Religious Logic: Fundamentalists vs Moderates/Liberals

You might expect from my politically liberal views that this article is going to bash religious fundamentalists. But in fact, this article offers a defense of one aspect of fundamentalism: its use of logic. The criticism is of the inconsistent beliefs of religious “moderates” and “liberals”. (Note, from here on out, the words “moderate” and “liberal” will denote degree of religiosity, not political views, though the two are often related.)

Disclaimer: I am an atheist and would be the last person to try to justify religion’s countless atrocities and impediments of social progress. However, this article was written to give a different perspective of religious fundamentalism, especially on the liberal criticism of conservatives or fundamentalists for taking things too far.

Disclaimer 2: This article is written with Christianity in mind. Many of the arguments do not apply to other religions due to the specific position of Christianity in the US.

Fundamentalists Hold More Consistent Worldviews than “Moderates” and “Liberals”

First, consider the following thought experiment. You’re standing in the middle of a highway, with no cars around. However, there are two people standing on the curb. They both think that a giant truck is going to appear out of nowhere and slam into you, killing you. However, you don’t think such a truck is going to appear.

One of the people on the side is more “respectful” of your beliefs, and just lets you stay in the middle of the highway, even though he sincerely believes you will be run over any minute. The other person, also sincerely believing you will be run over, starts yelling at you to get off of the highway. When you ignore her, she runs into the highway and shoves you out of the way. Which is the better person?

Of course, given that both of them sincerely thought you would be run over, the person who tried to save you (even by knocking you over) is a more sympathetic person.

In case the analogy wasn’t clear, the highway can be thought of as some path of sin, the truck is Hell, the onlooker who did nothing is the moderate or liberal religious person, and the one who yelled and shoved you out of the way is the fundamentalist.

Westboro-Baptist-Church

I hate to support even a tiny aspect of the Westboro Baptist Church, but you gotta consider the situation from their perspective. They are being very logical, given what they think to be true. Remember that in a logical argument, one makes axioms (aka. hypotheses, assumptions, premises) and deductions (or a deduction system), and then draws a conclusion. Of course, even if the logical deductions are perfect, the conclusion can be nonsense if the assumptions are false. I would guess that their logic is something like this:

  • Premise 1: The Bible is true.
  • Premise 2: It is good to save people from horrible things.
  • Result 1: From Premise 1, homosexuality is a sin.
  • Result 2: From Premise 1 and Result 1, one burns in Hell for being homosexual.
  • Result 3: From Premise 1, Hell is the worst possible punishment.
  • Result 4: From Result 3 and Premise 2, it is good to save people from Hell.
  • Conclusion: From Result 2 and Result 4, it is good to stop people from being homosexual.

The reason this is a bad argument is that Premise 1 is obviously false (at least, obviously to atheists).

However, I know some Christians who consider themselves moderate/liberal, yet still trust main points in the Bible (such as the concept of hell and that homosexuality is a sin), even if they do not interpret it literally.

So if you are in this group, my question to you is, why do you NOT actively try to save people? Again, I am nonreligious and I think the Bible is absurd; however, if you believe in heaven and hell, and if you believe that a certain behavior from your friends is going to send them to hell, and if you value that friendship, then why are you NOT trying to guide them away from hell?

I can think of a few possible answers for this:

  1. You are secretly nonreligious, and are afraid due to social/economic concerns to come out.
  2. You actually do NOT accept concepts from the Bible like heaven and hell, or sin.
  3. You actually hate people and want them to go to hell.
  4. You can’t do simple logic.
  5. You never spent time thinking about these things, and only go with the flow. For example, you only support things like gay marriage because it’s the popular thing to do, not because you came to the conclusion from a rational perspective. (In this option, you can still support the concepts of heaven/hell and sin, be a supporter gay marriage, and be good at logic—it just didn’t occur to you to actually apply logic to this situation. This could be due to social norms.)
  6. You can both keep the idea that homosexuality is a sin, and at the same time support gay marriage by using doublethink/cognitive dissonance.
  7. You are mentally ill.

