Rationality may not be the key to atheism

If you accept the science, the correlation between rationality and belief is not as strong we might think. And when I say “we”, I mean atheist movements in the US, where the correlation is slightly stronger. But even here, the link is much stronger to how you were raised.

These studies are confirming what one side of the atheist movement has said for a couple decades now. The critique of the New Atheists, might have been right,

"I also firmly believe that abandoning the rational atheist myth may pay secondary dividends if it leads New Atheist allied thinkers to stop trying to use science and rationality to undermine religious faith. These efforts are incredibly unlikely to succeed. Worse still, they have substantial potential to backfire. Dawkins and others have long tried to use science and rationality to pry people away from religion, but they’ve misdiagnosed the source of atheism in the first place. Their efforts in all likelihood do more to drive believers away from science than they do to attract anyone to atheism. "

“Within this framework, religions rely on our intuitions.
As a species, we seem to find it quite intuitive to think about minds existing apart from bodies: we find it intuitive to think that objects and animals exist for some functional reason; we don’t at all have a hard time imagining gods, ghosts, djinn, and other supernatural agents.
This isn’t to say that our brains have “God centers,” but instead our brains just work in a way that makes religious concepts easy to think.”

It seems to me more likely me, that the inability to see the mind/brain/body as an integrated system, has more to do with being a product of religious leaders and philosophers obsession with the “self” … basically brainwashing.

Not that the self-obsessed human mind didn’t have a certain predisposition toward fanciful thinking.

Religion: Bound to believe?

Such responses make it difficult to establish why and how religious thought is so pervasive in human societies — an understanding that is especially relevant in the current climate of religious fundamentalism. In asking whether religion is one of the many consequences of having the type of brains we come equipped with, we can shed light on what kinds of religion ‘come naturally’ to human minds. We can probe the shared assumptions that religions are built on, however disparate, and examine the connection between religion and ethnic conflict. Lastly, we can hazard a guess at what the realistic prospects are for atheism.

Why assume it all comes down to our mind? What about early culture and the need to exert control over people and the tactic of instilling “fictions” that creates a cohesive faith in leadership hierarchy and the myths they use to define themselves and run their society

Didn’t gods come in very handy to justify the Leaders legitimacy and didn’t early politicians make a big deal about being anointed by “higher powers” to justify their authority here on Earth?

And weren’t original thinker and skeptics, that is those who strayed from the governing faith, rejected and cast out? Seem like a great evolutionary tool.

Is there any scholar following that line of inquiry? That is, that religion is a self-inflicted self-reinforced human conditioned response that became sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Whatever the links between rationality and religion, it wasn’t something we could easily push around in the lab.

Go figure.

And then the article was over, finishing with:

… I also firmly believe that abandoning the rational atheist myth may pay secondary dividends if it leads New Atheist allied thinkers to stop trying to use science and rationality to undermine religious faith. These efforts are incredibly unlikely to succeed. …

Our world currently faces a number of overlapping existential threats: climate change, racial and wealth inequity, war. To solve these problems, we need all scientific hands on deck. These challenges are too important to risk alienating people from science, all over faulty assumptions that rationality will lead people away from religious beliefs.

I’m sitting here trying to figure out what the important take away is other than sort of dismissing ‘Rationalism’. Oh and the impossibility of getting consistent results on human psychology tests, because there are way too many factors and relative influences at play to adequately track.

I worked with a guy that loved saying: “It all gets lost in the sauce.”

Ugh. I don’t know if you and I will find our common ground on this one, even though I’m sure there is some.

It’s not “dismissing”, it’s stop believing in it. Stop believing that someone who goes to church lacks abilities to be rational. You only have to look at their arguments to see they include logic and evidence. If you lived in Iraq in the 70’s you could either make an elaborate plan to move your entire extended family secretly, leaving behind much of your accumulated wealth, or you could publicly claim loyalty to Saddam Hussein. A kid who realizes they are gay, but lives in a small religious town makes a similar choice.

