A Terse Explanation for the Enduring Nature of Religion

My Heathen Heart recently wrote a post that I commented on.  My comment was terse, which I suppose left the door open for interpretation.  In response to my comment, My Heathen Heart wrote an additional post.  A very well written and reasonable post, but one that I feel deserves a retort.  After all, I was referenced, so I think a short explanation is due.  But more importantly, I provided a complicated opinion with absolutely no explanation, which I’ll attempt to rectify now; keeping in mind – my attentive readers – that this will not be exhaustive.

My comment was very simple; and I’m going to fix the grammar since I apparently have a difficult time with this when writing comments.  Here it is:

“As I surf through new blogs today, looking for insightful and stimulating posts, I have found myself repeatedly saying, “How unfortunate.” I believe religion will never release its hold on humanity, but I believe we [can] train it to be more tolerant and semi-openminded.”

The origins of religious thought are essential to this discourse.  Of the many theories, there are three that are generally accepted; of course, any combination of these is also probable.  Those are:

  1. Religion provides an explanation for events and natural phenomena
  2. Religion is comforting
  3. Religion provides the foundation for a social order

I won’t bore you with lists of events, such as origin myths, or phenomena that puzzled our primal brethren.  That would be tedious; not to mention, most of you are more than familiar with multiple examples.  I’d rather address this first point with a question.  That is, by your own estimations, will humanity ever know everything about life and the universe?  The answer is obviously, no.  I won’t belabor you with philosophical logic as to why it would be fundamentally impossible; instead, I’ll ask that you use intuition as a guide.

To put it bluntly, we will never understand everything.  Because of this, the religiously inclined will continue to point towards those gaps as evidence for the supernatural.  I’m not speculating on this point; it’s historically supported by countless occasions.  Today, the religious cling to arguments such as infinite regression, our lack of evidence for abiogenesis, and our ignorance of dark matter.  Explain these and twenty new questions will arise; and all because that’s the nature of science.  It’s the agent Credulity uses to enact suffering on human progress; beautifully designed to follow us wherever knowledge is to be attained, it strikes better-judgment down with unrelenting disregard.

Moving to comfort, we first arrive at mortality.  People are frightened of death.  They do not recognize the anomalous nature of our time and they childishly refuse to embrace the opportunity in front of them.  Their fear is channeled through ambiguous, unfalsifiable, faith-based hopes.  Hopes that provide them comfort.  It’s comfort for the intellectually and emotionally debilitated.  Find a cure for this and then prepare your speech because you just earned the Nobel Prize.

Furthermore, try to name one country that has eradicated poverty, that thinks globally rather than like a solipsist little leach, and that has genuinely implemented a “level playing field”.  Without the social improvements above – not to mention, finding a cure to the mortality dilemma – people will always feel that this life is depressing, unjust, and taxing.  Religion is the sufferer’s second chance; it’s his hope for something better; it is his lifeblood.  Without religion, most people could not function with eternal nothingness at the back of their mind.

This brings us to the foundation of social order.  Again, I’ll refrain from going into detail, but religion has assisted man to enslave his brother since time immemorial.  I touch on this in The Evolution of Religious Thought: Cultural Diffusion and also in The Genesis of Credulity.  The elite established themselves as the keepers of the “unknown”.  In fact, my learned friend John Zande commented in response to that article with an appropriate example for this discourse.

“The first pantheon, that of the Sumerians, coincided with the rise of the first dynastic rulers. Before that moment the first five Sumerian cities of Eridu, Bad-tibira, Larsa, Sippar, and Shuruppak were theocracies controlled by the En’s; the cities High Priests and keepers of time. We know this today because the word En, or Ensi, is referred to in the earliest known Sumerian cuneiform tablets as ‘prince’ or ‘ruler’ of a city whereas in later tablets En is presented as subordinate to a new word, Lugal, which is composed of the symbols for ‘Big’ and ‘Man,’ denoting the first ‘Kings.’”

Do you foresee a future without political and economic inequality?  Do you foresee a future where everyone truly has an equal opportunity for education?  Do you foresee a time when humanity will understand everything? Or even a time when people will want to understand, and endure the realization that they are mortal?  Even the great political philosophers such as Rousseau weren’t this naïve; they understood the inherent need for inequality in modern civilizations.  I’d love to live in the secular utopia described above, but they’re simply unachievable.  They’re about as likely as avoiding the inevitable collision with Andromeda.  It’s wishful thinking for reasonable people.

Taking everything that I have just said into consideration, I’m still behind anyone that wishes to advance science and reason.  I’m still going to refute irrational arguments with apathy towards the perceived sanctity of supernatural drivel.  I’ll still proudly wear my badge of humanism, and I’ll continue to be an advocate of tolerance and compromise.  But I will not fool myself.  Religion is essential to the human condition; founded on the fragility of our consciousness and perpetuated by our curiosity.

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69 replies

  1. So, this is what it means by the En of the world is nigh.

    Does anyone want to by my collection of Ken Ham coffee mugs?

  2. “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”
    Thomas Jefferson

  3. Excellent post!
    The things I thought religion offered like comfort and answers to life big questions, I have found them elsewhere, and that is in philosophy and science. I have come to realize there are questions which even though we all want to ask are unnecessary since no one has the correct answer. There is no definite answer to the question why we are here and so many such questions. Knowing this I have revised my questions to those which I can answer such as what can i do for my fellow man, how can I make life better for my fellow man and this I think we can find common ground.

    • I would contend that you are a part of a select few. Not everyone has the opportunity, or motivation to educate themselves, which I think is step one. But more than that, most people are frightened by open-ended questions. It’s built in us to explain them, even if it’s pure speculation.

  4. Really want to play Devils advocate on this post, but got no time. Soon as I get some, I’ll be back. Great post though, well written and well reasoned, though I want to make a few assumptions and counter-reason.

