Question of the Week: September 17, 2014

Sep 16, 2014

Arguments with believers can quickly turn into standoffs. But in his masterful book A Manual for Creating Atheists, Professor Peter Boghossian outlines an effective way to talk to religious people. In your experience, what approaches have you found useful in creating a sliver of doubt in the faithful — or at least getting them to listen seriously to the atheist point of view?

80 comments on “Question of the Week: September 17, 2014

  • Inspired by Guy P. Harrison, I have found that finding common ground with believers and winnowing out our differences and why we have them generally leads to willing acceptance of my nonbelief. I don’t think I’ve made any converts, but it might be too early to tell as my own conversion took decades to get me to the point where I am now, and I’m still working on quashing childhood indoctrination.

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  • 2
    psybertron says:

    In my experience the faithful, barring the odd ideological nutjob, tend to have plenty of doubts. The best approach to intelligent debate I find is to show some respect and seek common ground where doubts can be shared. Understanding each other’s positions on shared terms is a prerequisite for any learning or movement by either party. (I’d recommend Dan Dennett’s statement of “Rappaport’s Rules” for critical debate.)

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  • 3
    csvulcan says:

    I don’t know that I’ve ever converted any of those evangelical fanatics, but I’ve gotten a few agnostics to admit to atheism after I challenged them to grow some…well, you know. In my experience, the best way to get believers to ask questions is by a) being very open about my lack of belief and b) just being a good person, volunteering, showing care for people, being kind to animals and demonstrating good ethics. I’ve had a couple of instances where people had just assumed I was religious and when, in casual conversation, I dropped in that I am not, they were baffled that I could still be me and act like me sans divine moral framework. This gives me an opportunity to explain that I use moral judgment in the same way they use it to judge which sections of the bible to adhere to. I’ve found that planting more doubts is much more effective than beating them over the head with reason (as much as I want to!). A little friendly manipulation goes a long way :0)

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  • For those that believe in an omnipotent, omniscient god I have found both evolution and earth’s geology to be useful discussion points. Of course, if you are talking to people who deny evolution and tectonic plates then this won’t help much, but those people are probably beyond help anyway.

    If you understand evolution it isn’t possible just to accept the surviving mutations, you also have to acknowledge the hundreds, thousands or millions of mutations that did not survive for each that did. An omniscient, omnipotent god would not create the evolution that we see purely because of the number of ‘failures’ that are involved. Some of the more unpleasant relationships can help too, e.g. Cordyceps, jewel wasps, horsehair worms.

    Similarly an omnipotent, omniscient got would not create a world that changes very slowly with the movement of tectonic plates, he/she would have created a static world, complete and matching his/her vision of the finished article.

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  • The other day, I thought about creating a tee shirt which would read “We agree >99.9% on which gods are imaginary.” There’s a clear truth there, one that should make our position seem reasonable. I choose to always start these types of discussions by framing it like that, then focus on the 0.1% discrepency held by the “believer.” I’ve had this discussion with a stranger on an airplane, with my best friend’s wife, and my own father.

    I often repeat my core reasoning (in one form or another), which I can sum up like this: I consider myself scientifically-minded. I already know how to live a moral and satisfying life. I need no answers beyond what science can provide. I trust that science has improved and will continue to improve the human condition. I embrace this trust, this gives me hope, and I have no need for faith.

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  • Today I took a 2 hour car ride with my Brother-in-law who is Catholic and recently attended a bible study group. I kept asking him questions and he finally admitted that it was his first experience with actually reading the bible and that most Catholics haven’t actually read it. He readily admitted that he was amazed at the inconsistencies in it. After a polite discussion, mostly my questions and letting him know I was an Atheist and my background leading up to my unbelief, he admitted that he questions if there really is a God. That opened the door for more fruitful discussion.

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  • In order to argue sensibly about anything, both parties have to follow certain assumptions or ‘rules of engagement’ (for example avoiding ad hominem fallacies). The problem is that once someone follows these ground rules, it is impossible to be religious. For example, most people don’t get the concept of burden of proof and are indifferent to the fact that there are so many different (and contradictory) religions. If they did, you wouldn’t be having that conversation.

    It is a real shame that often the only way to get a religious person to listen is to point out the immoral teachings of his church (such as its stance on homosexuality or contraception), rather than use reason itself. Religious leaders are slowly realizing this, and I suspect that religion may gradually become popular again as they lure back lost followers by ‘adapting’ their teachings to the changing environment.

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  • 8
    ChemicalBias says:

    I couldn’t honestly say any discussions I had with any person of faith inspired any doubt that was not probably already there. I never had a chance to really get into a discussion with a person who was what we would consider a religious fundamentalist, most of the people I know who go to church or believe in a god just don’t give it much thought or even care to.

    On a separate note I wanted to bring this to the attention of someone here, or someone who might pass it along to a contributor here because I was not able to locate a discussion board. It’s another bullshit article from the vice news website titled The Atheist Movement Needs to Disown Richard Dawkins. Just thought people might be interested in it because these tend to trend quickly from vice and you will notice the all too familiar smear job this person is doing and the out of context quotes and references made. Here is the link

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  • I have been an atheist all my life as I grew up in an atheist family, but I happen to end up in relationships with boys who are religious Catholics. So was the case with my latest boyfriend. We have recently broken up and the exclusive reason of the breakup was religion. We were together for 2 years and we got along perfectly in all aspects except for religious issues. I was really shocked when he told me that he had decided to give up sex during Lent, which is total nonsense and hypocrisy. So I tried really hard to give him some strong arguments against religion and urged him to think rationally. I didn’t succeed, he stuck to his religion. However, I think that our talking was useful because I suppose he didn’t have a chance previously to hear the atheist point of view. And of course changing your firm believes takes a lot of time. So any talking can help and how effective it can be, I think depends on the open-mindedness of a religious person.

