Some thoughts on New Zealand’s loss of faith

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What should we make of what people say about why they don’t believe, and how should the Church respond?

According to a report commissioned by the Wilberforce Foundation, just over half (55%) of New Zealanders do not identify with a “main” religion. 35% described themselves has being neither spiritual nor religious, and 33% identify with Christianity.

Along with an increase among those with no religious or spiritual beliefs, the study shows an increase in ignorance about Christianity. More than one in five people know nothing about the Church in New Zealand, and 9% of respondents know no Christians. This growth in non-exposure is reflected in the makeup of the group that does not identify as religious or spiritual. When comparing a person’s current status (religious/none religious) with the home environment in which they were raised, the single largest combination (26% of respondents) is “Never been religious: I was shaped in a non-religious household and am non-religious to this day.” Continue reading “Some thoughts on New Zealand’s loss of faith”

Dawkins Still Doesn’t Get Arguments for God

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Richard Dawkins isn’t stupid. He’s a bright spark. This makes me think that his muddle-headedness about arguments for God’s existence can’t be written off as a dullard’s inability to understand. The confusion must surely be an intentional tactic to confuse matters, giving his fans the impression that arguments for God’s existence are just a bit of a mess. The (possibly kinder) alternative is that Dawkins exhibits an inexcusable laziness and hubris, pontificating about arguments that he has never taken the time to understand because he just knows that religious beliefs are a load of nonsense.

At a public event to discuss his recent book about himself this month, Dr Dawkins was asked what he considers to be the best argument for God’s existence. Naturally, he prefaced his answer with a reminder that he doesn’t believe in God or that there are any good arguments for God’s existence. But if pressed for the best argument out there, here is what he says:

Continue reading “Dawkins Still Doesn’t Get Arguments for God”

A story of reason, science, bookburning and wiping bottoms

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Once upon a time, in a free country, a private organisation that loves the Bible encouraged private individuals to take their own Bibles to school for their own use in free time, because they love the Bible and because they wanted to remind people that this is allowed.

It wasn’t long before word spread of this decree, and the American Humanist Association asked its friends what they thought of it. This is what the American Humanist Association says about itself:

Mission

The mission of the American Humanist Association is to advance humanism, an ethical and life-affirming philosophy free of belief in any gods and other supernatural forces. Advocating for equality for nontheists and a society guided by reason, empathy, and our growing knowledge of the world, the AHA promotes a worldview that encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good. [Emphasis added]

They aren’t old fashioned humanists, the AHA. Old fashioned humanists believed in silly things like God. Isn’t that funny? No, these are modern, clever humanists. It’s fun to call this group AHA, because “Ahaa!” is the sound you make when you’ve had a clever idea. The AHA’s friends are all very, very clever, which is why this is such a good name. Don’t you agree?

This is what the AHA asked its friends: Continue reading “A story of reason, science, bookburning and wiping bottoms”

Scepticism about Online Scepticism

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conspiracyIs the internet really a benevolent playground of truth about religion?

Some people read conspiracy theory websites and magazines. In fact, I’d wager that more people than ever before read them. As a result, more people than ever before believe ridiculous conspiracy theories. Although I have no desire to see people forced to stop reading such trash, I really wish they would. The fact that more such theories are available now than ever before does not increase the likelihood that people who read this material are going to stumble onto a true theory. It just means that there is more nonsense to choose from, leading to paranoid, sometimes hysterically funny, and often sad, unscientific and damaging beliefs and practices. I have little sympathy for anyone who would reply by saying something like “Dude, you’re just threatened. The truth is out there and now that it’s out there, you can’t stop people finding out.”

I suspect that my perspective on the proliferation of conspiracy theory websites and magazines is shared by most people. At least I hope it is. Such material gives a platform to views that frankly do not deserve it.

Josh McDowell is concerned about the proliferation of comments of a different sort on the internet.

Continue reading “Scepticism about Online Scepticism”

How to exploit a family falling out for the sake of ideology

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A number of people are linking to and commenting about a recent story over at Hemant Mehta’s blog, Friendly Atheist, about “The Atheist Daughter of a Notable Christian Apologist.” The apologist is Matt Slick, and the atheist is his daughter Rachael. Essentially, the article is her relatively short life story about growing up with Matt as her Dad, how he taught her what theological terms means and all about the importance of critical thinking, and how she lost her faith after leaving her parents’ home and she no longer speaks to her Dad. This is either going to be an intellectually riveting insight, or it’s going to be an intellectually vapid, classless capitalisation on someone’s family tree and a broken relationship with one of the “bad guys.” Guess which it turned out to be. Continue reading “How to exploit a family falling out for the sake of ideology”

Religion and Mental Health

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Are religious people on the whole more likely to be mentally ill?

