>Can we lead better lives without religion?

>Pascal’s Wager says that we should believe in God not because He exists but because the best possible outcome can be obtained by believing.

Let’s assume that we could just believe what we chose to believe. Was Pascal right? Do we lead better lives with religion? Or can we lead better lives without?


  • >If you want to see a debate on this topic go to: http://www.thebigdebates.com/ or search for the debate on youtube.I'm going to take what is statistically the harder side of the argument here (so hopefully someone will disagree). Statistically people are happier when they believe in religion. Despite the fact that Peter Cave in the debate I mentioned, says the stats are dubious, most psychologists accept that they're accurate. What is dubious about them is not the link between membership of a religious community and happiness; it's whether that link means religion will always lead to pursuit of the better life. There are two main elements as to why religious community can create more happiness: the meaning within religion, and community that comes with religion. Durkheim proved that part of it was the community when he examined "the degree of integration of domestic society". He found that Protestants, who lived the least demanding religious lives at the time, had higher suicide rates than did Catholics, and Jews, who had the most demanding religious lives, had the lowest suicide rates. Is this restricted to religion? No, people living on their own are more likely to kill themselves; married people are less likely; and married people with children are less likely still. So any sense of community can contribute to the maximisation of positive emotions and minimizing of negative ones.Next, a point a little better made by Peter Cave said that if a person feels their life would be without meaning if there were no God, he/she may also feel no meaning after death, for there life would continue for eternity, something that lasts an infinitely greater time than one lifespan. To anyone who seeks to argue against me on this I would ask this: why can't there be meaning without God? If God gave all meaning then we would simply be machines. But we are not. We know we exist because we think. And we know we live because we feel. These feelings are what gives life meaning and purpose. Everyone finds some of this meaning and purpose in life. Hence it disproves the notion that meaning comes solely from God. And if it's possible for us to have subjective notions of meaning then we could even dispute the meaning given by God. Many people would find this offensive. But read the Bible. Read the Koran. Read other religious texts. Do you always agree with God's actions? What about heaven and hell? They do not conform with our ideas of a person being given a second chance to reform themselves, for by their very nature heaven and hell are eternal. Are the religions of the book claiming that we can be more forgiving than God? If this is so and we are more moral than God then I say no we cannot live better lives without God. For from my subjective opinion I deem it 'best' in life to pursue the greatest good for all life in terms of maximising positive emotions, and minimising negative emotions. From this opinion of what the best life is there seem to be many ways to achieve it. Religion is only one, and one that does not seem to always have the most moral conclusion.

  • >Can we lead better lives without religion?That depends on the religious belief, for some parts yes we can, others no. At the end of the day religion is no more than a belief in a higher power. Now if you believe something enough then you will act on it. If your religion tells you that you need to kill non believers and you believe thats the right thing to do then why wouldnt you? in your religion, your belief your are just following the rules so to speak. Now for me that person would be better off with out religion, their life would be better, and those who are potential victims.On the other hand there are religious beliefs that dont hurt anyone and do make life more rewarding. Helping others, being nice etc are central to most religious beliefs. These can enrich peoples lives without hurting anyone. This in my opinion would help someone lead a better life.There are always going to be differences of opinion on this, and im afraid that thats because there is no right answer. Religion both improves and restricts peoples lives. Marriage is one of those religious binds (one im all for before you all decide to tell Hollie) Some will see it as the perfect way to live, one partner forever etc etc. Others will hate the idea of one partner.