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  • 11
    CdnMacAtheist says:

    I have never been infected by a God Virus in my 64 yrs, so I have an outsiders view of those diseases, which has enabled me to avoid most exposure to the abusive, insidious vectors of faithism that are so prevalent in the 3 countries I’ve lived in.

    I’ve been secularly active on-line for ~6 years, where most of my interactions with believers occur. I have yet to discuss reality with a faithist who had something positive to add to the conversation, since anything material they believe via religosity can & has been found by those folk able to cogitate without a sky fairy looking into their mind, waving his magic thing or sprinkling pixie dust in illogical, contradictory ways with vague, unseen, erratic & untestable effects.

    I just live my life as best I can, the result being that my ethics, morals & interactions with others are generally obvious & not often criticised. In my commentary with both realists & faithists, I use my extensive, wide-ranging, albeit layman knowledge to question & refute their assertions & claims with ‘facts, evidence, processes & theories’ – which I can support with peer-reviewed 21st century science. I’m a voracious reader on many relevant subjects, enabling me to discuss the huge & complex support for reality that the scientific endeavour has uncovered, especially in the last century.

    I listen carefully to the illogical, faith-serving, submissive, hand-waving & special pleading that comes from folk who try to infect others with their infused parasitic memeplexes while reinforcing their well-practiced circular reasoning, multiple fallacies & fearful rejection of anything that threatens their puny little god myths. I don’t go looking for them, but when they intrude into my life or on reason, science & education sites, they are as open to criticism, questions, refutation & open disrespect as any other ignorant polluter of sensibility.

    As always, my prime concern is the over-population that accelerates all the other problems biology is facing, so their pathetically god (ie: human) centric, mind-dulled, denialist posturing is open to a blast of unaccomodating freethinking from me. That may not be as ‘just be nice’ as some promote, but we don’t have centuries to bring our species out of its superstitious, confused, needy, squalling infancy to face reality as it’s now known to be.

    My general position on inculcated, uneducated, fact-blind, belief despite all the evidence is “grow up ffs”, but if you can’t, go back to being soothed & play with your torture toys in your enclosed sandbox while adults deal with the possibilities & consequences of reality on your behalf…. Mac.

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  • In my experience, people will only listen to you if you are respectful. I might not have any respect for someone’s beliefs, but that person still deserves kindness and understanding. It is also very important to avoid making the other person feel ‘attacked’ by your arguments. Everyone will get defensive when they feel threatened, and that means they will put their energy into protecting themselves and their beliefs (they will feel the need to fight back, try to get away, etc.) rather than listen to what you are saying.

    When a person feels safe enough to really listen, any sound argument will do. I like talking about the confirmation bias with people who claim they did research about their faith. I like mentioning brain facts to those who say they have experienced divine intervention. I like showing bible fans how little they really know about that book (authors unknown, translation mistakes, typos, passages added over time, etc.). I also like all the classic arguments, such as ‘but if everything had to be created, then who created your god?’, ‘is it more likely that one religion is right, or that all religions are wrong?’, ‘who is more moral: the person who does good for reward/fear of punishment, or the person who freely chooses to do good simply for the sake of being good?’, and the list goes on, but of course my favorite will always remain explaining evolution, and how gods keep shrinking as we gain better understanding of reality.

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  • I doubt whether I have ever caused a single person to doubt their faith by myself, even though I’ve attempted Boghossian’s ‘street- epistemology’ method of questioning. Perhaps I simply add a rational point of view by the things I don’t say. For instance, I don’t say, ‘ there are things out there we don’t understand…’, or ‘ you called just when I was thinking about you! Makes you wonder’…I could go on. Instead, I always try to give a rational explanation for everything presented. Perhaps by so doing, I add to the sum total of rational voices.
    I noticed when viewing the recent Cosmos series that there was a clear distinction between the presentation of facts ( very straight forward) and things as yet unknown. Educated guesses were clearly labelled as such. I try very hard not to blur the distinction between fact and opinion.

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  • I’ve noticed that asking “Where did you hear that?” is a good step. The answer is usually something like “at church.” Asking if they’ve done any independent fact checking is a good follow up.

    I accidentally lost a friend over this. He said something like “Then why has every culture worships gods?” I replied “Yeah, we must need them, or else we wouldn’t have made so many of them.”

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  • When I was a freshly liberated atheist, still licking my wounds from escaping childhood indoctrination, my anger led to a militant approach that I was sure was the right formula for fighting delusion and spreading reason. “Go in strong, highlight the idiocy, embarrass and laugh” was my philosophy. My wounds, though scarred, have now mostly healed. I like to think that I have matured, and I now cringe at the crude and thoughtless methods I previously used.

    I have realized over time that very few people actually self-criticize, evaluate or examine their own beliefs. I found that simply facilitating the initiation of this process may be enough to spark some thought. Asking someone what exactly they believe, having them say it out loud and repeating it back to them all in a non-hostile, respectful but concerned manner may be enough to plant the seed of reason.

    After using this technique I started having people return to the conversation at a later point in time after some reflection or even researching their beliefs! Though rarely do they return with a changed view, the question caused them to stop, think, reflect and willingly return to the discussion instead of shying away. In the end isn’t that what we want, because with this formula, reason is surely to succeed in the end.

