TED Conversations

Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.


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If these guys (and others) are right and religion is delaying human progress, how do we move forward?

1.Are the churches too deeply embedded into our nervous systems to ever be able to shut them down?

2.If not, how do we succeed in shutting them down?

3.Where are the scholarships to support the next generation of religion's critics?

4.Where are the communities with positive, shared vision/values to support a more rational, scientific future?


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      Apr 10 2011: An interesting option, Kathy: to push on through the dangerous stage(s) of religious belief to something more meaningful that still keeps alive the quest to understand our fuller natures. Always love seeing alternative solutions :-D
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      Apr 11 2011: Kathy did you even watch the piece on militant atheism...or did you judge the book by its cover? Your argument indicated you are misunderstanding Dawkins at the base and are too closed minded to even give it a chance. I don't have to be religious to be moral and neither does a scientist or a Christian or anybody else. Maybe you should actually watch the TEDTALKS before jumping on the Dawkins hating bandwagon.
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        Apr 12 2011: If we regress to personal attack, we have all lost what might have been cool about TED and the potential learning from debating people with different viewpoints.
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        Apr 14 2011: 'How is propagating that anyone "stop being so damned respectful" being moral?'
        Let's see... are you being respectful of people in a psychiatry? Is that moral?
        "Oh, let them think they have an imaginary friend that tells them to go in circles and screams at them when they go in a direction other than the one he tells them to go to. It's not like he'll also order them around into murdering someone, right?"
        You don't think that, right? Hopefully, you don't think an asylum is actually the best place for them, right? No, you think you need to find a way to cure them from their delusion, for their own good.

        Now, I know what you'll say, so forgive me for summarizing your likely responses
        - "Christians aren't crazy!" - but imagine you were the only one Christian left and really took the bible literally to the point where you were willing to punish people on God's behalf as per his word... wait, you don't have to imagine it... I recall there was a case of a fundamentalist killing a doctor because the doctor performed abortions... How can anyone have a respect for that?
        - "This guy was not a true Christian" - on the contrary. He did what the bible demanded he do. The thing most people who call themselves Christians don't do, because they still have common sense.
        - "But Stalin was atheist!" - yes, without religion, people can still be wackos, but that's still one less reason to turn into a wacko.
        - "But religion being able to produce wackos is not a reason to abandon it!" - It is, because it strengthens the belief in the wackos that what they're doing is the right thing to do. Atheists aren't strengthened by their lack of belief in gods. They also aren't strengthened by science, because science doesn't claim to be infallible, and doesn't really give direct moral and/or legal answers anyway (it just informs moral discussions).
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          Apr 17 2011: It's a weak straw man argument, Vasil, if you reduce all Christians to either fundamentalist or not-really-Christians.

          It's also fallacious to argue that a religion itself is to blame if someone's (mis-) interpretation of it leads them to extremist/wacko behavior. Especially since there are often prohibitions in the religion against some of those very things.

          As to your claim about science not giving moral/legal answers? You need to read a little about the history of psychology. For a long, long time homosexuality was considered a mental illness requiring treatment. That it didn't call it a moral issue doesn't stop it from being one.
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          May 7 2011: Vasil, your rational for this argument can be taken both ways. As a Christian, I truly with all my heart, believe that without a relationship with Jesus Christ, there is an eternal punishment waiting. I also believe that with Jesus Christ there is an incredible reward waiting. So the question for me is...how does a man that is supposed to be about love and compassion, not share this important news with everyone around me? You see...I can't not share it.

          But I agree with the fact that there are extremist in any group. Unfortunately, there are factions of "Christianity" in this world that has corrupted the message of Love that Christ brought to this world. They have tainted it with hate and condemnation to the point that they have accepted this "better than thou" attitude. I believe Christianity to me is about adopting a life of servanthood to those around me...yes, even my enemies. My telling someone about heaven and Jesus are not ways of rubbing it in their face, but rather sharing them the great news of those that come to Jesus. If I believed you were about to be hit by a bus, how wrong would I be if I didn't warn you about it. Now if you get mad at me for warning you and choose to stay in the road anyway...well, I guess that's your problem if you get hit.

          Too many groups feel as though they have to force Christ or God on the world. Shame on them. God wants willing worship. If you don't want to hear it...Okay.

          With that said though...You can't get upset with someone sharing the message of Jesus Christ with you if they truly feel like they are trying to bless you with what they know. But I do see the problem in the world with the forceful nature of how Christianity seems to be portrayed today. It has become offensive and sinful the mean hateful attitudes that are projected all in the name of Christ.
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        Apr 14 2011: "I know all too well the problems of organized religions. I am not a part of them, so spare me your judgemental assumptions."
        Fair enough... explains why I was wrong in what you'd say... people who ARE part of organized religions would have that kind of response though. They typically do, so I wanted to save some time should that be imminent.

