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“Why does it matter what people believe? It doesn’t affect you; just let people believe what they want. It’s not like you are going to change anyone’s mind.”

This is a critique I hear, sometimes in response to one of my columns. While I fully support freedom of thought — and everyone should be free to believe what they like — I also thinks it’s best when our beliefs are based on reason and evidence. When sufficient evidence comes to light that contradicts our beliefs, we should be willing to discard the debunked notions.

One does not need to pay attention to national and international events very long to see the consequences that beliefs can have.

Seven children die in a New York City house fire when a hot plate is left on for 25 hours because their community’s interpretation of sacred scripture told them that a god would be displeased if they pressed a button on Saturday. This is the fourth deadly fire in this community in the past 15 years due to this belief.

In many parts of Africa, people with albinism are slaughtered and their body parts are sold off because of local beliefs that they are magical.

Scarcely a year goes by where a child is not injured or killed because the parents choose to forgo modern medicine, blood transfusions or immunizations in favor of ineffective pseudoscientific or prayer-based modalities. Further, children too are often victims of dangerous and sometimes deadly attempts to exorcise non-existent demons or devils.

Despite overwhelming scientific consensus, U.S. Sen. James Imhofe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, does not see a need to intervene to halt escalating greenhouse gas emissions because of one of his favorite Bible verses, Genesis 8:22.

Earlier this year, an 18-year-old man and his 6-month-old daughter were killed when they were rear-ended by a car and thrown from their horse-drawn buggy. Because his religious beliefs left him and his daughter unrestrained by a seat belt or infant car seat, what would have been a minor traffic crash became a tragedy.

As of this writing, more than 800 Muslims have died in Pakistan amid a major heat wave. The fact that Ramadan is currently being observed is compounding the danger of the heat, as millions of Muslims forgo all food and drink during the daylight hours in observance of the monthlong religious ritual.

Beliefs are not inconsequential. What we believe is important because our beliefs inform our actions, and our actions have consequences. It’s rare that our beliefs and our actions do not have effects on those around us. We, individually and as a society, live much happier and healthier lives when our beliefs mirror reality to the greatest extent possible.

For example, the person who believes that drinking battery acid is good for them will not lead as happy and healthy of a life as a person who has beliefs regarding battery acid ingestion that more closely reflect reality, all other variables being equal.

Faith in the supernatural is not a good way to arrive at a reality-based understanding of the natural world. People from all over the world have arrived at vastly different conclusions when using their faith or scripture as a basis for their beliefs. However, when people base their beliefs on what the evidence shows and what is revealed using the scientific method, people from many different cultures converge on same beliefs and conclusions.

As Sam Harris, author of “The End of Faith,” has stated, there is a reason we don’t talk about “Christian physics” or “Muslim algebra.” People from all cultures and religions will arrive at the same conclusions when they use the scientific method, make testable claims, experiment to confirm or reject them, and have peers review and verify their results. Try saying the same thing for conclusions derived by using a faith-based, or non-evidence-based, system.

Lastly, there is the claim that one cannot change people’s beliefs. It’s true that beliefs can be entrenched and resistant to change; however, I, like many voices in the secular community, am proof that this adage is untrue. I don’t expect any one article or conversation to cause someone to change a strongly held conviction, but I know firsthand that sometimes all it takes is exposure to a different way of thinking about things to begin considering one’s own beliefs more critically.

If having beliefs that accurately reflect reality is important, then honest, critical evaluation of one’s beliefs, especially those one takes for granted, is essential.

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Jeremy Fejfar is a member of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society

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(54) comments

Buggs Raplin

Jeremy, this dragon in the garage scenario is demeaning to the discussion. Why can't you just say God? I believe in a God. And you know I don't lay claim to this belief. I don't tell anyone they should believe as I do. But you do. Isn't that the point of your article? And that's what I find objectionable.

Jeremy F

The Dragon in the Garage analogy was coined by the great Carl Sagan. It is used to demonstrate why the claimant ALWAYS bears the burden of proof. It becomes obvious when one is discussing a dragon, something few people believe in. For some reason, people find the concept less obvious when talking about a god.

For example, you think that in you believing in a god (dragon) and me not accepting the existence of this god (dragon), that we bear an equal burden of proof. But this is wrong. It would be silly of you to require me to present evidence that your dragon does not exist before my disbelief is justified. Same with a god. I don't have to present evidence as to why your god doesn't exist. The key point is that disbelief should always be the default response to a claim until evidence is provided; and extraordinary claims (gods & dragons) require an extraordinary amount of evidence.

