1. Felicific Forest
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    18 Jan '07 04:39
    http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/CIS/mcgrath/lecture.html#_edn2

    Religion is a bad thing.

    Finally, I turn to a core belief that saturates Dawkins' writings - that religion is a bad thing. It is clear that this is both an intellectual and moral judgement. In part, Dawkins regards religion as evil because it is based on faith, which evades any human obligation to think. We've already seen that this is a highly questionable viewpoint, which cannot be sustained in the face of the evidence.

    The moral point is, of course, much more serious. Everyone would agree that some religious people do some very disturbing things. But the introduction of that little word `some' to Dawkins' argument immediately dilutes its impact. For it forces a series of critical questions. How many? Under what circumstances? How often? It also forces a comparative question: how many people with antireligious views also do some very disturbing things? And once we start to ask that question, we move away from cheap and easy sniping at our intellectual opponents, and have to confront some dark and troubling aspects of human nature. Let's explore this one.

    I used to be antireligious. In my teens, I was quite convinced that religion was the enemy of humanity, for reasons very similar to those that Dawkins sets out in his popular writings. But not now. And one of the reasons is my dreadful discovery of the dark side of atheism. Let me explain. In my innocence, I assumed that atheism would spread through the sheer genius of its ideas, the compelling nature of its arguments, its liberation from the oppression of religion, and the dazzling brilliance of the world it commended. Who needed to be coerced into such beliefs, when they were so obviously right?

    Now, things seem very different. Atheism is not `proved' in any sense by any science, evolutionary biology included. Dawkins thinks it is, but offers arguments which are far from compelling. And yes, atheism liberated from religious oppression, especially in France in the 1780s. But when atheism ceased to be a private matter, and became a state ideology, things suddenly became rather different. The liberator turned oppressor. Unsurprisingly, these developments tend to be airbrushed out of Dawkins' rather selective reading of history. But they need to be taken with immense seriousness if the full story is to be told.

    The final opening of the Soviet archives in the 1990s led to revelations that ended any notion that atheism was quite as gracious, gentle and generous a worldview as some of its more idealistic supporters believed. The Black Book of Communism, based on those archives,[42] created a sensation when first published in France in 1997, not least because it implied that French communism - still a potent force in national life - was irreducibly tainted with the crimes and excesses of Lenin and Stalin. Where, many of its irate readers asked, were the `Nuremberg Trials of Communism'? Communism was a `tragedy of planetary dimensions' with a grand total of victims variously estimated by contributors to the volume at between 85 million and 100 million - far in excess of those committed under Nazism.

    Now one must be cautious about such statistics, and equally cautious about rushing to quick and easy conclusions on their basis. Yet the basic point cannot really be overlooked. One of the greatest ironies of the twentieth century is that many of the most deplorable acts of murder, intolerance and repression of the twentieth century were carried out by those who thought that religion was murderous, intolerant and repressive - and thus sought to remove it from the face of the planet as a humanitarian act.

    Even his most uncritical readers should be left wondering why Dawkins has curiously failed to mention, let alone engage with, the blood-spattered trail of atheism in the twentieth century - one of the reasons, incidentally, that I eventually concluded that I could no longer be an atheist. Or one of the greatest charlatans of the twentieth century: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, founder of American Atheists Inc.[43] Its omission is deeply revealing.

    Now I could draw the conclusion, based on a few choice stories and a highly selective reading of history, that atheists are all totally corrupt, violent and depraved. Yet I cannot and will not, simply because the facts do not permit it. The truth, evident to anyone working in the field, is that some atheists are indeed very strange people - but that most are totally ordinary people, just wanting to get on with their lives, and not wanting to oppress, coerce or murder anyone. Both religion and anti-religion are capable of inspiring great acts of goodness on the part of some, and acts of violence on the part of others.

    The real issue - as Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out over a century ago - is that there seems to be something about human nature which makes our belief systems capable of inspiring both great acts of goodness and great acts of depravity. Dawkins, of course, insists on portraying the pathological as the normal. He has to. Otherwise, the argument doesn't work.

    Pretending that religion is the only problem in the world, or the base of all its pain and suffering, is simply no longer a real option for thinking people. It's just rhetoric, masking a difficult problem we all need to address - namely, how human beings can coexist and limit their passions. There is a very serious problem here, which needs to be discussed openly and frankly by atheists and Christians alike - namely, how some of those who are inspired and uplifted by a great vision of reality end up doing such dreadful things. This is a truth about human nature itself. It can easily be accommodated with a specifically Christian understanding of human nature, which affirms that we bear the `image of God' while being fallen on account of sin.[44] To put it very simplistically, the lingering remnant of divine likeness impels us to goodness; the powerful presence of sin drags us down into a moral quagmire, from which we can never entirely escape.

