The lesser of two evils?

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The lesser of two evils?

Postby kpw » Tue Aug 08, 2006 1:25 pm

Ok I know this isn't a place for introductions, but hello! : ) I'm a 17-year old student from Singapore and chanced upon this forum while browsing through alt.atheism, which I in turn chanced upon when randomly googling stuff. Haha yup, so here goes my attempt at initiating a discussion:

An undeniable fact is that religion does, in many circumstances, compel people to do good. Of course it is and has been the cause of many terrible conflicts; but let us for the purposes of this question assume that we have managed to teach religious tolerance and religious harmony in such a way that these conflicts are no longer a problem, and hence we do not have fanatics evangelizing and proselytizing in an aggresive manner, nor do we have people of frankly questionable intellect pushing for the teaching of 'Intelligent Design' in high schools. Neither do we, in our hypothetical society, have people who claim to be helping others but are actually merely furthering their own religious agenda; for example, people who included in help packages to the Middle East and Iraq, along with medical supplies and foodstuffs, copies of the Bible in Arabic.

In this situation we are then better able to consider the beneficial effects of religion. For example, religion has helped many a drug addict rehabilitate and recover; religion has provided much needed emotional support to those suffering from severe bereavement; religion has given ex-convicts, disillusioned people, and all other sorts a new lease on life, renewed vigour in their daily activities, and a much more hopeful and optimistic worldview.

Nevertheless it is still the case that the very belief in religion implicity conveys a selective and willful disregard for logic, rationality and the scientific method. This is because it does not take a great deal of intelligence to recognize that religion simply does not comply with what we currently know about the world; I trust that I do not have to provide examples of this, for evidence against religion simply inundates the scientific (and rational) world.

So in this case..

Is religion something good? Is it to be promoted? Is it a weakness - in intellectual ability, in logical faculty? If you encountered a drug addict, given the chance would you brainwash him with religion, if in doing so it would help him rehabilitate? And is this permissible at the expense of logic and rationality, and good old common sense?

Given the option to totally eradicate religion - with everything else remaining the same, e.g. the drug addict's lack of willpower and self-control - or preserve it in its arguably beneficial form, and accept ignorance as the better alternative, what would you do?
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Re: The lesser of two evils?

Postby Sans_Deity » Tue Aug 08, 2006 8:29 pm

kpw wrote:Ok I know this isn't a place for introductions, but hello! : ) I'm a 17-year old student from Singapore and chanced upon this forum while browsing through alt.atheism


Welcome.

kpw wrote: .. {snip - description of utopian, esoteric religious bservance} ..
In this situation we are then better able to consider the beneficial effects of religion.


That situation does not and, most probably, cannot exist. If, however, we grant your premise, I agree that we could observe and note the beneficial effects that appear to result from religious belief/observance...but we don't have to wait for that utopia, we can examine the benefits now and just accept that a margin of error exists.

Many have done so...and you're about to do so in the next paragraph:

kpw wrote:For example, religion has helped many a drug addict rehabilitate and recover; religion has provided much needed emotional support to those suffering from severe bereavement; religion has given ex-convicts, disillusioned people, and all other sorts a new lease on life, renewed vigour in their daily activities, and a much more hopeful and optimistic worldview.


To the extent that your observations are true (and I won't grant them as completely true), they're true of nearly any religion. Since many of those religions have contradictory doctrines, any real positive effect must be attributed to belief and not to any particular religion. In other words, if we see a positive benefit from competing religious beliefs, then the most likely explanation is that we're witnessing correlation and not causation - some other cause is responsible.

Placebos are used in medical studies as a 'control' for the experiment. With regard to claims of the benefit of a particular religion, every other religion is the rough equivalent of a placebo. If they all have similar effects, the conclusion is that the medicine/religion under test is no more effective than the placebo.