Again, I didn't tell anyone they must believe as I do. I said it is best to believe the truth.

Buggs Raplin

Repeating my above statement, I am not a claimant. I'm not advocating and therefore I need not provide any evidence for my belief in God. If I had some, I'd provide it and the discussion would be over. Now, as to your last sentence, I really must object with your claim that you're upholding the truth. You don't know that. In fact, go to one of your comments below where you admit you could be wrong about there not being a God. Do you see the contradiction?

Jeremy F

Also, while you perhaps you don't lay claim or try to persuade people on the concept of a god, you are certainly a vocal advocate for many other issues, and it is clearly important to you on some level to influence what people believe as well when it comes to the things you are passionate about (the Annukai, 9/11, Kennedy assassination, false flag operations, etc).

Buggs Raplin

I advocate for the truth on the subjects you mentioned. The truth can be known based on the evidence. I don't advocate for a belief in God, because there is no evidence that God exists. But, of course, there is no evidence that God doesn't exist. Therefore when atheists contend God doesn't exist, I chime in with my "yeah, but you can't prove that" thesis.

deezus

I can sum up this entire column by using and correcting just one of Jeremy's sentences:

"While I fully support freedom of thought — and everyone should be free to believe what they like" — everyone should believe what I believe.

Buggs Raplin

Well said; thanks.

Jeremy F

No, I think I stated my position accurately, but thank you for your attempt.

I am less interested in people believing what I believe, and more interested in people believing that which is true. Since I make every effort to allign my beliefs with what is demonstrated scientifically, and change my beliefs to reflect the best evidence, these two things are typically one and the same. However, since my goal is to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible, I welcome additional information that I may be missing so that I can revise my beliefs when necessary

It is interesting to note that this is not just a secular concept, but has biblical backing as well.
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Buggs Raplin

But, Jeremy, aren't you maintaining that what you believe is true regarding the non-existence of God is based only on your conjecture, while equal conjecture among deists like myself and Washington, Jefferson, Paine, and other notables is wrong...and that readers of your column should just go along with your view point, even though there is no evidence for it.

Jeremy F

No, Buggs. As I stated previously, and as Neandros tried to explain below, the burden of proof is on the claimant. It is not incumbent on me to demonstrate that a god does not exist. If you come to me with a concept of a god (or any extraordinary claim), and you don't have evidence to back it up, the only rational response is to withhold belief until such time as an appropriate level of evidence is provided.

Carl Sagan made the example of "the dragon in his garage." If I came to you and told you that I had a dragon in my garage, you would be a fool to believe me without adequate evidence. And the dragon does not become more likely if you come to my house, don't see the dragon, and I say, "well, he's invisible". Again, I have to actually give you adequate evidence, proportional to the claim. A dragon, and a god, require a lot of evidence. Hand-waving and special pleading about invisibility, non-corporeal body, and extra-dimensional fire-breath doesn't demonstrate my dragon.

Buggs Raplin

But Jeremy, aren't you a claimant that there is no God, a claimant without any proof. I know you disagree, but to my way of thinking (as I told Neandros) this works both ways. And, again, I could be totally wrong. There may be no God. You and the atheists may be right. But then you may be wrong. We'll never know in this lifetime.

Jeremy F

No Buggs, that is not the position I am taking.

The religious person is the one claiming they have an invisible dragon in the garage, and I am the guy saying, "I don't believe that." I really don't know how to put it more simply. As a deist, you are more akin to a person saying, "I'm not saying that there is a dragon in my garage, and I've never touched one, or even seen one. However, I just believe that dragons exist somewhere." And to that as well, my response is that I don't believe that without adequate evidence to back it up.

There have been thousands of gods worshiped over the millenia, so clearly the concept of inventing gods is not new, original, or rare. Since we know that vast numbers of these gods are not real, It is reasonable to demand some kind of evidence before ascribing to any of these beliefs. With all of these god concepts- they can't all be right, but they certainly can all be wrong.

superman

Great Letter Jeremy!

I think some people seek religion for self delusion as a way to medicate their mediocre lives. While still others prefer to self delusion among crack pot fantasies such as the Annunaki, and Illumnati.

And then there are the brave few, who can stand up against this bull and call it for what it is.