  5. Superb disquisition on a subject I’m reluctant to get very involved in.

    As a child I went through the whole church/sunday school/bible school fiasco. I hadn’t even reached my teens before I realised how patently absurd it is.

    There’s really nothing I feel comfortable using the phrase “I am certain” with, but religion/god comes very close to earning that distinction.

  6. I prefer magic. Do I believe in magic? Absolutely not. Do I want to believe in it? Totally. Do I wish I could sling spells with the accuracy my mother could snap that dish towel and nail one of us thirty feet away? You betcha. The truth. Right. Truth. We don’t KNOW any truth. We don’t KNOW anything. You can prove anything using identical philosophical. and logical arguments. Identical arguments to prove the existence and non-existence of God or anything else.

    My answer? Stop worrying about it. What is, is. What will be, will be. If believing in a benign deity floats your boat? Float. You can argue till you and the moon are blue, but you will never convince a believer to disbelieve or a non-believer to find faith.

    Do I know there are some weird things in this uniververse that have happened to me and others and which neither you nor anyone else can properly explain? Yup. Do I think these “powers” or whatever they are ultimately mean anything in terms of effecting significant changes in the future of our civilization or development of the human race? Hell no. But it’s interesting. I’ll just go with interesting, You guys please feel free to solve the human dilemma. Send me an email with a short summary.

    I studied this stuff in college and after a lifetime of pursuing “knowledge” and “truth” I’ve come back to the place I began. I know nothing and never will. AND neither do you.

    • Teepee, I greatly appreciate your contribution to this discussion. In a very general sense I agree with you. Why does it matter? What is truth? What is knowledge? I wouldn’t say, however, that you can prove anything using identical philosophy. In a lot of ways, this logic is fallacious.

      I do see an issue with certain metaphysical arguments and view them as, at least, deserving of cogitation. If the belief in supernatural entities was kept private, then by all means, do as you do. But that’s simply not the case. Furthermore, many believers have been swayed to a life of reason, so I disagree that we can’t influence other people. On the contrary, it’s clear that we can.

      Like I said, in a general sense I agree. Your last statement was Socratic to the core, but there are certainly things we can know. If our knowledge is incomplete, does it follow that we are devoid of knowledge? I think not.

  7. Having read your, Fourat J, and My Heathen Hearts posts on this, I’d like to chime in with some thoughts of my own. Since I don’t think my blog’s audience would enjoy my candid comments about this (and it might close their ears to other things I’d rather have them hear), I’ll just put a couple of my thoughts here.

    THE RATCHET. Social progress is much like a ratchet – it moves slowly in one direction, but is VERY difficult to get to return the other way. For instance, it would be nearly impossible to convince Americans today to allow slavery, segregation, or unequal voting. Once an individual feels love and acceptance towards someone, it’s a difficult thing to take away from them, to train them to be closed-minded and hateful again. Assuming there isn’t some nuclear war that moves us to anarchy and forces us to rebuild our society, I don’t see our society ever accepting the superstitions and prejudices of the past again.

    WISDOM OF THE MASSES. Religion gets normal people to believe ridiculous assertions solely because they’re surrounded by other people who believe the same thing. Insane ideas assume a legitimacy they don’t deserve as a result.

    It is for these reasons that I think (and hope) that religion will continue to experience a slow decline. Once enough people scoff religion’s claims, people will look back on our debates about religion in much the same way as we look back on arguments about slavery – they will wonder how we could ever have thought it was worth a debate at all.

    I think we’re all agreed on that note. The question is whether it will disappear altogether.

    On this point I’d have to agree with RL Culpeper that I don’t think it will disappear, but believe it will become more vague and “spiritual,” with less and less dogma and more acceptance for everyone else. That’s the general trend we’ve seen in religion over the past few decades, and I think it will continue.

    Consider the massive changes made by some of our most conservative religions – Mormonism and Catholicism. These provide an example of how short our human memory is when we want to forget things that challenge us. I come from a Mormon background, so I’ll speak on that.

    Mormons have made many huge doctrinal changes over the years and I anticipate a few more in the coming years. A short catalog: giving black members the priesthood, banning and then basically forgetting about polygamy, believing the Book of Abraham to be translated from real papyri and then realizing the papyri was just a funeral scroll and thus reinterpreting their belief about it and claiming it was “an inspired translation not based on the actual text,” etc. In short, if you were to place Joseph Smith in the current Mormon faith, he wouldn’t recognize anything except the word Mormon on their book.

    It now approaches it’s next challenge – accepting homosexuals into the faith in a way that doesn’t undermine past prophetic statements. Given their past track record, I don’t think they’ll have a problem doing it. I think it will take a generation or two and then members will completely forget about their Church’s previous nonacceptance of gays.

    MY POINT. Though I would hope for the ascendance of rational thought over superstition, and for the complete decline of religious institutions, I remain skeptical that that will occur. Religions have shown themselves to be remarkably adaptable (even while maintaining the dogma that they carry unchanging truth – it is VERY impressive, really) and, I believe, will continue to adapt to society. Those religions that don’t adapt will decrease while those that do adapt will grow. Judeo-Christian religions and others with harsh and blunt religious texts will either be completely gutted of literal interpretation or will decrease as more vague and “spiritual” religions rise, possibly eastern religions.

    We like believing comforting truths and atheism holds little comfort. We carry difficult truths that are, to us, invigorating and freeing. Sometimes they are depressing, and others characterize atheist beliefs in this negative way. A common question I’m asked from believing family members is “How can you not believe in an afterlife?” That’s the way many people approach truth. In the evolutionary struggle of ideas, comfortable ideas have a distinct survival advantage – we will jump through a lot of intellectual hoops to hold on to them.


    Those are my thoughts, but I’m certainly not stuck to them. I’d love any responses. So far I’ve loved this conversation and applaud the way it’s been held.

    • Jefferson, this conversation has been quite enjoyable. I wonder if anyone would be interested in similar discourses on a monthly basis. Take a vote for the topic, figure out who wants to contribute, establish a date, and link all the contributors in your post. In addition to the networking opportunity, I think it would be intellectually beneficial. Think it over and let me know what you think. If you think it’s worthwhile, I’ll create a post and provide a poll for topics.