We live in a world where people form strong opinions (or rather, are happy to see their already strong opinions/biases reinforced) by browsing headlines. So when people see the (still fairly recent) headline, “Spiritual people are more likely to be mentally ill,” you can guess what prejudices will be reinforced. “Religion is a symptom of an unwell mind!” Or maybe “Religion is so crazy that it makes those who believe in it go mad!” Whatever the specifics, the point is, religion equals nutso.

Here, as with many misunderstandings, the solution is simply taking a few minutes to read and digest the information before leaping to conclusions. Continue reading “Religion and Mental Health”

Empirical Insights on Terrorism and Ideology

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What should we make of the often heard reference to “religious terrorism,” coupled with the innuendo that religion is a uniquely dangerous influence when it comes to just how far people will go in the name of their God, even to the point of outright terrorism? Continue reading “Empirical Insights on Terrorism and Ideology”

Born Atheists? Science and Natural belief in God

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Is atheism or theism more natural for human beings?

According to online author Tim Covell, “Everyone is born atheist. Religion is learned.” Similarly, over at the “rational response squad” you’re treated to the same  claim: that “Many people don’t know it but everyone is born an Atheist, it’s not until a child has religious beliefs Pushed on them with out any evidence to support them that they “think” their [sic] a Theist.” David McAfee makes the same claim: “Now, the way I see it, everybody is born an atheist and, without submersion into religion as a child, we would most likely maintain that position…”  These are just examples. There are plenty more out there in the non-peer-reviewed pool of “intellectual diversity” that is the internet. But is this claim true?

Continue reading “Born Atheists? Science and Natural belief in God”

On the evolution of moral beliefs

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I’m a moral realist. That means that I think there really are some moral facts. It is wrong to do some things, and it is right to do some things, and this isn’t just a vent of emotion or an expression of my will, it’s really true. Stephen Law is also a moral realist, but if I’m reading him rightly in his debate with William Lane Craig on the existence of God or in his more recent discussion with me on the Unbelievable radio show where I discussed the moral argument for theism, he’d sooner give up moral realism than accept theism.

An argument I sketched in that discussion was that the best way to explain moral facts is by reference to God. Although he does currently believe in moral facts, he noted that they may not be there after all, so maybe there’s no reason to invoke God as an explanation. After all, he said, we can come up with an evolutionary explanation of why we would believe in moral facts whether they really existed or not. Law wants to be careful here. At the time I raised the concern that this may just be a case of the genetic fallacy, offering an explanation of where a belief came from as though this showed or suggested that the belief is false. But this isn’t what Law means to say, he replied. The point is not that the existence of an evolutionary account of why moral beliefs exist shows that those beliefs are false. That would indeed be the genetic fallacy at work. No, the point is that whether those beliefs are true or false, there exists the same evolutionary account for why we hold them – and that account is unaffected by their truth or falsehood. There is thus no particular reason to think that the evolutionary processes that brought them into being is likely to produce true-belief forming processes.

While this line of argument does not purport to show that the moral beliefs we hold aren’t true, it’s meant to cast doubt on the probability that the process that gave rise to these beliefs (or at least the process that gave rise to the relevant belief forming processes) is likely to result in either true beliefs or reliable belief forming faculties. It’s best to think in terms of the latter, if only because it’s downright bizarre to think that evolution forms beliefs. It plainly doesn’t, but it does form mechanisms or processes that creatures use to form beliefs.

So what should we make of this? Can we give an evolutionary account of why we would believe in moral facts, an account that is blind to the actual existence of those facts? Secondly, if we could give an account like this, would it undermine the probability that the processes that form those beliefs are reliable? I will give two answers: Yes, it is trivially true that we can give an account like this, and no, the fact that we can do so should not undermine our confidence in the belief form process that forms moral beliefs. In doing so I will be drawing on an argument by Alvin Plantinga, namely the “evolutionary argument against naturalism.” While I am inclined to think that argument is unsound, many of the insights that it draws attention to are true nonetheless. Continue reading “On the evolution of moral beliefs”