Challenging dogmatic beliefs?

It seems to me that what “new atheists” object to and want to eradicate is dogmatism. However, lots of religious people are not dogmatic, and lots of non-religious people are extremely dogmatic (eg, many who subscribe to neoliberal or laissez-faire economic theory, some Marxists). Wouldn’t it be more constructive to challenge dogmatism directly rather than trying to get at it via religion? What is to be gained by conflating the two?

Posted: November 23rd 2011


I object to people who believe things without evidence or against the evidence, since I believe that societies in which people believe things on a rational basis are markedly superior (ie more conducive to promotoing the happiness and advancement of everybody in the society) than those who believe things on faith, or on the mistaken understanding of the evidence.

I do happen to think that dogmatism is bad, but one of the reasons dogmatism survives is that is has the support of the less dogmatic. You can’t change the minds of the dogmatic, but you can work on removing their support.

Posted: December 5th 2011

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

Blaise www

Actually, while it is true that dogma is the proximal cause of most negative aspects of religion and ideology, in the case of religion, it is only the symptom, not the problem itself. The real problem is the question of faith. All religious believers, regardless of how “moderate”, share the conviction that faith (defined as belief in the absence of, or contrary to, available evidence) is a good thing. This is the path used by religious leaders, etc to implant dogma in a believer’s brain.

Because of this, all religious folks are at risk of being infected, to one degree or another, with dogma. More importantly, even the most benign of believers still encourages those around them to have faith, meaning the seed grows even in the thinnest soil…

Posted: December 4th 2011

See all questions answered by Blaise

brian thomson www

Well, yes, I agree that dogmatism is the “larger enemy” in all things, but just how would you tackle dogmatism directly? The skills you’d need to address existing economic dogmatism would have no effect on religious dogmatism, for example. I might object to a particular piece of dogmatism, but the way to defeat it would be to demonstrate, convincingly, that it is wrong. To do that, I would need to know more about the subject than the one holding the dogma. This is one reason why religious dogma is a problem we can address, since atheists (as a group) have been (statistically) shown to know more about religions than the adherents of the religions. Another reason is that religious dogmas are simply lacking and strong objective foundation, but we can’t say that about all kinds of dogmas, and so more specialist skills are required to tackle them.

Using your economic theory examples: is it even wise to call them dogmas in the first place? If I was to try and tell a Marxist he was dogmatic, what do you imagine would happen? He would not be convinced, since I would not have provided him with any evidence that he is wrong. After all, the Marxist position did not just come out of nowhere; unlike religion, we have complete testimony, by a very human author (Marx), describing the thought processes that led to what we call “Marxism”. (The “evidence” for it is naturally subject to interpretation, but that is par for the course in economics or sociology.)

Such economic views are held by many smart people, and I will not be able to change their minds about them by, in effect, calling them stupid and dogmatic. A dogma is, after all, a belief clung to irrationally, but from the point of view of e.g. a laissez-faire free-marketeer, it is highly rational to think as they do. To defeat the dogmatism, I would need to defeat the theory by replacing it with a better theory. I don’t see how I could tackle dogmatism directly, since dogmatic people don’t think they’re dogmatic, do they?

If you’re asking about preventing dogmatism, on the other hand, that’s a different question, and one with a simple three-part answer: education, education, education.

Posted: December 4th 2011

See all questions answered by brian thomson

SmartLX www

The specific dogma promoted by religion are unsupported by evidence and dangerous to individuals and the world at large. People suffer and die because of belief in gods and the supposedly divine instructions believers apply to their lives.

Dogma itself can be a problem as a general principle, sure, but that’s largely academic for the most part. Atheist activists (a more correct name for “new atheists”, as there’s not much new about their campaigns except popularity) challenge religion not simply because it has dogma, but because religious dogma causes harm.

Posted: December 4th 2011

See all questions answered by SmartLX


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