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Guy P. Harrison - 50 Reasons People Give For Believing In A God
Posted: 01 August 2008 05:59 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Guy P. Harrison is a graduate of the University of South Florida with degrees in history and anthropology. he currently lives in the Cayman Islands, where he is a columnist and travel writer for a national newspaper. He has won several international awards for his writing and photography.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Guy P. Harrison talks about his new book 50 Reasons People Give For Believing In A God, and details such reasons for god-belief as the obviousness of God, “playing it safe,” the fear of hell, that belief in gods brings genuine happiness and comforts, and the fact that so many people are religious. He explores similarities between the reasons people give for their belief in Western gods and Eastern gods, and also similarities between the reasons people give for belief in gods and in the paranormal.  He calls for a wider understanding of religion in general as an important first step in inculcating skepticism about religion. He argues that the reasons people proffer are often very different than the reasons theologians argue that people should believe. And he offers advice for what he thinks is the best approach for engaging believers on these matters of belief.

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Posted: 02 August 2008 09:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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just blatantly telling people they’re wrong definitely has very little results - but to sew the seeds of doubt like this book does, that’s a great start - the gift of skepticism is really wonderful - i wanna get this book

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Posted: 02 August 2008 10:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I enjoyed his approach to arguing about God. I do often think that promoting secularism is very important and promoting atheism is just an added bonus.

I’m not exactly one for “bending over backwards to be polite” though. I generally try to listen to people’s beliefs respectfully so that I can understand their position. But when it comes to challenging them, the second I begin to question their beliefs they automatically get very defensive, angry, and generally unpleasant and it’s hard not to get snarky in response. A lot of people are just like that no matter how you approach them. Sometimes I wonder if religion is just another word for “something that gets people unreasonably riled up at the very mention of it”.

There is one other thing which I would like to take issue with. Obviously, arguments for atheism need to be understandable to the average person, but avoiding a tough argument just because it’s complex seems a bit like disrespecting the average person’s ability to understand things like natural selection or cultural relativism and why they are good ideas or bad ideas. Arguments need to be understandable, yes, but we shouldn’t shy away from it because it looks complex at first glance.

Hell, I’m fifteen. I haven’t completed my high school education yet. If I can understand these books I would hope that the average adult can too.

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1. God is omnipotent.
Source: Several incidents where I’ve annoyed fundamentalist Christians by challenging God’s power.
2. If God is omnipotent then he can travel faster than the speed of light.
Modus Ponens
3. Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
Source: Einstein
Therefore, God is nothing.
QED

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Posted: 02 August 2008 10:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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logicisrefreshing - 02 August 2008 10:06 PM

... But when it comes to challenging them, the second I begin to question their beliefs they automatically get very defensive, angry, and generally unpleasant and it’s hard not to get snarky in response. A lot of people are just like that no matter how you approach them. ...

That’s because their belief has no depth. If you wanted to say this football team or that singer or those dancers are talentless clods they would either agree or argue the point with facts but they have no facts to argue the point with when it comes to religion. Most Christians, for example, know almost nothing about their faith except for smatterings of bible stories they heard as children.

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Posted: 03 August 2008 05:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Thomas Donnelly - 01 August 2008 05:59 PM

Guy P. Harrison talks about his new book 50 Reasons People Give For Believing In A God, and details such reasons for god-belief as
the obviousness of God, “
playing it safe,”
the fear of hell,
that belief in gods brings genuine happiness and comforts, and
the fact that so many people are religious.

Good interview.
[ Nice Cover Design ]


[Here is a review at Friendly Atheist for the Harrison book]

I really think that it sounds worth getting.

Googling the author, I found this book will be the November selection for
[  www. religoius tolerance.org—Ontario consultants on religious tolerance]
Two curious things:
1. they note The title of this book is a little deceptive. The author presents reasons why people believe in a god and then critiques those reasons
2. The October selection has a similar title but is theism-promoting:
“20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists: Discover Why Believing In God Makes So Much Sense”
by Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M., Jr. Bowman

.

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Posted: 04 August 2008 10:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I thought Harrison had a really useful approach. I particularly like the fact that he recognizes people’s need for the comfort of belief may trump anything reason has to offer, and that that’s something we have to accept. If we can erode religious belief and offer other sources of comfort, and if we can diminish the spread and influence of the more virulent forms of religion, we may be accomplishing much.

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You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
Johnathan Swift

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Posted: 08 August 2008 11:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The book sounds interesting, but it is unlikely most of the reasons believers give has anything to do with why they believe. People will readily justify their actions and beliefs with all manner of nonsense.

For example the “comfort” answer makes little sense when we consider that largely atheistic societies exist (like Sweden). Presumably, such people endure tragedy and adversity and yet somehow resist the comforts of the magical beyond.

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Posted: 08 August 2008 05:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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sate - 08 August 2008 11:15 AM

The book sounds interesting, but it is unlikely most of the reasons believers give has anything to do with why they believe. People will readily justify their actions and beliefs with all manner of nonsense.

I think most of the reasons will not be unexpected.

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Posted: 10 August 2008 08:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Very interesting podcast, but I have to agree with sate that the reasons people give are probably not the real reasons. I think it’s been pretty well established that we tend to make decisions and only then come up with rationalizations for them (rather than examining all arguments first).