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  • When a friend told me she credited God and Jesus for helping her through the tough times in her life, I told her that by giving the credit for her own strength and perseverance away like that, she was doing nothing but discrediting not only her own ability to cope with the events in her life and fight through them, but any friends and family who helped her as well. I know it made her stop and think for a second, but she fell immediately into “knowing” it was God, and that we would have to agree to disagree.

    I call it the “Wendy Wright Syndrome,” …you might think you get a shot in, but the religious force-field holds strong. I really wish I could break through, but if people who speak as elegantly as Dawkins and Hitchens can’t make a dent, who can?

    Mr. Dawkins was asked a question once about whether there is a gene for being religious or superstitious. It was part of a much longer, run-on question, so he didn’t really address that part of it much, but I think it’s a good question and would love to know more about what he thinks on it. Perhaps it could have something to do with our need to “figure things out,” and understand how the world works… therefore, if you don’t understand, there’s a God behind it. It could explain how people can be so blind and defiant in the face of opposing evidence and logic.

    For some of us, that gene didn’t quite kick in… thank God.


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  • 17
    aroundtown says:

    When I disclosed the admission to my closest family that I had lost my “Faith in God” they simply responded that Satan had manipulated my mind and my condition was in error. When I explained that losing my faith was not like losing my car key’s and the prospect that I would ever find faith again was zero they said the decision was not in my hands. Go figure – “free will” apparently is false and my decision to ditch this crap is trumped by the celestial sky monkey in all regards. So I guess I’m covered huh!!!!!!!!! Sky monkey 1 and me a zero, but that is always the case with religious delusion isn’t it.

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  • I’d prefer to start discussing what is written on Sumerian Tablets 3500 years before Religious Books about the similar context but not deist…

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  • 19
    Barry.M says:

    It may not be the best approach, but I’ve found that informing religious friends/colleagues about the dubious morals espoused by the bible tends to make them stop and think. Sometimes that’s enough; just to sew a seed of unease that can sit there and grow into an seedling of scepticism.

    Annoyingly, being respectful tends to lead to a greater possibility of getting them to listen (even though being respectful of nonsense just feels wrong somehow!).

    Having said that, ridicule can sometimes be an effective blunt instrument in making someone ‘wake up and smell the humus’ (thank you Robin Williams). I particularly enjoy references to talking snakes and winged horses – it’s hard for someone to maintain their position in defence of such patent poppycock.

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  • You have to acknowledge the fear that people suffer when they consider atheism. It’s not just about not believing in god, it’s all the consequences. No heaven, when you die, that’s it. No, you are not going to see your beloved mother again, and she hasn’t gone to a better place. Perhaps worst of all, god is not going to save mankind from its own stupidity. Only the brave, and more often, the young, can face these frankly scary facts. The last vestiges of my religion are a deep regret that I won’t see my Mum again. So you have to approach the issue with sympathy for what you will do to them if you succeed in getting them to face reality and give up their delusions. Doesn’t mean they will be less happy, but at first they won’t see that. I personally believe that one of the main drivers, and attractions of religion is that it offers a way out of the fear of death.

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  • 21
    Bob Springsteen says:

    Hi Dina, Your Christian boyfriend was a biblical ignoramus. The New Testament clearly includes sex before marriage in the definition of sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:2). According to Revelation 21:8, all the sexual immoral sinners will be consigned to the Lake of Fire. Giving up pre-marital sex just for Lent will not placate the nasty Christian God.

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  • I adopt the Fred Seitz. / Fred Singer technique of trying to raise a doubt in the mind of the afflicted. Singer and Seitz used this technique of raising doubt to stop the entire planet from doing something about global warming so it must be a good strategy. Pity Naomi Oreskes came along with Merchants of Doubt and showed they had no clothes but I digress. Don’t get me started.

    But the views held by Seitz and Singer and very similar to those held by the religious. A view held in the absence of evidence, or contrary to the evidence, which is the definition of faith. I’m sure the Jehovah’s Witness team have a Google GPS marker on my house because I once got the junior on a tag team agreeing with me and asking his leader to justify his position. DO NOT KNOCK ON THIS DOOR. My greatest success.

    When confronted by the afflicted, I like to use their own body as the argument. AN all powerful, all knowing greatest intelligence in the universe GOD is easily discounted once you start pointing to the appallingly designed body parts of homo sapiens. Wisdom teeth is a good starter. The rest of us Sinners know all the other defects. I consider I’ve succeeded if they pause for a millisecond and move ever so slightly onto my ground and start trying to talk science, my home ground advantage.

    You can never save the afflicted. They have to come to reason by themselves. But if I can infect them with one piece of doubt, I suspect or hope it can fester and grown into reason. Or at least until the next Sunday when they sit, stupefied in the congregation being fed peanut butter proofs that evolution is wrong.

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  • My arguments nowadays consist mostly of the spectacular moral failures of dogma. And besides that only a God freeing you to use all your faculties to seek out and tackle all harms that exist or come to exist, could possibly love you, otherwise you have no purpose in life only a job.

    Quakers don’t come to my door but they would offer a small dilmma for me. They have dogma that God insists they use all their faculties etc. etc. As you know that gets a pass from me. Any God that that thinks as I do can’t be so bad.

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  • I have an ongoing conversion project at the moment. I’m cautiously optimistic in at least getting her to think for herself about the issues of faith and science, which I’m not sure she’s ever done before.
    I am attempting to use the Socratic method (what do you believe? Why do you think that’s the truth? if you equate your beliefs with ‘truth’ is it ok for me to call my non-belief ‘truth’ as well? etc), in a gentle sort of way, whilst also educating her about evolution.

    Obviously once you’ve got someone to accept evolution you can point out how that screws Adam and Eve and the ‘truth’ of the bible. I’ll let you know how it goes, and I’d be grateful for some more tips.