I don’t see where he did that. He referred to brains, but probably meant the neuro systems that connects the whole body. Seems like the kind of awareness of evolution that you are always screaming for, but when others do it, you don’t recognize it. The article covers those who are gullible, those who do accept some authority’s story, and it points out they don’t do as well. Religion isn’t a rare mental disorder or a genetic defect. It’s part of how we pass on culture, how we deal with the unknowns and somehow carry on. A good chunk of humans take it way too seriously and fit into the “gullible” category, and more of us fall into it on occasion but work our way out.


Well, it sounded that way to me. Although I’m mixing in what I’ve heard from others on the topic.

Hmmm, I just skimmed through the article again and I don’t see much about evolution:

Central to this effort has been the notion that we didn’t evolve to have religion as an adaptation in its own right, but that religions might emerge as cognitive byproducts. We have cognitive adaptations that helped our ancestors solve a lot of recurring challenges. These mental adaptations often work below our conscious awareness. And maybe, say the cognitive scientists of religion, these mental adaptations all work together in such a way that some religious concepts are just “sticky.”

All else equal, our brains work in such a way that religious concepts are intuitively compelling, even though we didn’t specifically evolve to be religious.

Also seems to me that early hominid behavior belongs right under the umbrella of Evolution.

There’s a difference between giving Evolution lip service and actually incorporating it into our explanatory story telling.

Don’t get me wrong, I see the evolution respecting undercurrent in Will Gervais (no relation to Ricky - that would have been too sweet) article.
But like I said, Evolution didn’t stop when we moved to agriculture with its gathering of human masses. Whereas previous hunter gathers, I’ll bet, were smaller bands still held together by familial connections - which got lost with the population explosions that followed agriculture.

I’m just pointing out there’s a good chance the self reinforcing nature of early societal choices might have more to tell us, then simply investigating brain structure and extrapolating from that.

But if we fast forward this to today’s world, we can be rational yet lie about critically important matters, stuff that actually is well understood and supported by study and facts.

Back in the '70/'80 some marketing geniuses discovered the true road to riches - to learn to sell doubt. Man did they learn fast, money begets more $ and power. … tobacco health risks, etc, climate science deny, etc., … confuse, and never give an inch. Then it went on to social engineering like the evangelical movement and its marriage with politics and the utterly fabricated and contrive “Right To Life” movement, and demonizing the notion of stewardship of our planet’s biosphere, by and by culminating in trump with more fun to come.

Guess my question regarding ,

The treasured atheist idea that reason undercuts faith just doesn’t hold up

in a world where logic and rationalism is regularly used to lie and mislead, and steal from people - what’s the lesson to take a way from Gervais’ article?

Incidentally I’m not disputing what he wrote, look at what I’ve written, God belongs to our mindscape, these ideas are all indigenous so to speak, but that doesn’t make them unreal. You’ve heard me acknowledge that religion of some sort or other is valid and probably inevitable.

Heck my Earth Centrism is about embracing the story of our Earth’s Evolution and how our bodies grew out of that and we need to become better aware of our “creature self” and physical body - and better appreciate our “self”, that is our mind, as the inside reflection of our amazing body/brain getting on with living. How else could it be, study other animals, they’re all doing the same thing. Our Earthly biological creature body/brain is a fractal reflection of all the creature in our blood line going back hundreds of millions of years.

It has spiritual overtone, acquired bit by bit, in the course of living an attentive life.

If I wanted to get theatrical I could say I’ve already transcended death by virtue of my visceral awareness of the flow of deep time and being a momentary spark, and element in the pageant of creation.

Look at those words, they aren’t science, but they are a celebration of scientifically acquired knowledge. It’s about translating the science into a poetic, graspable humanistic spiritual story. That just might connect with the stories others are already developing for themselves.

The really neat thing is, it can be rational and it is sans woo, and sans meta-physical, this is all in accord with scientific understanding about evolution and the chemical biological reality of our Earthly macroscopic realm. Just looking at it through this particular Humanists eyes. :+1:t2:

His main theme, that I see, is, “if you say you follow the science, then follow the science”. It leads you to knowledge about fast and slow thinking, about how emotion is part of how we think not some animal nature that we can switch off, and culture shapes your thinking no matter how smart you are. The anecdotal evidence from former believers who tell their stories tells us that you can rationalize your way out of religion. Some people do, but they usually have other advantages along the way.

