic, even if it doesn't feel good. Theists feel compelled to believe something because it feels good, even if it isn't logical. If you're interested in what you're ignoring or denying, audit your beliefs that feel really good.


0 Points      Jeff      27 Apr 2010      General Comment
"Truth is best demonstrated, not claimed." - Umm, ok. Whether we demonstrate it or claim it, it is.

"Atheists are for rational..." - I agree, but I would argue that spiritual truth (not necessarily 'religion' though) is at times unintuitive, not irrational. The same 'crazy' we embrace and accept for something like quant mech may not differ greatly for spiritual matters. The content I realize is different, but the principle is similar; we must be willing to challenge our own inclinations and test them. I maintain that most people have never allowed themselves to humbly seek the Almighty creator, with broken hearts, placing themselves into his care at any cost. This requires honest vulnerability, and we can't manufacture that-- if and when we become ready, he is too, and he we become real even in ways we never asked him to. Rational? Yes, once it is realized and demonstrated.

"Yes, future states..." - I differ here. First, if this were true, I would still take it as an indicator we are miraculously wired to naturally respond to stimuli. However, it doesn't even have to be carried that far. Were it true, I have yet to hear any semblance of a good explanation of consciousness. If they're just mechanical, where is the path whereby we are 'aware'? Not just in terms of reacting, but of being truly 'alive'? What science tells me is of limited value here, because like many religions, many scientific claims have later been retracted. Understandable, but why do we continue to think we have almost answered all the important questions with science? We have not. Science is not designed to mediate spiritual matters, yet we kick the brick wall time and again, ranting when the two apparently conflict. They should not conflict, but to the extent they appear to, we may find a lack of flexibility in one or both of them.

"Atheists ...believe...logic..." - So do I. Faith is logical, not blind. I have beliefs that do not feel good, and some which do. I can't just pick and choose.


1 Point      Benja      29 Apr 2010      General Comment
"we are miraculously wired to naturally respond to stimuli."
See The Supernatural Pitch.

"What science tells me is of limited value here, because like many religions, many scientific claims have later been retracted."
See The General Uncertainty Pitch.

"The same 'crazy' we embrace and accept for something like quant mech may not differ greatly for spiritual matters."
See The Equivalence Pitch and The Association Pitch. Associating your view with quantum mechanics and claiming an equivalence without being precise as to the nature of the association or equivalence is purely rhetorical. Also see The Analogy Pitch and Is quantum mechanics needed to explain consciousness?

"ranting when the two apparently conflict. They should not conflict, but to the extent they appear to, we may find a lack of flexibility in one or both of them."
See The Middle Ground Pitch. The conflict is real, not merely apparent. Many if not most Christians deny Darwinian evolution (and in doing so, believe in a wildly inaccurate view of human nature, which causes innumerable problems, because it causes us to make plans based on false assumptions).

"I have yet to hear any semblance of a good explanation of consciousness."
See Is the world explainable without God?

"If they're just mechanical, where is the path whereby we are 'aware'?"
See Can reductionist methods help explain consciousness?

"Not just in terms of reacting, but of being truly 'alive'?"
See Is the unconscious philosophical zombie possible?


0 Points      Benja      27 Apr 2010      General Comment
"most people have never allowed themselves to humbly seek the Almighty creator, with broken hearts, placing themselves into his care at any cost."
At any cost? What about at the cost of rationality? Furthermore, it's hard to be rational at the best of times, let alone when we're emotional. Surely you or I would advise anyone with a broken heart to postpone making any big decisions. I'm not trying to be offensive here - I simply would find it easier to believe that faith was rational as you claim it is if faith culminated from a level-headed state, not a broken-hearted one.


0 Points      Jeff M      03 May 2010      General Comment
Of course not at the cost of rationality. By "broken heart", I don't mean just one that is hurt. I'm referring to 'broken' in the sense of being at the end of our own efforts, and letting our defenses down. It could mean very hurt, but I don't mean overly emotional and beyond reasoning.

So yes, I agree with you that emotions running out of control do not serve us well. If we were to make a faith decision at a time like this, it probably wouldn't last anyway, because our healthier emotional state would hopefully pull us out of the slump. But we might be tired, hurt, humbled, etc., and still at a place where more than our immediate feelings tell us there is something beyond ourselves at work here. If that opinion changes when we feel a bit better, then maybe we're not really convinced yet, and might not be ready to seek God in the first place, because we might not be convinced that's a good move.

Also, we can have this kind of broken heart without being hurt or crushed. A person may just come to a place, for whatever reason, where he or she decides it's time. I read the Bible verse in Romans that says God's invisible qualities are made known by what is made (meaning creation). I love that one, and although I know people disagree, I am compelled to agree. Just as 2+2=4, that same 'knower' inside is triggered when I read that verse. I guess that's how spiritual truth can be observed inside us-- with our 'knower'. I think it can be exercised, and that it gets stronger if we remain sensitive. Maybe that's really the advantage a broken heart has over an un-broken one: it has no pride (the unhealthy kind), so it is able to consider the matters of the mind, but not to the exclusion of the matters of the spirit.





