- Unsupervised Learning
- When is an Idea Ridiculous?
When is an Idea Ridiculous?
I’ve been debating here for quite some time the question of how direct, or even confrontational, to be with those who make strong and specific claims about the nature of reality and morality based on religion.
I am for directly refuting these claims due to the fact that there is no evidence to support the existence of the creator that is required for the claims to be true. Or, at least no more evidence than there is for Isis or Thor. Furthermore, my more practical argument is that these types of beliefs have negative effects on society.
When I take this line I am vehemently opposed by many of my readers and friends. Their argument is essentially that moderate religion is harmless, and that there’s no reason to actively oppose it. Or, to put it in a more pointed way, they argue that my objection to their beliefs is no different than their beliefs themselves.
So this raises a question:
Are any beliefs worthy of ridicule in society? And if so, what separates those beliefs from those of the mainstream religious?
My stance on the first question is a definitive, “yes”. Many beliefs are, quite literally, ridiculous. That is to say they are “worthy of ridicule”. In other words, if someone were to claim to believe such a belief, it would be acceptable to openly dismiss and then ostracize them.
So what are some examples of such beliefs with respect to modern, western society?
The belief that Elvis is still alive
The belief that humans shared the earth with dinosaurs
The belief that the earth is 5,000 years old
The belief in leprechauns or fairies
The belief that praying is an alternative to emergency medical treatment
The belief in alchemy vs. chemistry
The belief in medieval, witchcraft-style magic
Surely these have varying levels of believability among different groups, but in general if you’re interviewing for a mainstream job making more than $50,000, and the subject turns to your personal life, you would never want to voice any of the opinions mentioned above.
The question is, “why”?
As Sam Harris likes to point out, the reasons is simple. There would be immediate repercussions. You would likely not get the job, and when you left the person interviewing you would tell all of his/her associates about how nutty the last interviewee was. In short, ridicule.
My opinion on confronting religious beliefs is based on a simple concept.
We already today, in mainstream society, openly reject many foolish beliefs that are less outlandish than believing one is, to some degree, in communication with the creator of the universe, and that worshiping this invisible entity will yield immortality.
Assuming we survive long enough, this belief will fall squarely into the list I’ve made above. This has already happened in many European countries (which, by the way, are more educated, have less crime, and enjoy more overall societal health).
It’s time to do the same here. Call it what it is. Insane.
Harmless, Therefore OK
Once I make my previous point, the standard apologist line is invariably that no harm comes from moderate belief (even if it’s preposterous), and that such beliefs should therefore be left alone.
Well, first of all, I don’t believe this to be true. I believe moderate belief serves as the foundation for extreme belief, and without everyone giving moderate belief (in telepathic communication with the creator of the universe), there would be an overwhelming backlash against extremists. The reason this has not happened is simply because, with regard to the nature of reality, the beliefs of moderates and extremists are pretty much identical.
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In short, you can’t attack an extremists view of reality without attacking the moderates’ view a well. Here’s an example conversation between an atheist, a Christian extremist, and a Christian moderate.
Atheist to Extremist: You believe the creator of the universe communicates with you, and indicates to you what path you should take in life? Are you nuts?Moderate to Atheist: Actually, we believe that too.Atheist to Moderate: Oh, ok…Atheist to Extremist: So you actually believe that if you obey these feelings you have, as per this book you have, that you will live forever? Like, longer than the universe? Surely you see how silly that sounds.Moderate to Atheist: Actually, we believe that too.Atheist to Moderate: Oh, ok… (confused)Atheist to Extremist: You really believe that an omnipotent being made a sacrifice by sending his son (a human concept) to die for us (even though he knew he would die, and knew he would be resurrected), and as a result humanity has a debt to pay him? Does that make any sense to you?Moderate to Atheist: Actually, we believe that too.
The basics are the same for the extremists and the moderates. They both accept the exact same ridiculous core beliefs…the difference is simply how they choose to act on them. And since that’s open to interpretation, and the ever-changing whims and fads of a particular church or family to teach–the seeds of extremism are present in every moderate who embraces these fantasy-based core doctrines.
I believe the answer is to move, as a society, to reject the core ideas themselves–just as we already have with the other fantasy-based beliefs we’ve already collectively put into the “ridiculous” category.
In short, ideas don’t become less preposterous just because more people believe them, and we should be willing to discard ideas, no matter their popularity, if they are unsupported by evidence.
 When I say “moderate” Christian, I mean one who shares a common, mainstream Christian set of beliefs, including the belief in hell for non-believers and the belief that Jesus will return soon to bring upon the end of days. These are not fringe beliefs; they are mainstream.
 God killed millions of people in the Bible. That’s a fact. And that fact will always be available to anyone who wants to use it as justification to kill others. It’s there in black and white. The moderation that prevents this from happening does not come from the religion itself, but rather from the opposite–logic and reason.