      Now, directing my attention to your post, I think we’ve reached a consensus in that all of us are hopeful that religion will disappear. The varying opinions seem to be centered on the degree to which that will occur. You and I are of the opinion that it will become less influential, or more ambiguous, while Heathen and Fourat believe it’s on a decline to nothingness. Time will tell. For what it’s worth, I hope they’re right.

  8. Thank you for writing this.

    I would desperately like to hear what you have to say about a satire that I’m developing …

    It’s not shameless self-promotion if I use the word “desperately” is it?

    • It’s only shameless if you’re unashamed. I think you can be desperate and unashamed simulatneously, so it depends. You tell me, was it shameless?

      I’m not sure if this counts as “blatant spam”. It has a hint of subtle cleverness, so I’ll allow it. However, before I provide feedback, you must do the same. Drive by commenting doesn’t work here. :)

      • I know. I usually play by those rules. I had a lapse of judgement.
        I’m pretty burnt out at the moment, so I will not do you justice (I’ll leave that with the ancient greeks).
        I hope that I don’t blow it by being impatient …

        While we cannot eradicate religion from the earth, I do think we can move beyond it.
        As technology gets more and more sophisticated, we get closer to understanding the human brain.
        Not that long ago a steam engine was the best comparison we had to make.
        Now we have the internet and ipads and Zeus knows what else has yet to be released.
        From what I have gathered, some scientists believe that we will completely understand our brains in 10 years.

        Once we know how our brains work, we need to make that knowledge public and popular. We can do it. Just think about how quickly we’ve been moving along.

        I imagine a future where the word “human” may even have a negative connotation … similar to the way it does in even the silliest science fiction movies. The majority of people know that they are confused … that’s a reason why mindless comedies (and religion) are so popular …

        The confusion begins when our higher order thinking tries to process our lower order thinking, and so on, and blah, blah science talk, science talk … I love science talk, but I’m tired.

        If we believe that we will always need our stubborn beliefs, then we will. If we believe that we will never comprehend the universe, then we won’t. We just need to separate the constructive delusions from the destructive delusions.

        I’d really like to answer your questions more directly at another time. I believe my internal processor is running slow. Must be filled with adware. Need to empty my cache. Since I’m too stupid at the moment, I’ll just quote Einstein, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is comprehensible.”

        I think he knew, or at least knew that it was healthy to think he knew, that everything about the universe was physical, and now I’m going to say that, like the universe, everything about our minds is physical … and once we “crack the code” … a whole new level of humanity will emerge.

        We will have EVIDENCE that our ancient beliefs aren’t meant for the present. We will have EVIDENCE … like a cheating spouse that is caught on camera … there will be no denying it, and those who still believe after that will probably form tribes on the outskirts of society.

        • Dang it, you see that, I misquoted Einstein … “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”

          • Christo, that is the most original perspective I’ve seen yet: to abolish supernatural thought by understanding its physiological workings, and to instill practices that correct deleterious cognition. Of course, the first steps would require an understanding of the brain that we simply don’t have yet. But it’s not something I see as unachievable. However, this sort of theory reminds me of Pascal Boyer’s research. He used anthropology and neuroscience to explain religion, but concluded that there was nothing special about the inclination for religious beliefs. That is to say, there is nothing special occurring in the believer’s mind that isn’t occurring in the non-believer’s. Still, future studies may produce different results. We shall see.

            Thank you kindly for contributing to this. I hope you understand my original hesitation. Your many comments are more than I expected, and owing to your integrity, I will conduct a thorough review of your satire. I wonder, has the next Voltaire just shared his opinion on my blog? :)

            • I’ll start with a digressive nitpick. Since I am cautiously optimistic that I won’t be wasting my fingers, pecking … I don’t like that we use the word theory in place of the word hypothesis in this society. It causes a lot of trouble … people think things like “the theory of evolution is only a ‘theory,’ why is everyone so sure?” It is absolutely disturbing to me that the following are both acceptable definitions of the word:

              1.) a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena: Einstein’s theory of relativity. Synonyms: principle, law, doctrine.
              2.) a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.

              (sorry for cutting and pasting)

              Is it any wonder that no one trusts scientists???

              Another one, “cynic” … Cynicism began with values like: happiness can be achieved with cooperation with nature and moderation … HOW did we LET this come to mean a person who is bitter and negative?? I find it interesting that our society developed in contrast to these values … and wonder whether or not our modern interpretation can be traced back to an earlier campaign speech.

              I will need to check out Pascal Boyer’s research … but, I seem to recall hearing or seeing that a believer’s mind has a significant amount of neuronal connections when they are praying that are not present in a non-believer. As my brain is still deficient and haphazard thanks to my Catholic upbringing, I cannot recall exactly where I heard that.

              I can recall reading “Brain Bugs” & “On Being Certain” … and essentially, it may be believed that “knowing” is a feeling just as happiness is. We fall in love with our beliefs just like we would with anything else or a person … Depending on our upbringing, experiences and neuronal disposition, we may fall in love for different reasons … some prefer pain to comfort, but most prefer comfort. Either way, once we “fall in love” … it’s very difficult to “fall out” … there’s nothing mystical about it … when we engage in a routine, the neuronal connections in our brain strengthen … when we engage in something novel, new connections form but are usually weak until we reinforce them with things that our association loving brains will agree to hold onto. We CAN break the connections that hold on to outdated beliefs …

              But, it will take non-believers coming forward and being vocal about it and DEMONSTRATING that we don’t lose empathy when we shed our stubborn beliefs … the fear of “not knowing” feels every bit as real as the comfort of “knowing” … but, they are both ONLY feelings (thank you pseudo-science for appealing to our egos and making progress more difficult) … In an abusive relationship (hopefully no one reads this and says “god and I aren’t in an abusive relationship.” I’m being hyperbolic.), the person taking the abuse finds it difficult to leave. Their pain, while incredibly uncomfortable, gives them a feeling of knowing, and that feeling of knowing is what we THINK makes us human … but it may be more of an evolutionary glitch that has yet to be resolved … like an Ipad app that needs fixes …

              Higher thinking emerged and over time we said, “what are these images and sensations in my head!? Let’s call them ‘thoughts’.” Or, you may no better than I what they might’ve called it. Some think that schizophrenia may have been more prevalent in earlier times … even if that’s untrue … still an interesting concept that may help us understand how gods followed thoughts and how the god of any given culture looks similar to what we would imagine that particular culture would think up.