0 Points      Benja      21 Apr 2010      General Comment
"My spiritual experiences are quite real, not fantasy"
Yes, some atheists are too dismissive of such experiences. I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable sharing a personal experience, but could you perhaps give some insight you had?


1 Point      Jeff      27 Apr 2010      General Comment
In the post I just left, I mentioned 'single subject' design. This sounds dry, but I've adopted this as a phrase I use (often just to myself) when I think of faith and spiritual experiences. From the outside, especially to someone not having similar experiences, to explain what it's like is akin to describing a dream-- its events don't really convey its full experience and meaning. So it might sound interesting, or neat, but not as incredible as the 'explainer' might wish. I've learned that the feelings don't always translate well. With that said, here's a recent one.

Spiritual dreams aren't common for me, but a few months ago I had one that rocked me. I stood in someone's empty dining room. I hadn't met her, but was there as her spiritual mentee. On the table was a small meal just for me: a bowl of dip, lined with evenly spaced carrot sticks sticking out. A simple dish, but made with love; just enough to tide me over a while. I tasted it and it was delicious. My anticipation piqued. One other bowl remained to my right, filled with moist sand. As I ate with my left hand (I'm left-handed), she entered larger than life and with a huge smile instructed me to put my hand in the sand.

I felt as a child as I manipulated the coarse sand. Her smile grew. God's nature, good food, spiritual guidance; and the exfoliating sand imparted a sense of purging. I tried to confess a struggle to her; there was no room for it. My breath left as my words felt sucked out of me; it was as if they vanished, swallowed up in grace. Her presence spoke grace and forgiveness; so much so, that anything less had no place. My joy was complete. I rested knowing I was precisely where I belonged. My smile broadened as if it would become permanent. I felt the weight of the world lift off my shoulders.

She was a large black woman with a Jamaican accent. I knew somehow she was the Lord. A month later I read "The Shack", and it all came rushing back. Months later its impact remains, I'm changed.


0 Points      Benja      27 Apr 2010      General Comment
What a beautifully told account of the experience.

It seems to me one of the most psychologically healthy places to find happiness is through appreciating virtue - just as one of the least psychologically healthy places to find happiness is through heroin.







1 Point      Adam Atlas      17 Apr 2010      Stance on Question: Agree
We should do whatever we can to peacefully and consensually abolish it. If directly challenging religious beliefs is found to be effective, then we should do so. However, I'm inclined to think that, on this particular issue, Karl Marx happened to get it exactly right (though his proposed solution didn't turn out too well):

"The struggle against religion is . . . indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo."

When death and suffering are abolished, religion will abolish itself.

(Plus, by the time we have the technology to do that, we'll probably have other technology that makes us almost godlike ourselves, allowing us to achieve things that make our old gods seem petty and weak. At that point, it will be untenable to maintain any religious belief stronger than deism or vague transcendent feelings. And that's only if we don't reengineer ourselves to fix the cognitive biases and other glitches that cause religion in the first place.)


1 Point      Benja      17 Apr 2010      General Comment
Let me disqualify myself here by saying the following thoughts are speculations on the already speculative topic of futurism by an amateur.

On abolishing death: Perhaps death will be redefined, rather than abolished (and of course, in the extremely long term, you can't abolish the 2nd law of thermodynamics). With the ability to create digital copies of ourselves, reproduction as we know it, and survival as we know it, will radically change. The system that will emerge will be hard to predict. However, you're implicitly making two predictions. The first, is that such a system will be stable. The second, is that given the system is stable, cessation of the beings within that system will not occur.

On abolish suffering: I thought happiness and suffering were two sides of the same coin. Are you suggesting we will be wireheaded? I'm confused.


1 Point      Adam Atlas      17 Apr 2010      General Comment
"On abolish suffering: I thought happiness and suffering were two sides of the same coin. Are you suggesting we will be wireheaded? I'm confused."

I've heard the "two sides of the same coin" line before, and I'm not quite sure what it means. (It's strange, because I would say the same thing before I learned about transhumanism. I literally don't remember what I meant by it. I'm not saying it's the same for you, but for me at least, it seems it was a cached rationalization.)

Does it mean that each person needs to experience happiness and suffering in approximately equal amounts? or that society as a whole needs to have that balance aggregated among all its people? Does it mean that we need to experience suffering at least once in a while, so that we remember what it's like and recognize how good we have it — can we bias the coin so that it lands on Happiness a million times for every one time it lands on Suffering? Imagine the happiest person in the world (perhaps the person with the highest happiness-to-suffering ratio, or the highest value of happiness minus suffering); would their lives be improved by adding more suffering? Would it be any detriment to the world if everyone had access to that level of happiness?

For the record, I don't advocate removing all challenges or setbacks or dangers from our lives; that would be more like wireheading. I only propose eliminating situations that permanently damage our physical or mental well-being. (We can't learn from our mistakes if we're dead.)