Continuing the analogy, the "placebo effect" is powerful. People, believing that they're receiving "real medicine" often experience improvements in their condition - in many cases these are real improvements and not just imaginings. How? They weren't given anything which can account for the improvement. Might sugar pills be a real miracle cure? The best answer is that the human body is remarkably good at healing itself, the human brain is prone to self-deception (especially when positive) and the effect was acheived by purely natural and internal causes.

kpw wrote:.. {snip - religion is unscientific} ..
So in this case..

Is religion something good? Is it to be promoted? Is it a weakness - in intellectual ability, in logical faculty? If you encountered a drug addict, given the chance would you brainwash him with religion, if in doing so it would help him rehabilitate? And is this permissible at the expense of logic and rationality, and good old common sense?


Is religion good? I'd say no. I find no positive benefits which cannot be achieve without religion.
Should it be promoted? Absolutely not. I'm actively working to help retard the progress of religious thought.
Is it a weakness of mind? Yes, though I don't always fault the believer for this. In many cases, we're indoctrinated into our beliefs from a very young age. We're also very poor about teaching people who to critically examine beliefs - religion, in general, actively opposes this. Someone lacking knowledge and the ability to process that knowledge toward a consistent and reliable conclusion isn't stupid, they're simply uninformed and untrained. In many cases the ignorance is voluntary and I do hold those individuals more responsible.
Would I brainwash a drug addict with religion to "cure" him? No. I'd much rather provide him with a rational, secular route to sobriety.

Let's assume, for a moment, that religious belief will rehabilitate a drug addict. What happens if that addict later discovers that their religious beliefs are false and unsupportable? You've built their sobriety on a foundation of lies and the emotional distress of discovering that their religion was a lie may undo all the work you've done.

Building their sobriety on something real not only establishes a much firmer foundation, but also provides them with useful, reliable tools to address other situations in their life.

kpw wrote:Given the option to totally eradicate religion - with everything else remaining the same, e.g. the drug addict's lack of willpower and self-control - or preserve it in its arguably beneficial form, and accept ignorance as the better alternative, what would you do?


Given the option, I wouldn't completely eliminate religion - right now. I fully recognize that everyone isn't equipped to live without those beliefs. For those who are, I welcome them to join in the joys of reality. For those who aren't, I hope they'll eventually be able to unshackle their minds.

I'd definitely like to see an end to religion, but only when the vast majority of people are equipped to survive without it....and that's one of the goals we're working on here: equipping people. It doesn't require one to be supremely knowledgable or intelligent, it just requires a little sharpening of one's critical thinking skills.

Your argument, if that's an accurate term, seems to be that whether or not religion is true, it may have positive benefits which justify it.

My response is that while the immediate elimination of religion is not wise, the eventual elimination of religion is not only wise, it's critical. Any demonstrably positive effect (charity, comfort, companionship, compassion) of religion can be achieved in the absence of that religion - which also manages to eliminate all of the dreadful baggage that tends to accompany religion (divisiveness, guilt, conflict, corruption, voluntary ignorance).

The argument you're making, in essence is that it's ok to lie if the end result is positive. This may be true in select circumstances but it seems, to me, to be the "short view". It attempts to brush away the consequences and risks of the lie by focusing on one result.

We're under no delusions here. I don't expect to see an end to religion in my lifetime or for a very long time after. In truth, I'm convinced that some superstitious beliefs will endure, forever. The immediate goal isn't the elimination of religion, it's the retardation of religious progress. Currently, in the United States, around 85% of the population believe in some concept of God and around 70% belong to one Christian denomination or another. If either of those drops below 50% before I die, I'll be shocked...but very, very pleased.

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Re: The lesser of two evils?

Postby Coleran » Thu Aug 17, 2006 5:35 pm

kpw wrote:In this situation we are then better able to consider the beneficial effects of religion. For example, religion has helped many a drug addict rehabilitate and recover; religion has provided much needed emotional support to those suffering from severe bereavement; religion has given ex-convicts, disillusioned people, and all other sorts a new lease on life, renewed vigour in their daily activities, and a much more hopeful and optimistic worldview.


