Question of the Week- 5/18/2016

May 17, 2016

This week’s question comes from Rob R. Rob asks, “‘Should secular people be offended when described as having ‘no faith’ or ‘no beliefs’?’ I know it often comes from a good place, people wanting to be inclusive of ‘people of all faiths and none’, but the implication that I have faith in nothing bugs me.”

Our favorite answer (non repeating winners only) will receive a copy of “A Brief Candle in the Dark” by Richard Dawkins!


Want to suggest a Question of the Week? Email submissions to us at qotw@www.richarddawkins.net. (Questions only, please. All answers to bimonthly questions are made only in the comments section of the Question of the Week.)

35 comments on “Question of the Week- 5/18/2016

  • 1
    maria melo says:

    Often people relate the term nihilism to desbelief in God, and the most controversial issue with desbelief is the lack of moral sense people think it implies, but that´s up to each and everyone to think of what they really mean with each and every concept/word they use, but that´s certainly prejudice towards desbelievers.
    I was asked once in first place when I met someone, “if you don´t believe in God, what do you believe in?” and I simply answered “I belive in the family”, as far as I have choosen to work in a Family´s Court where I was for the first time, the answer simply came to my mind and I believe it came too to the person who asked me the question??.
    I usually say I have points in common with religious people as far as what´s ethical still is “ethical”.
    Commonly, people are critical to other religious people when they act unethically too.



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  • If “Faith” is belief in things un-seen, or belief in matters that possess no evidence, then indeed most secular people are defined as having no Faith (since it implies that Faith has an unseen god recipient). Faith in your spouse, or faith in the goodness of people, indeed has evidence based in personal expereince. So the definition of “Faith” is at issue. Instead of being offended, have the discussion about your Faith as being a discrete choice based on your individual, identifiable experience. In other words, a reasonable mind set based on reality, instead of emotional attactment to an indoctrinated mind set.



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  • Hi Maria

    “if you don´t believe in God, what do you believe in?”

    I have been asked the same question and I answer in a similar way that you do. My answer to this question is that I believe in family, friends, the power of a good education, the gift of good family leadership in the present and in the past. I think about leadership a lot these days and look to sources in the family who came before me and also to sources outside the family too. Good leadership makes all the difference for kids, teens and young adults. I put my faith in real people who are showing good leadership rather than an invisible leader in the sky who actually never comes through when we need him the most and is at best, asleep at the wheel.

    I believe in making the absolute most of the time we have here on earth (gather ye rosebuds while ye may) and I believe in reaching out a helping hand to others who really need it if that is possible. I believe in celebrating the aspects of being human that are extraordinary like science, technology, architecture, art, music, literature and all of the fine arts in general. In the face of catastrophe and disappointments in this life, which I accept as part and parcel of being a member of H. sapiens, I try to compensate by focusing on the sublime skills and talents that we also possess.

    So as for the statement made by some to disparage those with “no faith” or “no beliefs” I say to them that faith is vastly overrated. It means just doing no thinking on one’s own. Faith is just the evidence that one has listened to someone else’s beliefs and swallowed the whole stupid story hook, line and sinker. What’s to be proud of about that? I don’t need faith and beliefs because I decide what’s right and wrong! I do my own thinking even if it ends up being wrong. It’s ok, I learn from those mistakes. At least they’re my own mistakes and not imposed on me from some higher authority. If my own thinking turns out well then it’s a personal victory for me and hopefully others benefit from that too.

    All in all, my personal beliefs as described above are a much bigger, more hopeful picture than the narrow, dark intimidating picture offered up by religious belief and faith.



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  • I was recently asked this question and my response was that I believe in Science. Of course he jumped right to Scientology so I had to explain that I believed in evolution and that our planet is more than 6000 years old. He had such a difficult time understanding that I did not believe in some invisible being. He had no idea that dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago and we had a chat about that…but he still could not comprehend that I had no mythological belief. He actually said my life must be difficult having to explain all the time and prove my lack of belief! I said quite to the contrary. I felt that the onus was on him to prove that an invisible being existed. I am often shocked by the delusion of religious people.



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  • To the religious minded, having no belief in the supernatural equates a big gaping hole in your personal make-up. To them, you’re just not complete; like missing a leg or an arm. So they may feel pity (If they are of the friendly variety) for you, however misplaced that is. Or conversely, kill you.
    Of course, the statement is wrong; I (and many with me) believe that science, proof and reason make a much better basis for living and morality, just not the supernatural.
    So, whether you feel offended or not, is up to you, but atheism/humanism offers so much more than dogma drivel.