In any case, #1 is easily understandable  #4, #6, and #7 we cannot really do anything about. #5  just means you should think about the issue some more (or at all). #3 means you are a sociopath. And if it is #2 for you, then why are you still a Christian? (Though the answer to that might tie in with #1.)

Going back to the truck analogy, why would the passive onlooker NOT try to get you off the road? The corresponding bullets:

  • He does not actually believe that a truck will appear and kill you, thus it would be absurd to try to shove you off the road.
  • He believes some aspects of the truck myth, but believes that a the truck is benevolent (for example) and will not injure you.
  • He wants you to be run over by the truck.
  • He cannot conclude that saving you is the correct move.
  • He was brought up in a household/society where it is a social norm to NOT warn people of oncoming trucks, and to NOT try to shove people out of the way, even if it saves their lives, and he has not questioned those norms yet.
  • He used doublethink to simultaneously believe that it is correct to save you from being run over and that it is correct to not save you from being run over.
  • He is mentally ill.

On the contrary, fundamentalists at least speak and act on what they think is right. After all, if you really believe that some sinful action will lead someone to hell, then isn’t the right thing to stop them from doing that? Again, I am against the views and actions of the WBC (e.g. I support marriage equality), but the way they come to their views makes a lot more sense than how many liberal Christians arrive at the opposing views. Here is a WBC member speaking in a Russell Brand interview (1:39):

He seems like a nice person but is just playing with the wrong set of facts. Of course, immediately after the statement the audience starts laughing, but did they even catch the logic, let alone understand it? I know it might be comedy for them, but to solve the issue we need to understand what the other side is thinking.

This is one of the qualms I have with religious liberals. When a fundamentalist does or says something bad, religious liberals are quick to defend their own beliefs by calling out the fundamentalist, with sayings like, “He’s not a true Christian,” or “He is misinterpreting the Bible.” This is absurd, since fundamentalists are taking the most literal interpretation of the Bible, taking it as the word of God, and are in a sense the most Christian.

Instead of addressing the root cause (the Bible and its outdated, barbaric myths), Christian liberals blame the fundamentalists for taking the book too far, yet they themselves never criticize the book. So what they do instead is cherry-pick the currently convenient quotes from the book. In other words, they are the ones deciding which laws from the book are moral and which are not. Does this not directly contradict their belief that morals come alone from God? At least the fundamentalists are consistent about it. And, by not criticizing the book, religious liberals are only helping fundamentalists to impede social progress. (On the other hand, atheist authors like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins directly criticize the Bible/Quran/etc.)

I challenge religious moderates and liberals to re-examine your views—both religious and social views. Are they really consistent with each other? Do they contradict each other? If so, how can you proudly embrace both?

I want you to show your true colors.

On Giving Too Much Legitimacy to the Inferior Position

You find an ant mound in your house. Would you call an exterminator to remove it? Or would you treat it with “dignity” and offer to fight it in a “fair” duel?

There is something fundamentally wrong with the way arguments and debate work in modern society. Whereas the common sense choice is simply to remove the ant mound as fast as possible, the politically correct choice is to hear “both sides” of the story, run smear campaigns against the ant mound while defending against verbal insults made on yourself, and then put the ultimate decision to a referendum of not-the-most-intelligent voters, hoping they side with you and not the swarm of ants.

Debates and arguments are more focused today on winning vs. losing, not on right vs wrong, or truth vs fiction, or reason vs insanity.

The Appeal to Image

An enormous problem with this style of debate is that it gives too much legitimacy to the inferior position. A debate should focus on drawing logical conclusions from facts, not on maintaining personal reputations. For nearly all publicized debates, winning is glorified and losing is stigmatized.

Yet in the scientific disciplines, losing happens all the time, and if the loser is able to admit it, he is the one who actually learns more from the debate by discarding his outdated or incorrect theory, and progressing forward with a better one.

To quote Carl Sagan:

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.

In math, it is even better. You only need to come up with a correct proof or disproof, and every reasonable mathematician will agree with the correct side. There is literally no legitimate argument for the other side, because logically, it cannot exist.