I think what is being made here is an illogical conclusion based on selective observation.

What may have helped these people is that there is a social support group that is there to help and assist them with their problems. On many occasions there are support groups who have a religious basis working in these areas, where they may be no other support.

Religious organisations are full of good people doing good work in a great many areas. Even without the religion, these type of people would very probaby still do this good work.

I think Richard Dawkins comment can sum it up. "In a normal world, good people do good things and bad people do bad things, but for good people to do bad things you need religion"

However, based on the example KPW used a sloppy atheist might conclude the religious social support groups pray on the weak and needy to promote their faith.

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Re: The lesser of two evils?

Postby Kazim » Thu Aug 17, 2006 9:28 pm

Coleran wrote:I think Richard Dawkins comment can sum it up. "In a normal world, good people do good things and bad people do bad things, but for good people to do bad things you need religion"


Stephen Weinberg (not Dawkins)
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Postby Coleran » Thu Aug 17, 2006 10:44 pm

Apologies, I had heard Richard Dawkins say it, but hadn't realized it was a quote.
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Re: The lesser of two evils?

Postby 8theist » Wed Aug 23, 2006 6:14 pm

Removed the first formatting as the post was doubled when the corrections were posted.

You should be able to edit your own posts...by clicking the "Edit" link in the top right corner of the posts.

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Re: The lesser of two evils?

Postby 8theist » Wed Aug 23, 2006 6:40 pm

Hi kpw

I'm new here too. I'd like to add my 5 cents worth (2cents after inflation). As I read your piece, a number of things occurred to me. Matt dealt with some of them--and better than I would've--so I'll just summarize the rest.

And please, don't take this as flaming or slamming you. My opinions on this stuff are pretty strong, but I'll try to moderate my prose here. And I hope I managed to copy and paste all the quote/end quote stuff correctly.


kpw wrote: An undeniable fact is that religion does, in many circumstances, compel people to do good.


I've been listening to a lot of atheist/skeptical podcasts lately and I'm not sure where I got this. May've even been on AE or NP. But one view on this is that good people, those who want to do good things, gravitate toward religious groups because such groups are an existing structure which enables and focuses such acts. Meaning religion doesn't make them good, but rather being good draws them to religion.


kpw wrote:Of course it is and has been the cause of many terrible conflicts;


Can I get an AMEN on that one?


kpw wrote:but let us for the purposes of this question assume that we have managed to teach religious tolerance and religious harmony in such a way that these conflicts are no longer a problem, and hence we do not have fanatics evangelizing and proselytizing in an aggresive manner, nor do we have people of frankly questionable intellect pushing for the teaching of 'Intelligent Design' in high schools. Neither do we, in our hypothetical society, have people who claim to be helping others but are actually merely furthering their own religious agenda; for example, people who included in help packages to the Middle East and Iraq, along with medical supplies and foodstuffs, copies of the Bible in Arabic.



I'd echo Matt's points about the prevalence of religion in the world and Christianity in the US. And the perhaps too-optimistic wish that such numbers just be noticeably reduced in my lifetime.

I think it's folly to postulate any world that manages to keep religion, yet is able to do all the things you postulate in that hypothetical world. My first impulse was to make some type of metaphor such as

"Let's say we are able to make water dry. And stop it from falling from the sky and ruining picnics. And covering most of the earth's surface... Not achieving dryness by ELIMINATING water. Just fundamentally altering its nature..."


kpw wrote:In this situation we are then better able to consider the beneficial effects of religion. For example, religion has helped many a drug addict rehabilitate and recover;


Matt dealt with this very well. The addict did it himself, with the assistance of others and with the placebo effect of religion. Matt’s sugar pill simile, albeit common, is a very good one. Sugar is a poison, but it tastes good. The body welcomes it. And it makes things palatable that otherwise wouldn’t be (or would be less so).

kpw wrote:religion has provided much needed emotional support to those suffering from severe bereavement;


IMHO, by giving them the illusion that there's a sunny meadow or fluffy cloud or whatever that they're now inhabiting after shuffling off this mortal coil.