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  • How about this … go all glassy eyed. Look up to the sky. Claim that you are hearing the voice of their god. This voice is revealing all it seems … wait, it’s telling me … no, surely not, but yes, it must true, it is revealed … you, yes, you are the one, you are here to save us all. At this point produce your carpentry kit, whip out a couple of planks and a handful of nails …

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  • You seem to make a good number of assumptions about the God you don’t believe in, Swiss. What makes you assume those things? Why should you see some stages of evolution as ‘failures’, and what is to say that the God you don’t believe in didn’t expect or create the ‘more unpleasant relationships’? Similarly, why should an omnipotent, omniscient God not create a world that changes very slowly? After all, if God is not bound by time, why would it matter to Him how long it took? If God is infinite, what is a little apparently ‘wasted’ time, energy, matter or antimatter to Him? I would suggest the god you don’t believe in is very small indeed, so I agree, such a god does not exist.

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  • If making assumptions about “God” is an issue, how come it is apparently acceptable to assume that “God” is masculine, as referenced by your description of “God” as “He,” and “Him?”

    “It” seems much more likely, but somehow not particularly appealing.

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  • CumbriaSmithy.
    Does the fact that it’s sexist sit well with you?
    It’s also homophobic, intolerant and cruel. I don’t know how you can overlook these things. I would want so much more.

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  • CumbriaSmithy. Does the fact that it’s sexist sit well with you? It’s also homophobic, intolerant and cruel. I don’t know how you can overlook these things. I would want so much more.

    I guess that’s why you are not a believer. Going by Cumbria’s reply to JC, he has no problem with the unpleasant facts of life. So millions of species have gone extinct, why should that bother the big (infinite) god that Cumbria believes in.

    So most animals live their whole lives under stress and have an unpleasant death. If Cumbria’s big god designed the universe to be like that, then that’s His prerogative and it’s not going to stop Cumbra worshipping Him, in fact it might be a bit of a turn-on. There are a surprising number of women who write love letters to jailed mass murderers.

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  • Marktony.
    Let’s not go there.;)
    With any book that I hold in high regard, I need to be comfortable with the morality contained within the covers. I could use anything written by A.C. Grayling as an example. He seems like a very decent human being and I think he has a very moral outlook from my perspective. ( I guess that’s redundant considering his list of works). If I started to feel uncomfortable with the things he was saying, I’d Look elsewhere.

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  • Religious persons know I am an atheist… I certainly do not hide it, and I forewarn religious persons not to discuss the topic with me. Or fear the heated debate on how your brain produces too much dopamine, which causes you to hallucinate and believe in spiritualism. And yet somehow, they tolerate the fact that god is not too be mentioned in my presence… How odd… And they don’t mind socializing, or being around me… In fact some of them I view as good friends… I do not believe religious people to be stupid, instead I view them as mentally lazy, they freely choose never to question anything that happens from day to day life. The ability to question, is the definition of atheists in my point of view. The purpose of religion is to help them feel as though there is a method to the madness of the world. People want to know that those that do wrong will come to justice when they die. Because a sense of vindictiveness soothes the mind of a person whom wants to do evil, but fears the wrath of the lord too much to take matters in their own hands. I can honestly say, a life of eternity would truly be hell, no matter how wonderful it apparently is… This one life I am currently residing in is more then enough. When my time comes, I will smile, and know that I have not wasted it.

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  • Dopamine. The same stuff that you find in pot is naturally produced in our bodies and released at different levels for each person. The more released the more unstable your mind becomes, and the more unreasonable your chain of thought becomes. The less you produce the less you fear repercussions for your actions, and the less likely you are to hallucinate. Here is a perfect example, all religious persons whom truly believe in the lord are scared of the dark. They see things, ghosts, and past dead family members. I have absolutely zero fear of the dark, i find it illogical to fear because you can not clearly see whats in front of you. As well I apparently produce very little dopamine, because i never see anything in the dark. Just whats there or nothing… I can not recall where I read this, but it was a study done somewhere… Wish I could have been more informative for you. For that I apologize.

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  • It took seven days to create the heavens and the earth… If you ask me that does not sound like the process of someone whom takes their time on complex tasks… But then again maybe thats why the world is the way it is… How does that saying go… Oh yeah!… A half assed job gives you a half assed product…

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  • 37
    Bob Springsteen says:

    Whenever I discuss theology with born again Christians I always bring up the topic of hell. It is sometimes difficult for people to grasp what is entailed in the evangelical doctrine of hell. Imagine all the agony and unhappiness produced by the atrocities done by Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and all the rest of mankind. Now compare the weight of centuries of man-made misery to the ages of misery which God will presumably bring about in everlasting hell. The conclusion is plain. In terms of human misey and agony, the Evangelical’s hell is so much more evil than all the collective evils of men as to make the comparison ridiculous. The Evangelicals thus find themselves in the awkward position of having to acknowledge that if hell is God’s punishment for the grief which men have caused one another, the punishment for it far excels the crime in both horror and atrocity. On this showing, the creator of the universe is a psychopath!!

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  • That’s actually a pretty good definition of faith that you have given there!
    I find it a bit disturbing that you “need no answers beyond what science can provide.” Can science give answers to what is morally right or wrong? How about who to vote for in elections? How about whether to deploy ground troops against IS?

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  • Alien Sep 22, 2014 at 5:42 am

    That’s actually a pretty good definition of faith that you have given there!
    I find it a bit disturbing that you “need no answers beyond what science can provide.” Can science give answers to what is morally right or wrong? How about who to vote for in elections?

