Religion: The only sane choice


According to these estimated statistics, atheists have to conclude that 84% of the people in the world are delusional. On the other hand, religious people conclude that others who don’t agree with their religion or have no religion are just mistaken, but not necessarily delusional, just as someone can be mistaken about what equals two plus two. The religious man can at least applaud the other religious man for putting in an effort to get it right. The atheist, however, must conclude that the reality (a planet full of religious people) that he observes around him is not, in fact, a true witness of actual reality. Atheists see an entire planet that naturally believes a lie, lumping them together with those who believe in unicorns or the existence of the green goblin. The only way to live amongst sane people is to accept religious behavior as a faithful witness of reality and a legitimate choice.

Exit question:

If everyone is telling you one thing and you’re the only one that thinks another, isn’t there a high probability that you are wrong?

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22 thoughts on “Religion: The only sane choice

  1. “According to these estimated statistics, atheists have to conclude that 84% of the people in the world are delusional.”

    Not really.

    First of all, ‘delusional’ isn’t a catch-all term. Someone can be delusional about one thing and not delusional about the rest of their life. One of my college professors, for example, believed he had been abducted by aliens. Was he delusional about that? Almost certainly. But otherwise he was a perfectly normal and functioning member of society.

    I don’t think that 84% of the world is delusional. Some percentage of them are. But the rest are just wrong. Wrong about how they determine what the truth is and wrong about their conclusions.

    “If everyone is telling you one thing and you’re the only one that thinks another, isn’t there a high probability that you are wrong?”

    No.

    Google “argumentum ad populum”, also known as the fallacy “the argument from popularity” or “appeal to the majority”.

    1. When atheists refer to religious people and use terms like —the fantasy based community and refer to God as an invisible sky daddy and a wretched ghost, and then attribute religious experiences to a lack of oxygen in the brain, and refer to prayer as a form of black magic and spell casting and an idle act of narcissism , and say religion is imaginary and a death cult, and ask if religious folks left out any milk for faeries— then I conclude that they think religious people are delusional.

      You may not say these things. I don’t know. But many atheists do. Some feel that religion is harmful and they’re just a hop, skip, and a jump away from advocating removing religious people altogether. Who knows what that would entail if they want to eradicate religion like they do a cancer. What lengths will they go to?

      1. Who knows what that would entail if they want to eradicate religion like they do a cancer. What lengths will they go to?

        How about trying to convince people with logic and reason? The vast majority of atheists believe in freedom of belief and freedom of speech. I can’t say the same for the religious.

        I, for one, do indeed think religions are delusional. That is, they are persistent false beliefs (as tildeb says below). People that have what they call religious experiences assert that the cause is “god”. How do they know? I see no reason to go beyond oneself to explain these experiences, and there is certainly no evidence to suggest anything causal beyond that. Prayer has been demonstrated to not to work a number of times. The belief that prayer does anything truly is a delusion, hands-down. The universe looks exactly the way we would expect it to look in the absence of any gods. The god in the Christian religion required a blood sacrifice. Christians say this was such a wonderful thing. I’m disgusted, as I would at the idea that anyone had to die for anything. How is Christianity not a death cult?

        Darn right we think beliefs are delusional. But that does not necessarily mean that religious people are mentally ill. If that’s your reading of the word ‘delusional’ in this context, it is wrong (though at times it does seem religion attracts nutjobs). If religious people would apply the same critical eye as they do to beliefs they reject, they would not be religious people. Have you ever asked yourself why I reject those other beliefs but retained this one? Why do religious people reject other religions even though there is no more evidence for the truth of theirs over those they reject? And what on earth does your comment have to do with any of the arguments NotAScientist presented?

      2. Shamelessly Atheist,

        “I see no reason to go beyond oneself to explain these experiences,”

        Maybe you are blind because you don’t see the reason. It’s a possibility. Basically you said someone else can see something and you don’t. Why do you conclude they are delusional? Maybe you are the one who is delusional. Can you prove to me that you are not?