Consider the equation 0.999… = 1. There is no ambiguity of truth to this statement. It can be proved many, many ways, though even one way is enough. We cannot pass such a statement to a referendum for a popular vote, as it is conceivable that the majority of the population will vote that the statement is false, yet among mathematicians, the vote will be unanimous for truth.

The act of even putting “False” on the ballot in the first place would be misleading to a non-mathematical voter. If I didn’t know enough math to deduce the truth of the statement, and all I saw on the ballot were “True” and “False,” I would probably think: “Well, since these positions are even on the ballot in the first place, it probably means there are some mathematicians arguing for ‘True’ and some arguing for ‘False.’ That means I need to use my own math skill. Hmm, obviously 0.9 is less than 1, 0.99 is less than 1, 0.999 is less than 1, so 0.999… is less than 1. I vote ‘False.’ ”

Yet, no one goes around protesting that the “other side” of this argument should be taught in schools, as whether 0.999… = 1 is irrelevant to their beliefs. When it comes to biology though, it becomes different.

Probably the most ridiculous instance of giving too much legitimacy to the inferior position is the evolution vs creationism “debate.” Just as among mathematicians there is no debate as whether 0.999… = 1, there is no debate among biologists as to whether evolution or creation led to where we are. By no debate, we mean that at least 99.85% of scientists in the earth and life sciences agree with evolution. Although, from just looking at the media, one might not expect this to be the case. Same with huge wastes of time and money that shouldn’t have even existed. There’s a difference between teaching true controversy and the disgrace of “Teach the Controversy,” which is just “Teach the Idiocy.”

It is much worse in religious debates, as religion somehow has a magical spell protecting it from all criticism. You’re encouraged to disagree all you want about musical taste, food, fashion, and even politics, but the moment anything remotely close to religion is debated, it is “offensive” and “disrespectful.” Other than due to an unfortunate social norm, Why? Why is it acceptable for an uneducated person to vocally disagree with scientists about matters of science and have their own article about it in the news, yet it is unacceptable for even an intellectual to disagree regarding religion?

It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anything they say must be respected, so they can make intolerant statements such as saying all people who disagree with them are fools, and as an audience we’re supposed to respect that. Just why? If an ignorant person calls you a fool, you have no responsibility to respect that opinion.

The Freedom of Speech

But we have the freedom of speech, you might say. We can say whatever we want.

Indeed, I think free speech is one of the most important features of an advanced, civilized society. (The lack of free speech is one of the reasons I despise modern China.) But there’s a difference between having the right to say whatever you want and the right to force an ignorant belief onto other people. Free speech lets you say the Earth is flat without being arrested by the government. But it sure doesn’t let you force the Flat-Earth theory into textbooks in public education. Or astrology. Or slavery. Or the 2012 doomsday.

Dissent from oppression is imperative. Dissent from authority is necessary. But dissent from truth is blindness. No matter how much one might protest the truth, the truth stays put. It is we who must adapt to the truth, not adapt the truth for us. The Freedom of Speech is not the Freedom to Brainwash.

Even the act of having to write this post deeply upsets me. Ideally this should all be Common Sense, yet Thomas Paine seems to have been all but forgotten by the inhabitants of America.

Seems like it’s about time for another Enlightenment, another Age of Reason.

How to (Theoretically) Win a 2-Party Presidential Election with Just 21.8% of the Popular Vote

In an extreme case, consider the following electoral map:

Of course, this is nonsensical as DC is red and Texas is blue, but let’s assume this happened for the sake of argument. Despite the map being overwhelmingly red, the red states win the electoral vote by only the slightest margin of 270 to 268.

Let us assume that every single state was nearly evenly split, something like 50.01% to 49.99%. Then even though the red states won the electoral vote, the blue states contain 56.4% of the population, thus the blue candidate actually wins the popular vote 56.4% to 43.6%, a huge lead.

