I have assembled a few items for thoughts on faith. Although a mystic may talk of seeking to know and imbibe the mysteries of the Universe, he or she never recognises that the true and most joyous route is by drinking deeply of the scientific wealth uncovered by cosmology and physics. Indeed, ‘God-did-it’ as an explanation for mankind and the Universe is as empty as a void, and exposes nothing but ignorance on the part of the speaker.

“My conclusion is that there is no reason to believe any of the dogmas of traditional theology and, further, that there is no reason to wish that they were true. Man, in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny. The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity.” Bertrand Russell, Is There a God? 1952.

“I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.” Richard Dawkins

“As long as we accept the principle that religious faith must be respected simply because it is religious faith, it is hard to withhold respect from the faith of Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers.” Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion.

“Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable. . . . A man full of faith is simply one who has lost (or never had) the capacity for clear and realistic thought. He is not a mere ass: he is actually ill.” H. L. Mencken

“Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and ... know nothing but the word of God.” Martin Luther.

“Every man, who reasons, soon becomes an unbeliever.” Baron D'Holbach

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Replies to This Discussion

How much faith do christians have in god making them well again by prayer?

Garry Marlowe, NSS Newsline: “When Christians become ill, why do the majority of them go to the doctor's instead of hoping to die and go to Heaven as soon as possible?”r
Actually I think you might have better luck with the dog.
Faith has, I believe, its innocuous side, too. Different people have different levels of contentment with the concept of not knowing something. Some people just really can't tolerate not knowing something, such as how the universe "started". As well, many people just fundamentally can't accept the idea that their time in existence is limited. Finally, there are many people who just fundamentally can't accept the idea that their existence has no deeper meaning, that there's no underlying purpose that their existence is intended to fulfill. If faith is used in limited doses to make these people sleep better at night, there's no big problem with that. The difficulty is when faith escalates out of control. Other patterns, like anger and lust, in controlled amounts, can be healthy but in excess can be very damaging.
Daniel Dennett: "Religious faith can give people a sort of hyperbolic confidence, an utter unconcern about whether they might be making a mistake, that enables acts of inhumanity that would otherwise be unthinkable."
From the pen of Friedrich Nietzche, 1844-1900:

"The christian faith from the beginning, is sacrifice: the sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of spirit; it is at the same time subjection, self-derision, and self-mutilation."

"In christianity neither morality nor religion come into contact with reality at any point."

"A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything."
RE: You Dawkins quote. I thoroughly enjoyed Dawkin's "The God Delusion". Howled with laughter a number of times. However, I think it needs to be said that Richard Dawkins, who was the recipient of the best scientific education Britain had to offer, was in his 30's, late 30's I think, before he finally saw his way free of religious belief. He was brought up Church of England, not what one would generally think of as a fundamentalist sect, and yet it took him time, a lot of time, considering that he entered into a course of studies steeped in rationality and the scientific method.

I don't think religious belief is the result of a lack of intelligence, curiosity or common sense. I think when the seed of belief in the ultimate - the ultimate god, the ultimate reality, the ultimate truth, the ultimate goodness, the ultimate intelligence is inculcated early, it often takes quite an arduous journey, often way into adulthood, for even the most intelligence to see their way clear.

I wonder if the people who have the easiest time of it come from non-believing families (like Sam Harris) and for them non-believing is the norm.

Lots of good work out there about the biology/psychology of religious belief and why it will most likely continue as the default means of making meaning out of life for a long time to come. Scott Atran's "In Gods We Trust" is excellent.
Yes Debi. I am one of those who had an easy time of it.

Both my parents were C of E [Church of England], but that was only nominal. No church-going for them, no baptism for me (thank you very much), no talking at home about it. I found my own way to atheism as soon as I learnt the meaning of the word. [See my personal page]

So when I applied to Oxford (a pretty religious place it was in the 1950s) I thought the question on the application form about religion was usefully answered with "C of E", which by then had long meant "Critic of the Ecclesiasticals".
Thanks for the link to Begley's article. I think she's spot on when she writes: "There is a common belief that if some trait or behavior is wired into the brain, it is unchangeable, invevitable."

And: "This doesn't have to be an either-or proposition, however. The brain may indeed be predisposed to supernatural beliefs. But that predisposition may need environmental input to be fully realized."

She cites "intriguing neurobiological findings suggesting that the brain may indeed be wired for God" by researchers such as neuroscientist Andrew Newberg. Newberg and his associate Eugene D'Aquilli wroteThe God Part of the Brain in the late 90's.

Even as a layperson I found that book highly suspect. Newberg showed such a strong bias towards his favored hypothesis that the brain is hard-wired for belief in god that he simply did not consider any other hypotheses. He may have not set out to prove definitively that there is a god, but he certainly seemed to be setting the stage for that conclusion, much as banning "late term abortion" was believed to be the first step toward banning all abortions.

Anthropologist/Psychologist Scott Atran hypothesizes that the human tendency to belief in the supernatural is most likely the by-product of at least three cognitive tools: agent detection, causal reasoning and theory of mind. - not an adaptation or "hard-wiring" for religious belief. In his book In Gods We Trust , Atran devotes three pages to dissecting Newberg's and D'Aquili's theory of the "seven cognitive operators" for supernatural belief that are "likely to be programmed into the brain."

He sums up his criticism with the following: "Neurotheology takes almost no account of progress in cognitive and developmental psychology and cognitive anthropology over the past quarter century or so. In fact, if claims about cognitive operators were true, most recent advances in cognitive science would be moonshine."

There is a well written, acessible piece called "the Anatomy of Pseudoscience" written by Steve Novella, MD in 2000. The link is www.theness.com/anatomy-of-pseudoscience/ I think Newberg may have been dipping his big toe in the great tepid sea of pseudoscience by letting his desired outcome drive his research.


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