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Why do people feel bad about exposing false beliefs?
Posted: 30 March 2007 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Posted: 30 March 2007 10:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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[quote author=“George Benedik”]In my opinion, the answer to all these questions is no. Vegetarianism might be a healthier choice of a diet for us (?) but it certainly isn’t for dogs (for example) as some dog owners wrongly believe.

I don’t personally care what other people believe as long as their beliefs don’t affect my way of living. Believe in god if you must. Just don’t edit my kids’ biology textbooks.

I’d disagree with this. A question like “are skeptics happier” is kind of silly first of all, but I wouldn’t answer “No.”

I don’t think that people’s happiness is primarily dependent on their worldview. Do you have food on the table, are you arguing with your wife, is your job going well, are you healthy, are your hormones “in balance”, etc., etc. All of that and more is obviously a big part of whether or not your are “happy.”

I personally am a happy person, whatever that counts for.

A lot of people are obviously not happy with their belief systems, hence the reject them. I think that overall people like for things to “make sense”. Skepticism is often a part of developing a worldview that “makes sense”.

People don’t like to hold beliefs that are in conflict with reality. Different people take different approaches to this issue. Some, like us, tend to model our beliefs on reality as best and openly as we can define it.

Others who hold strong beliefs that may be on conflict with reality shield themselves from reality by surrounding themselves with a community that holds the same beliefs, not exposing themselves to ideas that conflict with theirs, etc.

Obviously, for those people, belief is favorable to skepticism. That doesn’t mean that its the case for everyone, obviously it’s not. It also doesn’t mean that those people would be uncomfortable with a skeptical worldview had they not been indoctrinated into their faith based worldview first.

Vegitarianism is a sacrifice. Skepticism is a not a sacrifice at all, indeed I find it enriching.

As for saying that you don’t care what others believe as long as they don’t affect you, this is a pipe dream. We all affect each other. It is impossible for someone else’s beliefs not to affect you.

Maybe a few isolate people, some Amish or something don’t affect you, but directly or indirectly, the beliefs of the nation heavily impact all of our lives in an infinite number of ways.

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Posted: 30 March 2007 11:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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[quote author=“rationalrevolution”]

I’d disagree with this. A question like “are skeptics happier” is kind of silly first of all, but I wouldn’t answer “No.”

I don’t think that people’s happiness is primarily dependent on their worldview. Do you have food on the table, are you arguing with your wife, is your job going well, are you healthy, are your hormones “in balance”, etc., etc. All of that and more is obviously a big part of whether or not your are “happy.”

I think the question of whether skepticism leading to happiness, or more broadly, does skepticism serve our interests (happiness being one of them) is a vital one to ask, as activists and people committed to a “beloved cause” of advancing rationalism etc in our society.

One of the sales-pitches we contend with is that if you dont believe in the supernatural, the paranormal or religion is that you will necessarily therefore live a more diminished, less happy life.

I agree that basic needs must be met for “happiness” to occur, but those who study happiness (not just the humanist and existential-integrative psychologists like Rollo May, Maslow and Rogers) do argue that one’s worldview indeed does indeed play into one’s sense of happiness.

Speaking from personal experience, my happiness is largely dependent on my worldview. The happiest, most “exuberant” person I know, Paul Kurtz, has a sense of happiness that I think flows directly from the world view he buys into.

I think it is an interesting question, both generally and in terms of devising strategies to increase our mind-share among the general public, to ask “are skeptics happier than believers?” Does skepticism get you more out of life than belief and blind faith. Does accepting the limitedness of this life without the supernatural make us value it all the more. Questions about the cash-value of skepticism are important.

Moreover, does being right about the big questions, and even does having a worldview based on the sciences, lead to other sets of circumstances that foster happiness: are skeptics and humanists better or worse at dealing with loss? Are they kinder to strangers and to their own families? Are they more ethical, which may lead to a happier life?

If skepticism of the paranormal and the supernatural, of life after death, or other widely held faith commitments doesnt make a hill of beans difference to my life day in and day out, especially in terms of whats valuable to my flourishing, my happiness, then I’d be a lot less concerned about the big questions than I am.

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"Few have the courage of their convictions. Fewer still have the courage for an attack on their convictions." - Nietzsche

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Posted: 30 March 2007 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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While “happier” may not be the right word, I think there is good reason to believe that skeptics have less cognitive dissonance and more time to devote to meaningful pursuits.  If you are attending church weekly and trying to reconcile the sayings of scripture with increasingly encroaching reality, that is sure to use resources (of mind and time) that could be better employed.  For many, skepticism as a worldview allows them to simply “let go” of a lot of mental and emotional baggage and focus elsewhere.  Of course, just freeing up these resources does not necessarily mean they will be better allocated.  Skeptics who devote their lives to debunking the religious, for example, will find themselves in a very frustrating position that may very well lead to less happiness.

I agree with D.J. that in addressing the credulous, we need to provide them with an incentive to embrace skepticism other than that we are “right.”  Religion has an enormous benefit over skepticism in that it can provide emotional comfort (even though it may be an illusion).  People must want to embrace skepticism before they will be receptive to logical arguments.  Most are just not to that stage.