Now, suppose the vote was nearly even in the red states, but let the blue candidate win 100% of the vote in all the blue states. Then the red candidate wins only 21.8% of the popular vote, yet still wins the election, despite 78.2% of the electorate voting against him.

List of states in our hypothetical model: Red – Wyoming, District of Columbia, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana, Maine, Hawaii, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Iowa, Connecticut, South Carolina, Minnesota, Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Louisiana, Wisconsin  Maryland, Tennessee, Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, and North CarolinaBlue – Virginia, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio, Illinois, Florida, Texas, New York, and California.

Note: After I wrote this post, I googled the 21.8% and found a few cases where people used intense computer computation with exponential-time algorithms to figure this out.

I was shocked when I discovered these methods, as my own method was extraordinarily simple, taking all of two minutes in Excel, with otherwise no number-crunching: just list out the states in ascending order of population per electoral vote, and then go down the list until you get to 270 or more. The list I got started with Wyoming, and went all the way down to Georgia. However, this added up to 271, so I searched for any way to shave off 1 electoral vote. As it turns out, there was a way: I replaced Georgia (16 electoral votes) by North Carolina (15 electoral votes), which has a smaller population.

Bonus Round #1:

Now pretend there are more than 2 parties. Then it is possible to win 270 with an even smaller percentage of the popular vote. Let n be the number of parties. Then you can win with 43.6/n % of the popular vote. The 2-party example of 21.8% is just a special case of this. For example, with 3 parties the red candidate just needs to win a 33.34% vs 33.33% vs 33.33% plurality in each of the required states, so to win the presidency, he only needs to win 43.6/3 %, or 14.5%, of the popular vote.

Bonus Round #2:

Let’s go back to 2 parties. Someone on Facebook asked:

What if the electoral college reps were voted in based on district? The representatives are based on members of congress, right? So what if every state did what Maine and Nebraska does and allow their representatives to split? Two elected based on statewide votes, the rest by congressional district. Keeps the small states relevant to the campaign while making the electoral process more representative.

As it turns out, the answer doesn’t change if we let electors vote by district. Just let the red candidate win every single district in every single red state listed above by one vote. Then it’s still an electoral win with 21.8% of the popular vote.

The number does change, however, if we remove the two state votes from each state and have the vote counted purely by district. Then a candidate must win 23.2% of the popular vote (win the 219 smallest districts by a marginal amount, outright lose the other 217 districts).

Sources:

The Perfect Prediction

Many have heard of Nate Silver’s prediction of the 2012 presidential election. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, here was his prediction for last Tuesday, which may seem uncannily familiar:

It seems familiar because it bears a striking resemblance the actual results:

In fact, that’s all 50 states correctly predicted.

Given two equally likely options for each states, the chance to predict all 50 states correctly is one in 2^{50}, or one in 1.126 quadrillion. Granted, we already knew which direction states like Texas or Vermont would vote for, so for the sake of simplicity let’s consider only the 9 “swing” states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. That’s still a one in 512 chance to guess all 9 states correctly from sheer luck.

How did he do it? The answer is high-caliber aggregate statistics. When you conduct a poll, you are going to have very high uncertainty if you poll only a few people. But if you poll a lot of people, your prediction gets more accurate. And one way to poll many people at once is to aggregate the data from many, many polls.

In 2008, Silver’s prediction was accurate in 49 of the 50 states, missing only Indiana.

Does Your Individual Vote Really Matter?

Everyone on Facebook seems to be talking about how they voted today, and why you should as well. To be a good citizen, they say, you must vote. “Go vote!” says every other status on my Facebook feed.

Yet there are plenty of reasons not to vote, and in fact, not voting has been historically a very powerful form of protest against a government. This article debunks many of the voting myths that attempt to place voting on the moral high-ground. I found the most significant part of the article to be number 5, which responds to the claim that your vote is your voice in the government:

In a democratic form of government it would be. In a democratic form of government, such as a direct or participatory democracy, people can vote on things like budgets, wars, and other important issues, and have a voice in government. In our representative government, people can only vote for representatives who may or may not listen to them or act in their interests, and who cannot be held accountable during their terms of office, which is the only time they hold power and are needed to represent the interests of their constituents. Waiting until somebody has killed a million people in a war based on lies, destroyed the economy, and taken away your civil rights, and then trying to elect somebody else, is much too late because by then much of the damage cannot be undone and your grandchildren will still be paying for it.