      3. First, having to prove I am not delusional by not having a particular experience doesn’t make any sense.

        Second, I think you are getting round to another logical fallacy known as the “burden of proof shift”. When someone claims they have had a religious experience that was caused by the holy spirit or whatever, the burden is not on me to demonstrate that this is false. The burden always lies on the claimant to provide evidence that it is so. To date, no one has substantiated any such claim. Nor are subjective personal experiences at all evidence for anyone else.

        I get something I think is akin to a religious experience whenever I listen to the fourth movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony or the first movement of Brahms’ symphony no. 1, but I don’t go attributing these feelings to the supernatural. Nor do I need to.

        If someone makes the claim that a subjective personal experience has something to do with a deity, it is insufficient for me to accept that claim without the requisite evidence. It may be true, but I will not accept such a claim on its face. In fact, it is wrong to do so. As Clifford’s Credo states,

        “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”

        If only everyone would take this to heart.

        By the way, I take it that since you have completely avoided addressing the criticism from three of us that this blog entry is invalid as it is based on argumentum ad populum that you have conceded the point? If so, do give us the courtesy of acknowledging this.

      4. Whoa, hold on there shamelessly atheist,

        You’ve got the point of the post all wrong. That was just an exit question. The point is are you really willing to call 84% of the world delusional, and how can we avoid doing that.

        There are plenty of arguments for the existence of God, but that’s not the point of this post either. I want to know if you are ok with calling everyone else delusional.

      5. Shamelessly atheist,

        I’m also not concerned with who’s responsibility is it to shoulder the burden of proof. I’m interested in whether or not you can actually prove you aren’t delusional yourself. Do you have the ability to prove it? I’m not asking whether or not you *should* prove it.

  2. My central criticism of all kinds of beliefs is twofold:

    1) Is the belief true, and
    2) How can we determine that?

    Anyone who maintains a belief that fails to pay respect to these questions is making an error in judgement to attribute any value to the uninformed answers. Yet believers of all kinds insist that beliefs that fail to properly address these questions are somehow worthy of equal respect to answers that do. It is this sense of entitlement thrust into the public domain I find deeply disturbing on many levels.

    Faith is the antithesis of honest intellectual integrity. It is an assumption of truth that can and does lead us badly astray from what is true without any means for us to return. In this sense faith is indistinguishable from delusion, meaning we simply believe something to be true in the absence of corroborating evidence. If I was your mechanic and you brought me a car that didn’t work, you would not pay me for attributing its problems to the fact you failed to sacrifice a virgin, or take my repair efforts seriously if I chanted Latin words over it while waving my hands. My belief in appealing to supernatural agencies to intervene on your car’s behalf and repair it by magical means does not paint me as equally rational to the mechanic who inquires into the problem using cause and effect by natural mechanisms and acting on these findings in ways efficacious to repair. The thinking behind each approach is not the same and not worthy of equal respect. If given a choice of location to where your car breaks down and you have the option of a town filled with car repair clergy or car repair mechanics, you know perfectly well you which you would choose if the goal is to repair the machine.

    If you seek knowledge about the world and your place in it, then why choose theocracy based on belief in supernatural agency to be your guide? If you wouldn’t submit your car to such ridiculous ministrations, then why would you do so for your inquiring mind?

    Unless you’re deluded (meaning a fixed false belief)….

    1. Tildeb,

      I think a better approach to the 84% reality would be to find good reasons to believe this mass belief reflects actual reality. I hear your reasons not to believe, but have you considered finding reasons to believe. If you can at least accept religious behavior as a legitimate choice, then you won’t have to believe your fellow man is delusional in this area. You won’t have to believe that this natural inclination to religiousness is a lie.

      1. This ‘mass belief’ (great pun, by the way) is not a cohesive thing but fractured into many silly beliefs. You presume I have reached atheism as a starting point but like most census takers who check the box ‘religious’ was indoctrinated at an early age and assigned as a believer. But also most, I never spent the time and effort to specify in terms of knowledge what it was I presumably believed in. Only by doing so did I realize that my religiosity was based not on what I actually thought but by some other person’s prescription of what I ought to believe.

