Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Going Deeper: "Is it wrong to talk people out of their faith?"

Hey everyone. I've noticed a few interesting points in the flood of comments on my article at RDFRS that I'd like to respond to. I'll keep updating this post as I find interesting points to comment on, so keep checking in.

About that headline...

"Take away someone's faith" and "Talk someone out of their faith" are the ways that it is commonly phrased by the defensive believer. Obviously it would be wrong to dogmatically assert that their religion is wrong, as it would be wrong to deceive someone into being convinced by bad reasoning and faulty logic to abandon their faith. That's not what I advocate, and it's why I explain how the wording of this dodge is meant to change the subject and make you seem like the bad guy. What I am doing when I have a conversation with a believer is (hopefully) having a plain and open discussion of the evidence and reasons for their belief. The goal is to get them to evaluate that evidence for themselves (as you should constantly do for yourself!). If you're both honest about it then you should together reach the correct conclusion (which I am currently convinced is non-religion and the abandonment of faith). You and they are learning to be better at reasoning!

However, if you approach the discussion "knowing" that you're right, you're not going to have the right attitude, and you'll be modelling the same kind of intransigence that you're trying to disarm. It takes work, but you have to learn to be open and seriously evaluate their claims and reasoning. Throw down your guard and allow yourself be convinced, if that's what happens. What's the harm? I have yet to encounter a good reason to change my mind (or else I would have changed it!).

Everyone should read Peter Boghossian's wonderful book (with a similarly misleading title to my own article): A Manual for Creating Atheists. It goes into much more detail than I could in my article, and it will teach you to be more open to religious claims and improve your reasoning skills, believe it or not.

"But some forms of faith aren't harmful..."

I do specifically allow for a range of consequences of various beliefs due to faith in the article, pointing out that while some are dangerous, many could be benign (useless). If faith isn't true, then the best it can do is not get in your way. A lot of people try to find some middle ground where they say "as long as you don't bother me, believe whatever you want," but that, to me, is uncaring. I fully support people's right to believe whatever they like, but I also think that I'm doing a good thing by helping people learn to reason and think more effectively regarding very important ideas about the way the world is. As Dawkins says, "When you're in love, you want to tell the world," and he and I share a deep love for the wondrous powers of science and reason.

If you share that passion, then I encourage you to reach out to others and help them find it as well. The point of the last bit of the article is to help you convince people to care about the truth, because knowing the truth is the most effective way to analyze and overcome a problem, and the simple act of trying to know the truth often has many unexpectedly pleasant outcomes. That's why we do science! I'm convinced that if people really care about the truth, we'll all be better off.

Funeral etiquette

I suppose this is partially my fault for using the death of the goldfish example in the article, but a lot of people seem to think that I'm advocating telling people that they'll never see their loved ones again during the funeral service, or in general dropping a cold hard truth bomb on grieving widows and children.

I think it's a good thing to try and help spread effective reasoning and good evidence whenever you get a chance. That doesn't mean I think it would be a good thing to confront a believer who is grieving, anymore than I think it would be a good idea to give a lecture on gun control at the funeral of a person who was shot to death. When people are grieving, they need acknowledgement of their loss and appropriate support, not a religious debate. This isn't me being hypocritical or fake, it's me being a good person and dealing with the pressing issue (the person's grief) and not my own personal agenda. In such a case, it would be appropriate to offer condolences, not an epistemological intervention. That should be saved for a later date, after the survivor has processed their loss and in a different context.

Preying on the grief-stricken is a deplorable tactic sometimes used to attract converts to a religion and I'll have none of that. I want people to come to the truth through their intellects, not their emotions.

Don't stop there...

Let me hear what you think in the comments. I can't promise I'll answer everyone, but I'll try.