Indeed, the United States is not a true democracy (though the term “democracy” gets thrown around enough that it seems to be synonymous with anything moral).

There are two more main reasons why, for the majority of voters, your vote will be futile. Firstly, the electoral college system places all importance on the swing states such as Ohio. Unless you live in one of these states, your individual vote will have nearly zero chance of affecting the outcome of the election, as the vote of your state is already determined. Even if you do live in one of these states, one vote will not statistically make a difference. There has not ever been a case where a president has been decided by one vote, and basic probability tells you it will remain that way.

But what if everyone thinks like that, you might say. If everyone does this, then no one will vote, and the election will fail. The bad guy will be elected with just a handful of votes.

This is hardly a valid concern. We all agree that being a medical doctor is a good and respectable profession. However, if everyone thinks like that, then everyone will be doctors, and nobody will be there to grow crops, educate children, provide entertainment, forecast weather, write books, or produce art. This argument fails because even though one might respect doctors, one must not necessarily become one.

Secondly, if you really want to change the world, you’re not going to do it by casting a single ballot once and then posting once on Facebook that you voted and then never mention politics again. Suppose I had a button in front of me such that every time I pressed the button, it would add one vote randomly for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in a random polling booth in the United States. Even if I pressed the button a thousand times it would have no statistical effect on the outcome.

If you want to change something, start a movement. Your government won’t listen to an insignificant statistic in a polling booth, but it sure as hell will listen to a provocative demonstration. The beauty of the United States is that you have the right to challenge the government, a right that is too often taken for granted, for in many countries, speaking out against the slightest flaw in your country could be a death sentence. So exercise this right! We the people control the government, yet we have allowed the government to control us.

So if you think that by voting, you have fulfilled your civic duty for the next four years, think again. If you really care about your country that much, you would do a lot more than broadcasting your vote on Facebook to a bunch of people you already know anyways.

All that said, in an age of technology and reason, I would be very unhappy if Romney were elected. It is important that the United States lead the world in advancing forward, not regressing back into an anti-intellectual dark age. If I were to choose between Romney and Obama, I would without the slightest hesitation pick President Obama. However, given that Ithaca, NY is guaranteed to vote Democrat (and the state of New York as a whole), and given that both major party candidates have been quiet about the environment in the weeks leading up to the election, my vote today went to Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

The Rise of Non-Religion as a Political Movement

After decades of stagnation, non-religion in America is finally on the move. See this recent report by the Pew Research Center.

In the past, America stood firm by the belief in God, while Europe become more and more secularized. Gallup poll results show that for the last nearly 40 years, the belief in God in America has remained at least 94% until the last few decade:

The corresponding numbers for Europe are different. From the 2005 Eurobarometer poll: in the United Kingdom, 20% do not believe in a god or universal spirit; in Germany, 25%; and in France, 33%. The United States of America, at 8%, has a long way to go.

There is yet hope, as religious affiliation declines drastically the younger the age group. Roughly one-third of Americans between 18 and 29 do not affiliate with a religion:

What I found the most insightful in the Pew report is the precise connection between non-religion and political affiliation:

So not only has non-religion increased in number, but it has become increasingly leaning towards the Democratic party. This trend may change with the results of the upcoming election; however, it is almost certain to lean Democrat with a significant majority.

Finally, the non-religious movement has also a similar leaning on many issues. Of these, it is strongly opinionated on abortion:

And on same-sex marriage:

Interestingly, the Atheist/Agnostic vote supporting abortion and same-sex marriage is more one-sided than even the Christian evangelical vote against them. And yet, there are still those who claim that religion is the absolute source of morals!

Non-religion is on the rise. Following the Civil Rights, feminist, and LGBT movements, the secularist movement will surely be next.

