DC Atheists Meetup Message Board › Dawkins Article & Consider This...

Dawkins Article & Consider This...

Richard A.
By Richard Dawkins


In further consideration of "What can we do?"

On October 27, 2006, a group of us was discussing many subjects related (mostly) to science, psychology, religion, philosophy, etc. We were "at it" for about 5 hours. A small part of the discussion was about vocabulary. The primary point at that time was about the effect our chosen speaking vocubulary had on our own psychological viewpoint. That aspect of vocabulary is almost obviously very pertinent. On further reflection, though, our speaking vocabulary will influence those in our environment and that comes under consideration of what we can do with no more effort than being mindful of what is going on between our ears during conversation or discussion.

On several occasions I have proposed that we subscribers to reality description based on evidence fully rid ourselves of using the word "belief". I will not belabor that point now beyond saying we do well to use specific words (trust, think, opine, etc.) rather than the catchall, in part because "belief" has emotional and psychological connotations which we do not intend.

And now, I submit another word to consider in conversation. That word is "superstition". There is no religion - it is superstition. There is no faith - it is superstition. There is no scripture - it is a book of superstition. It is "Superstition Based Charity". It is Superstition Schools. It is Superstitious People, superstitious groups, houses of superstition. There exists the superstition of supernatural being(s). It is belief and faith in superstition!

How is it we declare "some people need superstition" without feeling sick to our stomach? Why will we allow that superstition does some good with no twitch in our brain? What allowance can we make that superstition has developed moral and ethical behavior? How difficult can it be to imagine human development without superstition?

Want an interesting entry into serious conversation with those who consider themselves "religious"? Get them to explain the difference between what they profess and superstition. Do not allow yourself to use religious, religion, faith, and belief in that conversation. Part of what I am saying is that "we" continue to allow the superstitious to frame the discussion according to irrational parameters - let's stop that! So, tell me about your superstition.

Helping people admit they are superstitious is a beginning to enlightenment. - Richard
A former member
Post #: 1
Hi Richard,

I agree with what you've said here, but it made me think of a wider issue.

It seems to me that most atheists choose to attack religion firstly, and often exclusively, for its illogicality. Your post is an example of this (religion = superstition, superstition is illogical, therefore religion is illogical). There are many excellent arguments that point out the illogicality of religion, and I'm sure anyone in this Meetup group will be familiar with at least one of them, probably more than one. On this battlefield of logicality there are a wide arsenal of weapons that we, as atheists, can choose from, and here you point one more out for us (or more accurately, you refine our instructions on how to use it).

Regarding the wider issue, let me couch the battlefield anology in the following context:

In every mind there is a war over what a consiousness tells itself it believes - this war is fought over several battlefields, logicality being one of them.

To atheists (at least those I have met, and including myself) logicality underpins any other battlefield - whichever point of view wins here wins the war. To others, however, this is not necessarily so - where the atheist finds rational reality first and deals with it's emotional implications second, many people choose instead to identify an emotionally pleasing version of reality first and attempt to rationalize it second. In their case the emotional battlefield is more important than the logicality battlefield in determining the outcome of the war. They will choose to believe something that makes them feel happy (I suspect we all do this to greater or lesser extents in other contexts). To become atheists they need to be convinced that atheism can be at least as emotionally pleasing as theism.

I will call another the moral battlefield - where the atheist allows moral behaviour to be guided by logic, many theists decide first what is moral (they read it from a book) and twist logic to justify it second. More generally, many people arrive at what they consider right and wrong without using logic and they will choose to believe a point of view that backs up their idea of what is right. The war for their mind can be won on the moral battlefield alone. To win their mind they must be convinced that atheism is morally right and that religion is morally wrong. I haven't read all of "The God Delusion" yet but I'm sure there is plenty of gunpowder in the chapters on "The roots of morality" and "What's wrong with religion".

Another important point to consider, if engaging in a war for someone's mind and considering the battlefield on which to fight, is that many of us stumble over logic - we are not all gifted with great logical ability. In many minds the battlefied of logicality can scarcely be said to exist at all. In these cases, pointing out that religion equals superstition not only will fail to win the war but will be a waste of precious ammunition (in the form of time).

My conclusion is that when an atheist chooses to attack the beliefs of a theist she should not assume that she can win the war through victory on a battlefield that is largely irrelevant to him but she instead should fight on the battlefield that holds most weight in his particular mind. What she probably can assume is that where a person holds logic most dear, that person will already show some sympathy for her views if not espouse them themselves.

My ideas here are sketchy - the battlefields analogy only occurred to me in writing this tonight and the categorization into the three battlefields I have chosen, with the names I have chosen, may not be the most useful choices. I have categorized people as having one particular important battlefield but of course real life is fuzzy - the importance of each battlefield relative to the others will vary from person to person (not to mention from mood to mood). Nonetheless, I hope that this analogy is at least an understandable way to express my ideas and that the constant likening of persuasion to warfare is not too unpalatable.


(a little postscript addition is to say that I think my ideas apply not only where attacking the beliefs of a theist but also simply in gaining acceptance and respect from non-atheists - many people are simply not won over by logical arguments)
Richard A.
Washington, DC
Post #: 96
Bill, you present interesting and valid argument. I'm sorry I don't have time right now to discuss them at length - how about more later?

My base point is that because religion has no proof or evidence to support it beyond the emotions, it is superstition - not because it is illogical.

I really have to work at being logical in argument, thanks for letting me know I am not alone.

This approach appropriately places the onus of proof where it belongs - on the one who is superstitious. No proof or evidence identifies the professed idea as superstition or opinion. That is where it belongs!

There are goodly numbers of non-believers who do not know the Book of Superstition adequately to refute its a specific claim (including Dawkins). This way, that is not necessary.

I keep thinking this is so simple, there has to be something "wrong" with it, but it hasn't been pointed out yet. I will report it when it happens. - Richard
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