              I can attest to the fact that there is nothing to be afraid of. We don’t lose empathy when we shed our stubborn beliefs. In fact without a belief standing in the way, bonding and kinship is easier — sometimes in humorous ways … I used to be Catholic, but now when I look in my dogs eyes, I think, “wow. you and I really aren’t that different. we are in the same boat, aren’t we?” Not meant to be alluding to Noah’s ark … but, hey, maybe that’s what “Life of Pi” is about? Perhaps I will check that movie out.

              • Yes, the confusion with “theory” is avoidable. I have thought of this in the past, and to be honest, my opinion changes back and forth. On the one hand, I think we should expect people to be educated on the difference between the everyday definition, and the scientific. However, being cognizant that this expectation is perhaps too high, I’m a proponent of changing the word used for scientific purposes altogether. I still think we should maintain Fact, Hypothesis and Law; but in Theory’s stead, maybe Principle could be used. I wonder if that would alleviate some of the confusion. Anyway, your *hypothesis* reminded me of Boyer’s work.

                As for Cynic, I looked up its etymology and found that the English version is derived from kynikos (a follower of Antisthenes); meaning a “dog-like” follower of his sarcastic philosophy. I’m not sure if the meaning was lost before or after this, but it would be an interesting subject for a philologist.

                Yes, a believer’s mind is undergoing specific neural activity while praying, but these same areas have multiple cognitive functions. It does not follow that this activity is exclusive to the believer; just that the believer is utilizing this portion of the brain for prayer purposes. I guess, in a sense, this supports your argument. That is to say, your argument – I believe – was that we can train our minds to focus on positive cognitive activities – if I may qualify prayer as negative. Now, the process of breaking connections and the process of retraining connections are different. We may find that the process of prayer lends some degree of assistance in our daily lives. Though prayer is absent of practicality, the process may be found to assist other faculties, such as recollection, or intuition. All of this is speculation and I think it’s clear that both of us need to read more. I’m going to read the two references you provided. If you do the same, we may have a descent *hypothesis* between us. And I’m glad you reminded me Of “Life of Pi”. Not sure when I’ll get around to it, but it looks like an interesting movie.

                • Hey, if you think about what I last said about bonding with my dog, then maybe a dog-like follower is not bad — if by that you do not mean “obedient to the man” but instead “obedient to the method” … if that method is scientific and designed to perpetuate knowledge. Ok, I shouldn’t have said that … I don’t want to get either of us distracted.

                  yes, we both need to read more, but I think it’s still a useful discussion at this point …

                  Right, but if they are utilizing a specific portion of their brain for prayer (connection with “god”) … then could we say that they are monopolizing that portion of their brain?? Science tells us that each neuron can potentially connect with 10,000 other neurons, so it’s not like the “prayer portion” could only be used for prayer … that “cluster” (forgive the layman term) might not be exclusive from the surrounding neurons, but I imagine they have to be influential … preventing certain useful connections (bias) while triggering unfavorable ones (bias). I hope that science will one day be able to prove that the bias of the believer is detrimental to the individual and to society.

                  It’s like a holy, pop-up virus OR internet security in the workplace … it either blocks accessibility to certain sites altogether or obscures their view with advertisements.

                  It’s not specifically prayer that’s useful is it? Isn’t it just the act of doing something familiar? I mean no offense to anyone who is an alcoholic — I mention this only to make a point … “Keep coming back. It works if you work it.” Couldn’t this be applied to any method of self-help or group-help? Aren’t we just creating more convincing experiences through repetition? Putting on a better show? AS LONG AS SOMEONE IS WILLING … isn’t that why they say, “it won’t work” till the person “wants it for themselves”. In other words, they won’t be convinced till they are willing to be convinced, whether it’s out of desperation or out of learned credulity … it takes the same type of suspension of disbelief that helps us enjoy movies, doesn’t it? Only suspended for much longer periods of time until the movie feels too familiar and comforting to eject.

                  • It could very well apply to your comparison with dogs! Obedient to the method is likely not how it was used though. :)

                    It’s an interesting question: Once the dendrites make connections, are they hard-wired for specific tasks, or can these connections be utilized for other tasks? Also, do these connections have an impact on the surrounding neurons? We know that our mind performs certain tasks without us consciously knowing, so predetermined bias is certainly plausible. Whether those connections require removal, or can simply be reprogrammed, I think, is the centermost point of this discussion.

                    It is true, the prayer itself is not useful, but I would have to know what portion of the brain is being activated to know what faculties are carried out by “prayer like” activities; which is why I said the same functions that occur during prayer could prove to be useful. That they are familiar could be advantageous once the inclination to perform impractical activities is removed; thereby reprogramming obsolete neurons for the purpose of positive functionality; such as intuition. Again, we need to know what else is occurring in those areas to understand what could possibly be improved upon. It IS a method used by the self-help movement. They are utilizing beliefs (neural connections) for new functions.

                    But I think we’re talking past eachother now. :)

                • http://saintdouglas.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/the-truth-about-the-origin-of-all-that-is/

                  Don’t trouble yourself with reading the whole thing. Maybe get a laugh or a gag at his use of the word theory.