    But there is another issue here which we need to note. Dawkins is quite clear that science cannot determine what is right and what is wrong. What about evidence that religion is bad for you? And what criteria might one use to determine what was `bad'? Dawkins himself is quite clear: `science has no methods for deciding what is ethical.'[45]

    Dawkins' discussion of what religion does do people is littered with flagrantly biased anecdotes and hopelessly unsubstantiated generalizations. Rhetoric displaces careful observation and analysis. Yet there is a large and growing body of evidence-based literature dealing with the impact of religion - whether considered generically, or as a specific form of faith - upon individuals and communities.[46] Although it was once fashionable to suggest that religion was some kind of pathology, [47] this view is now retreating in face of mounting empirical evidence that suggests (but not conclusively) that many forms of religion might actually be good for you.[48] Sure, some forms of religion can be pathological and destructive. Others, however, seem to be rather good for you. Of course, this evidence does not allow us to infer that God exists. But it does undermine a central pillar of Dawkins' atheistic crusade - the core belief that religion is bad for you.

    A 2001 survey of 100 evidence-based studies to systematically examine the relationship between religion and human wellbeing disclosed the following:[49]

    1. 79 reported at least one positive correlation between religious involvement and wellbeing;

    2. 13 found no meaningful association between religion and wellbeing;

    3. 7 found mixed or complex associations between religion and wellbeing;

    4. 1 found a negative association between religion and wellbeing.

    Dawkins' entire worldview depends upon precisely this negative association between religion and human wellbeing which only 1% of the experimental results unequivocally affirm, and 79% equally unequivocally reject. The results make at least one thing abundantly clear: we need to approach this subject in the light of the scientific evidence, not personal prejudice. I would not dream of suggesting that this evidence proves that faith is good for you. But I need to make it clear that it is seriously embarrassing for Dawkins, whose world seems to be shaped by the core assumption that faith is bad for you - a view which is unsustainable in the light of the evidence.

    For Dawkins, the issue is simple: the question is `whether you value health or truth.'[50] As religion is false - one of the unassailable core beliefs which recurs throughout his writings - it would be immoral to believe, whatever benefits it might bring. Yet Dawkins' arguments that belief in God is false just don't add up. That's probably why he supplements them with the additional argument that religion is bad for you. The growing body of evidence that religion actually promotes human wellbeing is highly awkward for him here. Not only does it subvert a critical functional argument for atheism; it begins to raise some very troubling questions about its truth as well.
  2. Joined
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    18 Jan '07 05:02
    Originally posted by ivanhoe
    http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/CIS/mcgrath/lecture.html#_edn2

    Religion is a bad thing.

    Finally, I turn to a core belief that saturates Dawkins' writings - that religion is a bad thing. It is clear that this is both an intellectual and moral judgement. In part, Dawkins regards religion as evil because it is based on faith, which evades any huma ...[text shortened]... it begins to raise some very troubling questions about its truth as well.
    thank you, i actually read that
  3. Felicific Forest
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    18 Jan '07 05:05
    Originally posted by EcstremeVenom
    thank you, i actually read that
    You're welcome.
  4. Cape Town
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    18 Jan '07 06:32
    Originally posted by ivanhoe
    .... one of the reasons, incidentally, that I eventually concluded that I could no longer be an atheist.....
    Interesting that belief in the existence of God is not the sole factor for believing in God. Here we have someone who believes in God partly because he is ashamed to be associated with atheists that commit immoral acts.
  5. Cape Town
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    18 Jan '07 06:41
    Originally posted by ivanhoe
    A 2001 survey of 100 evidence-based studies to systematically examine the relationship between religion and human wellbeing disclosed the following:[49]

    1. 79 reported at least one positive correlation between religious involvement and wellbeing;

    2. 13 found no meaningful association between religion and wellbeing;

    3. 7 found mixed or complex associ ...[text shortened]... en religion and wellbeing;

    4. 1 found a negative association between religion and wellbeing.
    Lies, damned lies and Statistics.

    A close analysis of the statistics being quoted will show that the point the writer is attempting to prove is actual not shown at all by the statistics presented. In fact the reverse is true. 21% of all the studies failed to find any single positive correlation between religious involvement and wellbeing.
  6. Felicific Forest
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    19 Jan '07 12:161 edit
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    Lies, damned lies and Statistics.

    A close analysis of the statistics being quoted will show that the point the writer is attempting to prove is actual not shown at all by the statistics presented. In fact the reverse is true. 21% of all the studies failed to find any single positive correlation between religious involvement and wellbeing.
    Do you have any links supporting your views ? ... any description of this 'close analysis of the statistics' you're taling about ?
  7. Felicific Forest
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    19 Jan '07 12:263 edits
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    Interesting that belief in the existence of God is not the sole factor for believing in God. Here we have someone who believes in God partly because he is ashamed to be associated with atheists that commit immoral acts.
    I wonder how many people are ashamed to admit they believe in God because they are ashamed or afraid that they are associated with theists who commit or have committed immoral acts, or because they are simply ashamed or afraid that they are associated with theists who are too stupid to spell their own name or, even more stupid, who have voted for Bush ?
  8. Cape Town
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    19 Jan '07 13:042 edits
    Originally posted by ivanhoe
    Do you have any links supporting your views ? ... any description of this 'close analysis of the statistics' you're taling about ?
    Look carefully at the statistics being quoted. Given that religion plays a significant role in religious peoples live you would expect to find many both negative and positive correlations between religion and a persons well being. The fact that 14% of all the studies failed to find any positive correlations at all implies that religion is having a lot less effect on peoples lives than would be expected.
    What is also interesting is that only 8% of the studies found any negative correlation at all. This to me seems highly suspect as you have to admit that religion can often have negative effects on your well being.