        The discipline of doing good science is not ‘natural’ but learned. From this I apply a method of thinking that I know works in producing knowledge I can trust. Under this discipline, religious belief – as any kind of faith-based assumption of what’s true – soon reveals its vacillations, evasions, lies, and mucilaginous truth claims under the light of honest inquiry. That more people don’t investigate their faiths in a similar fashion I think has much more to do with utility and than principle to respect what is true and how we can know what that is. If that were undertaken with an open mind, I suspect these numbers would quickly reverse as they do in all the sciences for those who work in them. Inserting “God does something mysterious here” in any honest investigation is seen for what it is: an attribution that is meaningless as any kind of description. In fact, such assertions are a cop out, an intentional move away from inquiry, a substitution of drivel in place of knowledge. Is this a popular tactic? Sure. Does that make it respectable? Nope. Does that make it equivalent? Nope. Does that make it excusable? Well, many believers and accommodations would have you think so but, when push comes to shove, I don’t so… at least in people’s secret heart where lying to one’s self for utility’s sake is surely the temporal version of hell.

      2. I hear your reasons not to believe, but have you considered finding reasons to believe. If you can at least accept religious behavior as a legitimate choice, then you won’t have to believe your fellow man is delusional in this area.

        There is only one reason to believe, and that is that the evidence is sufficient to substantiate the claims made by any particular religion. Anything else is mere wishful thinking and simply irrational.

        Since no religion has presented any unequivocal evidence (there’s lots of bad evidence that people think is good evidence that gets presented, such as eyewitness testimony that is woefully insufficient even if it were such, and we know it was not), accepting any of them can not be anything BUT delusional.

        It is not our fault that people believe for which there is simply no good reason to believe. So, yes. When people believe in UFOs and can’t produce any hard evidence for them, that’s delusional. (Actually, there is more and better evidence for UFO abductions than for the claims made by any religion.) When people say homeopathy works despite the evidence to the contrary,

    2. Tildeb,

      I know you have looked into the religious side already and found them to be lacking. However, much of what you say to me about my own religion betrays a misunderstanding of it. I have yet to find many atheist who can say exactly what I believe and why and then argue against it. Bart Erhman is one of those atheists that can do that.

      1. I thought Bert was agnostic? But it’s no surprise that the more one studies scholarly theology, the more likely it is to find out why truth claims made in its name are, to be blunt, wrong. If Bert has finally arrived at atheism, then that’s great. He’s certainly not alone from the ranks of theologians.

  3. What makes a choice ‘sane’ is the level of evidence in its support. As NotAScientist points out, argumentum ad populum is not evidence of the truth value of any claim. Sometimes an idea is true and people adhere to it because it is true. But the number of people that accept its truth value is not a measure of whether it is indeed true. At one time, everyone “knew” that the world was flat. Everyone. Was it true back then and suddenly became false when people divested themselves of it?

    Indeed, what I take from this data is that there is a wide range of religions, many of which can not accept the tenets of the others. (Lumping all religions together as if they have one voice is rather silly since religions are completely incompatible with each other and often leads to armed conflict.) This says far more about human psychology and a need to assign agency to events which are out of our control and phenomena we can not explain. “God” is a placeholder for our ignorance.

    I do indeed lump the existence of gods with the existence of unicorns and bigfoot, the efficacy of homeopathy, the possibility of UFOs abducting people, etc. Why? Because each has the same amount of evidence in favor of the proposition. That is, effectively none.

    I’m willing to be that you scoff at many of these other claims yet believe in the existence of a deity for which you have no more evidence in favor of than any of the other proposals. Why? I see no difference between the existence of god and of the yeti other than the popularity of one is greater. Which means, I see no difference in the truth value of the former over the latter at all. Might as well believe my claim that there are pink unicorns prancing on Pluto. There’s just as much evidence for them as there is for Zeus, Yahweh, Ba’al, Christ, Satan, yada, yada, yada.