                  • I read it and here was my comment:

                    “Evolution does not claim that all life evolved from “… a primordial soup 14.5 billion years ago… “ In fact, we can demonstrate that the age of the universe is 13.77 billion years old +/- .4. The earth, on the other hand, is 4.5 billion years old. We see no evidence of life on Earth until approximately 3.5 billion years ago. Furthermore, the theory behind life’s origins is known as abiogenesis, not evolution. The theory of evolution is focused on explaining the divergence of life through random mutation, aided by NATURAL SELECTION. I have capitalized natural selection because this portion is anything but random; a point you seem to be missing. Furthermore, evolution uses demonstrable, falsifiable, empirical evidence to support its claims. ID is not a scientific theory; at best it is an unsubstantiated hypothesis. YEC is not a scientific theory; at best it is an unsubstantiated hypothesis. Neither hypothesis is demonstrable, neither is falsifiable, and neither uses empirical evidence. On the contrary, they argue from two positions. The first is ignorance, commonly known as God of the Gaps; and the second is a priori, metaphysical logic. The first can hardly be considered evidence because an absence of evidence does not constitute evidence. The second is built upon the fundamental notion that it CANNOT be empirically demonstrated.

                    So, within the first 5 sentences of your article, you have grossly misrepresented the constructs of a scientific theory; misapprehended the purpose of the theory of evolution; and greatly miscalculated the first appearances of life on Earth. I didn’t even touch on the circular reasoning and facile approach of using the Bible to prove that God – via the Holy Spirit – wrote the Bible, and therefore proves the Judeo-Christian origin myth. Simply stunning.

                    Anyway, I’m sure, in your mind, this matters not. I’d be surprised, in fact, if you approved this comment. Have a great day, my mammalian brother.”

                    I doubt he will approve my comment. :)

  9. “Do you foresee a future without political and economic inequality?”

    I think we have to have a fair amount of inequality. A reasonable amount of inequality. We will never close the gap, but we can’t let them fill it with water and insist that we either pay to ride their boats or be forever stranded on an island slum.

    People are not paid for their contributions to this society, but for their will to take. I know we are not that far removed from Ancient Greece, but I’d like to imagine that we don’t have to stand for this. If enough people imagine an equal society, then we can reorganize our society to be more equal.

    I’m still tired but feeling guilty about my original post.

    • I think those on the losing end feel differently, with respect to a “reasonable amount of inequality.” Inequality is essential for modern civilizations. Nature isn’t concerned with equality, and our ability to defy nature is very limited; not impossible, but nearly so for certain things.

      Please do not feel guilty! You have more than redeemed yourself!

      • I agree. I intentionally said reasonable amount of equality and fair amount of equality. I’m not looking to be obscurant and am readily willing to admit my ignorance … I may drive myself insane in the process but “Christo Clochard” is part of the commentary of Irrelevant Discourse with an Immortal Nobody. Probably a futile attempt to instill meaning where it does not exist, but the alternative to me is unappealing.

  10. “Do you foresee a future where everyone truly has an equal opportunity for education?”

    It would probably take a revolution.

    “Do you foresee a time when humanity will understand everything?”

    I think that if we do not blow ourselves up, and in enough time, yes.

    “Or even a time when people will want to understand, and endure the realization that they are mortal? ”

    Yes!!! “If I can eschew religion then so can you! It should be as easy as achoo!” (Maybe in 50 years or so we will hear something like that come from our first atheist president.) Seriously, my mom still tells me that I need to talk to my guardian angel (very practical, real world advice).

    • “It would probably take a revolution.”

      Even revolutions have those on top, and those on bottom. We can’t all be generals; some of us have to be soldiers.

      “I think that if we do not blow ourselves up, and in enough time, yes.”

      This is fundamentally impossible. See my article on a priori / a posteriori.

      “Yes!!! “If I can eschew religion then so can you! It should be as easy as achoo!” (Maybe in 50 years or so we will hear something like that come from our first atheist president.) Seriously, my mom still tells me that I need to talk to my guardian angel (very practical, real world advice).”

      This is I completely agree with. We have enough examples of apostasy, so all sign point to “yes” on this one.

      Again, thank you very much for commenting. I’ll read / comment on your blog tomorrow afternoon.

      • Where is the a priori/ a posteriori article? Having difficulty …

        • By the way, this is the portion I was referring to.

          “Simply stated, a posteriori is limited in scope, and therefore can only supply probabilities because we can never hope to experience every variation of a given proposition. For instance, we expect the laws of motion to continue as they always have because experience has yet to provide converse examples. The verification of our expectations are therefore limited because we cannot project with certainty into the future. This is the Principle of Induction as stated by Russell.

          “(a) When a thing of a certain sort A has been found to be associated with a thing of a certain sort B, and has never been found dissociated from a thing of the sort B, the greater the number of cases in which A and B have been associated, the greater is the probability that they will be associated in a fresh case in which one of them is known to be present;

          (b) Under the same circumstances, a sufficient number of cases of association will make the probability of a fresh association nearly a certainty, and will make it approach certainty without limit.”

          This principle is well known in all fields of science. Any scientist will explain that when dealing with empirical evidence, uncertainty is the only certainty; thus the agent of antagonism towards the scientific community manifests itself. For this reason, Empiricism is often mistaken as an inadequate method for understanding nature; and perhaps to a degree, this is true. Yet, advocates of this ethos are engaging in a fundamental misapprehension. That is, if a proposition has been demonstrated as probable by applying the induction principle, it does not necessarily follow that the argument is deficient. On the contrary, it remains valid until conflicting evidence comes into being.”

          • Now, I’m uncertain as to where I was disagreeing with you!

            Ahh! I completely over-simplified my position.

            No, I do not think we can ever understand everything … HOWEVER, I do think we can get to a comfortable place on this planet – provided we can slow down reproduction and don’t blow ourselves up.

            In my mind … we’ve got to find some ground that at least feels familiar to all of us … this will be a lot easier to do ONCE religion and gods swap places with art, literature and philosophy … on the fringes of society, rejected by the masses.