        And what Dawkins says is exactly in regards to organized religion. On the danger of someone imposing a view of something on you and you being unable to question it and choosing to believe it instead, calling us to not be so damn respectful towards such kind of views. If you identify yourself as Christian, regardless of whether you actually follow the dogma, you're strengthening Christians' positions of which you are aware.

        And if your definition of God and the dogma is different from the dogmatic one, identify it with a word other than Christian. Call yourself just "believer" or "religious" (without specification). Reject the bible and Christianity (especially when explicitly asked), keep God if you so wish. While atheists will still find you delusional, at least that's not a position as harmful as organized religions.
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          Apr 17 2011: Vasil, why can't we disagree with someone and still be respectful? Maybe Dawkins should have grabbed a thesaurus and chosen a better word.
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        Apr 16 2011: "The point about Dawkins is that he doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to religious doctrine. "
        Example of that?

        "His opinion has nothing to do with science, so why does he use his standing and authority as a scientist to promote militant atheism?"
        Because organized religion hinders science. And there's evidence for that which Dawkins doesn't talk about in his TED talk, but which we can see in the people who favor creationism over evolution despite the evidence.

        Keep in mind that no one is really an "authority" in science. Everyone is free to reproduce researches.

        "How does that represent science?"
        How does organized religion represent science? It doesn't. But it affects it, and in a negative way too. That's enough of a reason for him to speak against it.

        "How is that moral?"
        How is what moral? Militant atheism? I already answered you in the form a metaphor. But I was also recently reminded of an extra reason, applicable mostly in the US - atheists are being oppressed by organized religions, in the case of the US that being Christians. Christians try to impose their beliefs on all, and merge with government as they were once in Europe. They've had successes to a degree in that no atheist could now be elected in any political position because of the common perception that atheists are immoral or worse.

        That may not be the case for you, but that's exactly because you're not part of the core organized religion itself. That said, my previous statement about the stats stands - the reason Christians succeed in their agenda is because people who identify themselves as Christians are a majority.

        "My atheist friends do not think I am delusional;"
        They simply wouldn't use the word... but they don't agree with you. They don't say anything, because your kind of God is not harmful in any way. It's personal - you aren't trying to impose it on anyone. That's a kind of God I can also approve. I still don't think it exists, but if you think it does, fine.
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        Apr 16 2011: "Dawkins is certainly not alone in his ignorance, as many a 'believer' fail to recognize these distinctions as well."
        Exactly the reason he is mocking it. If people were seeing the metaphorical meaning, they wouldn't see anything in the bible as true, therefore Christianity wouldn't be hindering science as much as it does.

        "Why listen to a scientist about religion when said scientist is obviously just as ignorant as the average lay person when it comes to comprehension of holy docrine?"
        Who would you rather expect to be right in advocating for militant atheism? As far as I'm concerned, it's not Dawkins I support, but the idea. It wouldn't have made a difference regardless of who said it. Besides, Dawkins is not alone. Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and more... all say the same things in a different fashion: Stop tolerating organized religion, and put it on its place, which is the same place that they put the rest of today's religions - reveal the facts, all facts, and let people question it and make up their minds. If they choose to believe in any God, that's fine, as long as they don't use it as a barrier of any sort.

        "Do you think it is moral to mock the doctrine upon which religions are based?"
        Until recently, I would have said "No", but seeing people can't differentiate between "mocking" and "questioning", I'm forced to say "Yes". Religious fanatics and fundamentalists will be offended even of the thought that something that they believe may be different from what the book tells them.

        "Do you think it is moral to mock people for their faith?"
        If that kind of faith is forced upon or used as a barrier for others, yes.
        Otherwise, I feel it's moral to question them (which for the most part is what we're doing here at TED Conversations), not necessarily mock them.

        "Do you think it is moral to incite disrespect?"
        If by "disrespect" you mean "mocking and questioning", yes, because apparently, there's no way to question God without disrespecting it.
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        Apr 18 2011: @Erik Richardson
        I actually separate Christians into four groups...

        Fundamentalist/fanatical/wacko Christians - the kind no one hopes to ever see. Once someone becomes such kind of a Christian, they typically can't be de-converted under any circumstances and are a danger to any non-Christian around them.

        Harmful Christian - the kind that's actually pushing the envelope. The kind militant atheists are actually trying to weaken. They have good intentions in mind, but don't realize what they're doing is a cause for fundamentalism to arise and that they're oppressing good people who don't share their views. They are visible in the form of everyone people like Dawkins and Dennet debate against.