People Who Agree With You for the Wrong Reasons

Yes, I’m attempting to write a post that talks about both politics AND religion. Yep, the two most heated things that always lead to flame wars on the Internet. In one post.

The Two Types of Disagreeing

We’ve all had those moments we just flat-out disagreed with everything someone said. No matter how many facts we throw at them, they never seemed to listen. And they probably thought the same about us. The argument turned into full-blown war, and we were ready to start throwing punches at each other.

But we’ve also had those debates where we disagreed with them, not in a hostile way at all, but in a calm, mature, intellectual manner. We realized some of the things we said were wrong, and so did they. And while we still had our differences in the end, we felt more connected and felt that we had uncovered some truth out of it. This is the good type of disagreement.

The Two Types of Agreeing

There’s the intellectual style of agreement as well, the good kind. You try to teach your kid about gravity, but she is skeptical, so you encourage her to try to throw a ball so high that it won’t return, to disprove gravity. She quickly learns that no matter how hard she throws it, it will always fall back down. Finally, she ends up agreeing with you, having learned a valuable lesson out of it.

Then there’s the wrong kind of agreement. The kind when once she becomes skeptical of gravity, you only assert that it’s true and don’t give any reason or evidence for it, and you say “Believe it, or else.” Of course, this example is pretty silly because no one needs to threaten someone else to get them to believe in gravity—there is overwhelming evidence for it everywhere on Earth. I’m really setting this up for matters which have no evidence or are misunderstood.

Agreeing Due to Party Alignment, Not Due to Facts

I’m going to go with politics first, and then religion. I consider myself to be a moderate liberal, but I usually don’t care about politics that much. However, sometimes when people talk about politics in stupid ways or completely misunderstand their political party, I do care. I don’t want them making misguided decisions in the ballot.

It’s common for liberals to criticize conservatives for outrageous claims, but many of these liberals don’t understand that they themselves also make outrageous claims. They say how bad conservatives are, but then when someone asks them what has Obama done in the last 4 years, they are silent. Not that Obama hasn’t done anything—he’s done quite a bit. But some of these liberals are just clueless about their own party and seem to vote Democrat just because their friends do or because they think Obama is charismatic.

These people annoy me greatly. They might agree with me, but for all the wrong reasons. For instance, I know people who like to make fun of Rush Limbaugh, despite never having read anything he wrote and never listening to anything he said, and rely instead only on what other people said of him. If you disagree with Rush Limbaugh because you disagree with his views, that’s fine. I respectfully disagree with much of what he says. But if you disagree with him just because it’s cool to disagree with him, then that is pathetic.

It seems that respect is all but forgotten in this era. I can disagree with someone but still understand what they are saying, and admit that some parts of what they say are correct. But respect doesn’t seem to be mainstream anymore. Case in point, in Obama’s 2008 election victory speech, he began in a noble manner by making a respectful statement about McCain’s campaign. But what did the crowd do? It booed him very audibly. And in McCain’s defeat speech, when he congratulated Obama, he got loudly booed by his crowd as well.

What has politics become, a spectator sport where you boo the other team, or boo anyone who says shows respect to the other team? If anything, Obama and McCain’s respect for each other in that moment of the election gives me some hope for the American political system. However, the behavior of the crowd does not.

Agreeing Due to Authority, Not Due to Evidence

Now for religion. I am an atheist. I don’t believe in god for the same reason I don’t believe in Santa or an Invisible Pink Unicorn or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or an invisible fire-breathing dragon. Simply, I believe it is childish and immature to believe in something that has zero evidence, just because other people believe in it.

That said, I am not claiming that Christianity is inherently bad. Despite its numerous provocations, injustices, and wars, I do not know where the world would be right now had Christianity not existed. Without its teaching of generosity and kindness to primitive cultures (and then enslaving them), civilization may not be as advanced as it is. However, given that we have already reached an early Space Age, where technology and the search for knowledge can unite us in place of the mass belief of ancient myths, I question whether Christianity will be of use for much longer.

