Listing entries tagged with belief

Disbelief in the Holy of Holies

posted on 12.07.2006 at 12:52 AM

Does doubt lurk even at the very heart of religion -- even in the Holy of Holies?

That is one of the claims made in the new experimental paper we have posted on the Web. We do hope you will take advantage of the more advanced format for commenting it offers and weigh in.

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 12:52 AM | Comments (2)


posted on 12.05.2006 at 11:46 PM

In a new site connected to this blog:

** I have taken some of the more controversial ideas -- on disbelief and belief -- from the blog and early chapters of my book and combined them in a spiraling, twelve part paper (to be presented to a working group of the Center for Religion and Media at NYU).

** The Institute for the Future of the Book has come up with a new form that better integrates comments and allows readers to weigh in on individual paragraphs.

Thus we hope to expand the experiment begun with this blog: using the Web to sharpen and deepen a work in progress.

I hope you will check out this site and further the experiment with your comments, annotations, additions, references, corrections or criticisms.

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 11:46 PM | Comments (0)

Dawkins' Belief Scale

posted on 10.22.2006 at 10:58 PM

Richard Dawkins comes up with an interesting scale of belief and disbelief in his new (and bestselling) book The God Delusion (here via a review in the New York Times):

On a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is certitude that God exists and 7 is certitude that God does not exist, Dawkins rates himself a 6: "I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."

I'm curious where the readers of this blog would place themselves on this scale...and why.

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 10:58 PM | Comments (20)

The Puzzle

posted on 06.07.2006 at 9:38 PM

Here, from Alan Ryan, one way of stating the difficulty nonbelievers often have understanding believers (and New York liberals have understanding poor Republicans in Kansas):

The puzzle remains: Why do we succumb so readily to appeals based on the irrational forms of identity--ethnic, racial, religious--rather than to appeals based on the rational forms-- economic above all? Or, to put it in dramatic terms: Why do identity politics so often rest on hatreds that do as much damage to the aggressors as to their victims?

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 9:38 PM | Comments (1)

Auden Believed...Kinda

posted on 05.19.2006 at 12:50 AM

This from his poem, As I Walked Out One Evening:AUDEN.jpg

"O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress;
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless."

Is this sort-of belief or sort-of disbelief?

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 12:50 AM | Comments (1)

What Nonbelievers Might Believe In

posted on 05.16.2006 at 1:21 AM

Leonard_Cohen.jpgHow about this quote from Leonard Cohen?

"There is a crack, a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in."

The singer/poet once called this line his "credo." Cohen recently spent almost five years at a Buddhist monastery, which might disqualify him as a spokesman for nonbelief. (Our policy on Buddhists remains unclear.) But this notion of the value and beauty of "flaws" is an important one. The great Greek skeptic Carneades -- a hero of my book -- noted how gods, lacking flaws, must also lack virtues: How can you show courage if you can't be hurt?

Is it through the ability to be hurt that the light comes in?

What light?

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 1:21 AM | Comments (8)

Can Believers Be Believed?

posted on 04.17.2006 at 3:10 PM

Accusations of fraud are often leveled by practitioners of one religion against another. European missionaries were quick to see quacks and fakers amongst the wizards, shamans and medicine men they observed in preliterate societies.

Elmer_Gantry.jpgAn early 18th century text of uncertain provenance, entitled The Three Impostors, claimed that Moses, Jesus and Muhammad were all frauds.

I'm curious to what extent disbelievers today believe that believers are faking it -- that the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells of the world are -- Elmer Gantry-like -- frauds.

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 3:10 PM | Comments (5)

The Causes of Belief

posted on 02.18.2006 at 11:35 AM

Dennett book.jpgIn a review of Daniel Dennett's new Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Adam Kirsch argues that an explanation for why people believe is not an argument against belief:

"Mr. Dennett believes that explaining religion in evolutionary terms will make it less real; that is the whole purpose of his book. But this is like saying that because water is made of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, it is not really wet.... Just so, the reality of religious experience cannot be abolished by explaining it as an adaptation to our prehistorical environment."

But, of course, the reality of religious experience is considerably more elusive than the wetness of water. And a couple of the more common arguments used to demonstrate (against the evidence of our senses and of science) the existence of supernatural beings are hugely vulnerable to explanations of why so many believe.

One such common argument for the existence of God: the fact that all human societies seem to believe in Him or them. (This is the argument ex consensus gentium.) But if that widespread belief can be explained by the fact that a hypersensitivity to the presence of conscious agents is of survival value in hominids, then that argument disappears.

Another such common argument: that human societies believe in God because they've been given "revelations"; they've seen miracles, had visions. But if the belief was really caused by evolutionary pressures, there is less reason to believe in those revelations, miracles and visions.

Democritus, whom Dennett's book does not cite, had a go at the causes-of-belief question almost two and a half millennia ago. Hume, whom Dennett does cite, engages in a rigorous investigation of these causes in his Natural History of Religion. For good reason. This is powerful stuff.

(Thanks to Ben Vershbow, of the Institute for the Future of the Book, for the Kirsch link and, soon, many more.)

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 11:35 AM | Comments (1)