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  • I am seventy-six years old. I was a “believer” (belief in God) for most of my life (around sixty years). I slowly began to experience the rise of reason over my delusions. I recognize from my experience that living in faith is living from a fear base. Believers are afraid of non-believers. They fear a possible loss of their faith. The faithful cannot really talk about their faith rationally because of their fear. They fall back on avoiding or sarcasm, joking, belittling, and other such tactics. I remember. Been there. Done that.

    When I was in high school, I asked a church counselor in my church if he could prove the existence of God. He was an honest person, so he said “No.” He went on to say that I needed to “take a leap of faith” to believing in God. I did that and I was off and running for the next forty plus years. By the end of high school I wanted to be a minister and it took me about ten years to realize that this was not the best path for me. I was mostly put off by what I observed as the hypocrisy of the church.

    A friend recently said to me that he felt really sorry for me and my loss of faith. I think it is impossible for him to understand my process of “letting go” of something that I no longer need. When I was a kid, I carried a rabbit’s foot for good luck. At some point I no longer did that because I no longer felt the need.

    Do I now have faith and beliefs? I guess it depends on how you define such things. For thousands of years, humans believed that the sun travels around the earth. Of course, it could not be more obvious. Every day that is clear, we see the sun rise in the east, travel across the sky and set in the west. It’s a no-brainer. The sun travels around the earth. But I believe that the earth travels around the sun. I understand how mathematics/geometry can show this to be true. I get it. I can use my brain for this.

    I know that my eyes are not very reliable in the process of experiencing reality. Everyone should know this about their own eyes but most people do not. The concept of an “eye witness” is such a huge fallacy but too many people still cling to it. Most people do not know how the brain is wired. Only twenty percent of the nerves that go to the visual cortex come from the eyes. The other eighty percent come from other regions of the brain. That eighty percent is informing us, telling us what we are seeing.

    Critical thinking. Can it be taught or do we just have to discover it on our own?



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  • Yes, I have faith, because I believe. I believe that billions of years of evolution, millions of cycles of reproduction, thousands of sequentially related species and hundreds of primate adaptations took place so that I could enjoy the miraculous lottery of life!



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  • I am not offended by being told I have no beliefs or faith, because I interpret it (and say so) as having no religious belief. But if pressed I say sure I believe in real things.

    I read somewhere long ago that the comedian Steve Allen was told by a member of his audience that she didn’t believe in vitamins. He replied “But Madam, Ive seen them!”. I take that tack.

    I don’t say I believe in science. That feels like a linguistic contradiction lol! I say I believe in critical thinking. I also say that I don’t need religion because I have a family. My family gives me everything you can get from religion, especially humility.

    As an aside, when asked if I raised my child as an atheist I say no, I supported her thinking critically and I told her the truth when she asked me if I thought there was a god. Kids have to be indoctrinated relentlessly to believe in god.



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  • @OP – This week’s question comes from Rob R. Rob asks, “‘Should secular people be offended when described as having ‘no faith’ or ‘no beliefs’?’ I know it often comes from a good place, people wanting to be inclusive of ‘people of all faiths and none’, but the implication that I have faith in nothing bugs me.”

    Much of this hinges on clear thinking definitions of “faith” (belief without evidence or proof), and the ambiguous colloquial uses and devious theological uses of the word.

    There is a very clear difference in the thought processes of acquiring confidence in evidence-based knowledge (supported by multiple objective repeat confirmations), and “belief” using acceptance of views, trusting “blind faith”!
    (The “blind” element is frequently denied by the theistically faithful, – usually by trying to redefine the the word “evidence“, to mean “circular thinking supporting their indoctrinated preconceptions“!



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  • ‘Should secular people be offended when described as having ‘no faith’ or ‘no beliefs’?’ Faith, ..maybe. No beliefs,…absolutely! The majority of the Christian followers believe faith is essential to a human, but as Aron Ra says, faith is NOT a virtue. Faith is relied on by the religious sect because none of the tenets they follow can be researched and verified. Conversely, faith is a detriment to the scientist and logical thinker. Faith is the “opposite” of the Scientific Method of Investigation,” which is the basis for empirically establishing truth. But that is not to say a secular researcher has no faith as he or she has faith that properly established rules and procedures will lead to fact finding. They have faith that peers, although skeptical, will be honest, open, and objective in receiving and analyzing the research findings of others. And like other secular people I have many sincere “beliefs.” I believe virtually every aspect of nature is constant enough to be measured, analyzed, and meticulously researched. I believe that those who have beliefs in the supernatural are misguided and are led by ancient superstitions. I believe that many modern charlatans posed as Christian Apologists take advantage of those old superstitions and beliefs to the detriment of virtually every society.