    Science can certainly give you an informed outlook on possible outcomes of actions, without which you will only have wild guesses!
    Debated and understood codes of conduct and moral objectives will add to this, but I have get to see dogmatic mindless applications of dogma offering anything but “One size does not fit everything and usually messes up the job for the people involved”! “Faith decisions” – unlike science, have a consistent record of failure, with only a random chance of success!

    How about whether to deploy ground troops against IS?

    Without researched information from weapons science, technical surveillance, and an objective analysis of history, that would in practical effects be pure wild speculation as to the outcome – let alone any moral decisions which might be made on projected outcomes.

    It is of course as a result of wish-thinking that Iraq and Syria are in the mess they are in now!

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  • @Alien. These are two separate statements.

    I already know how to live a moral and satisfying life.

    I need no answers beyond what science can provide.

    If you want to know what is morally right or wrong, look in the mirror. Commonsense. That morality can only come through god has been disproven and debunked adinfinitum. Rules developed over an evolutionary time span about not stealing Ugg’s wife and oxen are just good commonsense rules for tribal living. When Moses wrote them down, he didn’t invent them and god didn’t dictate them to him. Moses (If he even existed) just wrote down existing practice. Codified the existing rules for communal living.

    As for who to vote for, choose someone who is rational, which excludes most religious.

    As for ISIL, read the Intelligence Assessments and look at a picture of George Bush. They’re his creation. And no, ground troops cannot defeat ISIL. Hasn’t anyone learnt anything from Vietnam onwards. A standing army is no use against a local insurgency. Standing armies fight other standing armies really well. They even have uniforms to tell each other apart. You can only defeat ISIL by creating conditions on the battle ground where the locals will back you, over the religious nutters. And that will take years and years and a complete change of strategy. You have to sideline religious fundamentalists of all faiths, everywhere, because they all think the same way. A good place to start is at home. Read some of the other news stories above about “in God we trust” and the US Airman who refused to sign a pledge that contained a reference to god. There is no difference in the psychological profile of the American Taliban or ISIL members. They’re god’s chosen etc etc…. Once the fundamentalist religious have been sidelined, you will have defeated ISIL. I’m guessing it would take around 30 years, but not if America fails to realize it is a theocracy.

    Religion should be practiced by consenting adults in private. When this statement is true, you will have defeated ISIL.

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  • Rules developed over an evolutionary time span about not stealing
    Ugg’s wife and oxen are just good commonsense rules for tribal living.

    What happens when the rule is broken? Who decides the punishment? Does the wife have a say in this? Maybe this is why science dismisses moral issues because it has no answers? Maybe god was invented to take the blame and the “sins” committed. I still see one sword replaced by another. Is there a model that works for tribal living that is without fault or will there always be a dominent ape beating its chest to show its might?

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  • For me, a lot of it has to do with unpacking the misconceptions people have about atheists. I find it alarming how quickly people can draw conclusions about people they no nothing about simply because they lack a specific belief.

    Moreover, I do think being calm and reasoning in tone helps. Even people that aren’t going to change their minds will ultimately be more likely to listen if you speak to them like human beings. Of course that ultimately depends on how reasonable and calm they are, and when things get heated you either go punch for punch or just realize you’re not changing their minds and leave the conversation.

    I never go into any chat with the intent to convert (indeed, what would I be converting them to?). Usually, I explain what people may be confused about regarding atheism or regarding some scientific notion they are likely confused about.

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  • 44
    Bob Springsteen says:

    Chris, According to the scriptures it didn’t take that long: “For in SIX days God made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and RESTED on the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11).

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  • 45
    aquilacane says:

    I have always used the lack of evidence approach and made it painfully clear that I accept religious believers to be either ignorant, arrogant, intentional frauds and criminals or delusional (mentally ill).

    I usually concede that I expect most people are just ignorant and arrogant. Believing they know the truth without any evidence takes arrogance, not having any evidence suggests ignorance (we’re all ignorant of most things).

    I typically peg the clergy and other religious professionals as frauds and criminals. They knowingly accept money in exchange for rituals that are promised to deliver favour even though there is no evidence that such favours will materialize. The professional also engages in the criminal activity of uttering verbal threats of eternal damnation as well as coercion and blackmail to achieve their religious goals.

    When the religite introduces voices and personal relationships with their chosen god, I will typically bring up mental illness as a strong thought provoking candidate.

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  • 47
    aquilacane says:

    The religious believe in each others gods as much as they do their own. Think of it more as the one best god not the one true god. They switch gods like favourite football teams (most support for life but many others jump on the wagon of the hot god and all believe in the other team). Atheism; however, has no god. It is different. I can’t switch to the atheist god, I have to quit gods all together. If you can be delusional enough to believe in your god, you believe them all. It’s just a sports team. And we don’t play the game.

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  • David R Allen Sep 22, 2014 at 7:24 am

    @Alien. These are two separate statements.

    I already know how to live a moral and satisfying life.

    I need no answers beyond what science can provide.

    If you want to know what is morally right or wrong, look in the mirror. Commonsense.

    Theists somehow fail to notice that they have used their common sense to cherry-pick confirmation of their own moral views from the numerous contradictions in the bible, but still cannot see how that common sense could make the same decisions without the bible as a prop!

    The science of course provides the material predictions of outcomes from actions, (for those who use it), on which to exercise the common sense judgements!

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  • What happens when the rule is broken? Who decides the punishment?

    The result of an infraction depends on where you are and how long ago. For most of homo sapiens existence on this planet, Ugg, and his near genetic relatives are going to hunt you down and either kill you, or severely maim you. This prevented most infractions. Today in most western countries, you report it to the police who go through a process whereby society imposes a sanction. However it is a sliding scale from what happens in the west, right back to societies that exist today who still enforce Ugg’s law for most of the rest of the world. Still no need for a god.