Many people disagree with Gould’s concept of NOMA.  But I think anyone can relate to his attempt from a strategic and political standpoint.  The problem is that NOMA is ultimately intellectually dishonest and shortchanges both sides by redefining the scope of their positions.  We as skeptics need to follow Gould’s example and look for an intellectually honest way for skeptics and religious people to live together in peace and, most importantly, common understanding.

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Posted: 30 March 2007 11:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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[quote author=“rationalrevolution”]Vegitarianism is a sacrifice. Skepticism is a not a sacrifice at all, indeed I find it enriching.

Not if you have been a vegetarian most of your life.  I’m 40 and I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 12.  It’s a way of life for me and I don’t miss meat at all.  Therefore, it is not a sacrifice for me. When one can not imagine any differently, then it is not a sacrifice.  Beside, the smell of dead animal being cook makes me nauseated.  Luckily, no one cooks it in my home.

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Posted: 30 March 2007 11:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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I agree with much of what DJ and “LJ” have said.

There are so many direct and indirect things to consider.

For example, I would say that skepticism and rationalism definitely leads to greater material progress and ability to solve real world problem, both as a society and as individuals, just look at the past 200 yeas vs. the preceding 2,000 (or 1,600 really).

So then we get into a question of free riders, if indeed “faith based” worldviews were to lead to greater individual happiness. In other words, skepticism and rationalism are more practical, and that practicality can solve problems and lead to greater happiness, i.e. figuring out how to grow more food so as not to go hungry, etc. If “faith based” people, while not having to solve any real world problems, are happier, then as rational people solve real world problems, faith biased people can free ride on the advances in technology and luxury afforded by rational people.

Indeed I would say that this is already what is happening, and has been happening for thousands of years.

So, obviously the practical aspects of rationality lead to problem solving or progress, and thus “happiness”.

There are also issues such as the studies on Buddhism, that show that certain Buddhists monks can attain high levels of “happiness”, but then if you look at Buddhist societies as a whole in Asia, you find that in most places where Buddhism is practiced, the populace suffers while the monks do well, since the people in the village don’t have all day to sit around meditating, but they have to do all the work and provide food for the monastery, etc.

To me, Buddhists in general seem like free riders, both in the traditional sense, and even in modern cultures they shun material advances, etc. They preach happiness through denial and elimination of desire, convince yourself to want nothing, etc.

Even if this can work on a small scale for certain individual within a developing culture its obviously a dead end strategy for a society as a whole.

Is happiness everything?

Take slavery for example.

Obviously people who were slave owners in gained more happiness by owning slaves. Is that justifiable though? Obviously we say no.

Just shifting away from religion, is happiness through deception something to espouse or condone in general? Is there value to knowing and facing the truth even if it makes you less happy?

Obviously we can think of scenarios where the answer is clearly no. Your doctor discovers you have cancer. They can not tell you that there are no problems and that will make you happy, or they can tell you the truth and that will made you unhappy, but its clearly the better option.

In general, I don’t think that religions make people more happy. I think that having one’s worldview radically challenged makes people unhappy, and thus people who are indoctrinated are unhappy with skeptical worldviews, but I think that if people are brought up that way, it’s no issue at all.

Thus I think that it’s worth causing potential unhappiness among believers now to spare future generations.

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Posted: 30 March 2007 11:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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[quote author=“Mriana”][quote author=“rationalrevolution”]Vegitarianism is a sacrifice. Skepticism is a not a sacrifice at all, indeed I find it enriching.

Not if you have been a vegetarian most of your life.  I’m 40 and I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 12.  It’s a way of life for me and I don’t miss meat at all.  Therefore, it is not a sacrifice for me. When one can not imagine any differently, then it is not a sacrifice.  Beside, the smell of dead animal being cook makes me nauseated.  Luckily, no one cooks it in my home.

Very true. I think this applies to religion as well.

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Posted: 30 March 2007 11:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Well yes, it could apply to religion too, but vegetarianism doesn’t condone anti-intellectualism, dogma, or anything like that.

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 30 March 2007 12:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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[quote author=“Mriana”]Well yes, it could apply to religion too, but vegetarianism doesn’t condone anti-intellectualism, dogma, or anything like that.

No, I mean, if you grow up as a vegetarian you don’t feel like you are missing anything, just as if you grow up non-religious you never feel like you are missing something.

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Posted: 30 March 2007 12:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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OK I’ll buy that.  That I can buy and understand.  Don’t ask.  I only got 3 hours of sleep last night working on a paper and haven’t gone back to sleep yet.

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Posted: 30 March 2007 02:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Posted: 30 March 2007 02:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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I think life is much more meaningful than just to survive, although, granted, life is a necessary condition for life to even have meaning in the first place. But yes, contributing to “the continuation of life” can be meaningful in and of itself, and contribute to one’s happiness.

