General Question

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Why are people religious?

Asked by FireMadeFlesh (16558points) May 18th, 2009

Being an atheist, I believe that a person’s beliefs and ideas are solely composed of electrochemical neuronal interactions. From a psychological point of view, why do some people believe and others don’t?

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75 Answers

DarkScribe's avatar

Desperation. They have difficulty handling real life and turn to the promise of something better one day. Almost all religions are of a “Donkey & Stick” threat and promise variety, and all are run by men who claim to be doing some mysterious highly improbable entity’s will.

Is it invariably a “Suck up to me and I’ll reward you by not torturing you”, heaven or Hell scenario. Thankfully the numbers of people who truly believe are rapidly dwindling. The true number have little to do with those who tick a box on a census form, they are the ones who actually attend a Church and genuinely practice the basics of their religion – not just pay lip service to it. Not really all that many of them left – the genuine Ned Flanders variety.

ahimsa16's avatar

Faiths are a way to help explain the unexplainable. People find solace in that. Science would now argue that some are genetically predisposed to their search for “God”, but I don’t know how I feel about that.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

I doubt any scientist would argue a genetic predisposition to a particular religious view. That sort of thing is more often a result of influences from one’s upbringing and environment.

ahimsa16's avatar

@DarkScribe—WOW! Glad my faith isn’t as horrible sounding as that! As for the “gene” thing, not that it’s the most credible source, but I heard about that on some Discovery show or something similar.

ahimsa16's avatar

They argued the gene had something to do with engaging a part of the brain, not that it determined one’s faith….just that they were more prone to seek out religion.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

That is all very interesting, I would like to see a research paper on that.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@DarkScribe – I think you are right about some forms of religion, although some others are altogether harmless. Many are all about thought control and exercising power, but there are a good number that are simply good lifestyle habits portrayed as religious ideals in order to relate to the masses.

augustlan's avatar

You can start your researching here.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@augustlan – I’ve read that before, now you mention it. This isn’t the start of my research though, I’ve just joined this forum a few hours ago and thought this was a good way to gauge the community’s religious views.

augustlan's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh I just meant research on @ahimsa16‘s remarks. As far as the community as a whole, there are several different religious views expressed. Probably, the one most represented is agnostic, followed closely by atheism. We also have several wonderful mainstream religious members, and a few fundamentals.

Welcome to the collective, by the way!

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@augustlan Thanks! From your score it seems you’ve been here a good while. It looks like this is a good place for me to call home thanks to the closure of Windows Live QnA.

nikipedia's avatar

The fact that our beliefs are constructed out of electrochemical signals doesn’t really impact the state of belief or non-belief. My belief that the wine I’m drinking is delicious is an electrochemical signal, but it’s completely different from my belief that the sun will come up tomorrow, that San Francisco is the best city in the world, or that tomatoes are disgusting.

Also, you could be an atheist and not believe in electrochemical signals, or you could be a theist and believe in them. Again, these are separate issues.

As to your primary question—why people are religious—you got me. You might find some answers in this book though.

And most importantly—welcome to the collective :)

DarkScribe's avatar

@nikipedia Those thoughts sound very much like “Johnny Walker” wisdom (to paraphrase Leonard Cohen) and the heated arguments re existentialism in my college days. It takes me back. I miss those days.

DarkScribe's avatar

@ahimsa16 >WOW! Glad my faith isn’t as horrible sounding as that

You are not a Christian then? Or are you one of those Christians who picks and chooses what parts of the Bible to regard as valid?

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@nikipedia I mentioned the electrochemical signals to be more specific. This is as opposed to the ‘soul’ knowing of supernatural things and leading us to be religious etc. When I have asked similar questions elsewhere, I have been told that it is God’s prerogative who he predestines etc. I mentioned my belief as to the basis of consciousness and knowledge to restrict the question to simple psychological reasons rather than magical, mythical, supernatural reasons to believe.
I really like the God Delusion, although it is flawed in some aspects.

Thank you for your answer.

cookieman's avatar

• It’s what you were born into.
• Fear of death.
• Explains the unknown*.
• Provides a sense of purpose or community.

*“unknown” to the individual, not in general. Read: “ignorance” (in most cases).

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

1. Why would someone stick to what they are born into without wondering if it is worth upholding?
2. I’ll come back to the fear of death on another question.
3. Fair enough, but many are not willing to change their views to fit better explanations.
4. Again, fair enough, but does this need to be in a religious setting?

cookieman's avatar

1. Inertia (laziness) or guilt/fear about deviating from/disapponting the family.
2. OK
3. Many cannot understand scientific explanations of “the unknown” so the easier to digest bible stories go down easier. Sure they may be fantastical, but they don’t make your head hurt.
4. No, there are other venues. But, again, tradition, habit, what have you. Plus, I’m sure, some churches offer great social opportunities.

mattbrowne's avatar

@DarkScribe – Desperation and having difficulty handling real life? This sounds like a Marxist interpretation. Allow me to quote: ‘Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.’