            This CAN be done. Women weren’t allowed to vote less than 100 years ago. Rosa Parks wouldn’t give up her seat less than 60 years ago. Racism is losing steam. Obama is president. We might have legal same sex marriage in the next 4 years. Atheists are coming forward. The world CAN be a tolerable place in the next 50 years, IF we keeping spreading reason, doubt and make science cool — like it should be.

            A further over-simplification … my attempt at faith …

            • I fully accept that. The first step required before becoming comfortable would be admitting that we will never know everything. Once that is assented to, and once we realize that having unanswered questions are a blessing – for lack of a better word – the sooner humanity can focus on what’s important: tolerance, empathy, compassion, etc. Assuming that we know, or assuming that we can know everything, is at the heart of divisiveness. Accept that we can learn from others. Accept our ignorance. People don’t argue over who is more ignorant; If they did, that argument would be quite cordial; conceding to one another, over and over and over…

  11. My my RL! Quite the discussion here, and it is ever so fruitful and intellectually stimulating. Really enjoyed reading the comments. I know I have a comment to respond to, but I’m a bit busy and find myself in a poorly connected part of the world, so until I return to the connected world, I cannot adequately reply, but I will soon. I will say, I was very surprised to find, once you liked my page on FB, that you are but a young chap. You write with the eloquence and (this is a compliment) intellectual ferocity that is usually found in one’s elder years. You are ahead of the game, and remind of Christopher Hitchens in the width and breadth of your writing and readings. And as ever, I look forward to your next posts and writings.

    • Not to worry, Fourat. I believe I read, in perhaps your Bio, that you travel to war stricken countries a lot. I wonder if our paths ever crossed. What are you doing? Journalism, like our mutual friend, Hitchens?

      Anyway, I’m afraid I committed to something that is beyond my bandwidth. I have sat down to read your book on a couple of occasions and ran into different problems (editing a PDF, printing/scanning at work, etc.). Now that school has restarted, I’m not sure this is something I can do, and I know your deadline has passed. The best I can do now is chip away at the chapters on your site and provide feedback there. It is unacceptable, and I was truly looking forward to this, but hopefully you will forgive my poor judgement and afford me this opportunity in the future. Again, I’m really sorry. I was planning on writing you an email earlier, but I couldn’t find the words, as I was very disappointed.

      I receive comments on my age a lot; hence the absence of my photo. I’d like to be critiqued on my writing, and not my appearance. Although I am young (28), people usually think I’m even younger. It’s hard to complain about something like that, so I won’t. Like you, I spent much of my early twenties traveling, and some of those places were less than hospitable towards us; not that I expected them to be, or blame them for not being. Because of these experiences – among other things – my life is now dedicated to learning. I want to help people think for themselves, because if I noticed anything in my travels, it was that people everywhere want peace. Even the Taliban fighters want peace. They just don’t know how to live in tolerance, and so they bow to authority and are swayed by charisma more than reason; just as Americans are. So yes, I am young, but there was no room for naivete as a sergeant in the Marine Corps, which is likely the source of my accelerated maturity.

      To be compared to Christopher Hitchens’ is more than I deserve; far more than I deserve. He was one of the greatest men of our era, and it saddens me that his contributions were cut short. Though, even in his death he teaches, which is an achievement we should all strive for.

      Anyway, I could easily make the same comparison with you. Like Hitchens, you are not content with understanding one subject, or subtopic. It is the reason I think your book is so great. There are few people in the world that can write about twenty different topics, let alone fit them into a single book. It’s quite remarkable. So, for now, let us both continue in Christopher’s footsteps and hope to make a fraction of his impact.


      • No worries Ryan. I understand. Sometimes life throws curveballs at us and we misjudge the impact of time, life, and other commitments. Consider yourself absolved of sin! :) If ever you need critiques on your works, I’d be happy to help, I truly enjoy your writing. (Though I may ask for your help in my new book, Adam and Greed: The Moral Manipulation of Religion, if you have the time in a few months.) Now that I’ve started exploring WordPress these days, I can’t believe the minds that are out there, and I share the sentiment you borrowed from Confucius on my post earlier. I find that very few people around me in the real world share my love of learning, so the internet is truly a blessing in this regard.

        Indeed, our paths may have crossed. I have worked in Baghdad, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, and likewise travelled around most of the middle east. In fact, I find myself in Iraq right now. What about yourself? Do you care (or are you allowed) to divulge where you have been. I am just a smidgen younger than you, turning 28 in 2 months, and yes, I likewise believe my travelling around the world has contributed to my worldview, and likewise my lust for learning. I still look back at my pre-travelling naive self content in ignorance with shock. I’d always been curious, but not active enough to satiate that curiosity. Well, I’m not a journalist though perhaps I should have been (I guess this is why Im writing now). I have been in many a sticky situation (I’ve written about four of those on my blog, under the title “Atheist in a foxhole” if you care to read them), and they have truly changed my life. Life is short; spend it learning, arguing, and with those you love. If I ever had to describe my life, it would be in that simple sentence.

        I travel the States every so often, so maybe one of these days we may find our paths cross. I certainly hope so.

        • Not having time is a poor excuse, but I appreciate your understanding. It would be my honor to read your next book and offer feedback – truly. Whenever you have a draft ready, send it my way and I’ll make sure I dedicate more time. However, I’d like to send a hard copy back, so I’d ask for a mailing address if that’s ok. Anyway, just from the title I can tell that it will be interesting. I’m quite jealous that you’re already on your second book. I’m still working on my first, and until a few days ago I wasn’t even sure of the direction, let alone a title. You will have to share your writing process with me one day. Mine, I feel, could use some improvement.

