Saturday, January 04, 2014

This is your brain on the science of belief

Yes, I've been here before.  Why does this nonsense never wear out?

The "science of belief" apparently rests on these generalizations:

There are around 10,000 different religions, each of which is convinced that there’s only one Truth and that they alone possess it.

I didn't know this, but it's a part of the "science of belief," so it must be true!

Around 95 percent of Americans say that they believe in God, 90 percent pray, 82 percent believe that God can perform miracles, and over 70 percent believe in life after death. It’s striking that only 50 percent believe in hell, which shows a certain lack of consistency.

I don't understand how that is inconsistent, but I"m only a theologian, not a scientist of belief, so what do I know?

 meta-analysis has shown a correlation among atheism, education, and IQ. So there are striking differences within populations, and it’s clear that degree of atheism is linked to intelligence, education, academic achievement, and a positive interest in natural science.

I'll alert Gregor Mendel and Georges Lemaitre.  Again.  And since we've stopped educating students into religion (where did the universities come from?), what does this prove?  Oh, that's right, we shouldn't do that:

Dawkins rightly points out that society wouldn’t tolerate the notion of atheist, humanist, or agnostic four-year-olds and that you shouldn’t teach children what to think but how to think.

Huh?  We force our kids to believe in God?  Who knew?  I'll alert my atheist and agnostic friends that they are no longer allowed to raise children.

(1)First, religion binds groups

Granted.  It's fundamental to human psychology and sociology.  There are whole fields of study on this topic.  Perhaps I could interest you in some information, since you seem to have so little.

(2) Traditionally, the commandments and prohibitions imposed by religions had a number of advantages.

Why else agree to them?  To be further disadvantaged?

(3) Having a religious faith is a source of comfort and help at difficult times, whereas atheists have to solve their difficulties without divine aid. 

Vulture theology.  Best discard that right now.  Believe me, when you're facing people in crisis, religion is not a pill that makes the pain go away.

(4) God has the answer to everything that we don’t know or understand, and belief makes you optimistic (“Yes, I’m singin’ a happy song/With a Friend like Jesus I’ll stand strong”).

This is why Mother Teresa was so happy during her long life after she never again had an experience of the presence of God.  And why so many people in churches are happy, and never worry about anything.  Ever. At All.

(5) Another advantage of religion, it would seem, is that it takes away the fear of death — all religions promise life after death. 

Never conducted a funeral service, have you?  Never faced a mother mourning her child, wondering why God took such a young being?  Never faced a grieving spouse wondering why God let their beloved suffer from cancer for so long before death?  Never dealt with the sudden death of teenagers, or any unexpected grief?  Never struggled to provide comfort to the dying, and the survivors?

Go away, you are a stupid little man.

(6) A very important element of religion has always been that it sanctions killing other groups in the name of one’s own god.

The Quakers are especially big on this one.  And since nationalism took that excuse over, I haven't seen much improvement in matters.  I know I learned in seminary many techniques for killing non-believers.  Or am I not supposed to say that out loud?

As I said, there are scholars, sociologists, psychologists, theologians, ministers, priests, monks, nuns, doing yeoman's work on these issues, and taking them seriously rather than as a grab bag of suppositions and groundless generalizations.  And they don't sprinkle bits of statistics before them to dazzle the crowds, or misunderstand the issues altogether.  For example:

Paul Verspeek, hosting a local Dutch radio show on Boxing Day 2005, asked psychiatrists how they would recognize Jesus Christ if he returned to Earth. How would they distinguish between him and mentally ill patients who claimed to be Christ? The psychiatrists were stumped for an answer. 
Do you presume everyone in 1st century Palestine knew who "Jesus Christ" was?  That flies in the face of even the Gospel accounts.  The issues of epistemology, identity, existence, being, all are enfolded into that question, and the answer "I dunno!" does not indicate a failure of the claim.

There's also a claim that:  "Communism was the only permitted belief in China and religion was banned, being regarded, in the tradition of Karl Marx, as the opium of the masses."  Might I suggest you read Marx, and consider the words of Charles Kingsley, Canon of the Church of England, written four years after Marx's famous (and misinterpreted) words:  
We have used the Bible as if it were a mere special constable's hand book, an opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they were being overloaded, a mere book to keep the poor in order. 
I've always said there are far better critics of religion within it than without it.  Especially those who study "belief " "scientifically," and base their conclusions on such enormous ignorance.

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