Gods Deconstructed

Beliefs and their objects, dismantled.

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

Indian Police Probe Hizb ut-Tahrir Support for Terrorism | Shariah Finance Watch

Indian Police Probe Hizb ut-Tahrir Support for Terrorism | Shariah Finance Watch.

Those of us in the west often think of Islamic terrorism as being directed towards us. Yet it is a worldwide phenomenon. India was targeted in the Mumbai massacre and now the the authorities have identified an organisation raising funds for further attacks.

The aim of Hizb ut-Tahrir is to replace capitalism with an Islamic economic system and the group does not care how it is accomplished. If innocent people are killed, so be it.

it is a terrible reminder of how dedication to an unproven and unprovable idea can be devastatingly destructive.

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BBC News – Iain Duncan Smith targets ‘destructive’ welfare system

BBC News – Iain Duncan Smith targets ‘destructive’ welfare system.

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Government policies need to be considered not just in relation to short term cost-cutting but also the effect they have in the medium and long term.

Take, for instance, the proposed cutting of child benefit. The policy is designed to save money but it could also have the effect of reducing the size of families and ultimately reducing the size of the indigenous work force. This could have the effect of increasing the need for immigration if there is an upturn in economic fortunes.

If immigration results in greater numbers of those coming from Asia and the Indian subcontinent, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, etc. could further reduce the ratio of Christians to other religions, thus putting pressure on the indigenous population to revolt.

A policy of reducing spending on benefits could conceivably increase social unrest, and that could cost far more than the savings achieved by the reduction in child benefit payments.

Less Religious Are Less Likely to Vote, Finds New Poll

Less Religious Are Less Likely to Vote, Finds New Poll.

This is an example of why it is important to identify the business or organisation that paid for and conducted the research quoted if we are to know the truth. My immediate reaction was to dismiss the research as biased. But is it?

The research was conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. Immediately, my attention was grabbed by the name and in particular the word Religion. Does it indicate that the Institute studies religion or promotes religion. Anyone who reads the works of Dan Dennett will immediately know that very few institutions study religion

Reading down the page I found that the study was funded by the Ford Foundation and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. What are these organisations?

Wikipedia’s page makes the Ford Foundation sound an ideal partner for social awareness and social reformers. A 2005 study shows the Foundation’s attempts, some more successful than others, to integrate white and African-Americans. SourceWatch suggests that the Ford Foundation is viewed by conservatives as left wing. For me as a socially-aware atheist, this further added to the Foundation’s credentials.

The Nathan Cummings Foundation is a primarily Jewish organisation but, according to the Wikipedia page it also appears to be left-leaning and human rights oriented. The Foundation seems to primarily rely the Public Religion Research Institute. A study in April looked at the opinions of Jews in America and found the majority favoured Barak Obama. Using the research, the Huffington Post suggested that, as with Catholics, Jewish leaders are losing touch with the opinions of the population. The Foundation also seems environmentally aware. That sounds good to me.

Neither of these funders appear to want to influence the results of surveys. So what are we to make of this new survey?

As I intimated before, my immediate reaction on reading the results was acute scepticism. Most of the atheists I know are politically aware and more likely to vote than the general population, which seems to contradict the findings of the research. However, the atheists I know are activists who tend to see politics as a secular necessity, an alternative to being told what to do by religious leaders. Most see democracy as essential to society and their inalienable right as individuals to influence how society is run.

If the survey is correct, and it may well be, then many of those who are now rejecting religion tend towards apathy and not positive action to influence social evolution. To me, that has the potential to be really bad. It could allow religions back into the political arena.

Maybe those of us who are activists need to help those who have recently rejected religion to see that politics and social awareness are essential alternatives to religion but that they must be worked at and developed. Life may be a bitch and then you die but we need to ensure we make the most of our lives while we can. Our children and grandchildren depend in us to make the world a decent place for them. We must teach our children and grandchildren that they, in turn, need to be socially and environmentally aware for their children and grandchildren but doing so as intelligent human beings who base their knowledge on empirical evidence and not being mindless followers of daft ideas.

This survey could, perhaps should, be seen as a wake-up call.

How very timely! Rowan Atkinson: we must be allowed to insult each other – Telegraph

The hypocrisy of UK law

Live animal export suspension at Ramsgate overturned (opens in new tab/window)

A UK judge has lifted the suspension of exports of live animals from the port of Ramsgate in Kent, England.

Why should that be of interest to an atheist?

Because the animals being exported are destined for the Festival of Eid. Muslim slaughterers will murder the animals by slashing their throats without stunning or anaesthetic. Such barbaric behaviour is not allowed by UK law, yet this disgraceful decision by a High Court judge indicates that UK law has no qualms about exporting live animals knowing that the dispatch of the animals is in direct contravention of UK law.