          Yes, it seems our paths may have crossed. I was involved in various missions throughout the Middle East. We also provided support in Somalia, and we participated in a humanitarian mission in Bangladesh. Overall, I did two deployments but my second was more of a sight seeing trip than anything else. We went to Dubai a few times, sat in the Strait of Hormuz, headed to Kuwait, spent a week or two in Turkey, Israel, Malta, Spain and Greece. We got around and I was lucky enough to experience different cultures and befriend people from places like South Korea, Libya, and Uganda. Though I was involved in things that are now diametric to my values, the experience itself was very rewarding, and I hope to revisit many of those places again.

          If or when you find yourself in the US, please don’t hesitate to drop me an email. My position is analogous with yours – very few people around me share my love of learning – and nothing makes me happier than conversing with like-minded individuals. It’s a pity those conversations are far and few between, but I suppose we should be thankful to even have the internet as a supplement. Can you imagine how life-long students felt a century ago?

          By the way, I’ll be checking out those foxhole posts. I’m very intrigued!

  12. Thanks for checking out my blog and subscribing. I’ll be back to check yours out. Thanks again.

  13. Is a Christian welcome to share his thoughts? I’d like to add my two cents, if you’re interested.

    • You’re more than welcome! In fact, I’d love to hear your perspective.

      • Excellent, thank you for your hospitality!

        My first comment is this: you list as possible reasons for the enduring nature of religion 1) it provides explanation for events and natural phenomena 2) it is comforting and/or 3) it provides a foundation for social order. All of these may be and probably are true to some extent, but to be truly empirical I believe you have to consider every possibility, one of which you have neglected to mention. That is, the possibility that there is a God and He’s calling men to Himself.

        Religion does provide explanation for events and natural phenomena, but man is excellent at coming up with theories, especially when we deal with things that we don’t often see directly- the intangible. Religion is comforting, but not usually from the outside. In Christianity, at least, the existence of God becomes comforting once you know Him and His character. From the outside it can be scary, I think, leading me to believe that this isn’t the best of reasons for religion’s enduring qualities. After all, no one who doesn’t believe in salvation likes to think about the existence of a Hell- it would be more comforting for mankind as a whole (if in fact, religion were false) to simply can the whole thing. Religion can provide a foundation for social order, but societies have been managed without it (albeit, with rather tragic results, historically). I personally think the only explanation that is tenable is that there is a God and He continues to call men to Himself.

        A few thoughts going forward: I love hearing what others think and believe, so thank you for sharing your thoughts. A word of caution, however- throughout this post and in these comments (don’t worry, I’m not offended) theists are casually assumed to be ignorant and stubborn in their beliefs. I don’t know if you’re a chess player, R.L., but in that game it’s poor form to assume an opponent’s moves are based on ignorance. Sometimes that’s what ends up doing you in. This isn’t chess, and we’re not opponents, but I think the principle holds true. I disagree with much of what you purport here, but I assure you, I’m not ignorant. Neither do I think you are ignorant. I don’t know you well enough to decide one way or the other, nor you, me.

        Many of the thoughts expressed here go both ways. Theists are said, on this comment section, to be the victims of groupthink, since they ‘surround themselves with people who believe the same as they do.’ I think that it’s a natural human tendency for people to find others who are similar. Studies have been done where two people who share a certain trait are placed in a large room with lots of people, and they manage to find each other. Further, however, I think that this is an erroneous explanation for mainstream religion (for cultic religions where people leave society and live in seclusion, surrounded only by other initiates, I think groupthink certainly applies). My reasoning is this: our culture in general, at least officially, is not terribly supportive of religion. Regardless of how religious a child grows up, he still spends five days a week in public school, which teaches against religion. He spends one day a week at church.
        The train travels both ways, as they say, and I think that we all need to be wary of only ever exposing ourselves to people who agree with us. A Christian will often find himself in a temple of atheism (read, public university), but an atheist will rarely find himself in church. In 66 comments on this post, I am the only theist to speak.

        Sorry for the long post, but thank you for letting me share my thoughts.

        • W.A., thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on this topic. I find it’s best to approach discussions such as these cordially, but I admit, I am human and often stray from my own guidelines. Rest assured, I do not find theists to be universally ignorant. I haven’t shared my views on intelligence on this website, but that particular describer doesn’t automatically constitute ignorance in my book. I’m sorry if the post, or any of the comments linked to this post led you to believe that. I’ll address each of your points separately and if you think I’ve missed something, please let me know.

          1. It’s easy to descend into generalities when discussing religion, and in a post that is barely 1200 words in length, one can hardly expect to find an exhaustive list of explanations for religion. Your example, however, which I will interpret as revelation, does not belong in an empirical list. Contrary to your example, there is evidence for the three explanations I provided above. For instance, Thor striking his hammer was used to explain the sound of thunder; we know that people fear death and religion allays that particular anxiety; and there are numerous examples of religion providing social order: Constantine, for example, called for the Council of Nicaea to settle the internal disputes in Christianity, thereby creating political stability within the empire.

          Verifiable evidence is absent in revelation. One may suggest the claims of early Church leaders such as Saul, but you will have to remember that during this period many people claimed to have a direct connection with God. Not to mention, Saul was a figure that was periodically rejected by early Christian leaders. If you’re familiar with the power struggles between the early bishoprics, you will remember that many of the opinions held today were quite controversial in early church history. As modeled by Constantine, these issues were often resolved by the Byzantine emperors, not bishops. Therefore, the attitude and opinions of Christianity have been developed through speculation and were often compulsory. It is a hard position to defend (revelation) when there is so much ambiguity involved, and when the differentiation between “heresy” and “divine truth” is decided for political reasons that have long been forgotten. You are, however, more than welcome to provide an example of true revelation if you wish.

          2. Your second contention seemed to be based on the different perspectives between atheists and theists. That is to say, the view from within Christianity is comforting while conversely being discomforting for those looking in. I disagree because 99% of those who reject theism were once theists. Therefore, the view from within cannot be universally comforting. In fact, for many of those whom eventually side with atheism, it is the dogma that one learns which provides the discomfort. Also, Hell provides and equal degree of discomfort – for me at least – as Heaven. Why anyone would want to spend eternity in heaven is beyond me; but that is another discussion entirely.