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  • No need to be bugged. Having faith in nothing can be a profound experience, on several levels.

    The meditative approach is available. There is an emptiness within, a nothingness … having faith in that nothingness, trusting it, is a foundation of meditative experience.

    The scientific approach is also available, thanks to Lawrence Krauss. He wrote the book on it (A Universe from Nothing), which is mind blowing – and has several lovely YouTube talks – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbsGYRArH_w

    I think we can be proud, honored in fact, to have faith in nothing.



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  • 13
    maria melo says:

    I have envisioned a movie on tv more than 30 years ago, which I don´t know what film was but “the Vitruvian man” was the image/object of religious meditation” placed in a “church” of future instead of Christ,. In fact, “humanism” means faith in the new man and capacity for reasoning in Leonardo Da Vinci´s sense .
    Surprisingly enough, there were religious doctrines to defend the right of other peoples/natives after the discovery of New World, in this sense, it was not ethical to oblige by force natives to have the same religious beliefs than Europeans (Forget Cortez when he presented natives with a bible and obliged them to be faithful of what was strange for them.



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  • 14
    maria melo says:

    Just to be funny, make the exercise of meditation yourself and try to think of “nothing” for hours (as punishment of the self to equal annihilation). That´s funny because I have tried such things when I was a teen interested in meditation and budism.



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  • Secular people should never be offended by religious people when they pity us for our lack of faith or beliefs.

    I personally believe and have faith in many things. My friends, my family, the human race, peace, a better future, technology and science are all subjects more than worthy of my deepest and profound faith or belief. I know they may seem to pale when compared to the almighty and ubiquitous Gods of the different religions and the psychological comfort that such figures can provide to the brains of their believers. But do not let your mind fall for the grandeur or the soothing sensation. We have faith in real, tangible, provable, probable. They believe in a concoction.

    Nevertheless, if you are still bugged and want to believe in something humongous, gigantic and mysterious, try the Universe. The observable universe is thought to be almost 14 billion years old and to have a 91 billion light-years diameter (meaning that a ray of light, that travels at 299 million metres per second, would spend 91 billion years traveling from one end to the opposite). It is also thought to contain more than 100 billion galaxies, approximately 300 sextillion stars along with planets, natural satellites, intergalactic space, subatomic particles, and all matter and energy. We are a negligible part of something huge, beautiful and full of possibilities.

    I like to think that we are all made of stardust -this is not a poetic licence but a solid scientific belief- and that we will all end up being stardust again. In the meantime, I am going to have faith in the disappearance of religion.



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  • Rob,

    All you need to do is mentally interpret the description by inserting the word “religious”, which is exactly what is meant by those words. If the interpreted description is accurate, then there’s no reason to be bugged. (On the other hand, if you’re still bugged, then perhaps you have some lingering issues to work out.)



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  • Hi Rob,

    Should secular people be offended when described as having no faith or no beliefs?

    Yes.

    Secular people can have faiths and beliefs. Many secular people are religious. Secular means politically neutral about religions and faith traditions.

    That’s harder than it sounds; what should a secular Catholic do when their Pope releases a political statement on, for example, climate change? Secular means striving for a society where one religion cannot seek to rule over people of other religions.

    If we allow people to say “secular” when they mean “none” [none: agnostic, atheist or nothing in particular] we allow them to lie. We allow them to say that there’s a false two-sides-only way to look at the World.

    Some people say “secular” because they don’t understand the meaning. Some people say “secular” because they want to hide the very idea of a religion-neutral society from you, and they want a society where their religion can be in charge.

    Some people claim that their religion demands that they seek political power and that makes them moral for hiding or denying the real secular ideal. Let’s think about that, where does that put the rest of us?

    Some ’nones’ are not secular; they seek a World without religion. Most of us ’nones’ seek a secular World because that means we can live and work alongside secular religious folk to make a better World. Secular is friendly.