    Does the wife have a say in this?

    In most of the religious world? No. In fact, apart from a few enlightened western countries, who through an act of rational philosophy, concluded that it is wrong to hold the female of species homo sapiens to any sanction what so ever. Sadly, most of the world has yet to catch up. I’ll put this one down to god.

    Maybe this is why science dismisses moral issues because it has no answers?

    I don’t know how much science you read or consume, but this statement is obviously wrong. Science doesn’t dismiss anything. Science has a lot to say about behaviour, which is the core of all moral issues. Refer to my opening comment above. Science can explain the evolutionary origin of the last 6 of the 10 commandments. No god needed here. The first four, sadly, are down to god again. BTW. What sort of psychological profile demands those four commandments. Insecure. Vengeful. Egotistical. If it was a human, you would run a mile, not worship this egotistical and shallow being.

    Maybe god was invented to take the blame and the “sins” committed.

    Correct and full marks. On the sixth day, Man created God in his own image. Make this correction to Genesis and you’ve explained god.

    Is there a model that works for tribal living that is without fault.

    No. Homo sapiens are a species superbly evolved to survive in a hunter gatherer environment, with instincts of greed and limited altruism. Tribalism that unites a group and lots more evolutionary traits. But those very same evolutionary traits in the modern world are likely to result in our extinction and we’re just too hard wired to change. Tribalism = Nationalism = War. (And Collingwood supporters) Greed = tragedy of the commons = trashed invironment. Closed systems have limits. The planet is a closed system. Homo Sapiens cannot comprehend that rule. You seek utopia with a flawed species.

    will there always be a dominent ape beating its chest to show its might

    Yes. If we could change Darwin’s survival of the fittest to survival of the nicest, we may have a chance. But select a hundred people at random and only one or two will act for the greater good over self interest. The denizens of this forum rate much higher, mostly because we don’t believe in god. Until this stat is reversed, it’s extinction for us.

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  • 50
    JeffVader67 says:

    I’m a Christian, and saw Richard Dawkins speak at the Cheltenham science festival back in June. There weren’t many religious people in the room but we were made welcome and allowed to ask questions. The 15-20 minute Q&A period afterwards was criminally short, but it did stress the importance of politely listening to an alternative point of view. Incidentally Richard failed to convert me!

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  • That does not help gods case, as a matter of fact it certifies my opinion even more so then before! I admit I am no bible thumper, I have read a few verses from time to time to get a better grasp on it… But none the less thanks for certifying my point even more so!

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  • Here let me help… Go smoke some pot and discuss god in depth, and video record how much more you believe in god during that time. Be sure not to have the pot in the video since it is obviously illegal. Once you review the video you can clearly see how dopamine effects those whom are cursed with naturally higher levels of the chemical. Once people realize that you have zero control over your life, and your brains only actual job is a memory bank, you start to realize how meaningless your existence is. Here is a few examples, your body tells you when your hungry and you will eat, your body tells you when to sleep, what hurts, what your eyes see, ears hear, nose smells. You will probably argue the fact that your mind tells you this but you have to admit the signal comes from the body and gets sent to the brain. Type TED TALKS illusion in a search engine on the net and watch how the visual aspect of your mind lies to you. Life is a sick joke, a pointless endeavor that has absolutely zero meaning, and no one gets punished in the after world for their crimes, because there is no afterlife. The only reason for existence is to make the best of what time you have. You only get one chance and then its over forever. Do not waste your life in fear of doing wrong in the eyes of god. Because I assure you of the approx 21 billion people whom have died on this earth compared to the approx 7 billion alive today… The odds are you are not one of the 144000.

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  • I´ve noticed, that even though discussions with theists may seem like futile banging ones head on the wall, there´s still results. I was a lutheran for most of my life and when talking about faith then I had the normal habit of going all defensive and strongly stating even the most ludicrous arguments with self-confidence. It´s not during the discussions when the real thinking happens, it´s when you´re alone afterwards pondering on what you´ve heard. So, even if your arguments seem to fall on deaf ears, there may very well be results later on, so don´t give up. When have you ever seen a persons life view change dramatically during a single conversation?

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  • I´m not the one question is being asked from, but as a person who finds herself often in conversation about these things, I could give my own point. If I talk to theists and make assumptions of their gods nature, it´s just talking the matter in it´s own terms. Most widespread religions have clear ideas on what their gods are like, so when talking in their terms atheist can use the assumptions the theists have made already. Bible has lots of character depiction on Yahweh, so one could easily take the nature of the being from there when discussing with christians.

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  • 55
    Michael says:

    Thanks – this is brilliant! I don’t want to fight with people all tjw time or hurt thwir feelings. This is a good way to let people come to their own epiphanies. And show them it’s safe – god won’t strike them dead.

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  • From time to time people knock on my door; they want to share the “good news” with me and I send them away as quickly and courteously as I can. This week’s question implies that I might want to do as they do, and make an active effort to persuade believers of their error. While I am always interested in exchanging views with those who do not agree with me, I see no reason to undertake a missionary effort on behalf of unbelief. The importance of religious faith to some individuals can not be disregarded. It may be a crutch, but it is not my place to take it away if the user can’t manage without it. Instead, I would be an advocate for liberty of conscience, freedom of speech and separation of religion and state, all of which are essential for my point of view as well as for the religious idea to thrive. On a level playing field that results, the best ideas will succeed.