          3. I’d like to address the point you made with respect to religion providing social order. Although one can cite many examples of religion providing social order, one can also provide many examples where secularism did the same. You alluded to some negative outcomes of secularism, but I think you’re failing to acknowledge that the U.S. was founded as a secular society. Furthermore, those nations which performed atrocities under the guise of humanism are far too complicated to address tersely; so I’d like you to keep in mind, if you plan on citing Stalin or another communist dictatorship, that these societies were not founded under the influences of Paine, Voltaire, Diderot, etc. They were perversions of secularism and indeed, of communism, which are disingenuously associated with humanistic principles. If you disagree, I’d like to know what influenced Stalin’s tyranny more: The Enlightenment or The Inquisition?

          4. You will have to excuse me, but your point with respect to the difference between mainstream religions and cults seems to lack an understanding of Christianity’s history. Seclusion and group-think is at the heart of Christianity. It is still practiced today – among monks – but in Christianity’s early days asceticism through seclusion was a cornerstone of Christian education. Asceticism only declined because it effectively rejected bishopric authority along with worldly pleasures. Furthermore, public schools do not teach “against religion”. They teach things that can be perceived as contrary to religious dogma, but they are not teaching atheism. There is a stark difference, but more importantly, this is relatively new development in U.S. schools systems. I can’t fathom how you think religion isn’t influential in just about everything we encounter, including public education, so I’ll let you clarify.

          I’m very happy that you feel comfortable enough to share your thoughts, but please do not take my website as evidence for a Christian always “[finding] himself in a temple of atheism…” It just happens that most of my subscribers are atheist or agnostic – not all, but most. We make up a very small percent of America, and I find it curious that you see yourself as overwhelmed by atheism. Perhaps you should take a closer look around you…

          Take care,

          • Hey, R.L.

            Thanks for clarifying a few things. It’s nice to know that we can respect each other and talk in spite of differing beliefs. Thank you for a stimulating conversation!

            1.) While I understand the limits of a blog post, I simply thought that alongside your three possible explanations, considering the reason that most of the world’s theists hold for the enduring nature of religion would have made for a more complete argument. I understand your position a little better now, as per your explanation. Revelation, while empirical for the one experiencing it, is the testimony of a witness for others, putting it into a different category of evidence, which is fair. I think there are an overwhelming number of true revelations I could cite, including that of Paul (Saul), Peter, John, many people I know today, and in my own life. But, again, that does fall into a different category of testing, unless the individual himself were to try and seek revelation. Fair enough. On your points of heresy and the decisions of emperors and bishops- luckily we have the Bible in English, and in ancient Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew as well, for those who learn to read it in it’s original languages. I realize that the council of Nicea is a frustrating topic for many atheists, and it’s a whole other can of worms, but their criteria is well-known, and I imagine that’s a whole other rabbit trail.

            2.) Interesting. My only idea there was how comforting can the existence of a belief system be to people outside of it? It only offers them hope if they believe it. My point was simply that I don’t think that it is a strong enough reason to carry religion through the ages if, in fact, faith in God is archaic and outdated like Voltaire and other like-minded individuals believed. (I disagree with him, but I suppose that goes without say)

            It’s fascinating to me (and it makes me a little sad) to hear your heaven comment. Every atheist I’ve ever heard on the topic has felt to same way. I understand that it is a whole other can of worms (once again) so I won’t delve into my thoughts there unless you wish to pursue the idea further. Personally, I’m quite looking forward to heaven.

            3.) I agree in a sense, and disagree in another. I think that most humanists are probably well-meaning. I just meant that in practice, perversions, as you called them, seem to take over. I suppose that that is true of any human construction to some degree, particularly when power is concerned. I think that some of the ideas of humanism can be taken to that point, even if many today don’t believe them to their logical conclusions. (If man is a creature of evolution, he is only an animal, and if the process is continual, some men must be evolutionarily superior to other, lower animal forms of man. Additionally, if there is no God, then morality is either a human or an evolutionary construct, and therefore irrelevant in the grand scheme of things)
            I don’t mean to be bellicose in this point, and i hope that I don’t come across that way. Those are just my thoughts on where some of the principles of humanism can lead, and have in the past. But- that said, if my opinions hold true, than that is only evidence to your argument that religion is enduring, in part, because of its benefits to the social order.

            4.) If seclusion and group-think were at the heart of Christianity, then why are there so many different sects? People have the original sources, and disagreements arise. They’re allowed to disagree. There are Episcopalians, Catholics, Greek orthodox, Russian orthodox, Name-a-country Orthodox, Non-denominationals, Lutherans… etc. I personally don’t think that a monastic life of seclusion is Biblical. The Bible says in John 17:14-15 ” I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” It’s from this verse that we get the common Christian expression, “Be in the world, not of the world.” I think that living a life of complete solitude is tantamount to leaving the world.

            As to public education, it has been hostile towards religion in my experience. When not hostile, then certainly pedantic. The implication, throughout all of my years of public education, and then later, at times, at the university level, is that if you believe in God in any sort of tangible way you’re a moron. Perhaps that is not the experience everyone has had, but I know an awful lot of people who have felt the same way, and I’ve had teachers with personal vendettas against the Christian faith. Again, that has been my experience, and that of many others I know, but I don’t know what your schooling was like.

            As to your final words- I wasn’t referring to your website when I mentioned “temples of atheism”. I realize that this is a forum, and as I did not previously realize it was a forum intended for atheists and agnostics, I hope that my presence here has not been irksome. Atheists are a minority, but certainly influential, it seems, particularly in education. That was all I meant. Christians are generally exposed to atheistic ideas and ideals.

            I wish you all the best,


  1. Will Religion Die? | A State of Apostasy
  2. RE: A Terse Explanation for the Finite Nature of Religion « Random Rationality
  3. RE: A Terse Explanation for the Finite Nature of Religion « R. L. Culpeper

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