  • >Statisticians would argue otherwise that the matter can be given a clear cut answer. But I agree that it is subjective. Each person has to find out what they believe themselves. There are certain aspects from religion such as morality and community that are conducive to happiness. But for many people these can also be obtained from non-religious sources.However your reference to what I can only call 'moral wrongs' within religion seems to be over emphasized, and your reference to religion as being "no more" than belief in a higher power extremely reductive. Religions evolve, and will continue to do so, perhaps even becoming more complex than they are today. It is not simply a matter of saying belief in page 327 of this religious text will help you but 328 will not. That would reduce religious texts to athiest sources of information. People naturally select certain pieces of information, interpret the information, and utilise it in their own lives in different ways. Being a Platonist today is very different to how Plato would have conducted himself. Hence I disagree that "that person would be better off without religion." I just think that he/she would be better off with additional other sources of information that would aid their thought about and interpretation of those religious texts. If able to do this they could realise some of the contradictions, immoralities, and falsehoods in their text, yet pursue a more 'enlightened' view. By the way it may seem irresponsible of me to say that some religious texts contain falsehoods. But let me give an example of what I speak of. The Qur'an talks about the need for the gold standard. Yet any economist can tell you that we have tried the gold standard. In fact between 1948 and 1973 the international monetary system was known as the 'Classical Gold Exchange Standard'. But the system broke down because gold is one commodity just like everything else. It is a good standard to pin currencies on. But demand and supply of gold varies just like everything else. And when the price of gold rose in 1973, along with heavy selling pressure of the US dollar (which was crucial in the system) the system collapsed. There also many historical innacuracies, which in hindsight might have been simpler to address.

  • >You might be able to argue that those who "believe" are happier people. I think this is false. I have no belief in any kind of God, I do not believe that anyone or anything created life or the universe. Neither do I believe there is any kind of "super natural" element to our world.I would say I'm just as happy as any "Religious" person. The things that make my mind tick is the awe inspired in me by a seemingly unfathomable world that demands to be understood. This for me is the same feeling that any religious person feels through their love of a non-existent imaginary being.The problem with Pascal's wager is that it you can not suddenly decide to believe in something. For example, sure I could go to church week, recite the Nicene Creed, and "religiously" study the great "book" of contradiction. But it would mean that I believe in it.Pascal's wager is an argument to feign religion.Why do people continue to insist that the only way to please God is to believe in him? What is so special about believing anyway? Isn't it just as likely that he'd reward virtuosity, kindness, sincerity? Surely if he/it/she existed, it'd be much like a scientist, and therefore admire my sceptiscism in its existence? Bertrand Russell (a non-believer) was asked, what would he doif he died and was confronted by God, demanding to know why he didn't believe in him. Russells response was to say: "Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence."Surely such a noble response would be respected by God.I conclude that Pascal's wager is logic based on fear, a fear that is all to present around the world. A fear created by religious doctrine and inscitement.

  • >I would further argue, that it is irresponsible to say that religion helps people lead better lives by telling them to be nice to one another.People are instinctively virtuous (your more likely to survive through teamwork (community) than alone, thereby helping others out in the hope they will help you).I actually find it quite naive that anyone would think that a human being needs a book to tell them whats right and what is wrong.I also believe that collectively religion has devastated the human-race. Imagine where we'd be now in terms of our understanding of the universe, the world, technologically if so many minds hadn't been poisoned into a lazy belief of God.Accepting God is to give up, it is to say "I cannot possibly understand how phenomenom X,Y,Z works, nor have any evidence (as of yet). Oh well, I can simply say its God's work, problem solved!"To believe in God is to give up on science, to not even try to understand. When science sees mystery, it revels in the challenge of understanding it. Religion on the contrary is scared of science, because it knows all to well that throughout history, every mystery ever solved has turned out to be rationally explainable and not super-natural.As science unravels mystery, the thin ice on which religion treads gets a little thinner. One day that ice will crack, maybe not in our lifetime, but it will crack and finally the human race will be able to discard of this nonsense once and for all.// My aim is not offend, some may feel my comments are dis-respectful, but to me they are not. It is fine for one to critiscise a theory, but when it comes to religion society has created a social taboo that protects it. This for me is completely unacceptable, and so I will always show the same scepticism toward any religious entity as I do anything else I encounter in my life.