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  • 57
    JeffVader67 says:

    So let me get this straight. Your answer to my point is to smoke a joint. This on a website supposedly dedicated to reason and science.

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  • Well now that I have read it… Its lost its luster. Was there a flood? Maybe… I am not sure if it happened, but it is probable. Was it an act of god? Did a god tell someone to build a boat? No… What more then likely happened, and I mean if a flood actually happened, then there probably was a large tsunami that coincidently fell on the same day as a thunder storm… And since thousands died and only in a certain area, and no one was capable of reasoning how this occured, nor could justify why they were killed and many other areas were left alone… They brain washed their children in beliving that the whole world was destroyed, to justify why their god only attacked them… Religion is about covering your ass, when your not capable enough to explain the situation in a rational sense.

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  • Exactly… Apparently you did not understand the concept of dopamine being produced naturally in your body… That is called science… The idea of the experiment is to help your realize the effects of dopamine on a person whom naturally produces too much dopamine such as yourself… Think of it this way… Your high all the time without having to smoke a joint… Imagine how much more you will love god while puffing on a joint? Get the science now? I am un certain how I could possible explain this in simpler terms… I hope you understand it this time.

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  • Well then not many jewish people are going to heaven! Once again thanks for the tidbits of biblical sense!
    I think six million jewish people died in WW2, don’t quote me. That means roughly with math 41 times more jewish people died then those that are going to heaven! And that is just a small portion of the jewish population since the religion started.

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  • 63
    Cairsley says:

    Where I live, religion is hardly ever mentioned; but on the two occasions in the last year when it did come up in conversation, I took the stance that my interlocutor, who brought it up, had said something nonsensical and asked him for clarification. What was he talking about? – I wanted to know. On both occasions the matter of religion had to be put aside, because my interlocutor could not explain why he believed what he asserted. I maintained the stance that I was merely enquiring and desired to know what he was talking about — in no way did I try to persuade him to a different view (quite unlike the approach I typically took a few years earlier). Needless to say, my interlocutor could not justify the beliefs he had asserted, and therein lay, I suspect, the benefit of our exchange. My interlocutor was left with a clear impression of the absence of real grounds for the beliefs he had presumed to mention.

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  • 64
    JeffVader67 says:

    Why do so many atheist/secularists not grasp the fact that many scientists practice a faith as well as lead in their field? Have you not heard of Francis Collins or John Polkinghorne? Are you saying they should be stripped of their positions because of their faith? For the record I have a degree in Molecular Biology. You have obviously found a basis for a PhD thesis on dope and religion. ” A study of religiosity and the effects of the Camberwell Carrot”.

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  • JeffVader67 Sep 26, 2014 at 3:59 am

    Why do so many atheist/secularists not grasp the fact that many scientists practice a faith as well as lead in their field? Have you not heard of Francis Collins or John Polkinghorne? Are you saying they should be stripped of their positions because of their faith?

    The point is that these people have to compartmentalise their thinking and keep their rational, material, scientific thinking, in one mental box and their unevidenced faith-thinking, in a separate one.
    The two processes are not compatible. Atheist scientists are less likely to make the mistake of mixing up the two processes.

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  • BlockquoteJeff vader 67> Blockquote

    I seem to be unable to reply directly to your comment… Hmph… How odd… None the less I felt compelled to respond, mainly because your response completely dumbfounded me… I am going to start from the obvious and work my way to the less obvious…

    Molecular Biologist… I am sure this was the main spin in many peoples minds as they read that… An eye popping WTF! Kinda thing… How does one study DNA for a living and believe in god? I enjoy puzzles this is one of my hobbies…

    1.) in order to believe in god and to be a molecular biologist and not believe in evolution… How does that work? Everyone knows that DNA is the evolution of what we are spread over a vast amount of time… Its a simple concept really… How can anyone take anything you say seriously in your field when you do not believe in the basic concept in how the DNA got to its present situation…

    2.) you do believe in evolution… Was adam and eve really just two chimps hanging out in the jungle? I assure you the religious community will frown upon that… It makes no sense… Which brings up another topic inbreeding… Adam and eve… DNA… Simple concepts a molecular biologist should be able to grasp… Apparently not so…

    3.). Your here to test me… What exactly is that going to prove? What will you have learned from a simple minded fool such as myself? I have no degree… I barely have grade 12… I have no god in my life… I do not believe in spirits or unicorns or leprechauns like you do… What could you possibly discover here… What is it that compels you to come here and act in such a way that states I am an unbreakable wall of religion… A stone wall of stubbornness… Hear me roar…. Your trumpets of triumph over not being changed into an atheist are falling on the sounds of extreme laughter… No one here admires your ability to deter common sense… Not one person…

    4.). The whole carrot w/e statement you made above, is by far one of the most nonsensical statements I have ever heard in my entire life. Are you denying that dopamine is produced in the human body? Are denying that dopamine causes feelings of enlightenment, and hallucinations? Are you aware that this study is not only on religion but on things such as parkinsons? ADHD? And psychiatric issues with those whom are mentally unstable? The list goes on and on… I could be here all day listing the studies that refer to dopamine levels that are varying from person to person all day long… But it will fall on deaf ears… I am lucky if you even read past the last number without typing in a fit of annoyance right now… As I mentioned before your response dumbfounded me…

    5.). I never stated that these people should have their degrees stripped of them… But as mister Dawkins himself puts it… They were probably closet atheists… I am hoping that is the true response here… Your looking for validation… Your looking for a way out… Let me put it simply… Those that worry about what others think of them, live in misery… And misery kills…

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  • Aquilacane. At the risk of sounding like a complete killjoy, I’m sure this is not a feeling I would find agreeable. I’ve been delirious on two occasions while suffering from infections, and I found the experience extremely unpleasant! I would not wish to willfully put myself in that state.
    Not being judgmental mind you, just quizzical.
    And…..obviously plays havock with your spelling. Ha ha!