Just as I believe that the Bible was written by some men as a way of controlling other men, I believe one of the principal tools in their arsenal was people's fear of death. If you can promise them life everlasting, you can get them to do what you tell them to in the here-and-now.

Dead is dead. Live with it.

kpw wrote:religion has given ex-convicts, disillusioned people, and all other sorts a new lease on life, renewed vigour in their daily activities, and a much more hopeful and optimistic worldview.


ditto above. Plus, since you mention convicts, I'll add that I think some convicts use "jailhouse conversion" to achieve "salvation" from imprisonment. That religious groups find prisons to be fertile ground for their “mission workâ€
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Re: The lesser of two evils?

Postby Leopoldo » Mon Sep 18, 2006 9:15 pm

kpw wrote:Ok I know this isn't a place for introductions, but hello! : ) I'm a 17-year old student from Singapore and chanced upon this forum while browsing through alt.atheism, which I in turn chanced upon when randomly googling stuff. Haha yup, so here goes my attempt at initiating a discussion:

An undeniable fact is that religion does, in many circumstances, compel people to do good. Of course it is and has been the cause of many terrible conflicts; but let us for the purposes of this question assume that we have managed to teach religious tolerance and religious harmony in such a way that these conflicts are no longer a problem, and hence we do not have fanatics evangelizing and proselytizing in an aggresive manner, nor do we have people of frankly questionable intellect pushing for the teaching of 'Intelligent Design' in high schools. Neither do we, in our hypothetical society, have people who claim to be helping others but are actually merely furthering their own religious agenda; for example, people who included in help packages to the Middle East and Iraq, along with medical supplies and foodstuffs, copies of the Bible in Arabic.

In this situation we are then better able to consider the beneficial effects of religion. For example, religion has helped many a drug addict rehabilitate and recover; religion has provided much needed emotional support to those suffering from severe bereavement; religion has given ex-convicts, disillusioned people, and all other sorts a new lease on life, renewed vigour in their daily activities, and a much more hopeful and optimistic worldview.

Nevertheless it is still the case that the very belief in religion implicity conveys a selective and willful disregard for logic, rationality and the scientific method. This is because it does not take a great deal of intelligence to recognize that religion simply does not comply with what we currently know about the world; I trust that I do not have to provide examples of this, for evidence against religion simply inundates the scientific (and rational) world.

So in this case..

Is religion something good? Is it to be promoted? Is it a weakness - in intellectual ability, in logical faculty? If you encountered a drug addict, given the chance would you brainwash him with religion, if in doing so it would help him rehabilitate? And is this permissible at the expense of logic and rationality, and good old common sense?

Given the option to totally eradicate religion - with everything else remaining the same, e.g. the drug addict's lack of willpower and self-control - or preserve it in its arguably beneficial form, and accept ignorance as the better alternative, what would you do?


The good deeds of religions can be true, or can be false. Let's us suppose that some of these deeds are good really, but not all of them.

There is also the case of the "evil deeds" of religious people. So we have here both, the good and the evil deeds, as well as a miriad of indifferent acts.

So, if some religious people are able to produce good fruits, or as posited before "good deeds", this could not be the result of a divine intervention. For all the religions make the claim of doing very good deeds.

So, if the virtue of doing good deeds really exist, then it must be a human virtue. And as such, any man with the proper training can make such putative good deeds.

So, if a man can do good deeds, it owns nothing to any religion properly. For the same can be done by any other man with enough patience and ability.

So, religion in itself means nothing. The only relevant question is "to find if there are true good deeds" .

And once you find there are, we have to look if they are related to religion properly. We have also to search for good deeds made by secular people, with only a very light or none interest in religion.