I have my own list of the real reasons why people persist in believing in religion. It’s quite speculative, I know, but ...

1. People usually are indoctrinated in childhood. Children tend to believe what adults tell them, and those beliefs tend to persist a long time.
2. Repetition - you hear the same thing over and over and over again, and it’s hard not to believe it, especially if you hear no other viewpoint.
3. Confirmation bias. We tend to look for reasons to support our beliefs, not reasons against them.
4. Lack of serious engagement with the issues. How much effort do most people expend thinking seriously about religion? I think a look at church attendance statistics tells us “not very much”.
5. People want to believe in the prospect of life after death, with rewards.
6. There’s still an incredibly strong social and moral stigma attached to atheism.

The “It’s obvious” reason discussed in the podcast strikes me as a shorthand for the first three reasons. It’s clearly NOT obvious, otherwise there wouldn’t be so much disagreement. However, if you already believe and don’t consider other explanations for the world, then, yes, it seems obvious.

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Posted: 10 August 2008 09:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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The almost frantic speech and behavior of all of “God’s Warriors” of whatever belief is telling however. Clearly they don’t want to lose their crutch and are prepared to resort to violence if threatened. I can’t help but perceive this as a symptom of the end of religion.

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Posted: 15 August 2008 02:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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not completely useless - 10 August 2008 08:23 PM

1. People usually are indoctrinated in childhood. Children tend to believe what adults tell them, and those beliefs tend to persist a long time.
2. Repetition - you hear the same thing over and over and over again, and it’s hard not to believe it, especially if you hear no other viewpoint.
3. Confirmation bias. We tend to look for reasons to support our beliefs, not reasons against them.
4. Lack of serious engagement with the issues. How much effort do most people expend thinking seriously about religion? I think a look at church attendance statistics tells us “not very much”.
5. People want to believe in the prospect of life after death, with rewards.
6. There’s still an incredibly strong social and moral stigma attached to atheism.

At Edge and elsewhere there are fascinating arguments that belief in religion is tied most strongly to economic factors at a nation level (not merely an individual one). Anyway my $.02 on your list.

1. I am American but have had the good fortune to live in Germany the past 2+ years. What I’ve discovered is that German children are forced to endure religious indoctrination in schools. I mean “bible study” in the sense of worship not scholarship. This happens from about 5th to 13th grade- not to worry both existing religions are an option: Catholic and Protestant. Also, most people pay tax to churches directly through the federal tax system. This is essentially an opt-out system but most people never bother. Most major political parties in Germany have the word Christian in them: Christian Democratic Union, Christian Social Union etc.., in spite of all of this, this Fundamentalist wet dream, religion is on life support here. It is clearly on the way out, and no one will mourn it. Where did the effect of indoctrination go? How is it our American assumptions about the needful separation of church and state seem so upside-down?

3, 4 & 6: These are not causes so much as effects. Why should there be a stigma about atheism (or anything)? Why should we have theistic beliefs to wrongheadedly defend in the first place? Why don’t we care about the issues you just said we were indoctrinated to believe? These effects are telling but probably are not in themselves causative.

5. How do you explain societies or broad subcultures who lack any kind of predominant religiosity? Do you assume these million people are terrified of death, but that million over there is not? Even if true (and it may very well be), it’s more of a mystery than an explanatory construct.

I think these are all fertile grounds for exploration but Harrison’s book is probably irrelevant to them. Not that that means its a bad book, just one with different aims and different but perhaps fascinating discussion.
cheers

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Posted: 15 August 2008 09:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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sate - 15 August 2008 02:08 PM

... It is clearly on the way out, and no one will mourn it. Where did the effect of indoctrination go? How is it our American assumptions about the needful separation of church and state seem so upside-down? ...

Familiarity breeds contempt. When the state is in bed with the church, contempt for one leads to contempt for the other. Anti theism gives religions an importance they would not have without it. When the church is on the same level as the garbage collector, what respect is due either? In fact most would miss garbage collection sooner.

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Posted: 17 August 2008 01:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The God Gene (LINK)

It turns out that spirituality seekers like myself probably carry—embedded in our DNA along with the gene that determines whether we can roll our tongues and all the others that make us not only human but unique individuals—a particular version of a gene called VMAT2. Genes come in different flavors, which is why all of us have colored irises but some are brown and others blue or green. The VMAT2 gene comes in two forms—one of which, it seems, makes people more likely to seek out transcendent experiences (Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia doesn’t count). Some call it the “God gene.”

51 reasons?

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Posted: 17 August 2008 05:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I think the most if not all the media stories with headlines like “[complex behavior] Gene Found!” can be safely ignored. They are generally a mix of sensationalistic journalism, dramatic oversimplification of science and cursory+unreplicated+highly speculative studies. For anyone to say any one gene is responsible for sexuality, politics, religion, or Iced tea preference is to admit to not understanding what genes are.
Not to say genes don’t matter, but that any one gene is a very small piece of a very big puzzle in matters of complex behavior.

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Posted: 17 August 2008 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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[ Edited: 19 August 2008 04:54 PM by jholt ]
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Posted: 17 August 2008 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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[ Edited: 19 August 2008 04:55 PM by jholt ]
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