For me, the important application here is, if you tell someone their beliefs are irrational, you might as well call them any other names you can think of, and that your dad can beat up their dad, and maybe give them a wedgie. That’s the level of that sort of communication.

Yeah, I love that stuff. I tried to find it in places like Sunday Assembly, and it’s there, occasionally, but I don’t think the standard model of “speaker in front of a room” is fitting for whatever new form of spiritual seeking might be developing.

Celebrations of science, of our achievements, are an ingredient that we could use more of. It can be difficult in a world where so much is made of the failures. That’s a flaw in religion as well; when people are asked to praise the God that still can’t do all the things science can now do, like make the blind man see and lame to walk, they can get a little tired of it. Science has the advantage of allowing for and encouraging questions, and that needs to be included. Even when an improvement is made, the work that still needs to be done should be acknowledged.

Thanks for taking the time to go into it. It resonates pretty well, except this line.

It’s a bit confusing.
But that’s quibbling.


Knowledge is the key to atheism.

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Back to the OP - I had a college roommate who was valedictorian at a big 10 school, got a full ride to a prestigious school, etc. and when we talked religion he was dumb as dirt, literally I could have been talking to a 6 year old. My point is, religion/being religious IMHO has nothing to do with science/rationality, etc. It’s purely emotional. And atheism, I would imagine is similar, as in revulsion at the hypocrisy of organized religion, etc.

I don’t know much about this New Atheism movement, but I think it’s a mistake to try to convert anyone. You can present info and that’s that. IMHO the best “converter” is Bart Ehrman. And his goal is not to convert anybody. Once folks see that the bible is just a book, then it’s over, and they start looking elsewhere.

In all fairness, there are crooked atheists also.

But what is misunderstood by many is that atheism is not a belief system.
It is the absence of belief.

The terms atheist or atheism should not even exist.
After all there are no terms for not believing in fairies, or ghoulies, or ghosties or mythology.

An atheist does NOT believe gods or any of the spiritual emanations exist at all.

Gervais put it very logically.
When somebody ask if you believe in god, the best thing is to ask the other if a god exists. If the answer is affirmative , then ask for proof and if that is not offered you can respond, “If you cannot prove it, I don’t believe you”.

That puts the question in proper perspective. The burden of proof is always on the claimant. If they cannot provide proof you do not need to believe their claim, regardless of the subject of the claim.
Atheists are not required to present proof that god does not exist.

Well, let’s quibble then. I did this pretty much off the cuff, and I knew there was more to that sentence.

It’s useful to understand that our brains have sections, from the part closer to the stem, where we get our fight or flight responses to the bit in the front that supposedly sets us apart from other animals. It also helps to know that emotions aren’t the same as those conscious thoughts we have, the ones where we weigh pros and cons of an issue and discuss it with the voice in our head. We know that we can “lose it” and let those emotions take control of our actions. When it’s really bad, we might want to control those urges with drugs.

But, I think people get confused when talking about these things, like they are legos, or snap-on tools, that we can find and swap out. We call them “impulses” as if they are tiny motors with a knob that we can turn, giving them more or less power.

I said something to a five-year-old about being an animal, and she said she wasn’t an animal. I meant, “part of the animal kingdom”, but she probably had heard “animal” used in a derogatory manner, as in acting on impulse, uncivilized. I wasn’t ready to sort that one out, and it’s not easy, because our culture still sees us as separate from the rest of the animals. Probably due to that book they read from on Sundays. Or should I say, have read to them.

Yep, always hated the term atheist, as in not a theist. Should be some term for the opposite, like “normal”, and so-called believers are “abnormal”, that kinda thing. :slight_smile:

I like Ricky’s other thing he said, although truth be known I said it first but I’m not famous. Something along the lines of “everyone is somebody’s atheist”, so every Christian you meet is an atheist relative to say Hinduism.

I put that link to a book review in this category, about Octavia Butler’s book. It says the major monotheisms are heresies to each other and everything else is just pagan. I like pagan as the “normal” position. Matt Dillahunty calls atheism the default position. We all start out there, until someone tells us that thunder has a conscious agency behind it.