1 Point      Benja      17 Apr 2010      General Comment
The best formal hypothesis I've heard to explain happiness is the hedonic treadmill. Wikipedia:

"The hedonic treadmill is the tendency of a person to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite changes in fortune or the achievement of major goals. As a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness"

I'm tempted to believe the trope/cached-rationalization that we'd get less of a thrill from life if we removed risk; that can only be more true for the biggest risks. Adventure cannot be caged. Unless of course, we wirehead the adventurer.

For the record, I have enough awareness to feel the murkiness of my own knowledge in this territory. Let's say I'm exploring more than advocating.


1 Point      Adam Atlas      17 Apr 2010      General Comment
I've heard a bit about the hedonic treadmill, and it does sound quite plausible. But it sounds to me like a bug to fix. I don't see any reason why we should/must be that way.

As for thrill, risk, adventure, etc. I certainly wouldn't force anyone to be free from risk — if someone can't get excited about life without the threat of death, then I may find that odd, and I may implore them to think of the other people in their lives who may be affected, but it's not my place to intervene against their preferences — I'm just saying that if we can figure out a way to give people the choice, we should. Personally, if I felt there were less risk, I'd have more adventures, try strange new things more often, allow myself to make more mistakes (thereby gaining more chances to learn), and so on. In general, I'd have more fun, get more of a thrill from life, and have more years of life in which to do such things. I can't know if that would be true for everybody, but that's why I think we ought to have the choice.


0 Points      Benja      17 Apr 2010      General Comment
I agree with the libertarian argument in terms of letting people choose risk.

Regarding the hypothetical risk-free world, Eliezer has an amusing argument that's relevant:

"...a man spoke of some benefit X of death [and] I said: '...given human nature, if people got hit on the head by a baseball bat every week, pretty soon they would invent reasons why getting hit on the head with a baseball bat was a good thing. But if you took someone who wasn't being hit on the head with a baseball bat, and you asked them if they wanted it, they would say no. I think that if you took someone who was immortal, and asked them if they wanted to die for benefit X, they would say no.'"





1 Point      Adam Atlas      17 Apr 2010      General Comment
"Let me disqualify myself here by saying the following thoughts are speculations on the already speculative topic of futurism by an amateur."

And let me disqualify myself by acknowledging that mine were too. :)

"On abolishing death: Perhaps death will be redefined, rather than abolished (and of course, in the extremely long term, you can't abolish the 2nd law of thermodynamics)."

Indeed, and I am already trying to redefine death. :) (See my answer to "Is information-theoretic death the most real interpretation of death?".) Of course we won't outlive the universe, but even living a mere one billion years will seem like immortality compared to what we have now. (And if uploading works, then as computational capacity increases, we might achieve a much denser subjective perception of time.)

"With the ability to create digital copies of ourselves, reproduction as we know it, and survival as we know it, will radically change. The system that will emerge will be hard to predict. However, you're implicitly making two predictions. The first, is that such a system will be stable. The second, is that given the system is stable, cessation of the beings within that system will not occur."

I wasn't making a prediction, I was stating a goal. As with many types of ultratechnology, it will be hard to predict how things will go after it is created, but since we may have only one chance to get it right, we should do our best to push it in the right direction.


0 Points      Benja      17 Apr 2010      General Comment
An ultra speculative thought: survival/reproduction does not appear to be positively correlated with those who have truthful beliefs. Perhaps some false beliefs are beneficial. Maybe an advanced AI would have its own incredibly sophisticated false beliefs, in order to facilitate its own survival and reproduction. Such beliefs could be considered religion.


1 Point      Adam Atlas      17 Apr 2010      General Comment
That's only if survival and reproduction are part of its goal system. They're not inextricably linked to intelligence; we only have those urges because of where we came from. I think reproduction would be one of the most dangerous goals we could possibly give a superintelligence.

In any case, I would not expect a superintelligence to need false beliefs in order to facilitate any particular goals. The only reason self-delusion is sometimes helpful for us is because we're so bad at reasoning about long-term and abstract goals, and similarly bad at translating reasoning into motivation (or at least I am -_-). Sometimes false beliefs can help us get from terminal values to high-level choices, and from choosing to do something to actually doing it. I wouldn't expect this to be a problem for a powerful AI, certainly not one with the ability to self-modify. Being that the human brain is a hodgepodge of modules that were adapted for many different good-idea-at-the-time evolutionary purposes, some emerging millions of years apart from others and in vastly different environments, there are bound to be internal conflicts, aside from our bad reasoning and scope insensitivity and akrasia and so on. An engineered intelligence could be much more (literally) single-minded. An AI built with things like decision-theoretic algorithms and a coherent goal system would have the luxury of being able to automatically go from terminal values to maximally rational decisions to action with no conflict or akrasia or self-delusion.






0 Points      Benja      02 Apr 2010      Editorial Comment
The agree side is looking great; need to fill out the disagree side a bit. John Stuart Mill:

"If an opinion is right, [people] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of the truth, produced by its collision with error."