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Token Relgion Post

I don’t often post about religion, I just don’t find what I believe to be anyone else’s business, much like what others believe is none of mine. When you come to the question of whether there is or is not a God, that question is equally relevant to every person, although the answer may not be.

It may surprise some people, but I have a decent collection of books penned by prominent, or at least intelligent, atheists, and I’ve done a fair amount of reading of similar books taken from libraries and such. I for one do find the pure pursuit of knowledge meaningful, but I also do hold religious beliefs that sometimes seem to conflict with what I know about the world. The writings of Dawkins and Hitchens sit along side the writings of Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, much is obviously in conflict, but a great deal isn’t.

The following quote is Richard Dawkins from an interview in 1994:

There may be a vacuum which is left. If religion goes, there may well be a vacuum in important ways in people’s psychology, in people’s happiness, and I don’t claim to be able to fill that vacuum, and that is not what I want to claim to be able to do. I want to find out what’s true. Now, as for what I might have to offer, I’ve tried to convey the excitement, the exhilaration of getting as complete a picture of the world and the universe in which you live as possible.

I think this cuts right to heart of why many people are able to combine two separate and possibly exclusive ‘truths’ at once. Too often a great fuss is made over the question of whether or not there is a God. I don’t put much value on the answer, but there are many on both sides of the issue who do. Great. Richard Dawkins doesn’t care places a very low value on the negatives that would likely result from the eradication of religion. It is that feeling that he, and many other atheists hold. I liken it to the position held by many religious people who don’t place much value on any damage religion causes by it’s continued existence.

If you have stuck your nose even slightly into the realm of economics you should see a parallel here, two of them actually, value and it’s close friend opportunity cost.

There is no evidence that I am as yet aware of that helps us to decide, in a collective sense, which outcome, religion or no religion, is the better result. It may very well be that the “best” outcome would be one world with one universally held religion. It may be that the “best” outcome is one world where there are no religions. As with so many other things, you hear this come up in many, if not most, debates between the religious and the irreligious, the “truth”, in this case the “best” outcome, does not have to therefore lay in the middle someplace, it might be at either end. (It very well could be in the middle someplace too, but it doesn’t follow that it must be.)

Value, cannot be decided on the grand scale for people. If that were done, state enforced religion or atheism, or a mixture, it would be exactly like the government stepping into the economy and deciding what people need and how many things will be produced, how often and at what quality and cost and so forth. Value is based on each persons needs, wants and personal experiences, circumstance of time and place, knowledge that is unique as it were.

So I can reasonably conclude that in the marketplace of ideas there can be no one size fits all and the “best” outcome is to let individuals decide how much they value scientific truth over religious faith and make the purchase that results in the most value for them and at the lowest opportunity cost. The result should be a natural high point, a balance that adjusts itself to current events, discoveries and culture, all of which are in a continual state of flux. Those who would seek to eliminate religion or atheism and its relatives do nothing but harm, as I have yet to see an example of fewer choices universally or predictably resulting in a positive outcome.

Christopher Hitchens said on a number of occasions that if there were only one religious person left on earth he would not want them to give their beliefs up. He usually followed it with a bit of snark about having no one to argue with, but I think he genuinely held that position. As any atheist knows there are positives that very likely can only come from religion, just like there are negatives that can only come from it. The same is true of almost everything else. A world with fewer ideas, right, wrong or in-between is a world that is worse off.

One thing that people on both sides of the question have to realize and get over is that my religion is going to impact you if you are an atheist. Likewise, the actions, choices and ideas held by atheists are going to impact me. This is not the same thing as forcing your beliefs on others, take for example Turkey, the country. If you like bacon, you are completely out of luck. There is a huge Muslim population, they don’t eat pork. That fact is, that isn’t Islam being forced on you, it just reflects the reality of demand. Likewise when people go to vote, the outcome is going to be based on predominate views, that isn’t force either, it’s reality.

Now don’t expect another post of this sort on religion for at least 6 months. I’ve just reached my quota for religious/irreligious arguments for that time period. In fact I may be over budget.

If you want to read some interesting shit, do a bit of Google-ing on atheistic ideas of life after death.

That is all.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. 2012/01/14 at 06:55

    Richard Dawkins doesn’t care about the damage that would likely be done from the eradication of religion.

    Of course he does. He just happens to believe that whatever damage would be done would, at least over time, be less than the damage currently being done.

    [Hitchens] usually followed it with a bit of snark about having no one to argue with…

    If you watch the Four Horsemen interview (something of which, thankfully, PZ is unlikely to ever be a part, even with the recent departure of one member), you will see where Hitchens says he wouldn’t want to do away with religion if he could because he does relish the debate. Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris were in slight shock over this, but it was quite genuine. (Not that you’re likely to watch it, but it is in the second hour somewhere.)

  2. 2012/01/14 at 07:02

    “Of course he does. He just happens to believe that whatever damage would be done would, at least over time, be less than the damage currently being done.”

    That’s what I meant. I might have said that he places a lower value on the damage that might be done one way as opposed to the other. But I didn’t. In the simplest terms, he doesn’t care about that issue because he cares far more about some other issue or issues.

    And I’ve seen the video, but I remember he had written a lengthier piece on it at some point, far more in depth by comparison to the instance in that video. I’ve heard him say essentially the same thing a number of other times with various reasons attached also.

  3. 2012/01/14 at 08:00

    I have updated the bit about Dawkins to make my intent clearer.

  4. 2012/01/20 at 09:53

    [Reposting, to supply the missing quotation:]

    You wrote, “As any atheist knows there are positives that very likely can only come from religion, just like there are negatives that can only come from it.”

    This is an assertion which (to cite the thinker you cite) Hitchens wouldn’t have agreed with — consider his frequent question to audiences or to theistic interlocutors: “What is something good you can do by dint of your religious belief, which I, as an atheist, cannot do?”

    I’d be interested in knowing what kinds of ‘positives’ you think can very likely only come from religion, or to hear you expand on this point a bit. The point you make about more ideas being better than fewer is well-aimed, but it doesn’t follow, I think, that religious beliefs are “ideas” in the propositional sense. I don’t want to derail the discussion, but I would say that religious beliefs belong to a different branch on the epistemological family tree.

  5. 2012/01/20 at 11:19

    I deleted the first comment.

    To start, I would say that we cannot know what Hitchens would or would not have agreed with, neither of us can.

    I didn’t say there were positives only religion could generate, as you, yourself noted, I said very likely. I think there are things which religion does very well, desirable things that its hard to imagine continuing in any form other than religion. Take the Four Horsemen video I linked to. There seems to be agreement that having empty churches is a bad thing, on the whole. Not because they think the reason people go to church is a good thing, but because of the community and the bonds created. I think a “secular sabbath”, while a possibility, is so unlikely to ever really catch on, it’s not unreasonable to say that this sort of thing is particular to religion and generally speaking people getting together and not ending up in a riot is a positive thing.

    Not entirely, or absolutely, just extremely unlikely to be preserved or reborn in any other form.

    You can think whatever you like about how the word “idea” should be used, defined, applied, but it doesn’t make you any more or less wrong than I am. Eliminate religious ideas and for better or worse you would kill long running conversations spanning from morality to the “meaning” of life.

    I’ve only responded in very simplistic terms, but I rather think they are sufficient.

  6. 2012/01/20 at 12:50

    I hope I didn’t cut anything out by ditching the other post, but it seemed like everything was there in the second one where you grabbed the qoute.

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