Actually, I think Marx might be right in his analysis when people switch off critical thinking. Religion can be used like opium, but this isn’t always the case. Atheists shouldn’t switch off critical thinking either. Generalizations are often problematic.

I’m a moderately religious person. Do you have the impression I’m desperate? Do I appear like I’m having difficulty handling real life?

Now, why are people religious? The God gene studies are interesting, but they still seem a little simplistic. I guess we need to put more people into the fMRI scanners. The nature of the human brain certainly has something to do with religiousness. Among all species homo sapiens is probably the only one capable of asking ‘why question’ about almost everything. Science can offer a lot of answers but there are limits. Some people are interested in questions science cannot answer. Yet religions are not only about whether God exists or not. They also offer social guidance. There are other ethical philosophies like humanism which also offer social guidance. Religions should never be use to exert social control.

The human brain has been optimized to become socially intelligent. The so-called mirror neurons seem to play a key role. The latest book by Daniel Goleman is a wonderful read. René Descartes said “I think, therefore I am”. Modern neurobiology says: “I feel, therefore I am.”

Rituals strengthen the bonds of human communities. Hand-shaking and saying hello are rituals. Religions offer rituals. Cultures offer rituals.

Why do some people not believe? Well, they believe in something else. Everyone believes in something, many things in fact. God can be on the list or not.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@mattbrowne Thank you for your answer, it is very interesting. I have seen a very good analogy used in this context – do you keep your room tidy because your mum said so, or do you do it because you want it to be tidy? Are we advanced enough to keep our figurative rooms tidy, or do we need to invent a deity to threaten or reward us into doing it?

Maybe @DarkScribe has overstated the concept, being that religion provides security for those who cannot struggle with reality. Why are you religious? If it is not for the reasons others have posted, what exactly is it that makes you accept the idea of the supernatural?

TROLL's avatar

People are Religious because they and there forefathers have allowed themselves to be brainwashed by the fear of a God.

oratio's avatar

@mattbrowne These are some of my thoughts.

I believe you are right about that the gene theory is simplistic. Sure, the functions of the brains are what allows us to do what we do, but I believe religion is a product of our need to explain everything – as you say – and our yearning and capacity to create lore. Rituals and symbolism has always been deep withing us.

There is no good reason to make paintings, music and other art work in a practical sense. It doesn’t explain the world. It just depicts it. We are such complex animals.

What it does and what most of what we do at all – sex included – is making bonds, networks, communities. Cooperation is what we fill our days with.

Religion is one of these things that bring us together. We don’t need religion per se, we need to cooperate in any way possible. Anything promoting social bonds would in that sense be considered good.

I believe that today, many people abandon religion cause the development of the world, has made it’s ideas harder to believe in. We are socially allowed to be more skeptical and challenge ideas, but also, religion as a focal point for community has lost it’s importance. We have so many other methods of cultural and social networking today.

mattbrowne's avatar

@oratio – Yes, turning religions into weird or even perverse ideologies is what keeps driving people away. Even the more benign strains like young-earth creationism trigger responses like ‘no thank you, I don’t need your kind of hocus pocus, I’m done with religion, go away’.

Yes, social interaction is what defines us as a species. At least when we look at the neurobiology of our brain. The scientific progress of the past 5–10 years is truly staggering. And more surprises can be expected. Have you read ‘Social Intelligence’ by Daniel Goleman. His previous book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ was a huge success.

@FireMadeFlesh – Why am I religious? There’s no simple short answer. I could probably write about book about it, if I had the time. Maybe the following highlights from an article I found on the website can give you some clues (at least from a psychological standpoint):

Research has demonstrated the many mental and physical health benefits of regular meditative practices. Research also supports the health benefits of prayer (which can also be seen as a special form of meditation). Religious and spiritual traditions encourage prayer but they differ in style and technique. Prayer has been found to result in a many health benefits including improved psychological functioning, a sense of well-being and meaning, and better stress reduction and coping.

Spirituality and religion offer an opportunity to secure and develop meaning, purpose, calling, and vocation in life. All of the religious traditions provide some answers to questions about what someone should do with their life with particular strategies for finding more meaning and purpose.

Religious and spiritual traditions provide advice about the benefits of accepting ourselves and others. Much of psychotherapy focuses on helping people accept what they cannot change and change what they can to improve the quality of their lives. The well known “serenity prayer” well articulates what traditional and secular psychotherapy both try to accomplish stating: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

The religious and spiritual wisdom traditions provide time-tested guidelines for ethical living. Living more ethically, with or without religious involvement, is likely to have psychotherapeutic benefits. The ethical principles for psychologists include most of the same ethical guidelines offered by the religious and spiritual traditions. These include respect, responsibility, integrity, competence, and concern for others. Both professional ethics codes and religious and spiritual traditions encourages people to be concerned about the welfare of others, to be honest and maintain integrity, to be respectful to everyone and to life, and so forth.