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  • 72
    Micraster69 says:

    In my experience people only believe in a god because they were brought up that way. Most know the belief is irrational and have real doubts. However, there are those who call themselves “true believers” and state, with no thought of the illogicality, that the Bible is literally the word of god. You cannot have a sensible, adult, conversation with these people. They are simply not open to any kind of sane debate. When that happens I simply ask if they have read the bible and know: Mark 16: 17-18:
    17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;
    18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
    Are they now willing to prove they are true believer’s?
    I don’t need to carry poison with me; there is usually a bottle of bleach in the house. None of these “it is the true word of god” have ever been willing to put it to the test. Obviously they do not believe or they know it is not the word of a god. Am I missing anything?
    Finally, yes I know that historians point out that Mark was written much later and that the verses 17 -18 do not occur in early manuscripts. But “true believers in the word of god” don’t know this. They simply don’t care about evidence. They don’t want belief spoiled by truth.

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  • I often practice what is often called “Random acts of kindness” and when I get the sort of response similar to ” Thank You, You are a good person !” … I often respond with ” Look upon it as a demonstration that it does not require religion to be a good person.” …If they appear to want to talk about that, I go a bit deeper into my non-belief…otherwise I just leave the thought there to grow roots.
    On a slightly more aggressive tack : If something completely and obviously horrible is done in the name of religion … I simply say ” Gimmee that Olde Tyme Religion” with a good Ozark twang .


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  • I have composed arguments which I though would be absolutely convincing, but Christians have no inherent horror of logical contradiction that mathematicians have. To the contrary, contradiction appeals to them as magical. E.g. explaining the physics that shows the story of Noah could not possibly be true as written. The more physical laws broken the more plausible God actually did it.

    However, I have seen Christians abandon faith when a series of terrible events happen to them, e.g. cancer in the family, particularly children. It is not so much they abandon a belief in God, that they abandon a belief in relying on God. God either hates them or does not care or does not exist. I am puzzled that it takes a personal tragedy for them to notice the universe is profoundly unfair. The cruelty of the natural world and the death of his daughter is what cracked Darwin’s belief.

    The story of Job shows that God is cruel and arbitrary. But it comes as a shock to Christians who heretofore have lead a comfortable life.

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  • What would it take to convince you? What holds your beliefs in place?

    For me going the other way, convincing me would be quite difficult. If somebody performed a miracle, after trickery had been eliminated, I would assume it was done by some advanced civilisation using advanced technology. Things we do routinely today would seem miraculous to those living only a century ago. There is no reason to assume that someone who can do tricks I cannot also designed and created the universe.

    However, Carl Sagan’s PI miracle proposed in First Contact would probably do it for me.

    To me the Christian God is too silly for words. If there were a god, he could not possibly be anything like Jehovah. Jehovah hides in clouds and spies on teens masturbating. This is not the recreational activity I would expect of the creator of the universe. It would be a bit like learning President Obama passionately collects Hello Kitty stickers.

    Jehovah has not the first clue about science. The real god would know more about science than any human. Jehovah is hopelessly anthropomorphic, petty, jealous and vindictive. Surely the creator of the universe would be above such trivia. I expect something much more impressive and universal of the real god.

    Jehovah is obsessed with his pet species homo sapiens, and his pet country Israel. He creates an entire universe then dotes on a microscopic spec of it? Get serious. That is a Jewish fantasy not the true nature of the universe.

    I think there is a very very small chance there is a god, but the odds he is anything like Jehovah approaches 0. The Islamic Allah is a much more plausible depiction. Allah at least has some dignity and mystery.

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  • My childhood objection was noticing what insufferable prudes Christians (and presumably Jehovah) were.
    The tropical fish I kept indulged in all manner of sexual wickedness. Why would Jehovah create so many species that freaked him out?

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  • The late Ken Keyes devised a large number of techniques for ridding yourself of irrational beliefs, or helping someone else do so. It was not intended to use on someone else without them requesting help, but some of the ideas might work in freeing people from the clutches of religious superstition.

    One key idea is to partition a large belief into as many small supporting beliefs as possible. So for example a belief in god might be supported by:

    God wants me to be a Christian
    God wants me to be a Southern Baptist
    My description of God is the most accurate possible.
    God hates Africans. That is why he sent HIV and Ebola.
    It is my duty to make the lives of gay people as miserable as possible.
    Though the bible commands me to stone adulterers, it did not really mean it.
    The reason I have not had cancer is because I donate to televangelists.
    The earth is going to end next Spring and I will be levitated to heaven.
    Catholics are all going to hell.
    Wearing a crucfix prevents car accidents.
    The earth was created in 7 days according to one of the accounts in Genesis.

    So instead of attacking the whole thing all at once, you just nibble away at one of the supporting pillars.

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  • Children are taught that rejecting Christianity is extremely dangerous, far more dangerous than running with scissors or running into the street or playing with snakes. This belief is not held in place with reason, but with terror. Perhaps studying PTSD and trauma treatments are more what is needed. Deprogramming may have to emphasise the safety of giving up irrational beliefs, and piling on reassurance.

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  • If ever I am asked about my beliefs, I try to keep any points of contention to a minimum by saying I live my life to a very simple formula “Do not do unto others what you would not want done unto yourself”. Most religious and non-religious folks tend to feel a natural affinity to this idea. It’s a good starting point to finding common ground and many irrational religious constructs can be judged against this common principle

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