        Non-harmful Christians - the kind that harmful Christians are trying to turn every person into. The kind of Christian who doesn't consider people from other religions and atheists immoral, the kind who doesn't try to impose his view on others, but still follows the dogma and believes it happened as described.

        not-really Christians and apologists - the kind of Christians that educated people actually are. People who believe in a God... but not the one from the bible. Whether it's a being, a force or something else, we're talking about people who don't believe the bible is true and don't believe in God as described there, but still identify themselves as Christians when asked for their religion.

        And the same grouping can be applied to Muslims also.

        "Vasil, why can't we disagree with someone and still be respectful?"
        How do you do that, and challenge them to reevaluate their beliefs at the same time? How can a person from one religion challenge a person from another religion without being disrespectful in the process?

        Disrespect is in the eyes of each party. When I'm arguing with a theist, I'm not feeling disrespected when I have my lack of belief challenged. But the theists feels disrespected for his belief being challenged. But there is no reason he should be in my view.
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          May 7 2011: Wow...I actually like the way you broke that up. And believe it or not, I fairly happy with placing myself in the almost fanatical...not necessarily wacko group. My heart belongs to God and Jesus...proud to proclaim it to everyone...and I do mean everyone I meet.

          with that said...I have to agree with you on the disagree and respect clause of things. I am passionate about my religious beliefs, and as a result...very committed. And just like anyone else, if you tell me I am wrong about something, you better have both barrels loaded and tons of ammo to prove it. I'm stubborn and pigheaded...especially in regards to Christ. And just like billions of other people in the world...I hate being wrong. But I also hate being alone. So I share my views with like minded individuals...and then I share them with people that aren't like minded. It is a debate. I try to do it with love and respect, but to be honest...If i think they are wrong...I am hoping to convince them of that fact.

          People tell me they think I am wrong all the time in this world. Unfortunately, Christianity is not near as popular as it used to be. It doesn't offend me so much, but it does get me worked up. But I do believe there can still be a certain respect held between two people that differ. Resorting to insults or character attacks is a coward attack though. I think when we run out of evidence, we turn to cheap attacks. Surely we can show a little more diplomacy than that.
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        May 7 2011: "Resorting to insults or character attacks is a coward attack though. I think when we run out of evidence, we turn to cheap attacks. Surely we can show a little more diplomacy than that."
        How many times have you seen THAT coming from atheists (not just here, overall...)?

        The only kinds of insults an atheist might throw at you are generic insults (that is to say, applicable to any theist; like "close minded", "arrogant", "ignorant" or "deluded"), never personal insults (like "a-hole", "son of a...", etc. *). And even the generic insults are not meant to be taken personally, but they are rather meant to be taken as just another claim to be proven or dis-proven. I would not be offended if you call me "deluded" and would welcome any evidence that would shatter a (non-blind) "belief" I hold in a certain scientific theory.

        If you are stubborn and yet present no evidence for any claims other than the claims themselves (i.e. the Bible), you've essentially admitted you're close minded. The position that God exists or that any holy scripture claim is true is not equal to the proposition that this claim is false. It is equal to the claim that unicorns, fairies or [insert mythical creature] exist, or that spirits/Gods exist, or that there is a teapot around Saturn. In other words, there is zero evidence that suggests it is true.

        * Exceptions may be towards people who push religious agenda politically, like "defund Planned Parenthood" or "teaching the controversy". Personal faith is fine, but pushing politics with it is a whole other deal. I'm just lucky such stuff doesn't happen where I live, or else I would've protested in an instant.
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      Apr 17 2011: Hi Kathy,

      You make a good point, but I disagree with you that these men are hypocrites.

      Their is a difference between religious fundamentalism and using fundamental principles of human well being as a guide to understanding Human rights and our responsibilities in relation to them. For one, it is a belief in the fundamental tenants of a religion, one that offers little by way of external verification. Which is fine, if you choose to believe in those tenants. For the other, it is based on evidence, and the rigorous examination of that evidence to find the metrics and patterns within them that are indicative of human happiness and well being. To do this, Sam Harris used mostly statistics of physical brutality in response to contravening a religious doctrine. As this is a new area of scientific inquiry, I expect that there will soon be standard tools to use in assessing the welfare of others.

      It seems that Harris's argument comes down to (and maybe what's gotten Dawkins so riled up) is choice. If a person chooses to believe in something, that's fine. If someone is forced to practice the tenants of a faith they do not believe in, that's not. All too often, the form of force used to enforce the religious tenants are brutal torture, subjugation, and death. In that situation you cannot use someone's acceptance of the social norm to imply their consent to that norm. A person under those conditions will do what they must to survive. So if we see such a situation, then we must at least offer them the opportunity to escape religious tyranny.

      Sam Harris's argument is logical and rational, and says nothing about what a person should believe, so long as those beliefs do not infringe on the rights of others (with the caveat that someone can choose to forfeit their rights for their beliefs, and so long as they can choose differently in the future they still retain their fundamental rights)

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