Sunday, September 28, 2014

A List Of Psychological Biases That Humans Have

I'm always baffled when I hear theists make the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN), where they argue that naturalistic evolution would make our beliefs fit for survival, and not for truth, but somehow think that with god's guidance our brains were designed for truth. Below I have a list of some of the biases that affects virtually every human being taken from Michael Shermer's book, The Believing Brain. So the challenge to theists who hold to the EAAN is this: if god guided our evolution so that our brains would hold beliefs that are true, why do we have so many psychological biases that prevent us from the truth that appear to be the product of that very evolutionary process?

Confirmation bias: the tendency to seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirming evidence.

Hindsight bias: the tendency to reconstruct the past to fit with present knowledge.

Self-justification bias: the tendency to rationalize decisions after the fact to convince ourselves that what we did was the best thing we could have done.

Attribution bias: the tendency to attribute different causes for our own beliefs and actions than that of others.
  • Situational attribution bias: we identify the cause of someone's belief or behavior to the environment.
  • Dispositional attribution bias:  we identify the cause of someone's belief or behavior in the person as an enduring personal trait.

The Great Religion Debate Part 3: Is the world better off without religion?

Religion is a notoriously difficult word to define. For the purposes of the Great Religion Debate I defined religion as "the belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny." Although it may be impossible to find a perfect definition of religion and many will find some issue no matter what definition is provided, this definition differentiates religion from things like philosophy, worldviews and politics.

Although every religion is a worldview, not every worldview is a religion. Under this definition Christianity is a religion, Judaism is a religion, and so is Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, Scientology, and some forms of Buddhism and Confucianism. Political ideologies, theories and philosophies like liberalism, libertarianism, conservatism, socialism and communism are not religions. Neither are naturalistic philosophies such as existentialism or determinism.

One of the best orators against the social effects of religion was the late Christopher Hitchens. He put forth four basic reasons in the beginning of his best seller God is Not Great indicting religion as a poison to the enlightened world. Religious faith he argued:

1) wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos
2) because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism
3) it is both the result and cause of dangerous sexual repressions 
4) it is ultimately grounded in wish-thinking

Many argue that it's not religion in and of itself that causes any harm, it's people acting wrongly in the name of religion that results in this harm. This is usually coupled with the view that it's only some versions of some religions that can be harmful, but that religion as a whole is not to blame. There is no doubt that we must consider nuance when dealing with a concept as complex as religion. I do not in any way think all religions are equally harmful. The term "religion" is like the term "sport," to use Sam Harris' analogy. Some are much more prone to harm than others. To think all religions are equally harmful (or equally good) is therefore naive.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Great Religion Debate Part 2: Is America truly a "Christian" nation?

A recent YouGov survey found that 34% of Americans favor establishing Christianity as their state's official religion. The same survey found that 32% of Americans would support a constitutional amendment that would make Christianity the official religion of the United States. A 2009 Newsweek poll showed that 62% of Americans think the US already is is a Christian nation. That's a lot of people.

The debate over whether America is a "Christian nation" is hotly debated and has been since its inception. Today the issue is largely divided by politics. Liberals for example generally disagree that the US is a "Christian nation" while conservatives generally believe it is. In order to begin debating this we first need to define what we mean by a "Christian nation."

We don't mean whether or not the majority of Americans are Christian. The answer to that is clearly yes. What we mean is whether the US was founded on Christian principles. Meaning, did the Founding Fathers envision America as a Christian nation to be guided by the Christian religion? Or was the US founded on secular values and philosophies and not intended to be guided by the Christian religion? The heart of this disagreement comes down to interpretations of America's Founding Fathers and documents, and has profound political and legal effects relating to almost every aspect of government.

Those that believe America is a Christian nation argue that many of the Founding Fathers were deeply Christian and drew upon their Christian heritage and beliefs as inspiration for creating the political precepts that underpin the nation. In other words, they say that America was founded on Christian (or Judeo-Christian) values and that our Constitution is based on the Bible. David Barton is a notable example. He's the darling of the Christian Right, who's been called one of America's greatest "historians." He's been accused of being a revisionist and one his books attempting to portray the Founding Fathers as deeply committed Christians has been revoked and pulled off of shelves for its abominable scholarship. But even with this, people like Barton remain successful in convincing those who want to believe that America is a Christian nation, is a Christian nation. They just don't have the facts on their side.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Great Religion Debate Part 1

Later this week I will be hosting a debate about religion at my local debate club and I'm very excited. Some of the debate topics that will be covered will be:

• Is America truly a "Christian" nation?