Religion and spirituality often contributes to a sense of being part of something larger than ourselves. Religion offers a way to put life in perspective and speaks to issues that occurred long before us and long after our passing. Furthermore, feeling part of something bigger than ourselves can help us better cope with the many challenges in life.

Religion and spirituality, at its best, encourages people to be forgiving, grateful, loving, kind, and compassionate. For example, research has demonstrated positive benefits of forgiveness. Forgiveness is an antidote to anger, hostility, and bitterness. Research indicates that those who tend to be grateful sleep better, are more optimistic, more energetic, and maintain better interpersonal relationships. Finally, all of the major religious traditions encourage love, kindness, and compassion, which also has mental and physical health benefits. Treating others as you wish to be treated, often referred to as the “golden rule,” is found and emphasized in all of the major religious traditions. Research indicates that volunteer activities results in mental and physical health benefits and reduces mortality risks as much as 40%. Religion provides an organizational structure to support productive community engagement that usually emphasize helping those in greatest need such as the poor and marginalized. Additionally, volunteerism can provide the volunteer with an enhanced sense of meaning, purpose, and calling which can help keep their own troubles in better perspective.

Religious and spiritual models provide followers with exemplars to imitate. The popular question, “What would Jesus Do?” is an excellent example. Religious models such as Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammad, as well as more contemporary models such as Gandhi, Mother Teresa, the Dali Lama, Martin Luther King, and even family and friends can be a template for better living. Research has indicated that observational learning is a powerful way to learn new skills and behaviors. Having role models can be a useful way to help motivate and inspire others to “go and do likewise”.

The religious and spiritual traditions emphasize the belief that life is sacred and that the divine or something sacred lives within us all. This understanding that we are all important, sacred, a “child of God” has implications for how we think about ourselves and interact with everyone. The faith communities and traditions instruct that if we are all sacred, then everyone should be treated with great respect, kindness, love, and compassion.

ahimsa16's avatar

@DarkScribe—Definitely not Christian. I’ve been practicing Gaudiya Vaisnavism (a sect of Hinduism) for about 15 years now. My faith is all about “bhakti”, devotion to God. There’s no carrot on a stick. Real devotion can’t be coaxed. Devotional sects of Hinduism are stunningly beautiful and speak to the heart——not some inborn sense of fear. Quite sweet. Jaya Sri Radhe! **Nice thread though.

Clair's avatar

I do believe that its important to believe in something but i just dont know about religion. I believe in what some people would call silly like energy healing, auras, etc but alot of that can be scientifically proven. I think religion is a crutch and i dont need a lie to make me feel good about myself everyday. Im sure theres some god head out there, i just havent figured it out yet.

Unsure's avatar

Humanity is not a happy place.
the feeling of happiness in death comforts people’s ignorance.
Either way someone is wrong, think about it all the rediculous religous groups running rampid.
You cant all be right or its contradicting to the hardest point.
oh yes this does mean no matter what alot of religon is imagination.

ahimsa16's avatar

I think there is a difference b/t “religion” in a dogmatic sense, and the deeper meaning—the essence that most religions seek to reveal. That “essence”, delivered through poetry, song, dance and ritual is far from “a lie”. Religions with an aim to some selfish end, is hardly spiritual at all. I am sort of offended that someone/anyone could lump all spiritual paths together and call them “lies”. It’s sad that more people can’t see the deeper meaning.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@ahimsa16 think there is a difference b/t “religion” in a dogmatic sense, and the deeper meaning—the essence that most religions seek to reveal. That “essence”, delivered through poetry, song, dance and ritual is far from “a lie”.


ahimsa16's avatar

@unsure—regarding a lot of religion being imagination…hmmm…from the perspective of the mystical/Upanisadic sects of India, and other faiths as well, this idea is interesting. Often times these sages, saints, sadhus, and holy men/women couldn’t explain some of the realizations they were having and subsequently these deep philosophical mysteries were shrouded in myth stories and in the language of poetics. Myth does not necessarily mean “not true”, as Joseph Campbell and countless other religious scholars would argue. In fact much of the “meaning” found beneath the fanciful and flowery language is in fact truth——things all people hold to be sacred. Don’t judge a religion (wholly) by the way it may be presented by some persons this day and age. For instance, on surface level, Christianity looks pretty sketchy these days. No doubt that could be offensive to many. For those curious, I would suggest diving into the early Christian texts to uncover teachings of Christ that closely parallel some of the teachings of the Buddha.