Buggs Raplin

A reply that repudiates the science of archeology in that the clay tablets found in the 1800's in Iraq tell the tale of our human creation by the alien Anunnaki race through genetic experimentation in Sumer. These tablets are currently in the British Museum, but because their message is evidence of our extra-terrestrial beginnings, they are..well, let's just say they are ignored or discounted by establishment historians. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the establishment, in their self interest and maintaining their power, will not admit to the truth. We are not alone in the vastness of this universe-there are other civilizations much more advanced in technology than our puny human efforts have thus produced. Of course, this subject is not germane to the current discussion, but 'superman' brought it up to discredit me...and so I replied to the 'crackpot' fantasy he ascribes to me. How totally arrogant-his assumption that we are not alone in the universe. Totally arrogant.

oldhomey

Yes, the top scholars throughout the world have all studied these clay tablets and, seeing the shocking story they tell, have decided to keep them a secret because of how the rest of the humanity might react. Right. And they have all kept it a secret except for Buggs, who spills the beans here. Right. The very earliest clay tablets, the first human written language, are the most startling, revealing things like "the farmer Ali Khounis paid merchant Ali Kahoub with five live goats in exchange for six baskets of ground grain and two skins of fermented oat beer." The "scholar" Buggs is so certain knows the true meaning of these tablets is a Russian imposter, Zecharia Sitchin. Human written language started from farmers and traders making marks on soft clay to record business transactions in Mesopotamia 6,000 years ago. Sitchin translates these tablets as saying they were written by spacemen who landed in Mesopotamia 6000 years ago to start the human race. Right. Loose lips, Buggs.

Buggs Raplin

Sitchin is a scholar's scholar. Most everyone who has read his books will agree with that. Our extra-terrestrial beginnings, and UFO's in general have been denigrated by the establishment for a reason. The information undermines religions, which are a stabilizing factor in keeping people in line and obedient to authority.

Cassandra

Please apply Occam's Razor.

Buggs Raplin

Readily. The simplest explanation for the truth is the clay tablets of the Sumerians which tell us that humanity was created through genetic experimentation by the Anunnaki alien race to be slaves for the mining of gold, which was needed on their home planet. See the works of the eminent scholar Zecharia Sitchin for expert elaboration. The Anunnaki taught the Sumerians everything to make them the first civilization on this planet. Of course, to minds conditioned by the mainstream media, this is all nonsense, and I am a loon for bringing it up. And, Cassie, that definition is apparently OK with you from past readings of your one or two sentence offerings on these boards. You are, in my opinion, totally indoctrinated into the system of acceptable thought and political correctiveness that are killing the truth.

LesTrafik

“We…live much happier and healthier lives when our beliefs mirror reality to the greatest extent…”

Reifying the idea of god ultimately only adds to the pain much like missing a train is only painful if you continue to chase it (in your mind) rather than accepting what IS.

Either way, you can’t do anything about whether there is a heaven or not, or if god, aliens or demons were taking over your brain (all of these are zero or infinitesimal probabilities: unknown unknowns).

But there is a way to avoid being the sucker: stop immersing yourself in things that are not true. It is really not much more difficult than that.

Buggs Raplin

In this debate prompted by Jeremy's plea for atheism, I admit I could be wrong. There may not be a God. My point is that you can't prove it either way. Just curious. Are any of my atheist adversaries willing to admit that they could be wrong-that there could be a God?

Jeremy F

Thanks for the comments, Bugs.

You note, I did not use the word atheism once in the article, as this was not about atheism at all. It is about belief, and more specifically, addressing the claims that beliefs are benign and personal and are no one else's concern. As I stated, beliefs inform actions, actions have consequences- both for society and the individual.

And yes, it is possible that a god exists. You place the odds at 50/50, which I think is clearly wrong. I will also say that it is possible that fairies, bigfoot, and leprechauns exist. I would place the odds that a god exists in the same neighborhood as these other creatures, i.e. vanishingly small. Until evidence arises that supports their existance, the default position is disbelief. In science, this is called the null hypothesis.

Thanks

Buggs Raplin

Jeremy, thanks for the reply. Though you never used the word 'atheism' in your column, it was obviously implied. It was a plea for atheism, and, by God, that is your right, just as the Christians have a right to denounce your atheists beliefs. I'm in the middle, believing in a God, that has obviously taken a hands-off approach to the murderous, genocidal activities of humans. For you to equate my belief in such a God as equivalent to a belief in fairies, bigfoot etc.is totally unfair on your part. I'm just saying I believe that there is a God, one totally un-related to the monster in the Christian Bible. Thank you for your admission of a possibilty that such a God exists. It's unprovable. I may be wrong. You might be right. It's an open question..forever, I think

neandros

Zeus was once thought by many to exist. However, we can neither prove his existence nor disprove it. The problem comes when we assign a probability to his existence. Buggs then, in his fevered imagination, apparently assigns a 50% chance that Zeus (or whatever your favorite god might be) exists and 50% he doesn't. This is not valid. Just because we cannot prove beyond a shadow of doubt that Zeus does not exist does not mean it's 50/50. Again, the onus of proof is on the claimant. In the absence of heavy duty evidence, the probability most of us would assign (whether subconsciously or consciously) to Zeus's existence is

