Friday, September 4, 2009

Episode 51 Don't Fear The Reaper

The human beast’s most primal fear is of its own mortality. Religion's function is to deny this reality, through the promise of an afterlife…at least that is what Freud and many others have speculated. But is there any science to back up this claim? Terror Management Theory (TMT) attempts to explain how religion, and ones worldview more generally, can allay fears of death by offering either literal or symbolic forms of immortality. But easing this death anxiety can come at great cost: simplicity in thinking, deference to authority, hostility towards outsiders. For this episode the doubtcasters discuss TMT research and perhaps it’s most controversial finding: fear of death is closely tied with not just religious conservatism, but political conservatism as well. Also on this episode: a Skeptics Sunday School which explores views of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible and listener T. Robinson offers up this week’s Gospel of Doubt.

Editors Note: Fletch could use a little work on his fact checking. The "All Dogs Go to Heaven" sign wars were indeed fiction, not fact - and may very well have been created using "Chruch Sign Generator" in direct contradiction to his confident assertion that they were not. We apologize for this error. Thank you to listener Josh for the correction. We will be slicing off one of Fletch's nipples (he gets to choose which one) in hopes that it might cause him to be more careful in the future.

To download this or any previous Reasonable Doubts episodes click here. Find the episode you want and right click the "play now" link and select "save target as..."


Anonymous said...

Great show. Very important work being done here. I'm so glad you guys are doing what you do. And dam I love that song....

I just watched my grandpa go through hell in the old folks home. My father was intrenched in paperwork and insurance BS (which he has no time for cuz mom had a stroke last year) Gramps was on so many drugs he wasn't even alive anymore. And they call that morality? WTF?


Josh said...
Sorry to be the buzzkill.

Anonymous said...

OMG that can't be real!

is it?

P.S. the discussions about the early Jewish dogmas evolving really enlightened me too guys.


jem said...

Fantastic show! Any chance of a list of the books and articles you were referring to?

Have any of you read Bob Altemeyer's book, 'The Authoritarians'? It would seem to dovetail in quite nicely.

Unknown said...

Another verse in Ecclesiastes which says we all go to the same place when we die is Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 "For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. 20All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. "

According to these verses, the Catholics who believe animals go to heaven are actually right spiritually, since it says humans and animals go to the same place and humans are not better than animals.

Unknown said...

I meant the Catholics were right scriptually, not spiritually but I clicked the wrong word on Flock when I was correcting a typo.

Unknown said...

"All Dogs Go to Heaven"

rd: "this is real"


you skeptics will believe anything!


Anonymous said...

Relax rad, at least they have the courage to admit they're wrong. Tough to find that from others who claim to have a higher ground of morality :P

Poor Dave...

Jeremy said...

Thank you Josh,

We have acknowledge our error with great shame on the post for this episode. On the next cast we will ritually mutilate Fletcher for such woeful incompetence.


Check the second hyperlink on the post for a pdf summarizing much of the research discussed in this episode (hint - most of the good stuff in towards the end).


You're a tool.


Dorene said...

For the first time, I took notes while listening to your podcast. Fascinating stuff.

It's too bad the church signs weren't real. I think that if the Catholic church were within driving distance of me, I might have dropped in to meet the priest with the wicked sense of humor!

Anonymous said...

dave, it's you that needs to relax. I was joking with the boys.

And I don't know what you're trying to pin on me about morality...but it's just weird.


Anonymous said...


you got pwned!



Anonymous said...

I second what Dorene said. I wanted to believe...


theblandest said...

Your show was a godsend today. I was riding the adrenaline rush of facebook conflicts with old high school friends over health care reform(I went to school in Atlanta)and I was so fed up with unsubstantiated claims that I felt like I was sucking on an electrical wire. Your show reached into my head and soothed my lizard brain and gave me a morphine shot of confirmation bias that bolstered my battered self image.

I really appreciate having a show to listen to with hosts that are well educated in the subjects they take on(church signs not withstanding). Please keep them coming.

Big big fan,
Brian Bland

Anonymous said...

quiet around here lately.


nobody special

Momma Heathen said...