Religion isn’t inherrantly bad. Man is what makes it appear that way.

wundayatta's avatar

I believe the evolutionary process has created, in humans, an extremely strong need to explain things. This need is so strong, that, in most people, if not satisfied, they will feel extremely verklempt. I think that God was created as a kind of placeholder for knowledge. Until we really know what’s going on, we can attribute whatever we don’t understand to God.

Religions are a different thing. Religions grew out or a need to organize communities and provide services to members of the community. They were a way for members of a community to come together and figure out what to do. They also allowed communities to collaborate with other communities sharing similar religions.

I’m not sure what it means to say someone is “religious,” but in former times, I think it meant that that person was a card-carrying member of the community. I.e., not an outsider. It still means that, but things are much more complicated because there is no community that is united in the old way, nor are they uniteable under one religious roof. We are now members of multiple communities, simultaneously. Some call themselves religious, and others don’t, but the two types have so many overlapping features that I defy anyone to be able to sort out religion from any other community in a meaningful way.

People are religious because it’s a great way to enhance your survival. Being a member of a community that is tightly bound together is extremely important. In order to help people feel more tightly bound, it helps to appeal to an abstract unifying concept. Doing good because a parent says you should is a simple and powerful concept. We’ve all been children (although not all of us had parents). It’s a powerful idea to bind people together if you can get them to see a common interest in doing so. The idea of pleasing a higher power is one way to get people to see they have a common interest. There are, of course, many others.

ahimsa16's avatar

I’m not attacking you here…I swear. It’s all very interesting. I’m curious, so, the reason I’m drawn to the philosophy of Vaisnava-Hinduism and the fact that it answers questions for me that I personally feel science never will…...the reason I’m religious/spiritual is because it’s “enhancing my possibility of survival”? Survival from what? I’m not scared about my inevitable death. And while it may be for others, my faith and convictions are not necessarily linked to my need to be around a community of like-minded individuals. In fact, I am NOT around others of my faith too often. Not sure I agree wholeheartedly with you here. Guess this is why I hate the word “religious” alltogether.

ahimsa16's avatar

I believe it was Emille Durkheim (spelling), who spoke a lot about “communitas” and the importance of community and it’s link with religion——vaguely remember something like that from an old Anthro class.

fireside's avatar

Religions offer Spiritual and Cultural teachings.

The spiritual ones, like prayer or meditation to calm the mind, don’t change much from religion to religion except in terminology.

The cultural messages are meant to bring people together and teach them how to get along; Muhammad united the warring Arab tribes, Christianity and the Roman Empire united much of Europe.

As far as individual reasons for having faith in their particular religion, those probably vary from person to person. Mine spoke to me after years of following my own path.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@daloon – “the two types have so many overlapping features that I defy anyone to be able to sort out religion from any other community in a meaningful way”

I think the answer lies in the supernatural. Religions specifically require belief in the supernatural, whether it be a deity, a guiding force, or some form of directed fate. Although you have highlighted a very important feature of religions, the major religions tend to focus on their deity.

Particularly for the Abrahamic religions, of which I am most familiar, the focus is on the deity, his wishes and commands, and we were created for his pleasure and glory. Other communities that promote good living etc. such as volunteer groups are people focussed. Yes, they can lead to similar results, but it is for entirely different reasons. Religions seek to do the will of their chosen deity/deities, while other communities seek to benefit people in general, and most often those belonging to the community.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

Some hilarious responses.. thanks for the laughs. Though, it’s a little sad that some of you aren’t able to think outside the box enough to consider the possibility of merit within “religion”.

DarkScribe's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater What about those who think outside the box and decide that there is no merit in religion? I was raised in the Catholic School system, three of my best friends of all time are Priests, my own family has several clerics, one of my sisters is an ordained minister, I have a good grounding in theology and Biblical history so I hardly regard myself as “trapped in the box” with regard to my opinions. Thinking outside the box in this instance sounds suspiciously like, “agree with me”.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater I agree with DarkScribe – I called myself a Christian until early this year. Believe me, I have thought outside the box, and have many unique theories of my own with regard to religion. I have spent the last 4–5 years seriously considering religion with a large proportion of my spare time. My conclusion is not unfounded. Religion may have psychological merit as far as keeping sanity and a sense of belonging, but it has no truth in it in reference to the supernatural.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@DarkScribe Judging by the gross generalizations of your first post I know conversation with you is a fruitless endeavor.

@FireMadeFlesh 1 Cor 2:10–14 .. great read.

DarkScribe's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater That’s ok, I have reached a similar conclusion. I usually do with with the overtly religious, we are never going to see eye to eye no matter how hard we squint.

wundayatta's avatar

Actually, @FireMadeFlesh, there is no standard definition of a religion. There are several groups that people consider to be religions that do not require a belief in the supernatural: Buddhism and Judaism being two examples.

