Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Episode 8 God Thinks Like You

Why do people believe? Why do they doubt? What can psychological research tell us about religious belief? And can it tell us anything about non-believers and skepticism? For this episode the RD crew draws upon one of its greatest resources...our co-host Luke Galen, Associate Professor of Psychology at Grand Valley State University. Luke shares with us some of the research that he is conducting on the psychology of religion. Also featured: RD responds to a challengers e-mail and a new segment "stranger than fiction." Reasonable Doubts: Your skeptical guide to religion offering news and commentary of interest to skeptics, atheists, humanists, apologists looking for a challenge and freethinkers of all persuasions.

To download this or any previous Reasonable Doubts episodes click here.


Anonymous said...

I am a religous listener who likewise stumbled onto your podcast while looking for podcasted sermons (you fall under the 'other' category in the itunes 'religion & spirituality' podcast category).
A minor point on your conversation on the formal study of the athiestic. There was the observation that there were very few 'fundamentalist athiests' within the sample, defined as those who would not change their beliefs in the face of any contrary evidence.
I recognize that this may be a precise interpretation of the term 'fundamentalist athiest,' since the term in Christianity arose from the presence of non-negotiable 'fundamentals' (i.e. scriptural inerrancy). However, I don't think this is what is meant by 'fundamentalist athiest' when I've heard it.
I've more frequently heard the term in reference to certain popular authors (Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett) who vehemently hold that religion is a blight on humanity, and that we shan't make any progress until we excorcise the spirits. Thus, they are fundamentalist in the alternative sense that other worldviews are not tolerated and must ultimately be extinguished.
My primary argument against this stance is pragmatic. As I heard Eboo Patel comment on a particularly anti-religous editorial screed by Lewis Lapham in _Harper's_, that might fly on the upper west side in manhatten, but if you assume that 95% of the world's population is irredeemable until they come around to your viewpoint, then you're not going to get far.
I have great sympathy for doubters, and I needn't enumerate the global crises that we share. I appreciate the efforts of serious scientists like E.O. Wilson to find common ground with theists to grapple with these problems.
Keep conversing . . .
P. Mellen

Fletcher said...

First off, thanks for listening and thanks for taking the time to write us.

A coule of problems here, P, with your post. I think one point we were trying to make is that the term "fundamentalist" is being misapplied to the likes of Darwkins, Harris, Hitchens and poor Daniel Dennett who keeps getting lumped in with the rest.

I also think you're misrepresenting at least a few of the authors in question when you say they have the view that "religion is a blight on humanity," and "that other worldviews are not tolerated and must ultimately be extinguished." I think (having not spoken to all of them personally yet, I don't want to say with 100% certainty) that each of them would admit that religion will never be "extinguished" nor should it be.

And thanks for the sympathy, that's very condescending of you. Er, I mean, kind, very kind of you.

As for a discussion on common ground between theists and atheists, I invite you to listen to episode 10 or our show.

Jeremy said...


The doubtcasters speak for themselves individually in these comments. I wouldn't disagree with everything Dave said, but I didn't find your comment condescending. Its difficult with written text to get the tone of voice sometimes. I didn't pick up on any hostility in your comment. If I am correct I will apologize and appeal to your sympathy (Dave at the moment is being harassed by colleagues of his who seem intent on character assassination by misrepresenting his comments. Dave however is nearly always generous and kindhearted in his replies to our listeners and others...much more than I am, usually).
I will defend some of his comments though, because In some respects I feel he is right on. The preception you would get from media reviews would suggest the level of intolerance you ascribed to Harris, etc. And we have been critical of this when we feel it has been unjustified. But taken in the entire context of their writings none of them (with the possible exception of Harris, who I believe has withdrawn some of his early comments) advocate any public polocy, physical action, violence or otherwise to "extinguish" these ideas. All of them are advocating discussion. They want to win by persuasion and in the case of Dennet by broadly considered and objective education in world religions k-12 in our public schools. This is not at all the type of "intolerance" we would see for those branded as fundamentalists on the religious side. (really that word has got to go, because Fundamentalism can mean either intolerance or literalism, dogmatism, etc. Its far too imprecise to be helpful and people of all persuasions get lumped together unfairly). I too respect E.O. Wilson and am glad to make common cause. We try to make our show accessible to believers for that reason, among others. I haven't read Laphams editorial and I will look for it when I get the chance. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


(At the risk of appearing like were ganging up on you...I'm also going to include Luke's comments in separate comment, which he sent to me today...our normal policy is to decide who answers, but this time we all had different takes on your comment).

RD Podcast said...


Luke had the following comments, #1 just restates the point Dave and Jeremy made, but the rest speak to other matters:

I think it should be pointed out that:
1) there is a distinction between "intolerance" in the sense of not believing the person to be moral or nice or part of the larger community and "conversational intolerance" where if someone talks ideas that are not rational, they are ignored much like if someone brought up UFO's as a basis for national policy decisions. my understanding of Harris and Dawkins is that the intolerance they (and we) suggest is only of the latter sort. That the same standards that apply to most ideas (i.e., that they have some evidential basis) be applied to religion as other domains.
2) although the "dogmatic atheists" may not like religious discourse, the evidence indicates that they are less likely to extend those feelings to the individuals themselves as opposed to merely the views. That is, atheists are less likely to condemn the religious person as immoral or alien than religious fundamentalists. Our ideas do not call for the eternal damnation or torture of religious people, only that they rot in the ground like the rest of us.
3) I'm' all for common ground on specific topical issues (the environment, anti-poverty) but there is something odd about doing those things BECAUSE Jesus said so rather than because its a sensible idea. That is there is a dangerous slippery slope inherent in working with people, say, on "creation care" where they religious are pro-environmental because God told them to take care of creation. This implies that if God told them to lay waste to creation as he did with the Noah flood, that that would be a cool idea too. By and large, atheists prefer ideas that have some demonstrable pro-social benefit; helping others because of golden rule type stuff or because of empathy rather than because god told them to.,
4) the 95% of the population ARE redeemable. thats why we do the show.

Fletcher said...

Yeah, sorry, my bad. I'm a bit on the defensive these days (a natural reaction to constantly having to defend oneself).

On a second reading, I retract my comment about P having been condescending. And I apologize to you.