"RAD," (term used LOOSELY)

This isn't a forum. This isn't in place for you to debate. Comment on an episode, then simply STFU and wait for the next.

I highly doubt you are going to goad the guys into letting you on the show. So, stop trying?

PS: To all of the listeners, I apologize for the church sign debate. That was my find that I sent in. I am usually a fairly good Snopes detective, but this time I was just so amused by the sign antics that I didn't think to look.

Momma Heathen

Anonymous said...


God you atheists get meaner and meaner.

If what you say is true maybe the "Challenge Us" should be removed then?

I've already heard from the great JB himself that actual debate isn't allowed on the show, and it doesn't surprise me or bother me in any way.

"Either your with us or STFU." Great attitude.


P.S. which nipple did you decide to keep?

Fletcher said...


What Momma Heathen is saying is that this is not the place to debate us. This is set up for people to comment on episodes, not to hold lengthy debates. We welcome challenges, but this isn't the place for it. As you'll notice, we generally have a policy against responding to comments here exactly because we don't want to get into debates on the site -- those kinds of 'debates' are rarely productive.

We welcome debate, but we're not interested in inviting any nutjob who thinks they have "The Ultimate Argument Against Atheism" on the show. If you have a good argument that you'd like to hear us address, send it in to us. If it's worth our time, we'll talk about it on the air. If it's really good we'll certainly bring you on to talk about it. So far, I haven't seen evidence of any coherent argument from you. If you're just trying to keep it all under wraps for the sake of your forth coming book then why would we have you on the show just so you can say "I have something REALLY good, but you'll have to read the book to find out what"? We don't invite anyone on the show without knowing what they have to say first. In short: Put up or STFU.

Unknown said...

I think you should remove the "challenge us" then.

Anyone that has anything that might challenge you would indeed be new, and should be respected as such. We've all read the arguements on both sides, and I'm not satisfied with your copy and paste method of resolution. Are you guys even philosophers or just teachers? Have you any OG material or do you just trust the work others have done?

I've already posted why atheism is just another dogma, but all you can do is copy and paste from the masters. That's not debate, that's not even philosophy, that's just bookwork. Anyone can do that.

How can a philosopher expect to have a debate about god, challenge your assumptions etc...when they cannot be allowed to speak? This isn't a forum, so how can there be real challenge?

From the onset I stated the show wouldn't have to be live, that we could record a conversation then you could decide if it's worth publishing. This was more than fair, but you backed down.

I tried to put up, and you dodged it.

I would tell you to STFU but I'm not that rude, and I support your show. I support the efforts of the new atheists because I also dislike the dogmas and the terror they produce in people. I only challenged you because you asked me too. I'm not trying to get publicity, I don't even have a book. But I do have some dame good arguements any real philosopher would be able to talk about in his or her own words.

I guess if I want to do actually philosophy I'll have to hit up the men at Apologia.

How can we debate about something we can't define?

You know sometimes blogs do get hot really fast, and I'm taking allot of crap from you guys just for being me..I'm not here to start fights, I really expected more from this crowd....sorry if I've disrupted your efforts because again, I do support them.


snafu said...

It has been pretty hard to understand exactly what the content of your "challenge" is, because of the apparent obfuscation in which you wrap it up. That seems to be the point. The guys have said they will give credit to an argument worthy of it. So put it up, if it's that good.

Your position of not allowing the work of others to be referred to, as being unphilosophical, is utterly bizarre. Ideas are ideas, no matter who originates them. We need to debate ideas. So if I agree with the idea of another which I have come across, I am going to quote it. And I will change my mind if someone has a contrary idea which I think is better. And I will think for myself too.
To live in a vacuum is dangerous, because you can get sucked into believing your own excrement. Cordoning off your mind to the ideas of contrarians is just grubby fundamentalism.


Nicholas B said...

Great episode, guys!

I never new Yahweh was a sky god - I was always under the impression he was a tribal war god! I guess you learn something new every day, after all.

And real or not, "All rocks go to heaven" is the best line ever.

Anonymous said...

As I stated, I haven't given my's just something I'd rather have a conversation about...and I don't think quoting the masters is bad entirely...I do it too. But on this one point it's much better to talk it be honest I hate typing and looking at a computer screen all day. People tend to have more respect for each other and have better conversations and debates when we talk person to person. Voice. Tone. Surprises etc....