@ahimsa16: there’s a lot of human behavior that serves an evolutionary purpose, but we don’t experience it as such. In fact, I doubt if we experience any of our behaviors as something designed to enhance survival of the species. Do we think of love that way? Gender roles? So why would you expect to think of religion that way?

Also, I was not thinking about a fear of the unknown of death when I thought about the role a belief in God could play. I was thinking more along the lines of everyday problems. The kind that can really freak you out when you don’t have an answer and the answer seems vitally important (like how am I going to find food and shelter). However, the same urge that pushes us to solve problems of an urgent nature, also pushes us, I believe, to solve much more speculative problems, such as the origin of the universe and such. We like solving problems and finding answers. That’s because people who could do that in the past were more likely to survive and pass their genes on.

People on fluther tend to be people who have this preference in spades. Why else be on a Q&A site? I think that we, like other researchers and business people who make a living solving various problems, are the vanguard of successful humanity.

I think the hunger for answers is becoming every more urgent. I think we are driven by a curiousity and by a fear of not knowing the answers. I hypothesize that in order to keep this fear from getting out of hand and immobilizing us, we use the concept of a god, as a placeholder that makes us feel like we know an answer, even though we don’t.

You say it, specifically: “I’m curious, so, the reason I’m drawn to the philosophy of Vaisnava-Hinduism and the fact that it answers questions for me that I personally feel science never will…” That’s exactly my point! You turn to your philosophy because there are questions you feel science can not answer. You have, in my analysis, chosen to believe an unverifiable answer (i.e., a non-answer) in the place of a scientific answer (an answer for which we have evidence). Why? I hypothesize that it is because you, like most humans, can’t stand not knowing.

This is, I believe, a testable hypothesis, so, some day, we can know what the evidence suggests about my theory. If there is no evidence for my theory, I will happily abandon it, and try to come up with something else. Or someone else will come up with an explanation for which there is evidence. Meanwhile, I wait for knowledge to come. I can stand not knowing, because I have been trained how to stand it.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I created my own religion to differentiate my beliefs from everyone else’s beliefs. That said, I really don’t believe in my religion, but it does make a nice vehicle for humorous fiction, as well as a way to keep the fundies off my doorstep.

Tonight on NPR was a story about sending magnetic impulses across the front temporal lobe of the brain to create a god-like presence in the mind, and the researcher doing the tests is trying to prove that religious visions and such originate in our brain, and not in the spirit world. Not sure if I agree with him one hundred percent, as I think some people NEED the mystery of religion and gods to give their lives meaning. The mysteries of the universe should be enough, one would think, but people love their myths.

If you are going to take all that religion presents away from people, you better have something comparable to replace it with, or you are just being cruel. There is no law saying you HAVE to believe in gods, just as there are no LAWS saying you cannot believe in gods. That’s how it should be, in my opinion.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@daloon How does Judaism not require a belief in a god? Is it not reliant on the Torah, which mentions God countless times?

wundayatta's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Yeah, I was shocked, too, when I was told that. However, I have many Jewish friends, and more than one has told me, as this article discusses, belief in God is not required.

mattbrowne's avatar

@daloon – You said

“I believe the evolutionary process has created, in humans, an extremely strong need to explain things.”

I totally agree.

“I think that God was created as a kind of placeholder for knowledge. Until we really know what’s going on, we can attribute whatever we don’t understand to God.”

I cannot agree with that, although I’m aware this concept was more widespread in the past and continues to exist especially in biblical literalism communities. It’s an infantile form of faith. Some people call the concept ‘God of the gaps’

I don’t believe in a God of the gaps. We can continue to use empirical evidence and critical thinking to understand the physical world. But I believe there’s something beyond the physical world and there still will be, say in 30 years when scientists might be able explain why there’s more matter than antimatter or when they find the missing links between the non-living and the living world (maybe black smokers will help reveal the evidence).

There are questions for which science won’t be able to find the ultimate answers like:

‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’
‘What is the meaning of it all?’
‘Why am I me?’

and so forth. We cannot expect science to answer everything. Not today and not in 1000 years.

Science and religion offer possibilities of cross-fertilization, but they cannot replace each other. A primitive form of atheism posits that science eventually will make religion (or any other form of ethical philosophy) obsolete. In doing so atheism gets turned into an infantile faith itself, which some people call atheist fundamentalism.