  • >"Why do people continue to insist that the only way to please God is to believe in him?" I couldn't agree more. It's ridiculous to suggest that a 'good' God would want worshipping in the first place. What purpose could worship ever fulfil other than an emotional one? If God has finite emotions then He is not infinite. If He is not infinite in an emotional manner then it leads me to conclude that He is not infinite in other matters either. Some people may claim that God might have different aims to us and therefore not want what we do. If this is true then it means we do not want what He wants. We want kindness and virtuosity as James says. If this was not what God wanted then it wouldn't change the fact that we still would.However religion can and does help people. Firstly, religious people are statistically happier. You can doubt the reliability of the data but the data exists nonetheless. My argument is that it is not religion per say that is making people happier; rather it could be replaced with non religious things such as community, friends, ideas, beliefs and purpose/meaning in life. "People are instinctively virtuous". I don't think this is strictly true. Some people are because they derive happiness from spreading happiness to others. Some people are because they fear not being perceived as virtuous. Some people are because they have learnt/developed certain ideas/principles and take pride in living by those ideas. Yet those desires and fears are still selfish. Plus, I'm sure you've met many non virtuous people. Can you honestly tell me you could have judged what was morally right and wrong in every situation you can now at the age of 2? If this were true then people would not hold different moral values. Hence books can help. But more than one is helpful to my mind."Imagine where we'd be now in terms of our understanding of the universe, the world, technologically if so many minds hadn't been poisoned into a lazy belief of God." People tend to assume that religion has been chiefly a cause of war. And yet all the peace, happiness and pursuit of knowledge that it helped is ignored. It is debatable whether religion has been for good or worse. But I find the argument that it has been for the worse a poor one. Without religion many states and communities would never have stayed united. Without religion culture and trade between countries would have been severley hampered. Without religion civilisation may never have occured, for both advanced alongside each other. Without religion writing may never have become widely used for religion has been a huge source of demand for writing. Without temples we would not have had the first banks and therefore the finance to fund the technology you speak of. Without religion many of the enlightenment's thinkers would never have had the motivation to work. At the end of the day people believe for a reason. Pascal's Wager is in some ways quite stupid. But it is useful in that it points out how pragmatic we can be at times. If religion had never had any uses it would simply not have spread in the first place. And if it had no uses today (largely in terms of happiness, contentment and hope) the embracement of science throughout the world would be far easier."Accepting God is to give up, it is to say "I cannot possibly understand how phenomenom X,Y,Z works, nor have any evidence (as of yet). Oh well, I can simply say its God's work, problem solved!"" Is it not similar to say 'I have no evidence for or against God; oh well I can just say He doesn't exist'? "To believe in God is to give up on science". Um, didn't Einstein believe in God?

  • >No, Einstein categorically did not believe in God. That is the biggest mis-representation of Einstein throughout history. One that Einstein himself rebuked several times.What einstein said is:"I am a deeply religious non-believer. This is a somewhat new kind of religion.I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuine religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems naive."Einstein made many statements to that effect, unfortunately the religious like to cherry pick, and quote him out of context.I find the argument that society would not exist without religion to be very inadequate. In my view Religion is a by-product of the qualities that have allowed such fruition.I can honestly say, that most individuals do appear to be Virtuous. I've never met anyone that I can say is completely evil. However human virtue is not virtue in the real sense, as it could be said that underneath every virtuous act is some underlying motive. (By motive, it doesn't have to be a bad thing, it just means that both parties are benefitting).I also think that no child needs any book to learn what is right or wrong. The mere concept of right/wrong is dynamic and objective. However a society does form such opinions, and I don't believe for one minute a religious text is needed to form such a standard.Perhaps religious people are happier; maybe thats because they can sleep better in the knowledge that God absolves them of all their sins and the evil they have done.My biggest problem with religion, is that anyone can use it to justify evil on any scale. That in turn will literally wash away any feelings of guilt from an individual. Guilt, and responisbilty of ones actions, are important emotions that allow a human being to make good judgements.If they are suppressed or ignored (as the religious do) then evil on a grand scale can occur. I'm not saying that religious people (as individuals) are evil, just that as a collective its very easy to justify evil acts in a religious context.I'd further like to point out, that among the world's most respected scientist and Nobel laureates, only a very small minority (a very small minority) call themselves religious. (That does not include the religious in the Einsteinian sense which is not religion).Furthermore, while it might be argued that Religion brings piece, its underniable that the majority of blood shed over the last 2000 years is mostly rooted in religion, and its prejudices. (Essentially "my God is the real one, and your's is wrong, convert or die!") — How childish.I seriously recommend reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Its brilliant, witty and well thought out. He looks at "thebigqs" and answers them rationally, without invoking any need for any mysticism. Dawkins leaves no doubt in my mind that religion is simply an excessive waste of human minds, resources and effort.