Buggs Raplin

I put the chances of there not being a God at the same odds that there is one.

neandros

wishsciencerules

Bugs, actually, I'm more like Lisa. But, you made me think. Are you trying to say that man created H. Simpson therefore Homer may actually exist in the country called, "Not Statistically Probable, but nonetheless, We Should Make Decisions As If a Homer, et al. May Exist? "

Buggs Raplin

You are someone who made a statement about what I said that wasn't true. Obviously you didn't put much thought into what you said, which made me think of Homer. Sorry, Lisa's the smart Simpson. You're not like her. Not at all.

tower

Wish, you can always tell when you hit a nerve with NBR because you become dead to him. So far I have been declared dead by him about 8 times. Welcome to the after life.

Buggs Raplin

Did someone slip a little LSD into your pina colada? What's with this dead stuff?

tower

Apparently you can't read your own words through the haze of the martini. I was taking liberties with your Homer Simpson reference. BTW: what's with that? Watching a little too much Netflix?

Buggs Raplin

Homer is stupid. Probably the only thing we can all agree on. wishsciencerules made a stupid mistake in that he didn't read what I had said and, based on that, had made an erroneous conclusion. OK, tower, can you see the connection? Can you fathom it? Or is it too complex for you? Now, please explain the liberties you took by saying I had declared you dead 8 times. Where is the connection to something I never said once, let alone 8 times?

Buggs Raplin

There's this misconceived notion that we should all bend down and submit to the dictates of "science." Indeed, science has become a religion for its adherents. They have 'faith' in science, even though all through history "science" has been proven wrong on numerous occasions. It has been shown to be in error in its judgment of human-caused global warming, which Jeremy refers to obliquely in his column. In error? Yes, of course, You must have evidence to back such a conclusion, and the warmist scientists have no evidence, just their opinions. Science, when supported by evidence, is a good thing. Science, when supported by conjecture is not. In fact, it's detrimental to science.

oldhomey

Oh, I was waiting for Buggs to raise the question of human-caused global warming here. Buggs calls for evidence, but when he is overwhelmed with evidence of human-caused global warming, all of a sudden evidence-based science is a joke to him, a bunch of "theorizers". Here is a pearl of Buggs wisdom: "all through history "science" has been proven wrong on numerous occasions." Brilliant, Buggs. You have distilled the scientific method to a short sentence. Science tests and retests theories constantly. Many looked like they were becoming accepted new scientific paradigms until somebody proved them false. But eventually, Buggs, a theory like gravity, is so evidently accurate, it is accepted. I don't know what the definition of a twit is. But somebody who has no evidence to argue against human-caused global warming who can turn around and argue that spacemen came to planet Earth from a planet beyond Neptune to establish the human race 6,000 years ago sounds kind of twitty to me.

Buggs Raplin

There you go again claiming there is evidence of human-caused global warming, when there is none, just opinion. Again, I only mentioned global warming in this debate because Jeremy mentioned something about carbon dioxide in his column.

Cassandra

The beauty of science and scientific inquiry is that when facts and data change, theories can be adjusted. Not so with dogma such as yours which mistrusts and disputes all known facts and data in favor of a twisted dogma.

Buggs Raplin

There you go again mentioning facts but avoiding specifics. You obviously think the "facts" buttress your position, but leave it at that without going into detail.

Cassandra

The facts have been presented to you many, many times, and you consistently ignore them. There is not enough space on the internet to present the laundry list of the facts you deny.

Monteee

"It’s true that beliefs can be entrenched and resistant to change...."


Beliefs are subjective and always subject to change. People can be resistant to change their beliefs. It all depends on the individual, and if he is open-minded and unafraid.....and humble enough to admit when he's wrong.

Even the most stubborn, thick-headed person can change his beliefs, but it takes a lot of time, a lot of energy, or both. I know one man who was a major alcoholic, but quit cold turkey when he found out that his wife had cancer. That one event woke him up and enabled his to change his beliefs about what was really important in life.