Most of my atheist friends are more open minded. They accept that nature can be interpreted in a theistic or atheistic way. Both are genuine intellectual possibilities for science. If you’re interested in this, I recommend the book ‘The Dawkins Delusion’ by Alistair McGrath.

oratio's avatar

@mattbrowne I agree. That is the church I attend. Atheism is built on quite a lot of faith. The faith of disbelief.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@oratio I cannot agree with that. Atheism does not require faith, as it is solely built on evidence and fact. We do not see evidence for a god/gods, and so do not believe it/they exist. Do you accept on faith that Athena doesn’t exist? No, you just reject the idea because there is no evidence for Athena. ‘Modern’ religions are simply currently accepted versions of the same ancient ideas. The existence of a god is simply superfluous.
Faith is the belief in the unprovable. As atheists, we have rejected the unprovable. It is what we hold to be true in the place of religion that may or not take a degree of faith, not the disbelief itself.

oratio's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh I disagree. Atheism is not built on facts. Explanation for the world around you is built on fact – and is used as criticism for religious beliefs – but can’t disprove the spiritual realm just as nothing can prove it. It cannot disprove the message of the religion either and I am not talking about sacrificing animals and killing gays as I am sure you understand.

There are many christians who believe in most scientific idea, like @mattbrowne.

To be an atheist isn’t about explaining the world with scientific data. It is not believing in a god.

And that, my friend, takes faith.

MacBean's avatar

“Faith is the belief in the unprovable.”

And you can’t prove that there is no God, just like theists can’t prove that there is.

wundayatta's avatar

@mattbrowne You are free to believe what you like, of course. At the moment, I have no evidence to support this theory. However, if it works this way, there is no need for you to believe it for it to continue working that way. The world remains round even if people believe it is flat.

As to your questions—people are certainly working on them, and some may be close to having answers for which there is evidence.

I have personal answers for the last two, and I’ve been reading that physicists have a host of theories to answer the first. For example, creating meaning is a survival mechanism. Meaning that helps us survive will eventually out-compete meaning that is not helpful.

We are ourselves because we have had the experiences we had, and we have the genetic coding that we have.

Of course, those are just toss-off answers because I really am just guessing at what the questions mean. You haven’t defined “meaning” or “me.”

@oratio As to faith—I’m sure some atheists have faith in disbelief. Others are mere skeptics. This is different from disbelief. It’s a “show me the evidence” kind of thing. I suppose, at a very deep level, we can say that trusting our senses show us an accurate enough view of our environment is a kind of faith. But again, I think it’s just that the evidence suggests it’s worth accepting our senses’ data as accurate data. Or accurate enough data.

As to disproving or proving things like the “spiritual realm” or religious messages, I have to point out that these things are but one of an infinite number of things we can conceive of, but neither prove nor disprove. What gives these things any precedence over any of the other ideas of this nature? As you say, faith. But one can have faith in any unprovable idea. The proof of the pudding is whether it helps you and how it helps you, and whether it is the only belief that can serve you in these ways.

Atheism can be about not believing in god, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be skepticism and the practice of being agnostic about ideas for which there is no evidence (of which there are an infinite number).

oratio's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh @daloon
Fair enough. I just equate the belief that there is no god, as faith in so, and that being scientific isn’t the same as being an atheist. I guess it’s down to semantics maybe.

one can have faith in any unprovable idea Agreed.

mattbrowne's avatar

@daloon – The key question here is: can science explain everything? Are there limits of scientific explanation? There’s a view (I would call it a belief) that provides the answer: no. It’s basically the idea of “we’re getting there… all we need is more time”. This view is called scientism.

The term scientism is used to describe the view that natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations, and over other fields of inquiry, such as the social sciences. The term is used by social scientists like Hayek or Karl Popper to describe what they see as the underlying attitudes and beliefs common to many scientists.

I’m a scientist and I do not believe in scientism.

ahimsa16's avatar

I don’t necessarily believe that Shiva or Vishnu exist as they are depicted. I think, as do most practitioners of Hindu sects, that the gods are personifications of “things” or “characteristics” that may or may not have some form. Devotional sects who worship a particular deity don’t necessarily take the scriptural depictions literally, they are more like cognitive focal points. I am drawn to what they represent and present philosophically. One has to have some discrimination and learn to be essence seekers.

oratio's avatar

@ahimsa16 I find the little hinduism I know fascinating, and I have still not gotten around to get into what it’s all about. I agree, there are philosophical aspects that seem to make sense. I will have to read up on it, as well as Bahaism.

wundayatta's avatar

@mattbrowne Can science explain everything? First of all, it isn’t science that explains anything. It is people employing the scientific method in order to try to explain things.

In any case, how could anyone know what can be explained using the scientific method? No model can model a thing perfectly. The only thing that can model the thing perfectly is the thing itself. So, if the universe is a a sentient scientific entity, then it can explain everything because it is everything, and it is a scientist.

I hypothesize that there is too much to know for any intelligent creature or group of creatures that is not the entire universe to be able to explain everything. However, this is not the same thing as saying that the scientific method can not be employed to explain everything. I suspect that with unlimited resources, we can employ the scientific method to answer any question we want to answer.