So, it is question to discriminate if we are before real events, or if we are before a placebo effect.

Second, if there are real good deeds, we must find what are the relevants variables around this.
For there could be a real technique, such as to do such thing, such as "behaviour modification" that could produce also miraculous results.

If behaviour modification can be proved real. ( I believe it has been proved), then you got there an idea of how can be done real good deeds and improve the the health of Humanity.

The question is, ¿are we willing to expend money on this?
For if religious people had this power, to cure the ills of the world, they are not doing any significant work.

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Re: The lesser of two evils?

Postby billywheaton » Fri Mar 02, 2007 2:57 am

Coleran wrote:I think Richard Dawkins comment (actually Weinberg) can sum it up. "In a normal world, good people do good things and bad people do bad things, but for good people to do bad things you need religion"



I find this to be a woefully inaccurate generalization of many atheists. I would contend the opposite:
In a normal world good people are rewarded for doing good things. Also, in a normal world there will always be people driven by hatred. These people will be mostly restrained or ineffective at acting on their hatred unless they can congregate with other haters and gain public acceptance. Only certain religious affiliations, in our society, provide powerful vehicles for haters.

Too many religions have members proudly and bodly shouting messages of hate, and all the while claiming they are justified by god to be so hateful.
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Postby Lucretius » Sat Jul 21, 2007 1:16 am

Coleran wrote:Apologies, I had heard Richard Dawkins say it, but hadn't realized it was a quote.


I heard Hitchens quote it correctly as Steven (a 'v' not 'ph') Weinberg but incorrectly identified him as a biologist.

Everyone makes mistakes.
Critical thinking: That which people who disagree with me, fail to do.


Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.
(To such heights of evil are men driven by religion.)

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Postby 8theist » Sat Jul 21, 2007 6:32 am

Lucretius wrote:
Coleran wrote:Apologies, I had heard Richard Dawkins say it, but hadn't realized it was a quote.


I heard Hitchens quote it correctly as Steven (a 'v' not 'ph') Weinberg but incorrectly identified him as a biologist.

Everyone makes mistakes.


Everyone makes mistakes? Sure...everyone except for Gaaaawwwwdah!

Oh, just a sec...

Platypus. Ostrich. Appendix. Same equipment for peeing & procreation.

<EmilyLatella>Nevermind</EmilyLatella>
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Postby Erik » Mon Jul 23, 2007 4:38 pm

C'mon the platypus isn't a mistake. A mammal that lays eggs and has venom, it's brilliant.
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Postby Lucretius » Mon Jul 23, 2007 5:49 pm

I have decided I want one as a pet. What is Australia's number?
Critical thinking: That which people who disagree with me, fail to do.


Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.
(To such heights of evil are men driven by religion.)

- Lucretius, De Rerum Natura
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Re: The lesser of two evils?

Postby MyT » Sat Aug 04, 2007 6:55 am

Kazim wrote:
Coleran wrote:I think Richard Dawkins comment can sum it up. "In a normal world, good people do good things and bad people do bad things, but for good people to do bad things you need religion"


Stephen Weinberg (not Dawkins)


Yeah, Weinberg said it. One of the few Texans we can proud of. And he is from Austin of course.
In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry, and is generally considered to have been a bad move.
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Postby daedalus » Fri Nov 16, 2007 6:50 pm

I think its been said, but I'd reinterate. The person claiming that religion compels people to commit Good (and, evil, we can assume) must show that void of religion they would not commit Good (or Bad).

It may be a simple case that good people seek rationalizations for the good acts, and bad people seek rationalizations for their Bad acts. Maybe that is how we judge Good and Bad.

My issue with religion is that it is irrational. That the term "god" is meaningless and all other rationalizations are invalid. Plus, it is obviously mythical and not reasonable to inject into reasonable discussions, unless you can pull out of it a valid point (which can be done without religion/mythology).
"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." Seneca the Younger

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