  • >Yes Einstein said "The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me". But he also said "God does not play dice" and "science without religion is lame". The keyword is personal. Einstein did not believe that God knows or cares about us on a personal level, or that He existed as a humanoid being. Instead, he believed that there was a God that maintained and created the harmony of the universe. Perhaps you might say this is more akin to a universal spirit but he made frequent references to 'the Lord'. In fact Einstein spoke of faith as part of his motivation. In other words science and religion weren't separate to Einstein. He saw the wonders of existence as God and God as the wonders of existence. He simply thought that logic lay behind and within God, and that there was nothing supernatural about it. I accept that you could call this view atheist, but then many people call Budhists athiests and are they not religious?"In my view Religion is a by-product of the qualities that have allowed such fruition." There is no such thing as a completely independent variable. All effects affect other things and so become causes in and of themselves. Ask any historian to name 5 things that have most shaped human history. My bet is that religion will be there.If religion were a byproduct and not a cause of society then we would expect to see no religious elements within the first societies. Yet Peter Watson in "Ideas: A history from fire to Freud" points out the precense of grave goods (hence a belief in the afterlife) and a "shamanistic magical or religious belief system of some sophistication" between 31-33,000 years ago. Yet the pre-agricultural villages of the Middle East did not begin until between 15,500 and 12,500 BCE in Jordan. I'm not saying religion came first, but it does seem as though it evolved with civilisation rather than being a byproduct thereof.I'll leave the virtuous/selfish debate for now as that's coming later. I've been talking to a Professor about getting involved in a debate like that and I'm hoping she'll manage to find time before too long.The concept of right and wrong is subjective, otherwise there wouldn't be any disagreements. You could argue that only some morals are objective rather than subjective, but on that I would still disagree anyway."My biggest problem with religion, is that anyone can use it to justify evil on any scale." That's rubbish! You can use science just as easily to justify what you define as 'evil' actions. The one thing that all religions have in common is that they promote morality, and most practicers are on average very conscious of how moral they are. Where one religious man/woman acts violently in the name of their religion there is as a general rule two other religious people opposing what they have done. And belief can be separated from religion remember. Look at Marxism.

  • >I agree that many scientists and even academics are not religious. Religion by on large has not evolved as quickly as science in the past few hundred years. Over history religions have always had to evolve. Unfortunately many modern religions are falling behind. A possible exception is Buddhism. The Dalai Llama's exile forced him to embrace the world outside of that his predecesor had. And his fondness for science has propelled him into that world. As such the books written by the Dalai Llama are a lot closer to modern science than say the Bible, Torah or Qu'ran."its underniable that the majority of blood shed over the last 2000 years is mostly rooted in religion, and its prejudices." Is it? Perhaps you have some stats I don't. But the Napoleonic Wars, WW1, WW2, the Armenian Genocide, Russian Civil War, Stalinist purges and the Rwandan genocide are the big killers I can think of. And none of these were caused primarily by religion.And as for Dawkins I have the book and think that he writes in a very childish manner. He uses a lot of logic there is no doubt. But he could have made a much better job if he approached the subject from a more neutral standpoint.