Obviously, resources are not unlimited, so this idea is like the idea of God: neither provable nor unprovable. However, it is irrelevant to me. I don’t need to explain everything. I don’t need to know everything. I don’t see why it is necessary for there to be an entity that does know and explain everything.

ahimsa16's avatar

Yes, Bahai faith seems nice. Don’t know much about it. Rainn Wilson is one

fireside's avatar

@ahimsa16 – You can see Rainn Wilson and Oprah talking about the Baha’i faith here

The fundamental tenets of the Baha’i faith are:
Oneness of God – all descriptions of God are incomplete representations of the same God
Oneness of Humanity – All people are of equal worth in the eyes of God and should be so to all
Oneness of Religion – All religions are leading humanity to the same place
Equality of Man and Woman – pretty self explanatory
Science and Religion are both valuable – Both are needed to uplift humanity spiritually and culturally
Progressive Revelation – the Prophets have all brought unchanging spiritual messages combined with cultural messages for the people of that time
Independent Investigation of the Truth – it is incumbent on all people to seek out the truth and to test the veracity of the message and not follow their path by blindly imitating others
Service towards Others – the primary role of all people should be to serve others in loving guidance

@daloon – since the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, does that mean because one religion, or one sect of one religion, leaves a bad taste in your mouth that all religion is bad?

Some people may not be able to understand the spiritual connection that can be felt by dancing and making music with others. In that interview, Rainn Wilson talks about the writings in the Baha’i faith that speak about art and the making of art to be a form of prayer.

mattbrowne's avatar

@fireside – Wonderful tenets !

wundayatta's avatar

@fireside I’m not sure than any religion is bad. I can think of lots of good things that religions do. The thing I have a problem with is their method for “answering” certain kinds of questions. I think that the answers they get are not answers at all, but like the Emperor with no clothes, they walk around believing they have answers. Normally, this isn’t a problem.

However, I think it is becoming a problem because it drives a wedge between people at a time when we can no longer afford to differentiate ourselves, and it makes people think they have incorrect answers to questions where finding correct answers may be what helps humanity to survive. More importantly, it teaches people a way of thinking that may end up being suicidal for the race.

fireside's avatar

@daloon – I can understand that and would agree.

It also reminds me of the primary goal of the Baha’i faith which is Unity

wundayatta's avatar

@fireside I’m not sure why you call it a faith. There is evidence that shows that unity confers benefits more than disunity does.

fireside's avatar

@daloon – I agree.
It seems so simple and yet we’re mired in wars over nationalistic interests, partisan politics, etc.

Not sure why we try so hard to hold ourselves back from coming together to build a better world for all.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@oratio I cannot disprove you religion any more than you can disprove my theory of a malignant teapot that is constantly dividing and filling Jupiter from the inside out. Both theories we should reject, precisely because they cannot be proven, and are superfluous.

oratio's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Sorry, I lost you. What theory did I have? About atheism? I am not sure what you mean by that I tried to disprove religion. Did you intend you direct that comment to someone else? Help me here.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@oratio You have a theory that there is a God. You did not try to disprove religion.

My point is that because you are making the claim, you must provide the evidence. The default stance should be that God does not exist, for the same reason that we assume there is no such thing as Bigfoot – because it is an unfalsifiable theory. Because it can never be proven or disproved, we have no reason to believe. I do not have to disprove your theory of God, you must prove it if it is to be a valid stance.

I believe I can prove that the existence of a god of any sort is exceedingly unlikely, but that is another discussion for another time.

oratio's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh I’m sorry it came out like that somewhere. I fail to see where though. I am an atheist and don’t believe in any god. I wrote that being an atheist takes faith as well. Faith in that there is no god. You can’t prove one or the other.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@oratio I’m sorry, I think I jumped to a conclusion a bit quickly. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

You said ”To be an atheist isn’t about explaining the world with scientific data. It is not believing in a god. And that, my friend, takes faith.” Every person who (in the past) has tried to tell me atheism takes faith, or that it is a religion, has been either Christian or Islamic, so I assumed you were theistic.

I also misinterpreted ”I agree. That is the church I attend. Atheism is built on quite a lot of faith. The faith of disbelief.

I’m really sorry about that. These threads get confusing when they are too long, and I forgot about your original post that says rather plainly that religion is not necessary, and is about forming bonds.

oratio's avatar

Yeah, well, that’s what I get for trying to be witty and clever. I’ve done that too.

mattbrowne's avatar

@daloon – You said

‘The thing I have a problem with is their (the religions’) method for “answering” certain kinds of questions. I think that the answers they get are not answers at all, but like the Emperor with no clothes, they walk around believing they have answers.

What about mathematicians and physicists?

“Faith is inseparable from the scientific endeavor. You cannot do math without faith in its consistency because the consistency of math cannot be proved.”
(quote from John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science)

Are all math teachers naked when they stand in front of their classes?

wundayatta's avatar

@mattbrowne Hmmm. Can we talk without faith in language? Must we have faith in order to believe we are communicating? I don’t think so. We look at the evidence, and the evidence suggest that symbols mean the same thing to me as they do to others.

