Why We Believe and Don’t Believe.

The topic in religion I’m most interested in is seldom discussed.

The link is an article right over home plate, all about what is happening in belief and nonbelief and speculation about why.  The trouble is I need to read it several times to understand all of it.

He speculates there have been major turning points in religion’s popularity in the U. S.  The 1700′s, when our Constitution was written, was perhaps the most secular time in our history.  In the 1800′s religion again started it’s march.

But, during its march, the tug away and pull toward continued.  Nonbelief has always been at a disadvantage because no one can tell “how it feels” the way a believer can.  At the same time Darwin and science in general kept making the mystery pie for religion to explain smaller and smaller.

It was only about 20 years ago religion began to feel the outright hostility from nonbelief. Unknown is whether the personalities like Madalyn O’hair and the huge book sales caused the change or the change occurred and they were the result.

Many celebrities have explained their take on religion.  Author John Updike said religion allows people to organize their imaginations and dreams and thus will forever be present.  Putting unexplained things into the “God File” is a good explanation.

We may be at another important turning point away from religion.  The link suggests our own physical comforts, births and surgeries without pain and such make us less desperate for escape from our reality.

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2014/02/17/140217crat_atlarge_gopnik

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About Jon Lindgren

I am a former President of the Red River Freethinkers in Fargo, ND, a retired NDSU economics professor and was Mayor of Fargo for 16 years. There is more about me at Wikipedia.com.
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11 Responses to Why We Believe and Don’t Believe.

  1. entech says:

    Interesting possibilities as a topic. Be fun to see what some come up with straight off the top of their heads.

    Just printing it out, 7 pages, and as you say it will need to be read more than once.

  2. entech says:

    A simple, possibly simplistic, “why I don’t believe”.

    All of my schooling in England was in Church of England schools, morning prayers, religious instruction, later at boarding school a group march to the local church every Sunday. Unquestioning belief, not given any reason not too, my parents were not religious but never spoke to me about it either way. By about 17 I was looking at the world around me and saying that stuff can’t be true.

    I don’t believe because I found, and still find, it all unbelievable.

    • Avatar of realist realist says:

      As do I. Having a naturally questioning slightly cynical nature probably helped me to never accept things on their face. It had to make sense to me. “Why” was my favorite word; still is.

      This article was a deep read. Good but needing a second go.

  3. Wanna B Sure says:

    Jon; Your title today and the first sentence, “(WHY WE DON’T BELIEVE”- -”The topic in religion I’m most interested is seldom discussed.”) IS really quite disingenuous. We have approached this many times in the past. I shall say no more.

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Wanna 1:21 “We have approached this many time in the past..”

      I agree we have discussed it here. I was referring to posters across the net. I should have made that more clear.

  4. Wolfy32 says:

    Jon, I too find this topic fun to discuss. Almost too deep, and difficult to narrow down a specific area to discuss. However, a few things to add that may or may not help.

    In some of my ethics, social studies, and philosophical classes I learned that philosophy and science started as virtually one in the same. Philosophy saught to explain things. It was the study of “why?” Philosophy gave birth to scientific methods as people saught to explain our world. Philosophy also had religion. Some of the greatest philosophers were debated by Christ in the New testament.

    So, I see science and religion as being parallel objects in our tree of development. Philosophy was at the center of the two ideas branching off. The problem is religion had a crossover into science. With some of the greatest scientists being part of the vatican. So, There were these off shoots from religion into science.

    Yet, science, as I know it, didn’t delve into religion too much. Both serve a purpose within humanity… Both try to explain our world and what we experience. Religion gives us a blanket explanation for anything and everything. No thinking necessary, it’s simple and its an easy answer to everything. Science, has to prove everything with excruciating detail and evidence. This takes time, lots of time, in the hundreds of years. It’s been over 2000 years since christ and we’re just starting to play with the sub atomic particle physics of the universe, trying to explain the blackness of space we see everynight from our own back yards.

