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Tim Colgan

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Has religion outlived it's usefulness?

I'd like to start this conversation with a quote from Richard Dawkins:

"Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful!"

The Guardian, October 11, 2001
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/oct/11/afghanistan.terrorism2

So my question is - assuming religion ever did serve a useful function for humanity, is it perhaps time that we get beyond religion and develop other tools to provide for human needs?

NOTE: To people making comments - I encourage you to not only give a brief response to the main question but also try to respond to one or more of the other comments. Keeping it brief, respectful and perhaps phrased as a question will help generate a true conversation. Thanks. And come back and visit when you can.

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Closing Statement from Tim Colgan

Many thanks to all those who contributed to this discussion. Upon starting this conversation I was concerned that ted wasn't the right place, fearing it would be dominated by a single mind-set. But the diversity of opinions expressed here is amazing. These threads represent a true mosaic of human opinion. Perhaps not a perfect sampling, but a fascinating cross-sample of personal beliefs. The conversations themselves reveal a bit about humanity - filled with sibling rivalries, with moments of compassion. Highly recommended to anyone to take the time to read.

Although it's probably obvious from the conversation's introduction that my intentions included an agenda, that agenda was soon blown out of the water. We had trouble coming to agreement on the definition of religion. Whether it's called religion or not, humans need institutions to provide it's function. To me religion is most symbolized by it's place - temple, mosque, synagogue, church... A place where people gather to share their humanity and ponder the infinite, and their place in it. Perhaps ted is one of those places.

Thanks again to all who contributed. It has been truly enlightening. That's to say, each of you has shone light into some aspect of our topic.

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    Mar 3 2011: See this is the big mistake everyone makes when they argue in favor of religious truth. When scientists say "there is something true that is beyond our observation" everyone jumps to the conclusion that scientists are talking about God. That's an error in logic. What scientists are implying is exactly what the sentence is stating, there is something out there which is true beyond our capacity to observe it. To claim this truth is God or anything else for that matter is to delve into fantasy land just like I can claim there are leprechauns because science hasn't uncovered them yet.

    So just to repeat one more time. "A truth beyond our ability to observe" does not equal "God".

    Until we observe this truth it can only be considered a black box or an unknown.
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        Mar 3 2011: Who Dawkins? To tell you honestly I never read Dawkins I feel like he can't say much on the subject that I don't know. I debated this topic for over a decade both with philosophy, theology and science students. I am even a little weary of debating it, I wanna move on to more interesting topics so I have no reason to read Dawkins.

        Are you talking about him. If so why does he bother you?
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        Mar 3 2011: Impressive, his digestive system must have evolved backwards. But I still see no reason to hate on Dawkins, it seems to me that a Godless universe is a lot more probable and I see no reason why he shouldn't have the right to share his intellectual opinion.
        • Mar 4 2011: That occurs, many "scientists" usually with fairly dodgy credentials try exactly this tack, they however are much less respected and so get less coverage. Atheism has everything to do with science, logic and rational thinking, I can't think of anyone more uniquely qualified to espouse atheism than an evolutionary biologist. Not only this but Dawkins isn't the first sceintist to say "enough", Carl Sagan was also anti-religion. As Dawkins himself says, "We are all athiests to some extent, some of us just go one God further."
        • Mar 5 2011: Okay Kathy lets look at it logically, sorry if you have heard this argument before but it bears repeating, I tell you that there is a fully grown space whale orbiting a planet 200 light years distant. Now you could believe me, you could disbelieve me, or you could withhold judgment until more evidence is available. Logically you should do one of the latter two, since I have provided no evidence and what evidence I could provide would be spurious. But now let's think rationally and scientifically, space whales have never been observed, there is no reason to assume they ever will be observed so now you are guided toward the middle response of disbelief. That is why I say atheism has everything to do with logic reason and the very fundamentals of scientific empiricism. I'd like to finish with a Carl Sagan thought experiment that I think explains the logical fallacy of belief better than I ever could:

          "Look at the pale blue dot of our planet. Take a good long look at it. Stare at the dot for any length of time and then try to convince yourself that God created the whole universe for one of the 10 million or so species of life that inhabit that speck of cosmic dust. Now take it a step further: Imagine that everything was made just for a single shade of that species, or gender, or ethnic or religious subdivision. If this doesn't strike you as unlikely pick another dot. Imagine it to be inhabited by a different form of intelligent life. They too cherish the idea of a God who has created everything for their benefit. How seriously do you take their claim?"
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          Mar 3 2011: I don't wanna be impolite but think at communism Birdia , it's an idealogy.............Karl Marx , Engles ............................................and are a lot of demagogues today and ever was
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          Mar 4 2011: Birdia,

          I agree, religion has been such a long tradition especially in Western civilization that it goes unchallenged. Most people accept the existence of God without even asking for a burden of proof. In science such a thing is unheard of so naturally a lot of tension exists even though some scientists accept religion, more out of conventional behavior and norms than anything else.

