What’s The Use?

Question from Tsahpina:
I am a strong atheist and as such one of those who keeps trying to put reason in believers’ minds. I believe I have never succeeded in anything, except to get unnerved so badly that I now hate them. Yes, hate them.

So, my question to fellow atheists is why bother even talking to to them about their silly uneducated beliefs?

I mean, can any atheist tell me any good reason why I should bother to even consider them as people with reason?

Answer by SmartLX:
Believers are not by definition devoid of reason. Some people probably are, but it’s not true of someone simply because they have an unjustifiable belief. It just means their reasoning is based on incorrect or unsupported premises, they have reasoned incorrectly, or their emotions have overridden or railroaded their reason. The most intelligent of us can be wrong about very important things, and still defend our positions on them very strongly.

You are expecting too much of believers and of yourself if you think they will simply drop their long-held beliefs during one conversation with you. Beliefs are seldom dispelled in an instant; if you’ve heard of true-believer syndrome, you know that they can even be reinforced when the objects of belief are utterly debunked. The most you can realistically hope for in a single exchange is to bring someone to a state of aporia. Simply put, it’s when they respond with (or at least think), “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that, and I can’t reconcile it with my position right at this moment. I need to go and think about this some more before we discuss it further.” Their mind will process what was said and realised, and their position will have changed at least a little by the time they want to talk about the subject again – or, they will have found new logic or evidence they didn’t previously have to hand which supposedly supports their position. Either way the discussion will have moved forward.

As for why you should bother discussing beliefs with believers at all, that’s up to you. Many atheists decide that it’s not worthwhile and never do it, or keep it to specific situations. For those who do think it’s worth doing, it’s because it benefits someone. It might benefit the believer to be freed from religious beliefs because the beliefs are doing them harm, or holding them back, or making them unhappy, or putting pressure on their friends and family. It might benefit atheists and those whose beliefs don’t match those of the given believer, because reduced devotion to one dogma can mean less prejudice toward others, and toward a lack of dogma. I do it because I think people would be better off abandoning religion of their own accord, and by and large I restrict my efforts to this site.

4 thoughts on “What’s The Use?”

    1. Generally yes, or even a god figure who didn’t create everything but rules over it currently. Some systems of belief attribute creation and intervention to different beings.

  1. I am reminded of a shot from the documentary Religulous where Bill Maher asks this Vatican priest (who is a bit of a maverick) about how one can get people to change their beliefs. The priests response is classic … he says “pfft … you don’t. People live and die with their stupid beliefs. I mean, what can you do”.

    I used to be pretty sure that people will see reason as far as religion and religious ideas are concerned. But I’ve come to realize that most beliefs are fairly deeply entrenched. It is also very painful and scary to let go of personal beliefs – and most of us will not make the mental effort to do so. And socially too, the costs can be very high often.
    I usually try to convince people to think of actions without bringing their god beliefs into the picture … especially when I can see that god-belief might lead to fool-hardy actions. But that’s about it. I do not bother to permanently remove their beliefs or argue about why their beliefs may be wrong.
    I do remain open to guiding (and often do guide) people who are questioning their beliefs … but such sorts are usually very few. And with a lot of information so freely available on the net, they mostly find their own way anyhow.

    People who hold weird beliefs cannot be called people without reason, however. They usually do perform actions according to their own rational self interest or according to the broader interest of institutions or societies. Its just that on some critical moments, their actions will be sub-optimal as they would be guided by weird/ silly beliefs.
    One has to live with that, I guess. And one has to be willing to step up with reason when he/ she sees people around him taking a sub-optimal approach on critical issues due to bad beliefs.
    On the usual day-to-day issues, this hardly tends to matter.

  2. Tsah – The reason I talk with anyone about any topic is for both the enjoyment of the interaction and the exchange of information it provides. While I agree that in the vast majority of cases there will not result a conversion by one party to the other’s side, it is at least good to correct any ignorance that someone may have about a topic (like evolution for example).

    But let’s not forget that if someone is willing to talk to you about it, they may be questioning things in their own life. They might not even realize they are questioning it, as a lot of that happens in our subconscious mind. So taking the time and effort to engage someone in a civil discussion may not only help both people learn something they didn’t know, it may a subconscious effort to reexamine a worldly view…

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