    It’ll probably another 100 -200 years before we have any solid answers about space / our universe. And even those answers will be excrucatingly limited.

    We have a blanket answer.. God made it all, who cares about anything else.

    Religion will quite simply always have a place because it will always have a simple easy answer to the complexity of the human condition. It doesn’t mean those religious answers are logical or rational, or even real. However, it’s easy to live in denial and use magical thinking to cope with life. A lot easier than having to face the problems of life and deal with them.

    • Wanna B Sure says:

      “We have a blanket answer.. God made it all, who cares about anything else”. Where did you get that? Pretty broad assumption. I /we don’t say that. Are you assuming everyone thinks as those from where you “escaped”?. Well, they don’t. If you like meatballs in your own world, don’t think everyone else does. I see no objectivity here.

      • Wolfy32 says:

        So you’re saying Christians don’t believe God created everything. And God has all the answers in his own mysterious ways?

        I’m confused what part on got wrong? I went to a very high level, I realize individual religious groups believe different attributes or things about God and/or the world. I get that. But at the highest level of Christianity. God is the answer. He has created everything and has been around prior to creation. He is the reason for anything to exist? Isn’t that the root of all Christianity regardless of denomination, flavor, or type of Christian faith?

    • entech says:

      Wolfy, that’s good, we have to remember that i the earliest days of humanity we were looking for explanations to what we saw and experienced. We knew nothing apart from what we learned from our observations. We all started from a position of ignorance.

      What the ancient Greeks called philosophy was just a system of questions and answers, practically anything in the world around us was up for discussion and was part of philosophy. Philosophy, as it grew to be more wide ranging started to get people that specialised in particular aspects, one of the early branches in Greece was into mathematics. In Euclid and Plato mathematics crept over into a branch that dealt with origins and Gods and so on, Euclid saying that mathematics was the language of god and Plato with his almost supernatural ideas of ideal forms somewhere ‘beyond’. Similarly in other parts of the world, observation of weather patterns helped in the development of an agricultural society, with the solar cycle for farming becoming as important to them as the the lunar cycle was for a hunting society.

      As more was learned about nature more was found about the variations and more questions were raised, why did some years give good harvests and some bad? Some branches of philosophy stuck to the observations and started to correlate sun and rain with plant growth, adding this to longer term observations about the solar cycle and agriculture started to become a science.
      Other people in the developing societies, had different ideas and attributed agency to the inconstancy of weather and agriculture, something must cause all of this became someone must be the cause – even today the Kalam argument is used. The people that like the idea of agency the best were those that had ambition, they became self appointed agents of the agency and promoted themselves to law makers on behalf of, what were by this stage being called the gods, and collectors of tributes to the gods, propitiation being needed to keep them happy.

      From a common origin in ignorance we developed two ways of looking at and interpreting the world around us. The science world continues searching, changing ideas as new information either enhances old ideas or in many cases proving them wrong. The other world, the world of supernatural explanations continued to try and explain new knowledge in the old ways, no knew ideas only continued ignorance.
      Of course, there has always been some crossover, with some having that scientific knowledge can contribute to religious knowledge others saying that scientific knowledge can be true and accurate but does not affect their faith in the earliest ideas of agency, that science does not remove the need for or supplant the belief in a creator God. And some scientists saying that science does, actually supplant and remove such a creator.

      Basically most scientists and a lot of religious people carry the search for knowledge onwards. So much is owed by science to the Catholic Church in modern times, from Lemaître

      • entech says:

        Lost the last bit of editing :oops:

        Lemaître making Einstein change his mind about a static universe to the Vatican Observatory being a part of the huge increase of cosmological knowledge.
        And then we have the others and there are far too many of them, nourishing and defending the original ignorance, the many who say, think and act as if in Wolfy’s words God made it all, who cares about anything else.

        To see the real difference watch the debate that Michael pointed us at, the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, how anyone can remain a young earth creationist after watching that is beyond me.

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