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Five morals on how the religious and atheists should approach each other in discussions

I here draw five morals concerning how atheists and the religious might usefully approach each other in debate and argument (from forthcoming book chapter).

1. There's a tendency among the religious to take offence at comparisons drawn by atheists between religious belief and other supernatural beliefs such as belief in ghosts, fairies, etc. No doubt some atheists do just want to belittle and bait the religious by making such comparisons. However, it seems to me that, given that the X-claim explanation of why Peter fails to recognise the unreasonableness of his Christian belief looks fairly plausible and certainly is no 'just so' story (I'll be posting on this shortly, but it's an explanation of religious belief based on drawing a parallel between beliefs in fairies, ghosts, and other invisible persons on the one hand, and belief in gods on the other), drawing such a comparison can be very appropriate. I certainly intend no offence by drawing it. I don't think the religious should take offence...

Continues at CFI blogs.


Unknown said…
Your most recent article on AEON "Why are we humans so prone to believing spooky nonsense?" Should it not be "Why are we humans so prone to believing religious nonsense?"?
Paul P. Mealing said…
The difference to believing in ghosts and fairies is that people see religion as part of their cultural identity, which is fundamental to many people if not most. Also MRI scans show that there are neurological changes in people's brains when they think of God. In particular, they perceive it as something independent of their self. Now, we can feel smug and call it a delusion, but the point I'd make is that it is completely subjective, like colour. The difference is that one can test for colour perception (even in animals) but there is no test for God, except what people report. This is not evidence of God, by the way, it's evidence that people think of God as something special and different to other perceptions.

I read the text in your link and some of the discussion taking place - I didn't want to intrude, which is why I'm commenting here. I'll write another comment on belief in eternal damnation based on interactions I have with friends.

Regards, Paul.
Paul P. Mealing said…
I have friends who live in the same street as me, who believe I will go to hell, yet they are the first people I will turn to if I need help and vice versa.

I'm not sure how they deal with the cognitive dissonance, but it would seem to me that if I was to go to hell or something like it while I was still alive they'd have a different view. The fact that it doesn't affect our relationship suggests to me that at a subconscious level it's a fantasy. What's more, like all good Christians they are very pro-Israel, Jews are God's chosen people, yet they will also all go to hell. It goes without saying that we have very robust discussions but I think one can only do that with people whom you are on good terms with.

Regards, Paul.
Adina Covaci said…

I've just read your article on Aeon and it made me think of Mircea Eliade, a Romanian historian of religion. I think one particular book of his might be of interest for you, as it talks about the human need for the sacred (which is what grounds religion, according to him): .


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