• Is the world better off without religion?

• Is god necessary for morality?

If you've read my blog before you'll know where I stand on these issues. None of these topics are about the metaphysical debate over whether god exists or not or whether one particular religion is true over another. That can be a side issue. Instead, what we'll be debating are the social effects of religion on society along with the role it plays in government and public policy. 

I expect that many people will have varying ideas of what they think "religion" and "secularism" are, so defining these terms is paramount to these debates. Religion for example, is a notoriously hard to define word. There are at least 5 or 6 different commonly used definitions. We throw the word around colloquially to mean a variety of things. We say things like, "In Brazil soccer is a religion," and "Bankers worship money as their religion." For the purposes of these debates, I will define religion as the belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny. This definition differentiates religions from political philosophies like liberalism or conservatism.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What Debating Means To Me

How could someone who claims to be a man of love and compassion be so argumentative and polemic? The question has arose from time to time. I think it's perfectly rational to be for love and compassion while at the same time rigorously debating deeply held ideas.

To use an analogy, it's similar to how two boxers can pummel each other in the ring, and then are able to sit down together and enjoy a peaceful diner. There is a right time and place for punching someone in the face. When two consenting people step into a boxing ring, it's the right time and place. Punching someone on the street for no reason is not the right time or place.

I see debating in a similar manner. There is a time and a place for debating. Challenging someone random on the street in a hostile manner unprovoked is not the time or place for debate. That's just being rude. On the internet however, it's a little different. Comment threads on apologist and counter apologist websites are the time and place for debate. The same goes for political websites. In fact, any time someone expresses their views publicly could warrant a debate. If I'm forced to hear your views on anything, whether it be political or religious, then you must be forced to hear my criticism. If you can't handle getting challenged, keep your views to yourself.

I welcome debate on this blog and actively seek out prospective interlocutors. I admit that I can sometimes get nasty and can appear very cocky, and if I were a theist I'd definitely think an atheist like myself would be an arrogant antitheist, to say the least. I'm conscious of this and I'm actively working to conduct myself with a certain level of politeness and courtesy, but the impersonal nature of the internet perhaps brings out the worst in me. Intellectual debates should be civil, most of the time. But as Christopher Hitchens often said, "civility is overrated." He was the kind of polemicist that I deeply admire. He could be ruthless in a verbal or written  disagreement, but nice and courteous in regular social functions.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

How Popular Is The Many Worlds Interpretation Of Quantum Mechanics?

It is hard to say as statistics vary. But here is one showing that majority (58%) of scientists surveyed hold to it over other interpretations.

Elvridge., Jim (2008-01-02). The Universe – Solved!. pp. 35–36. ISBN 978-1-4243-3626-5.OCLC 247614399. "58% believed that the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) was true, including Stephen Hawking and Nobel Laureates Murray Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman"

You're A Filthy Unworthy Sinner And Don't Deserve To Live

Many atheists find it highly offensive when we're told by a religious fundamentalist that we're wretched, filthy, sinners who are unworthy and undeserving of our lives (that we didn't even ask for) and that the only remedy for this situation is to follow their stupid religion. Just think about what we're being told.

To give you an analogy, it would be like if a person forced you to accept a brand new Ferrari. Then while driving it you start to enjoy it, and then the person who gave it to you notices this and begins hounding you with insults, saying things like, "Oh you're enjoying the car I gave you, huh? Well you don't deserve it! You're a filthy, unworthy sinner!" And they never shut up about it. And you try reminding them that you were forced to accept the car, but it doesn't change their attitude one bit.

Any person who would give you a car in this manner would be absolutely crazy, and yet that's exactly what religions like Christianity say is the case when it comes to god and our lives. And yet theists who are thoroughly brain washed into their faith will never see this because they must maintain their dogma at all costs, even if it they recognize the absurdity that parallel examples provide.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Was Your Grandfather A Monkey?



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