The UK is said to be a Christian nation yet there is no morality or consistency in UK law.

Sorry for the delay!

I shall be uploading more posts as soon as I am used to typing with my new hand splints.

I have Rheumatoid Arthritis that has affected my hands and wrists. Short tweets and comments on Facebook are not affected but I have found longer posts to the Evolution of Belief series in particular more difficult to complete. I hope normal service will be resumed within the next few days.

I’d like to say that rheumatoid arthritis is a pain in the butt but that is one part of my body not affected by the disease. Incidentally, rheumatoid arthritis is a misnomer. Arthritis is just one symptom of Rheumatoid Autoimmune Disease, which is probably a more accurate name/description as the disease can affect internal organs as well as joints, muscles and tendons.

During this enforced intermission, may I suggest http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/ for a jolly good online read.

What is Belief?

In previous posts I have used a number of instances of the word belief in relation to what people think about their world and how they can describe it. But this is just one way of using the word belief. Now it is time to ask, what do we mean when we use the word belief. (I’ll keep the dry language as brief as possible.)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, belief is defined as:

  1. an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof e.g. Religious belief or firmly held conviction
  2. trust, faith, or confidence in (someone or something) e.g. a belief in democratic politics

The Dictionary also gives some examples of common usage:

  1. be of the belief that: hold the opinion that; think: I am firmly of the belief that we need to improve our product
  2. beyond belief: astonishingly great, good, or bad; incredible: riches beyond belief
  3. in the belief that: thinking or believing that: he took the property in the belief that he had consent
  4. to the best of my belief: in my genuine opinion; as far as I know: to the best of my belief Francis never made a will

The definitions are significant because they show that belief is not the same as knowledge. Belief is the acceptance that something is true without proof or evidence. Someone can have an idea; others accept it because they want it to be true, not because it is true.

The examples of common usage are significant because they seem to contradict the definitions. Can belief really mean the same as think? If we look at the way people use the word in everyday language, belief can indeed be interchangeable with think.

‘How do I get to the Community Centre?’
‘I think you take the first road on the left and the Community Centre is half way down that road.’
This brief conversation can also take the form:
‘How do I get to the Community Centre?’
‘I believe you take the first road on the left and the Community Centre is half way down that road.’

In both examples, believe is being used as if the phrase ‘But don’t quote me on it’ is an additional given assumption. Believe is being used as a short version of ‘It is my belief that …’.

The Community Centre conversation could have happened. It could also be part of a story, and even fictional stories can have the appearance of being true. If it seems that it could be true we say that it is a believable representation of reality. A fictional story can also be believed because people like to think it could be true. So a story doesn’t have to be true to be believed.

Adding to or subtracting from a story can make it seem more believable. Sometimes a story can evolve by repeating it, as in the game Chinese Whispers. The end result could be believable or wildly unbelievable – that’s what makes the game fun, we can’t predict the outcome. On the other hand, stories can continue unchanged for years. How? In Chinese Whispers the fun is in telling the story without other people hearing but stories can be read aloud. Indeed before the advent of television stories were often read aloud. And if stories are read aloud to an audience the storyteller can receive audience feedback. I remember reading a story to one of my granddaughters. After just one telling, she remembered the story word for word and if I tried to deviate from the original in future retelling she would correct me. She liked the story as she had originally heard it.

When stories are changed or evolve one of the ways people try to deal with the changes is to say that previous versions are no longer to be believed because the previous story was a myth. It’s the same with more firmly held beliefs/convictions. Some people say that beliefs other than their own are myths.

So what is the Oxford definition of a myth.

  1. a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events: ancient Celtic myths; the heroes of Greek myth
  2. widely held but false belief or idea: the belief that evening primrose oil helps to cure eczema is a myth, according to dermatologists
  3. a fictitious or imaginary person or thing: nobody had ever heard of Simon’s mysterious friend—Anna said he was a myth
  4. an exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing: the book is a scholarly study of the Churchill myth

A myth is therefore a belief that was once accepted as true but is no longer. It has reverted from a belief back into a story.

What is the difference between belief and knowledge? To be classed as knowledge a belief needs to be verifiable by scientific evidence or reason. People used to believe that apples fell to earth because it was God’s will. Isaac Newton showed that apples fall to earth because of gravity and he presented verifiable evidence that suggested his evidence was true. With Newton’s evidence, beliefs in why apples fell cease to be beliefs because there is evidence that supports proof of his idea, and with proof there is no need for belief. Reason takes a belief, breaks it down into its component parts and applies logic to determine if it could be true.

The study of knowledge is called Epistemology. For more information on epistemology try reading:

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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