Beliefs & Choices
Part Two

After I had gotten away from Jehovah's Witnesses, then from religion in general, and had shared stories with others of how it was like coming out of a cave you had been in all your life, and after reading Ingersoll's eloquence on how he felt upon become free of belief in gods, I was absolutely flumoxed by how people could believe such stuff as religion even AFTER being shown how illogical it was. How stupid could you be!? Indeed. How stupid was I when I believed it? This gave me pause. Was I really stupid? Well, I didn't know some things, but even if I had, at the time it would have probably washed over me as "worldly" stuff, which really was irrelevant to spiritual truth. Is that stupid? How odd... from one side of the glass it looks profound and wonderful... from the other side, well... yeah, a little stupid. Thing is, if you can only see from the profound side... that's it. There is no other side. When you can see from both sides...

One of the things that made my atheism feel "right" was that, although I found much to read about it, and there were some organizations and meetings, etc., there was no "creed" or set of beliefs that one must agree to, as you might expect if you were going from one religion to another. Another was that much emphasis was placed on science as the best tool humans have for finding correct information about the world. All the answers were not already written down long ago by ancient people. There was a niggling here... if there is no god and that is so obvious and reasonable and rational, how can so many people in the world continue to think there is? And how could I have gone so long thinking there was? I had to do a lot more reading... especially in science, and especially on the workings of the brain.

I gave a speech at Lake Hypatia some 13 years ago on the general idea of beliefs being a matter of choice. For some odd reason it is still preserved here. I was VERY unprepared and rambled unmercifully, but I did have the basic idea right.... that beliefs are NOT choices. Nor is a weird belief a sign of low intelligence. I was not really convinced of that at the time, but I have since become convinced. It's not that intelligence and education have no bearing on beliefs. Obviously they do. But there are factors at work which are far more powerful than the relatively new-fangled (in evolutionary terms) notions of intelligence.

Both the religious and the irreligious view the other is perhaps a bit dim for not recognizing what they themselves see as obvious truths. Since this comes from a much deeper and more primitive place than intelligence and education, it is a fact that strange beliefs will be a hallmark of humans as long as that term means something close to the current meaning. I am not aware of any people now who sincerely believe that the ancient Greek and Roman gods and goddesses are literal beings, though I would not be surprised to hear there are a few. But the belief in gods are still there. Jesus, Yahweh, Allah, and thousands of others are taken sincerely by some people to be literally existing beings. Some readily acknowledge there is not a shred of empirical evidence to support such a belief... but that is irrelevant to them having the belief. Others attempt to offer justifications and proofs.

Though in general terms the more intelligent and educated one is the less likely one is to believe the most common superstitions about gods and demons and ghosts, etc. such beliefs ARE held by some of the most brilliant and educated people. Conversely, someone with no religious or superstitious beliefs may be dumb as a sack of hammers. Zetetic Astronomy, otherwise known as
Flat Earthers still exists. The reason is not stupidity. So... what then? When we find that some people hold beliefs that are not rational and sometimes those beliefs can be quit harmful, yet it is not possible to "educate it out of them", what do we do?

I have long called myself an atheist evangelist. I will not change that. But I am more cognizant of the liklihood of "changing minds". It ain't promising. What are the chances that Pat Robertson or Rick Warren would have been invited speakers at the atheist convention? What are the chances that Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins would be invited to deliver a sermon at the Crystal Cathedral or at Saddleback?

There are some scientific theories or ideas that I have serious doubts about, but not the ones that have been repeatedly empirically and experimentally proven to be true. But some folks can come to reject even those and claim another idea is really true, as with the Thunderbolts of the Gods believers, some of whom are atheists. How is this possible? What is the cause? What is the cure? Can we, as a species, ever get beyond our primitive genetic programming? Can we ever "educate" homosexuals to give it up and become heterosexual? Why should we think that we can ever "educate" religion out of ourselves? Will there not always be a percentage - probably majority - who have religious beliefs?

Further reading:
Beliefs & Choices by Austin Kline.
Why People Believe Weird Things excerpt.
Scientists See God on the Brain from LiveScience.
Looking at Stress - and God - in the Human Brain from Discover Magazine.

TRB

Oh, yeah.... one other thing. Some (smart) folks think the universe and everything in it exists only because life - especially consciousness - exists and continually manufactures it from one instant to the next. It's called the Biocentric Universe Theory. What y'all say 'bout that?

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Tags: atheist, beliefs, choice, religion

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Comment by El Solo Lobo on May 5, 2009 at 9:07am
Thanks, Angie. Note that you said, "felt" so real. Seems to suggest factually correct information is irrelevant to people without emotional support. I would agree with that Carver. That genetic predisposition thing is killer.
Comment by Jim DePaulo on May 4, 2009 at 7:49pm
Angie,
I would guess that your early belief was a learned mind set, strongly reinforced by parents, relatives and friends. Without any open discussion that included non-believers, there was no evidence nor suggestion the belief was false.
However, I would posit that you probably don't have a strong genetic predisposition for religion or mysticism, and when you reached an age of mental maturity capable of formal, abstract thinking - the myth went the way of Santa Claus.
Comment by Angie Jackson on May 3, 2009 at 9:43am
I have that some cognitive dissonance - how can something be so OBVIOUSLY false to me now, and yet feel so real for 20+ years? Study of science, of critical thinking, the laws of logic, and of other religions led me to atheism. This is the same basic prescription I use when trying to deconvert others. Atheist evangelists unite!
Comment by El Solo Lobo on May 3, 2009 at 5:49am
Thanks, Carver. But my question is, what if they are able to demonstrate something like the wave form collapse of Quantum Mechanics on a macro level?
Comment by Jim DePaulo on May 2, 2009 at 10:09pm
One of my favorite Robert Ingersol quotes,
"If a man would follow, today, the teachings of the Old Testament, he would be a criminal. If he would follow strictly the teachings of the New, he would be insane."
The Biocentric Universe Theory is simply more "New Age" fantasy masquerading as science. It does not have valid evidence to be framed as a theory - it barely qualifies as a wild ass guess.

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