  • >You have mis-understood what Einstein means by God does not play with dice. I'll let Dawkins himself explain Einstein:http://www.encyclopedia.com/video/bgoiLJZRmtM-einsteinian-religion-god-does-not.aspxI'll quote Einstein's reaction to another claim of his so-called "Religious" convictions:"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."It's certain that Einstein knew that "God" could not have maintained and created the harmony of the universe.Buddhism is more like a philosophy for life, I don't feel it appropriate to lump it in with the other religions in that it's not a religion. It is a very noble "spiritualism" in that it helps one reflect on one's self. This I think is similar to science in a way, science must always reflect on itself, to allow continual refinement of its "character" and ideas. The difference is that science isn't a person.Buddhism makes a clear distinction, in that it involves no super-natural ideas. I guess you might say that it was a way of having the benefits of Religion (how to be good and all that) without the religious baggage.Rob said: "Ask any historian to name 5 things that have most shaped human history. My bet is that religion will be there." Exactly, ask any Historian how Hitler's motives were unquestionably spawned through a religious born hatred for the Jews. Simply if religion didn't exist, Hitler could not have produced such contempt for a religious motives. I read an excerpt from Mein Kampf on Wikipedia, and it seems to me that Hitler's hatred for the Jews was started through his disgust at their strang and incompatible religious rituals. Something he felt was alien to his world view.I'm not trying to argue that Religion could never have been there. The point is that the characteristics that have enabled Religion (as a by-product of instinctive altruism and kindness) were first used to build communities. The point is that these qualities came first, before religion. Now thats not to say that religion is wrong and that it shouldn't have developed; it's completely natural that it did develop. Without the characteristics of our nature that causes religion as a by-product society and civilisation most certainly wouldn't have formed, and therefore it is inevitable that religion and society go "hand-in-hand" as it were.Another point to be made here, is that religion only arises under specific conditions. There are tribes in central america who have no such religious beliefs. They have been shown to show the same altruistic tendencies as any religious or non-religious westerner.Rob said: ""My biggest problem with religion, is that anyone can use it to justify evil on any scale." That's rubbish! You can use science just as easily to justify what you define as 'evil' actions." Nonsense — give me a single example of science justifying evil! However I'll give you a million evils justified in the name of religion.The point is Rob, that while religion might back-up and affirm their moralistic instinct, there is no need for this. It's simply (although in a simplified view) just about making a believer feel good about themselves. continued…

  • >Would you honestly not say that religious people think they are superior in terms of morality and goodness to non-believers, or even other religions? I've seen it time and time again, and it is an irrational and dangerous belief.Ok one more point, you said that Dawkin's argument is childish. I don't see this at all. However thats just a point of view. I'd like you to back that assertion with 3 referenced examples (from the God delusion — so I can look them up) and explain why you think the point is childish. Either I'll agree or I'll try to assert why I think its not childish.Through reading the God delusion there were a number of points that I felt weren't completely justified, or could be seen as such, however the argument in its entirety is wonderfully well researched, thought out and well structured. Most pages provide some reference to another book or reference, and many have footnotes to give you more context.Another book which I've been recommended is Christopher Hitchens – God is not great. (amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/God-Not-Great-Religion-Everything/dp/1843545748/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1268051139&sr=8-1).Perhaps you could recommend me a book in the defence of religion that you feel is as at least as well justified and reasoned as Dawkin's book? I don't want something thats written by a creationist, or a religious fanatic (that would be a waste of time). A book that really fights with rational, reasoned argument why religion, or God, is not a delusion.James