    You should also be upset – you should want to tell people they’re wrong – when they say that ’nones’ have no beliefs. For example: There might be one or two ’nones’ kicking around the World who are anarchists but I’ve never met one – we all believe in the rule of law.

    I know it often comes from a good place …

    You’re wrong Rob. When religious people say: “secular people have no faith or no beliefs” they either don’t know, or they’re bad. There is no good way to say that, and that’s why you should be offended – and not just for yourself, but for millions of people who are secular and religious.

    I know it often comes from … people wanting to be inclusive of people of all faiths and none, but the implication that I have faith in nothing bugs me

    If you are religious then this statement should bug you. Religions are based on beliefs without facts – through faith.

    If you’re a ’none’ then why would this statement bug you? It’s either a. True or b. True because it relates to secular-and-religious people.

    Peace.



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  • Two separate subjects, Faith and Belief.

    no faith’ or ‘no beliefs’

    I’ll take No Faith as a badge of honour. My definition of faith is a belief in something in the absence of evidence, or worse, contrary to evidence. If I hold a view on faith alone, that puts me in the kennel with climate change deniers and believers in gods. PASS

    No Beliefs on the other hand is almost impossible. Try as one might you should have evidentiary justification for any views held, thus a “Belief” doesn’t come into it. I believe in evolution, but technically, I should say that evolution is so highly probably, that for day to day usage, it can be taken as a fact. I believe that the current model for physics is pretty close to the truth. With this one, we may never know all of the physics involved in the universe, but I believe the stuff we’ve worked out so far, is pretty good.

    As to how this relates to the question, I wouldn’t care if anyone said I had No Faith. I would say, “Absolutely correct” and go on to explain why holding a view on faith is irrational. If someone said I had No Belief, I would indicate that it depends on the meaning they ascribe to the use of the word. If it meant god, I wouldn’t care, because to use the term of ‘Belief” in relation to god, is impossible, because there is no evidence either way. A Null question. So it is pointless to attach belief to the existence of gods. If they use the word ‘un belief” in relation to moral or ethical issues, I would challenge that statement.

    So the context and the meaning of the statement “no faith’ or ‘no beliefs’” matters and determines the response.

    As for “Should secular people be offended” Every time I hear the word “Offended” Hitchen’s video flashes through my mind. Paraphrased. “Being offended is not an argument. If you hold a belief in the public square, then you should be prepared to defend that belief, because people are entitled to question it. I will wait till you have an argument, but being offended is not such a thing.” (Apologies Hitch – so much more eloquent)

    As an aside, not much upsets me, except global warming deniers, because they are threatening the lives of my grandchildren. Open season.



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  • I don’t believe in Faith. If pressed for background, I’m an Escaped Catholic, and I didn’t “lose” my faith, I jettisoned it. It wasn’t mine anyway, it was a hand-me-down. I retain one teaching from my catholic upbringing, it’s the one that says: “all other religions are wrong”. I just deleted the word “other” to make it more consistent. Why should the catholics have a loophole?

    If pushed farther, I don’t do religion (no mention of god). When asked about god, well, that’s something to do with religion, isn’t it? See above.



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  • Why should anyone be offended by what someone else thinks of them?
    That’s their problem, not mine.
    As far as I am concerned, this is akin to Carl Sagan being asked for his “gut feeling” and responding that he tried not to think with his gut.
    I realize that a lot of people believe in a lot of different things, but I just chalk that up to ignorance on their part, and never let it worry me.
    The fact that some people are willing to kill “non-believers” is quite upsetting, but I won’t ever let that stop me from seeking the truth of the matter through science.
    I “believe” that covers it.
    Thanks.



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  • 21
    maria melo says:

    <“You’re wrong Rob. When religious people say: “secular people have no faith or no beliefs” they either don’t know, or they’re bad. There is no good way to say that, and that’s why you should be offended – and not just for yourself, but for millions of people who are secular and religious.”>

    Well, that really is correct. Take care, don´t be so faithful of others intentions as S. Wimbledon



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  • I would not be offended. I would correct them. It is not that I have no faith or belief, it is that I just do not have faith or belief in the SUPERNATURAL.

    Depending on the situation, I might throw them a tasty paradox. If I have no faith or belief and I am an advocate for evolution, the big bang, and science in general, then it all must be true. Boom! Checkmate, theist.



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  • Shahzada #23
    May 20, 2016 at 1:54 am

    Animals, except humans, are unable to think.