Anyway I've already worn out my welcome, and I don't actually want to convince you of anything...I just wanted to do philosophy. Like going for a swim, with others that like to swim.

thanks for your time.


Jeremy said...

Nick B,

Your earlier comment about sky God vs. tribal war God.

They are not mutually exclusive. Yahweh is often associated with mountains (sky god) like Sinai, where he waits with his "hosts" i.e. armies. Judg 5.4-5 and Duet 32:2 are just a couple examples.

good comment though, and if it does seem a little contradictory...I think it helps to point out that the Hebrews had many different traditions that fed their god concept which passed through many different phases over its evolution.

Anonymous said...

JB is there a common "god" concept among most religions early states that eludes conflicting dogmas?

Unknown said...

Did the podcast about mortality really need to be released on my birthday?

Oh well.

Would it be more humanist to simply accept the true nature of death (sans spirituae) and do nothing or to devote resources to finding ways to prolong real life via (insert science fiction scenario here)?

Don't forget to save the discussion on euthanasia for my next birthday.

Zyaama said...

A bit late, and totally unimportant, but was that a WoW joke about the "No Fly Zone"?

Eric said...

Interesting reference to "Terror Management Theory." One can find the entire article "The Cultural Animal: Twenty Years of Terror Management Theory and Research" by by Solomon, et. al. in The Handbook of Existential Psychology, at Google books. The whole article is there (although other parts of the handbook are excluded).

I was waiting for you to bring up this theory when trying to understand Christian apologists and others trying to rationalize inconsistencies in the Bible in Episode 52.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I only just caught this particular episode. In general - great stuff. But I'm concerned about your bringing of the work of John T. Jost, and in general, the pathologizing of conservatives as if they have a mental disorder for disagreeing with you about health care policy. I wouldn't consider the following a decisive refutation of Jost's work - this probably isn't the forum for that kind of thing anyway - but a compelling reaction from Dr. Helen Smith's blog can be found here. Ronald Bailey, at Reason magazine, published this article reacting to similar research.

Anonymous said...

Upon reading Smith's blog and Bailey's piece, i find nothing "compelling" about their responses, which seem to be the equivalent of: 1) anecdotes like: yeah but liberals are not open to changing their views either; and 2) they are trying to say conservatives are sick, that is clearly wrong, so.... uh.... its wrong.

The Jost work has amassed a large number of findings on conservativism from a number of different angles (e.g., openness, religion, dogmatism, fear,etc). What are the chances that discounting one or two of these domains somehow discounts the findings as a whole? Short of saying Jost and company simply faked the data, is there a serious response explaining why a broad spectrum of research across a variety of scholars tends to find the same thing about conservatives? More recent work has confirmed the validity of these findings. What is a valid alternative explanation other than: conservatives tend to be less willing to change their minds given contradictory evidence, they tend to rely more on fear of the unknown in specific and fear in general, they tend to prefer simple explanations to complex ones. etc etc.

D. Birren said...

I just finally got to listen to this episode.

It reminded me a lot about the African tradition of keeping dead people ('zamani' in Swahili, meaning 'living dead') in their thoughts and passing their remembrances of those who've died down through the generations but only if they were good people. Once all the people who knew someone who died are themselves dead, then the previously dead person is either remembered through stories ('sasha', meaning 'truly dead') or forgotten completely, as if they never existed.

Compare these two 'fates' with 'heaven' and 'hell'. Wouldn't it be hell on earth to know that you are so bad that no one will ever speak of you after you die? Remember, this was a culture without a written language: no birth certificates; no death certificates; and no grave stones.

Haley said...

I was listening to this episode and I flipped because I'm in high school and I modeled my science fair project my freshmen year on one the studies you mentioned about how people who are politically conservative have a tendency to be more afraid at things and to react more. I went on to win 4th place at state with this project and I feel more aware since I knew a lot of the studies you mentioned having to do with politics and biology and physiology. I love how you guys really look at why people are believing what they do and it really helps even a believer to stand back and think and to really take a more logical way at looking at the world.