  • >In relation to Einstein ok I'll accept spirituality rather than God. Although I still hold that Einstein was religious. After all science is a religion in the original sense of the word. The word religion comes from the Latin word 'religio', which meant something like 'binding yourself to reality'. This is the sense I believe Einstein saw religion in i.e. he saw himself as a religious man if by religion you meant that he pursued the truth and the wonders of reality.As for Buddhism, actually Buddhists believe in re-incarnation. Pretty super-natural right? And indeed there are many different types of Buddhism, with many different beliefs. The difference is that the Dalai Llama has come out and said "If science proves the impossibility of re-incarnation then Buddhism will accept that and incorporate it into it's beliefs" (paraphasing because I can't remember the exact words).You said that "if religion didn't exist, Hitler could not have produced such contempt for a religious motives." This is wrong. Hitler's hatred of the Jews was first cultivated early in life, and most often from practical and social origins, rather than religious. For instance the one history books usually quote is his being refused from the Vienna Academy of Art and blaming it on the fact that some members of the examining board were Jewish. Religion was a contributory factor. But so was society, so was economics, so was psychology etc etc. Why are you not arguing against these? Irrelevent of the points your trying to make you have to accept that religion had both a positive and negative use in history. Yes our brains developed to a certain point prior to the creation of religious ideas. But after the development of these qualities we began to develop culture and society. An inseparable part of this culture was religion. To have taken it out would have had consequences it is nigh on impossible even to guess at, because the influence and practical useage of religion was so great.You referred to Central American tribes yet I believe the tribes you refer too had spiritual beliefs nonetheless (which could be defined as religion). Please do correct me if I'm wrong though.You said "give me a single example of science justifying evil!" Ok, social Darwinism and racism are built on scientific logic, the Russian Civil War and all the deaths that were ordered under Lenin and Stalin were justified by scientific logic, the pragmatic, scientific logic that go hand in hand with science were used to justify Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Oh wait, you said only one. And two other points; firstly I disagree with your use of the term 'evil' as I think it a subjectively defined concept, and secondly science is a babe in arms in comparison to religion so religion is bound to have a longer history of being justified for various things.continued …

  • >I respect your differences of opinion but human morality varies from person to person and group to group. See: http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=2244823309&topic=15179. Any arrogance can be dangerous but I hope you are not arrogant enough to believe religion makes you more inclined towards it. We who are both athiests/agnostics (although I would say I'm spiritual in an Einsteinian sense) are both talking in a manner that could be construed as arrogant because we both believe we are right. You say that your personal experience of meeting a few hundred people has shown you most believers are arrogant. Well ok, you met a few hundred people. I on the other hand have experienced most religious people to be contented with their own views, not wanting to force them on others, and in general very modest about their abilities and character.In relation to Dawkins I did not say his argument was childish. I said the way he writes is. He deliberately attacks and tries to entertain. This is not the writing of a credible academic I seek to emulate. It is the writing of someone who wants to become famous. It's a long time since I read it but having just picked it up quickly now I came upon one example straight away. Chapter 2, pg 51: God is "jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindicative, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." I think you'll agree he didn't need to say quite this much to make his point. It's simply cheap and nasty. When you read things like this you can understand why our western culture is criticized. This is not representative of the parts of culture I admire and to be quite frank if he wrote that on my website I'd probably think him a raving nutter and bin his comment.

  • >Hi everyone,Just had a very brief scan through the debate. Hard to find a well balanced book in favour of religion as normaly an author takes one distinctive standpoint or another. You could look at the works of lee strobel who attempts to answer questions but i find he prejudeces his questions with the answer he chooses and also spends a lot of time being american and attempting to disprove science. I prefer either CS Lewis mere christianity or Francis Colins the language of God. Lewis takes a very philosopical stand looking for underlying truths and logic in faith and the actions it inspires. Colins who headed up the human Geonome project takes this a step further and argues the points alongside his personal reasons for belief as well as tackeling the Religion Vs Science debate. Both of the authers are impecable academics they bring academic rigor to the argument, it is hard to ignore the arguments by two of the bigest intelects of the 20th century.Tom

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