    While human brains are larger and more complex in relation to body size, there is abundant evidence of the brains of other animals thinking – and in some areas thinking at a superior level to humans.

    No human can directly envisage a 3D map of an ocean to the extent and sort of detail whale brains do!

    Humans have, thanks to history, religion for that!

    Religion is basically an unreliable social bonding tool, as well as a mental gap-filler to patch over areas of ignorance with confidence in pseudo-knowledge.



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  • I would say that secular people should not be offended. Moreover, it gives us an opportunity
    to have a discussion on the matter.
    I would respond as follows:
    First of all, the question of belief arises in matters that are uncertain. For example,
    we do not say that “I believe that the sky is blue.” So when we talk about belief about
    something, it is implied that the matter is uncertain. Then I would say, that I believe
    such proposals or statements for which there is either verifiable evidence or a rationale.
    And my degree of belief in the proposal or statement is proportional to the quality and
    amount of evidence or rationale that is available.
    If the other person is interested, I am always ready to have a friendly discussion
    and give my reasons for becoming secular.



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  • Reply-
    When driving through a snow storm, I often find it best to stay in the ruts left by the vehicle ahead of me; they help keep me from sliding off the road. The problem is; how do I know if the person ahead of me isn’t drunk. Will I end up following him off a cliff? So now the question becomes, should I have Faith in the driver ahead of me? The answer is no. If I am to rely on faith in a snow storm, I will ultimately be putting myself and the believer driving behind me in danger. So it may well be that I lack Faith and Belief, but I’d trade them both in for Hope. I Hope people will stop frivolously wasting their judgment on their fellow man, and instead, start applying more of their judgment to things like Safety and Road Conditions. Often times, in the face of what is actually necessary to move forward, weather or not one is offended, may not be the right question.



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  • The Question is ,should we as securists be offended if we are confronted with the assertion that because we do not believe in a God then we believe in nothing.
    I think,no, l believe the assertion is so lacking in common sense it does not deserve a response other than I believe in all that is ,all that was and all that shall be. That Is, Realality. There is so much more to know than is wrongly explained by a God and blind faith.
    Should I be offended, no. I have so little time as it is.



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  • Of course not. We shouldn’t be offended at all when described as having no beliefs. We must be patient. We must tell those simple people what it means to have no beliefs in something with no evidence. “Give me the evidence”, as Wendy Wright so whole-heartedly put it, although she was wrong, not right. We here in northern Europe have no difficulties in expressing ourselves in atheistic terms.



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  • They should be offended on behalf of those secular religious people who while they maintain a personal faith don’t believe that they have the right to impose those beliefs on others. I am aware that there are multiple definitions and that on that basis at least one of those is a person without belief, so this could result in a semantic argument. Personally though I consider my atheism a separate matter to my belief in secular institutions. The battle ground we all live on is one of our lives being unduly influenced by the beliefs of the majority. While religion may not be the only factor of this sort it is certainly an major one and that a modern western nation like Australia cannot permit Gay marriage and euthanasia it shows that the secular principles which have developed in the West still have miles to go.

    This goes doubly so for religious theocracies.

    When Christians ask me why faith offends me so this is where I go, because most of the religious fail to see it as their civic duty to not make their vote contingent on their religious beliefs. When Gay marriage finally comes in here Down Under I’ll be more than happy to support the numerous religions right to not hold such weddings in their institutions because I am secular. If only they were prepared to offer the rest of us the same degree of respect.



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  • 34
    maria melo says:

    “Animals, except humans, are unable to think.Humans have, thanks to history, religion for that!”

    Shahzada

    So let´s hope humans have higher ethical responsabilities too accordingly, including to protect aninals who cannot “think”.

    I keep this remakable quote:

    “(…)Your use of the badge ‘human’ carries metaphysical implications with it as though being human is a special state automatically deserving of repect in some way over and above all moral considerations/ responsibilities. This viewpoint is often favoured by those of a religious persuasion and bound up with the notion of a savable soul. I see nothing valuable in this notion of course. In my view those who have thrown away all human moral resposibility should expect none in return.” (comment 178, superbeanson on Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science )



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  • To Maria #34:

    “Animals, except humans, are unable to think.Humans have, thanks to
    history, religion for that!”

    That kind of “belief” falls apart when QUESTION AUTHORITY becomes the dominant philosophy.



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