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Posted: 30 March 2007 03:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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I agree with George that you cannot really say that skeptics as a group are hapier than other people. For one thing, “happiness” is dependent on a huge number of factors-world view and material comfort have been mentioned and are certainly important, but temperment and personality (which ultimately depend on the idiosyncracies of individual brain chemistry shaped by genetics and experiences) also play a huge role. I think the more meaningful question, as rationalrevolution may have implied, is what worldview contributes the most to well-being, happiness, contentment, minimizing of suffering, etc. We can’t promise people their lives will be better if they leave religion and join us in skepticism. And I don’t think we have to. To answer the question whether people can be happy in the face of suffering and mortality without a belief in the supernatural, we only have to show individuals who are. Contentment without religion is possible, but not guaranteed. On balance I think truth leads to a better world than delusion, but that doesn’t mean havng one’s eyes opened isn’t sometimes a terrifying experience.

As for how we approach the issue of disabusing people of their false beliefs, I absolutely think Sagan, and to a lesser extent Gould, had the right tone. Compassion must be the overiding value when humanists approach these issues with real people. It is not a compromise of our worldview to treat people gently and humanely even when they are horribly mistaken. I would argue it is a central part of our worldview, since the point of what we are trying to acheve, to some extent, is creating a world in which people are free to explore and fulfill their potential and fully enjoy the richness of the human experience. I disagree with DJ that Dawkins, at least in The God Delusion and in the few interviews I have heard, does much of a job maintaining a tone of civility and humanity. Though he’s mostly right in content, he strays into arrogance and condecension in tone too often for my tastes. So as far as the original question of this thread, I think it’s perfectly appropriate to feel bad if someone suffers because we’ve taken away their comforting delusions. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to do so, but we need to be ready to provide comfort of a more rational kind, or simple to respect their suffering however seems appropriate.

I try daily to disabuse my clients of their misconceptions and illusions about medicine, even when that means having to tell them that the AM nonsense they are inflicting on their beloved pets is causing or doing nothing for their suffering rather than relieving it. I have to struggle all the time to do this in a humane and compassionate, and also an effective, way. It makes no difference if I’m right and their wrong unless I can handle the situation in a way that teaches rather than hurts and ultimately leads to more appropriate care of the patient. Any situation in which we combat people’s cherished beliefs has to be handled gently or we are somewhat missing the point of freeing pople from delusion so they can be happier, if possible.

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Posted: 30 March 2007 03:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Rationalrevolution,

I don’t want to go through the debate we’ve already had about uddhism specifically, but I still thin you overplay the rationalist hand. It is not clear at all that material and technologcal progress are the central offering of a secular worldview for happiness, nor are they necessarily even a major determinant of happiness. There is ample researc that beyond a minimal level of material comfort, well below what most Americans enjoy, that happiness is much more highly correlated with issues such as perception of control, satisfying work, robust social support network, etc than with icnreasing wealth or material prosperity. And to say that religion in general, and Buddhism in particular, are essentially parasites on the effort of the non-believers and contribute nothing to solving real world problem is an exaggeration that I think is both unfair and likely to backfire on us in terms of DJ’s “strategic” considerations. I don’t think we can or need to argue that for humanity to achieve greater happiness or many of the other goals of the humanist agenda (social and economic equity, freedom of inquiry and conscience, etc) that we need to eliminate religion or any but strictly atheist/materialist beliefs. Finding common ground where possible with “believers” is not a de facto compromise of our principles, it is a reasonable and strategically sound way to achieve change in the worldview of the majority.

Much of the most egregious nonsense has already been sucked out of Christianity for the average American who may be nominally Christian but functionally humanst, even agnostic, and this has improved life in America in real terms, even if it hasn’t lead to the level of secularism or rationalism we might prefer. The process has progressed farther, for the most part, in Europe. This seems a reasonable strategy to begin with, as CFI seems to be doing to some extent with regard to “secular Muslims.”

Finally, I think we have to value individual happiness on some level, and a strident atitude of insisting that people accept our take on the truth even if their functioning happily, and benignly as they are seems farther than I think we should go.

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Posted: 31 March 2007 02:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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I doubt we’ll ever be able to show that a purely secular worldview leads to more happiness.  I’m not sure it is even true, especially when, as Dr. M notes, a great many “religous” people are religious only in name and the most technical sense.  Our primary efforts should not be in conversion, but in increasing tolerance and understanding of our views.  The sheer number of moderate Christians and Muslims out there indicates that there are many people who might be receptive to such an approach. 

Presently, many of these very people bear irrational prejudices against atheists.  This is apparent from any number of opinion polls, which show antipathy towards atheism among well over the majority of Americans.  These are not just fundamentalist Christians!  To do this, we must first let them know how many of us there are and that we are very likely to be their friends and neighbors.  As with gays, the sheer force of familiarity will begin to break down these prejudices in the more liberal minded.

As for the fundamentalists, we should leave them to later.  While we should still defend our science classes and First Amendment rights, there is no need to go on the attack.  This will only alienate the moderates that might be otherwise willing to see our point of view.  At some point, we will reach a “tipping point,” and the fundamentalists will be left standing alone with their hatred and intolerance.

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