So if you tell me, “I am a Christian because the moral system is wonderful,” then that is great. But if you say, “I am a Christian because there is evidence that God exists,” then I will facepalm, because that is like saying, “I believe in the Invisible Pink Unicorn because there is evidence that the Invisible Pink Unicorn exists.”

On the other side, people who believe in atheism might agree for the wrong reasons, though not usually, as they tend to be more open-minded. Saying “I am an atheist because there is no evidence of God” is perfectly fine, but saying “I am an atheist because Christianity is evil” is not a valid reason. However, I don’t know of anyone who actually believes that, so as far as I know, there are no atheist “extremists” like there are religious extremists.

So as far as this section goes, I cannot really talk about the atheist side as there are no examples of belief for the wrong reasons that I know of. Instead, I can try to empathize with the religious side and think about what they would consider to be belief in god for the wrong reasons.

The first one is probably believing in God for fear of ending up in Hell or some other divine punishment. That would be a terrible reason to believe in something, simply out of fear of threat for not believing in it. This is one reason I have a problem with Pascal’s wager (the other being that it can just be applied to other religions, forcing the player to have no good choice).

The second is argument from authority. People shouldn’t believe in God just because other people said they should; they should find it on their own. Despite how silly this sounds to me, at least I find it more noble than blindly following the will of other people. In practice, however, it seems most people are led into Christianity through authority, from their parents or community when they are young and vulnerable.

I mean, if someone is nonreligious but suffers a crisis when they are 30, and chooses to accept a religion to cope with it, that is fine. In fact, hooking people up to mythical virtual realities is a valid method these days of dealing with trauma. The real world is too harsh, so they can more easily cope in a fantasy world. But if a kid is forced to accept a religion when they wouldn’t know better, that is an entirely different thing, and is just wrong. (I agree with Bill Nye’s take on this.)

This would be entirely opposite of the gravity case presented in the “Two Types of Agreeing” section. When a kid learns about gravity, if she is skeptical she can try to disprove it by throwing a ball so high into the air that it does not come down. But the more gravity works, the more accepting she becomes. Whether she thinks gravity is true is determined by her own experiences.

However, if she is skeptical of religion, there is nothing she can do to disprove it, since anything could be justified by some made-up explanation, and this is probably very confusing for a young mind. Whether she thinks religion is true is determined solely by the statements of others, i.e. authority figures.

If this forcing of views on a child concerned any subject other than religion, it would be called brainwashing. Yet when it’s religion, it’s not considered brainwashing, and—quite disturbingly—it’s actually considered by some to be education.

My writing of this section is inspired by Carl Sagan’s skeptical philosophy and Bill Nye’s recent video that was linked above.

Disagreeing and Agreeing

I’d rather someone disagree with me using the truth, rather than have someone agree with me based on a lie. Both in politics and religion, a shallow agreement based on lies is valueless, ridiculous, and devoid of morality.

This is often why there are such heated debates in both of these subjects on the Internet, where multiple people can chime in on both sides. The “Democrat” side of a forum thread might be extremely polarized within itself, and so is the “Republican” side. Thus, instead of there being a straight back-and-forth debate, there is a jumbled web of personal insults and baseless accusations. This would be avoided if people were actually knowledgeable and knew what they were talking about and as well as what other people are talking about. This is why knowledge and respect should be taught, not whatever is causing them to resort to insults.

In the case of religion, religious people generally don’t use logic, so even the terms “agree” and “disagree” begin to lose meaning. That’s why a religious debate usually never ends up being a peaceful debate. It always becomes derailed because logic itself is missing from one side, so it isn’t really a debate at all. It is a lecture where the student is willfully ignorant. At least that’s what happens in the case of an atheist vs theist debate. I can only imagine the horror of what a theist vs theist-of-a-different-religion debate on the Internet would be like, e.g. a Christian vs Muslim debate.

In the political system of the United States, I am somewhat hopeful. But I have almost no hope at all for the current education system. Until something like “Logic for First Graders” is taught—lies, misunderstandings, and ignorance will always be the face of our country.