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Exactly. Actually he put it in more graphic terms.

His argument was that most theists do not believe in the existence of 4999 gods and that he does not believe in the existence of just 1 more god.

There might be countless reasons why atheists become atheists. With atheist activists however, the motivation is nearly always anger and resentment.

No it isn’t. That is a totally false assumption. Atheists don’t persecute theists.

I have never heard of an atheist killing a theist because they believed in a God. I have heard of theists killing atheists for a lack of belief in a God.

Name me one instance where an atheist has harmed a theist for believing in God. I can name you many instances where a preacher has rained fire and brimstone on atheists.

Let me remind you that it is theists that are supposed to proselytize and scare the sheeple into their religion.

Most atheists don’t give theism a thought at all. They don’t believe any of it.
Why should they be angry, unless they suffered hardship from theists?

I can understand Richard Dawkins’ annoyance with theism. He is a learned biologist and theism doesn’t encourage studying biology, except perhaps for the introduction of the book “Of Pandas and People” as a subject in science class in school. Fortunately, the Kitzmiller Trial took care of that pesky problem.

This shows Dawkins’ non-angry but very objective unpacking of the fallacy of theism.

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I agree with Sam Harris that science can answer moral questions.

This is an excellent rational lecture;

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True, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anger and resentment for some atheists.

Angry about what though? There was a time when it was illegal to teach evolution. People born in my time were forced to stop practicing religion, taken from their parents, not allowed to speak their native language, and worse. This was all religious based. That threat never completely went away and is getting stronger now.

There’s a book, “50 Voices of Disbelief”, that I read and it turned my head around on this. It’s subtitle is “Why We are Atheists”. I found it for free online once, not sure if it still is. For theists, they are angry just because people don’t like their deity. That’s the history of humans for 10,000 years now. No one does anything to them, except not worship the thing they worship.

I blogged all 50 of the stories, but I didn’t index them, so I’d need to dig through them to find the ones that are really gut wrenching, about young people who were disowned or worse for questioning their parent’s religion.

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As I said any anger against theist by an atheist is the result of religious persecution by the theists. My own family is an example.

I have told this story before but everytime I think of it it makes my blood boil again.
At a celebration in a house that I helped finance for a friend and his family, one member of his family called my wife the “antichrists” simple because my wife declared that she was a Democrat.

The unmitigated gall of that zealot wench was typical of a fundamentalist attitude that all people who do not constantly utter “praise the Lord” are the “antichrist” and should be burned at the stake. This in the house I helped to procure for my friend’s family. That was the “thank you” from a true Christian.

It was one of the worst experiences in my life that I will take with me to the grave.

Actually that was only one of my experiences. My wonderful atheist parents were insulted numerous times in a small town in Holland where we lived when I was a boy.

Some religious defenders of the faith took baseball bats to a priceless life size statue of Venus (located in our backyard out of sight) that had been the graduating piece of a famous sculptress, who donated it to my parents for financially helping her through Art school. This sculptress became one of the art teachers of the Royal princesses.

I now compare it to the story of Hypatia, the first woman astronomer, who was literally torn to pieces by a religious mob of monks no less .

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Hypatia of Alexandria: A Woman Before Her Time

Hypatia’s denunciation is reported by Socrates Scholasticus. He says, “men ‘of the Christian population’ started to spread a slanderous rumor that Hypatia was the lion in the path to a reconciliation between the bishop and the prefect. It was astronomy that sealed her fate–understood, of course, as astrology alloyed with black magic and divination.”

On a spring day in March 415, Hypatia was riding serenely in her carriage, a picture of grace and wisdom in her philosophical robes. It was a day of Lent, a grave day for Hypatia.

Following the lead of Peter, a reader for the church, the Monks of Nitria pulled Hypatia from her seat and dragged her through the city to Caesarium, the
Church of Caesar. There, they stripped her naked, and beat her with broken pieces of pottery and scraped the skin from her body. Even though she was now dead, they were not yet finished. They tore her body, limb from limb, and took it to a place outside the city called Kinaron. There, they burned the remains of this noble lady upon a great pyre.

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