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Why do atheists delude themselves in regarding themselves as being entirely rational?

No one can be rational all the time, including atheists. Yet, they spout that religion is not to be respected because its faith-based beliefs are non-evidential and irrational.

Posted: June 1st 2007

Eric_PK

Your argument seems to be that because people can’t be rational all the time, we should respect irrational beliefs.

If that’s correct, then I encourage you to explain why irrational beliefs are better than rational one. Perhaps a few experiments would be helpful…

Here area a few ideas:
1) Believe that walls are unsubstantial and can be walked through
2) Believe that people can get nourishment directly from the air

Posted: April 28th 2008

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SmartLX www

I compare beliefs to other beliefs, not to people. I can’t be rational all the time, but that doesn’t mean I can’t judge whether something external is irrational.

A belief in a god which either permanently exists or permanently doesn’t is either rational all the time or none of the time, regardless of how rational individual believers are. I think it’s irrational. This doesn’t stop believers from having other, more rational thoughts (though it may discourage them).

I see atheism as a rational position for me to take. If I suddenly see that it’s irrational, I will abandon it. This is me, a periodically irrational creature, doing my best to be rational about this specific point because I think it’s important.

Posted: November 13th 2007

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jonecc www

Life is not just rationality, and none of us would want it so. As an example of a secular non-rational thought process, this is what I like to do when there’s a new exhibition at one of the art galleries in town.

Firstly, I try to clear my mind of irrelevant clutter. This is of course impossible, but I do my best. Then I go round the whole thing before I read any of the labels or handouts, to see what comes to me from the works themselves. I may be considering the outright beauty of the pieces, their outlandishness, the associations they strike up with other works, any number of things.

Then I go and have a coffee, and go round again. This time, I read the titles, the handouts you get with exhibitions, everything going. It’s both humbling and instructive how often the dominant theme of the exhibition from the artist’s point of view has passed me by entirely. That’s OK, though. Saying more with less is generally considered an artistic virtue, so you’ve got to expect to do a little work.

Then I go home, and let the exhibition percolate away in the back of my mind for a few days. The second time I go, I find stuff coming to me that I’d missed the first time. If I don’t, I feel very disappointed, and I can take against an exhibition even if I liked it the first time round.

I even create in a minor way myself. I do it online, with words. Oh I know I’ll never be a Christopher Hitchens, or a CS Lewis come to that, but it’s still an itch I have to scratch.

Oh, did you not realise we ever thought that way? Did you think we could only appreciate sculpture by calculating its surface area? Did you confuse us with Vulcans?

I can understand your mistake, really I can, because I know your priests and your pastors, your rabbis and your imams have worked hard to paint us in that light. In fact, I suspect that what you get from religion is something like what I get from art. It’s the desire for something beyond the mundane, the work-consume-sleep-die cycle. If someone came to me with a rational analysis of art, explaining why it was a terrible thing and no-one should touch it with a bargepole, I would still be loath to concede the argument. I would feel that even if art was logically wrong, my life was the richer for it.

If you look at it like that, it’s no wonder you’ve made such great art. As Sam Harris says, one side in this debate is really going to win and one side is really going to lose, but whichever way it goes, thanks for Bach and all the cathedrals. Surely you could have kept Christian rock to yourselves, though. Really, you don’t always have to share.

Artistic merit aside, though, there is still one vital difference between us. In all my cultural excursions, I make no claims about the world. This is the crucial point, and it’s one that moderate theists constantly fudge.

As Nicholas Sagovsky said in his sermons against Richard Dawkins, “being a Christian for me is much more like being a character in The Complete Works of Shakespeare than a scientist in a laboratory. The reason Shakespeare is so popular is that he knows so much about the human condition”. Yes, but Shakespeare’s plays are stories. Are you saying that God is an elegant fable, which resonates with our experience, or are you saying that he exists? If you’re saying he exists, how do you know? Where is your evidence?

And don’t tell me the evidence comes from your internal experience, because I’ve read my history, and I’ve acquired some sense of the incredible range of things that humans have believed to be self-evidently true. When the Aztecs just knew that the Gods demanded human sacrifices or they would bring the world to a fiery end, when Charles I just knew that God had given him absolute authority to rule the world, when Mohamed just knew that the voices in his head were the Angel Gabriel giving dictation, were they right, or were they deluded? If they were deluded, why are you any different?

This is why we need rational analysis when we want to understand how things really are. Slowly but surely, beliefs which are simply incorrect are refuted. Few people still believe that the Earth is at the centre of the universe, and the historical truth of evolution is generally accepted among educated people.

And anyone who thinks atheists are less educated emotionally than the more literal-minded believers should spend some time watching debates on the Internet. How anyone can reconcile our modern, sophisticated world with the kind of hellfire and sexual repression advocated by the majority of religious people is beyond me. These people aren’t just irrational, they’re emotionally illiterate to boot.

Posted: June 8th 2007

See all questions answered by jonecc

RTambree

Rationality doesn’t come easily to humans. Our evolutionary history, and constraints on processing power, place limits on our ability to deal with complexity.

In particular risk assessment, probabilities and statistics often appear counter-intuitive to us.

The fact that clinical trials are “double blind” i.e. knowing something new is achieved through “blinding” all participants, highlights the fallibility of human cognition.

Atheists are susceptible to all these irrationalities of human cognition – they can make horrendous decisions in all walks of life.

But all people should at least be aware of these shortcomings – i.e. believing something because you want it to be true, believing something without evidence, believing claims based on authority, intuition, tradition and revelation.

Being vigilant for these types of cognition pitfalls will enable better decision making. If the scientific method of observation, experiment, falsification, and peer-review were used in other fields: economics, politics, corporate governance, and the media, etc, then a lot of the suffering brought about by ideology would be alleviated.

Posted: June 5th 2007

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