  4. NotAScientist,

    You hesitate to call all religious people delusional and only say that they are partly so.

    Shamelessly Atheist and Tildeb don’t hesitate to do so and eggslap thinks they are all brainwashed.

    Do you have a compelling reason to travel only part way down the road that these and many other atheists have gone when they lump 84% of the population wholesale into the delusional category? Is it the sheer numbers that make you hesitate? Why do other atheists take a position that requires them to think of 84% of the world’s population as delusional or some type of insane? Is the reason for your separation just that you do not want to see people that way?

    In my opinion, the more humble atheist should be honest about the limits of his own reason at least considering that he might be wrong. This type of atheist would not have to call the world delusional. He could view the other side as a legitimate option though he disagrees with them.

    1. Remember that I wrote about using the term ‘delusion’ as meaning we simply believe something to be true in the absence of corroborating evidence. In this sense, then, anyone who believes something to be true without corroborating evidence is supporting a delusion. You have extracted from this to mean that I think religious people are delusional, but that is only true regarding those particular beliefs. You are delusional when you think your god is more than your mental construct of some oogity boogity interventionist agency but it is not true in almost every other area of your life (as far as I know) where you do indeed use corroborating evidence.

      And I am quite humble about the limits of my own reasoning – so much so that I know I cannot trust it alone to reveal what is true in fact, that I come biologically predisposed to assign patterns and agency where it has no business being applied. I know I can be fooled and am just as likely to be as gullible as any other person. That’s why I exercise my scepticism and engage in critical thinking. I am quite willing to freely admit I do not know something when I have no good reasons (as in backed by corroborating evidence) to think I do, and that it is perfectly fine to answer “I don’t know” when I truly don’t know. Why do you think this is not humble?

      I just wish others were as intellectually honest and were willing to understand the difference between respecting what is true and knowable and what is not, admit that privileging religion comes with a host of problems that impedes honest inquiry and provides empty answers to meaningful questions, admitted to owning their delusions and confess their real motivations for doing so, and recognize that promoting respect for what is believed to be true over and above what IS true in the public domain comes at a cost to other people as well as themselves, and that they have no right to foist their delusions on me. Between the two polarized positions, which one is really the more humble?

      1. Tildeb,

        You think religious people are delusional only regarding those particular beliefs. Have you considered that a true Christian sees no difference between his secular and spiritual life? Religious belief affects (and should affect) all other parts of your life. With this in mind, are you now willing to call religious people completely delusional?

        You said, “I know I can be fooled and am just as likely to be as gullible as any other person. That’s why I exercise my scepticism and engage in critical thinking.”

        You apply your skepticism quite heavily toward religion, but I do not think that you apply it just as equally toward your own views. This imbalance is a bias.

  5. If everyone is telling you one thing and you’re the only one that thinks another, isn’t there a high probability that you are wrong?

    No.
    Everybody in the room might say one thing and you might be the only one correct.
    Everybody on the planet might say one thing and you might be the only one correct.
    “Probability” doesn’t enter into it.

    A claim must be supported by evidence. The greater the claim; the greater the evidence required.

    You are making an argument ad populam.

    Atheist Answers – Why do Muslims repeat the same questions?

    1. Cedric,

      You said, “Everybody in the room might say one thing and you might be the only one correct. Everybody on the planet might say one thing and you might be the only one correct.”

      Everyone on the planet might be right and you might be the only one wrong — is also a valid statement. There is no proof either way. There are statistics: 84% to 16%. These numbers speak to probabilities. The fallacy is in thinking these numbers are proofs. Also, this isn’t about the different types of religions. It’s about people’s tendency to be religious and whether or not this makes them delusional or part of a valid statement about reality. Have we developed in evolution to the point that 84% of us believe a lie? If so, humanity may be on their way out. The farther one gets from reality, the harder it will be to survive. However, if there is a God, our mass evolution to religious tendency is a true witness of reality. If you can weigh probabilities without a previous bias on the issue, the larger number is intellectually compelling.

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