Clarification

Keep endlessly debating the three G's: God, guns and gays while the more important things are left out of any discussion.

Clarification

One can always come up with bad thing believers and non-believers do. Stupidity has no boundaries.

wishsciencerules

Oh, Jeremy, your well done piece is appreciated . Only we would like more to read more of your excellent, thought provoking witting. You could quit your day job.

wishsciencerules

Bugs, everything we experience has a logical explanation. We grow, innovate and, hopefully, improve the human condition as we search for logical explanations. When unusual events are attributed to mythology, the search for a logical explanation is squelched and we all loose valuable information. Brain flatus (trauma, psychoactive compounds, tumors, other permanent/transitory-functional/structural aberrations ) are logical causes of out of ordinary mental sensations. You are certainly literate enough to objectively view your sub-cultural conditioning and search for an actual cause of your experiences.

Buggs Raplin

A lot of fancy words there, but not pertinent to my experiences. What do they call such talk? Psychobabble, I think.

wishsciencerules

No, it is English. And, just to be cheeky, you do not "think" . If you did, you would seriously try to understand your experiences, so extraordinary, you feel compelled to play the god card.

Buggs Raplin

Total BS. You discredit yourself. I did not play the god card. Read my comment below. From now on "wishsciencerules" you are little more than a Homer Simpson to me.

Cassandra

Buggs is just exercising another round of elitist anti-intellectualism and denial of facts. It's his modus operandi.

Cassandra

Jeremy, I applaud you, but it is clear you are trying to argue with facts, and to people like Buggs and many others, facts simply don't matter.

Buggs Raplin

Cassie, could you elaborate on this "fact" thing of yours? Despite his plea for atheism in todays column, even Jeremy knows that facts don't factor into the discussion of whether there is a God or not. There's no proof either way, and for something to be a fact you need proof.

Cassandra

My point is that you, and people like you, simply disregard any facts presented if they don't match your pre-conceived notions.

Buggs Raplin

Cassie, what 'facts' have I disregarded? Be specific, please.

truthbknown

I liked this article. I use critical thinking, logic and facts to form opinions. By using these three tools I've know for a long time that I can be wrong sometimes, but the three tools have served me well.

People born without logic are EVERYWHERE!!! These people can be found mostly in the newspaper/webnews, etc. News media and comedians really like these people because they can use what they say to make fun of them and it doesn't even seem to hurt their feelings because they usually "double down" until someone tells them to stop it!! Then they will apologize using some phoney reason for saying it in the first place. The news media and comedians move on to the next guy/gal waiting in line. People running for President are a rich source for ridicule because they say a lot of dumb stuff. The Republican party right now is a gold mine because they have so many men & woman running. Donald Trump is special. He was born w/o a thought filter. Let's face it folks: Dumb sells

neandros

Buggs: "...There is no evidence whatsoever that there isn't a god."

Right, Buggs, and there's no evidence that there isn't a Zeus, an Osiris, or garden gnomes living north of 50 degrees latitude. So naturally we should be open to all these possibilities, improbable as they are, and shun any rational argument against their existence. In fact, we believers should build temples to worship those gnomes who sacrificed themselves for our sins, and we should never press buttons or eat turnips on Mondays - as such activities are known to displease gnomes.

Though I know it's like talking to a wall, I'll say it again. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We don't have to prove gnomes don't exist to find the claims of their existence (and their sacrifice) misguided and foolish.

Buggs Raplin

Well, it works both ways. Extraordinary claims, such as there is no God, requires extraordinary evidence. But you atheists have nothing to back up your claim. I mean, you don't do you? If you do, please reveal it to me, and I'll stand corrected. And, by the way, my own personal belief in a God has nothing to do with organized religion or Zeus, Osiris, or garden gnomes, but I see it's just a tactic of yours in an argument that thus far, can never be won by either side.

Buggs Raplin

Jeremy, of course, is an atheist, and this column is basically a subtle plea for us to become atheists, as there's no evidence to support religions, which admittedly have some strange beliefs that generate negative consequences at times. The 2nd paragraph is sort of contradictory, with Jeremy saying he believes everyone has the freedom to believe what they want, but then he tosses in his advice that we should only believe in things supported by evidence. There's great irony in this column for there is no evidence whatsoever that there isn't a God, so Jeremy's life vision of atheism has no evidentiary support. One last thing: there is a supernatural, for I have experienced it twice in my life. And I'm sure many, many others have as well. I'm not saying this is proof of a God. There is none, just as there is no proof that God doesn't exist.

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