    The most important bit about the whole thing is that counting studies is extremely poor use of statistics. At no point does he say how big the studies were or what their focus was. The very fact that the studies disagreed with each other so significantly on their findings implies that many of them (at least 20 percent) had wrong results. With such a significant number being wrong there is no good reason to assume that any of them are right.
  9. Cape Town
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    19 Jan '07 13:09
    Originally posted by ivanhoe
    I wonder how many people are ashamed to admit they believe in God because they are ashamed or afraid that they are associated with theists who commit or have committed immoral acts, or because they are simply ashamed or afraid that they are associated with theists who are too stupid to spell their own name or, even more stupid, who have voted for Bush ?
    I am sure that many people are ashamed to admit their beliefs (whatever those beliefs may be) when their beliefs are not considered acceptable by others.
    Coming from a Christian country and Christian back ground there have been many times when I personally have not wanted to admit that I am atheist. However shame should not be able to alter a persons belief so for someone to say that they believe in God because they are ashamed not to is nonsense.
  10. Felicific Forest
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    19 Jan '07 15:461 edit
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    Look carefully at the statistics being quoted. Given that religion plays a significant role in religious peoples live you would expect to find many both negative and positive correlations between religion and a persons well being. The fact that 14% of all the studies failed to find any positive correlations at all implies that religion is having a lot les ...[text shortened]... h a significant number being wrong there is no good reason to assume that any of them are right.
    You take the art of statistics to a, at least for me, completely new level.
  11. Felicific Forest
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    19 Jan '07 15:47
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    I am sure that many people are ashamed to admit their beliefs (whatever those beliefs may be) when their beliefs are not considered acceptable by others.
    Coming from a Christian country and Christian back ground there have been many times when I personally have not wanted to admit that I am atheist. However shame should not be able to alter a persons belief so for someone to say that they believe in God because they are ashamed not to is nonsense.
    Absolutely !
  12. Standard memberNemesio
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    20 Jan '07 08:00
    Originally posted by ivanhoe
    A 2001 survey of 100 evidence-based studies to systematically examine the relationship between religion and human wellbeing disclosed the following.
    Without being able to review Koenig's and Cohen's study, we aren't able to discern how they
    define 'religious' and how they define 'well being.'

    I mean, are they suggesting that people who go to church have a lower incidence of cancer? Or
    are they suggesting that religious people enjoy their church services? Or are they suggesting that
    there is an objective 'well being' index that shows that religious people are happier than non-religious
    ones?

    Are we to infer that those who found 'at least one meaningful association' also found fewer harmful
    associations, because the data don't exclude that. I mean, I'm sure even the staunchest atheist
    on this forum can state that they have found at least one meaningful association in religion; even
    rwingett has said as much.

    Nemesio
  13. Cape Town
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    22 Jan '07 09:40
    Originally posted by Nemesio
    Are we to infer that those who found 'at least one meaningful association' also found fewer harmful
    associations, because the data don't exclude that.
    The existence of a separate category for "mixed or complex associations between religion and wellbeing" strongly suggests that the 'at least one meaningful association' also found significantly fewer harmful
    associations or found none at all.
    It is a fact that without significantly more information about the studies and the meanings of their various conclusions, no significant conclusion can be drawn from the information given.
    In fact the writer of the article does state his source although a link is not given. He also is very vague about his own conclusions: "in face of mounting empirical evidence that suggests (but not conclusively) that many forms of religion might actually be good for you."
    I personally find the whole section to be an attempt to use statistics to back up a point of view when the statistics quoted are actually neutral or inconclusive.
  14. Cape Town
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    22 Jan '07 09:41
    Originally posted by ivanhoe
    You take the art of statistics to a, at least for me, completely new level.
    "Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics!"
  15. Standard memberPalynka
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    22 Jan '07 10:31
    Ivanhoe, do you have a link to the 2001 survey?

    Not entering the fact that well-being is extremely hard to measure and quantify, the fact that the author didn't quote actual studies, but quoted a survey about how many studies support one view or the other makes his case a very weak one.

    If his point was providing evidence that no form of consensus exists, he's forgetting that not all studies have the same credibility and should have at least weighed the studies to account for its respective publisher or consider only those that were published on a selection of the most reputed reviews.

    Although I agree with the general idea of the text, that as of yet there is no consensus regarding the welfare effect of religion, I find his text as pamphletary as Dawking's.
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