Math is another language. We don’t need to have faith in it. There is evidence that it is accurately describing whatever it is we want to describe and it enables us to communicate that knowledge to others. Perhaps more efficiently that other languages.

The accuracy of symbols as reflections of things in the “real” world is always a matter of philosophical conjecture. The relationships in the “real” world that math describes may or may not be consistent. So far, the evidence suggests that the underlying phenomena seems to be consistent, no matter what language we use to describe it.

Math teachers need not be flaunting their genitals in front of “innocent” high schoolers. At least, not yet! ;-)

mattbrowne's avatar

@daloon – Maybe it’s time for math teachers to show humility to their innocent high schoolers, because what you said above it’s simply not true. Sorry. Have faith and believe someone who studied computer science for many years and computer science is about 30% math (even a bit more in Germany). You said:

‘there is evidence that it [math] is accurately describing whatever it is we want to describe’

On the contrary

‘there is hard evidence that we cannot know whether math (a mathematical system) is accurately and consistently describing whatever it is we want to describe’

In the math world this was one of the most earth-shaking discoveries in the 20th century and it happened in 1931. It’s still true in 2009, daloon. We can still have faith in mathematical systems and most of the time they do a pretty good job. Math is a useful tool. Math is an excellent tool. But we can’t be sure in general.

I used this argument in the other thread:

Does science have the potential to answer any question? No, and there’s hard evidence for this answer. For some strange reason it’s hard to get this message across. We can prove that science has limitations and that it does not have the potential to answer any question and I’m talking about a final set of questions.

I’m feeding a program a series of mathematical systems.

Here’s the question: Is the mathematical system consistent? Each one is different.

The program created by scientists must answer YES or NO. You said science has the potential to answer any question. Well, here’s the first question and science does already not live up to its potential, at least the potential some had in mind for it. The program cannot find an answer to ‘Is the mathematical system consistent?’ as we keep feeding it. That’s impossible according to Goedel’s second incompleteness theorem. Hard evidence. Accepted evidence. Science does have limitations. This is not a speculation. Again it’s hard evidence. Accepted evidence. Ask any math professor.

Bottom line: science can answer many questions and has the potential to answer more questions but not any question. And math is no exception.

wundayatta's avatar

Umm, @mattbrowne Aren’t we saying the same thing about math? I’m saying that math is not accurate, but it is accurate enough for most of our purposes. However, we can not believe it is completely reliable. That, as you say, would be belief.

Science has the potential to answer any question. That does not mean it will answer them all. In fact, it won’t. There’s too many questions to ask for science to be able to answer them all. If you say it doesn’t have the potential, then you have to give examples of questions that science will never answer. I don’t see how you can know this. Even the incompleteness theorem. Is it impossible that it will ever be answered? Proof depends on consistency of a universe, and it is possible that the universe is inconsistent. It is possible that it is inconsistent in a way that can be explained without resorting to the supernatural.

mattbrowne's avatar

@daloon – I hate to repeat myself, but science does not have the potential to answer any question. There is hard evidence for this claim and I’m talking about a final set of questions.

I’m feeding a program a series of mathematical systems.

Here’s the question: Is the mathematical system consistent? Each one is different.

The program created by (computer) scientists must answer YES or NO. You said science has the potential to answer any question. Well, here’s the first question and science does already not live up to its potential, at least the potential some had in mind for it. The program cannot find an answer to ‘Is the mathematical system consistent?’ as we keep feeding it.

wundayatta's avatar

@mattbrowne I know you can’t imagine it, but there is potential. I understand the paradox, and I know it looks foolproof, and I would say it is foolproof, and yet leave open the possibility that there are things I don’t understand, and the proof is not a proof. The chances may so low that they can be considered the same as zero, and yet a solution may yet be found, scientifically. It is the same way that all knowledge is provisional.

mattbrowne's avatar

Maybe we can agree on this:

“Science has the potential to explain any phenomenon”. This is probably true except in one case: The meta-phenomenon that there are phenomena for us to observe and explain.

Science has great potential. The discussion is just about the “any” part.

wundayatta's avatar

Interesting. I do agree, or have argued for this point in the past, but when you say it, it makes me wonder if there could, someday, be a way to experience an objectively true experience. When I was young, the thing I wanted most was to be able to experience what someone else experienced. I wanted to be able to be in their head. I felt so alone. I imagined that sex might bring me close to this experience.

Now, I know believe that there is no subjective way to determine the objectivity of anything. Experiments, evidence, and model-building are all suggestive of an objective world, so I act as if an objective world exists “out there” instead of “in here.” However, I can’t imagine a way of ever proving it, conclusively.

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