          In my opinion religion offers an easy means to provoke a war. It is alot easier to manipulate people when they are indoctrinated and oblivious to facts, it is alot easier to justify your own actions when you truly believe they are righteous. I find that with philosophy and science the field of study encourages people to look for problems, criticize and be skeptical. Thus such subjects do not encourage complacency
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        Mar 4 2011: Kathy, just to let you know in science positives are given priority over negatives. As far as scientists are concerned there is no god because positive evidence shows there is none. Negatives can never be proven true so science ignores them.

        But I understand how you might feel about Dawkins and if it weren't for Dawkins I'm sure there would be another atheist to debate creationists. I am glad that Dawkins has made himself a public figure and has dispelled particular myths creationists were trying to push forward not just as an ideology but also onto our schools as well.
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        Mar 4 2011: Practically every argument for put forward by creationists he's done a really good job of dispelling, I consider creationism very bad science.
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          Mar 4 2011: Hi Budimir

          I love debates on this, but Dawkins isn't up for debate, he considers it beneath him. He has dispelled few, if any, creationist ideas. I can understand his position. In a straight fight the creationist normally wins. Dig me out one where the evolutionist wins & I will watch it eagerly.

          :-)
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          Mar 4 2011: Peter, you're right:

          Why Richard Dawkins Doesn't Debate Creationists

          www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhmsDGanyes

          Quote: "If you were a professional geologist would you agree to have a debate with a flat-earther?"
        • Mar 4 2011: Here's one for you the myth of irreducible complexity has been refuted by many eminent scientists, including Dawkins, even the supposedly "invincible" flagella argument has been debunked. The fossil record clearly shows evolution, the genetic record clearly shows common ancestry, geological evidence clearly shows the Earth to be about 4.3 billion years old rather than the 6000 claimed by the Bible, transit of light clearly shows the universe to be about 14 billion years old, what else is left? Creationism is bunkum, you don't need it to be true to believe in God, not even to believe in the God of the bible. Just let it go as the nonsense that it is, the Theory of evolution by natural selection is as close to fact as any science can be, and attacking it on creationist grounds is the equivalent of bringing a table tennis paddle to a nuclear war.

          Edit: sorry for that last simile, on reflection it's a little violent, but the point stands none the less.
        • Mar 5 2011: Sorry Kathy I'll reply to both your comments here as I seem unable to reply to your comment below. Dawkins's claims about Yahweh are textually accurate and in fact the image of the Christian God would have been in full keeping with the views held in the middle ages. I refer you to Milton's portrayal of God in Paradise Lost. To call it a temper tantrum and to claim he does not understand seems a pretty arrogant stance considering in literary and historical terms his account is accurate. As for the bible not saying anything about the Earth's age or making other scientific claims I don't think you need me to tell you of the priest who calculated the age of the planet by tracing the generations back to Adam & Eve, it may not be a direct claim of the bible but the inference is there and this was considered gospel truth (excuse the pun). Although I like Dawkins, I don't consider his work without fault, (I am not religious about it), perhaps he does hammer hard on ignorance but I don't see why his perfectly reasonable arguments should be discounted as a result.
      • Mar 4 2011: Dawkins is often called militant, what is understood by this term? He debates forcefully with those who wish to debates him but no more so than his opponents. I have often seen him deal very kindly with those who are hopelessly entangled in doctrine. Militancy to me implies physical force, or at least physical threat, Dawkins has offered neither, he simply outlines perfectly reasonable and logical arguments against religion. If any individual holds their faith to be above all criticism one has to ask why. Do they fear it won't stand up? Do they fear the wrath of a vengeful God on Dawkins will somehow spill over onto them? Do they fear..?
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      Mar 3 2011: I very agree Budimir............."So just to repeat one more time. "A truth beyond our ability to observe" does not equal "God". " but still I'm beliving in God very. much.............
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        Mar 4 2011: Ok Eduard that is alright. I know lots of people that believe and if it is good for your well being and happiness I am all for it.
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        Mar 3 2011: yes.......you have succeeded.............. what you said make me think deeper at that face of world.....you didn't convinced me ( I don't think that someone could do that, maybe that's a problem)....................." urge anyone to examine their beliefs often and to keep their minds open, because this world is still a war-ridden place full of hatred even after so many thousands of years of violence. Each one of us is responsible because we owe our existence to this beautiful place we call Earth. And I BELIVE science and philosophy are our last chance to save nature and resolve human conflicts" I very agree with you because and I BELIVE............thank you.........

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