I received a message the other day from a secret admirer. The following image was attached and it made me automatically laugh. But then I reread it. And reread it. And… reread it….
I have been one of the first people to toss stones at the ridiculous claims that religions make. I LOVE to rip on people in the public eye who try to push these claims with no support or evidence. But this picture made me think for a while about how we (the atheist community in particular, but people in general) approach the people who hold these beliefs as truths. Whether or not the claims of the religion are accurate, the believer holds them to be just as true as gravity, germ theory of disease or evolution are to an adherent of sciences.
I’m quickly reminded that we need to be addressing why the belief is wrong, not how stupid the believer is for having the belief. We all have wrong beliefs. Whether its belief in a religious tenet, belief in an incorrect theory, belief in a story you were told from a friend… We have many reasons for holding the beliefs we do. Biases, fallacious reasoning, personal experience, an emotional need for a belief to be true, and indoctrination are just a few of the causes. Ali Almossawi published An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments a little while back and it is PACKED with fantastic explanations of why certain lines of reasoning are fallacious. This may help with arguing against a friend at the bar, in a debate or in a facebook argument but can it help us look at our own individually held misbeliefs? I would like to think so, but putting ones own closely held views on the impartial chopping block of reason is much harder than beheading someone else’s beliefs.
To start to understand why smart people believe dumb things we need to go to deeper. This topic deserves a much better treatment than I am able to give it here, but I would like to give you a few resources to start your own research into this fascinating topic. Michael Shermer’s books How We Believe and Why People Believe Weird Things changed the way I look at beliefs.
So what do I want you to take away from reading this article? For all of us (yes, me included and almost especially) to keep in mind that belief in a silly idea does not automatically make the believer stupid. Indoctrinated? Uneducated? Maybe. Susceptible to biases? Almost certainly. Understanding WHY someone believes what they do is ultimately more important than WHAT they believe. To take the Ark story full circle, belief that an all powerful god could have Pengu and his girlfriend travel thousands of miles to hop a ride on an extremely crowded canoe sounds plausible if you have bad reasons for believing in the god, or the flood story to begin with. Sacrifice all of your trusted beliefs on the alter of logic, reason and evidence and see which ones hold up. Give it a shot, its terrifying, exciting, educating and ultimately freeing.
The journal Current Biology recently published a study showing Religious children to be less generous and empathetic than their non-religious peers. In an utterly fascinating, if not completely expected, addition the religious parents from the sample children were much more likely to consider their children to be very empathetic to the plights of others.
OregonLive.com explains how the study worked:
Researchers asked kids to play a game which required them to decide how many stickers to share with an anonymous peer from the same school and similar ethnic group.
In their report, the researchers noted it was important for the anonymous stranger to be similar to the child so that other biases didn’t get in the way.
Researchers also measured how children perceived interpersonal harm and what degree of punishment they thought was appropriate. Religious children judged others’ actions as meaner and more deserving of punishment than kids in secular homes.
The study concluded that in this way religious children tend to come across as more judgmental, while also being less altruistic.
Nearly 1,200 children from the U.S., Canada, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa and China participated. Most of the kids came from Christian, Muslim or non-religious households, with a small number from Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and agnostic homes. Their ages ranged from 5 to 12.
The United States is 80-something percent ‘religious’ in some way. That number is, thankfully, falling. Reading a study like this one makes me think of two things.
- Here is more evidence that secular morality is more balanced, more altruistic and more empathetic than religiously dictated morality. This is more proof that we can be good, or maybe even better, without gods and scary stories of infinite torture for finite crimes.
- With more evidence like this showing up each year, I find it increasingly unsurprising that religious nations are so violent, war torn, and unable to coexist with other human beings. Maybe its time we started calling a spade a spade?
Be sure to CLICK HERE to get the source journal. Please, don’t my word for it, read the study and evaluate it for yourself.
Everyone, I need to stop with all of the fun posts, the Dr. Carson ribbing, the religious rants and the general nonsense that constitutes my facebook page. Today I received some very sad news that one of the most wonderful people I have ever known has been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.
While this is a terrifying diagnosis, I believe Gina Hollenbeck will be able to win this fight. I would like to, in all seriousness, encourage EACH of you to drop by Gina’s gofundme page : https://www.gofundme.com/GINASARMY and donate. This is about to be the wildest ride this family has ever been on. And while your positive thoughts, prayers, and well wishes carry with them ‘good vibes’ its your donation that can really make the difference in their daily lives as they struggle to come to terms with this new situation and all of its implications. Please, if you were going to give to my MoVember cause, dont. If you were going to get get a second latte today. Dont. Please do as little or as much as you can, but please do SOMETHING. There, that’s all got, I hope it helps.