Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is It Wrong to Believe?

As an atheist I don't believe in god, God, or gods. It isn't that I don't want to believe in them, it's that I can't find anything that would make me believe. It isn't a choice for me. I can no longer believe in any gods than I could begin believing in Hogwarts. But is belief bad in and of itself? I don't think so. Each of us carries a series of beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. Many of those beliefs will turn out to be wrong. As we get older, some of the things that we took for granted will fall by the wayside as we learn and grow. What matters is how we react to our own beliefs and the beliefs of others in the mean time.
There seems to be two primary differences in the atheist community. One belief states that religion is wrong because it teaches people to believe things without any proof whatsoever. Since believing things without proof is incompatible with knowledge, religion is a bad thing for simply existing. The other belief that runs through the atheist community is that belief isn't a bad thing in and of itself, it is more a matter of how you deal with it. This view holds that we all believe things that are wrong from time to time, but if they aren't hurting anyone, then it is okay to hold these beliefs until such a time as we can eliminate them from our minds.
I was reminded of these differences in beliefs when I came across an blog post of one skeptic rebutting the ideas of another skeptic. Rebecca Watson wrote:
Shermer states that 41% of Democrats believe god created man as-is within the previous 1,000 years [EDIT: I mean 10,000, not that that's much better] and 19% doubt global warming. The creationism question comes from a recent Gallup poll of 1,000 people, and the global warming figure comes from this 2011 poll that also found that only 36% of Democrats doubted evolution. But let’s say that yes, a large minority of Democrats don’t believe in evolution and a smaller minority doesn’t believe in climate change.

Does this equal a “liberal war on science”? Hardly. A lot of people believing something inaccurate does not mean there’s a war – a war requires action, and conservatives are the people who are performing the actions: namely, introducing and sponsoring antievolution bills. While I’m sure that some Democrat must have introduced an antievolution bill, my Google skills have failed to turn one up. Bill after bill in state after state, conservative Republicans are the ones who are attempting to legislate their religious beliefs.
And I think she is exactly right. Believing something inaccurate doesn't mean that you are at war, and it doesn't mean that you are doing anything negative to society. At most you are hurting yourself, but that is a different post. I can see no reason to try to change someone's beliefs simply because they believe something different than I believe. The main reason I see for confronting religion is because of the actions they do in the name of their religion.
Do you want to pray in public? Fantastic! I fully support your right to pray. Do you want to force me, my friends, or my children to pray in public? I will oppose you with every legal means I have at my disposal. Do you want to pray in school? No problem. You can pray all you want. You can pray before school, during school, and after school. You can sit at your desk and pray instead of working or taking a test. You can ride the bus to school and pray constantly until you take the bus back home. What you can't do is use the power of the state to try to force other people to practice your belief system. If you try, I will oppose you to the best of my ability. The same is true for marriage. I will argue against religious people trying to impose their values on other couples.
Religion and religious beliefs aren't bad in and of themselves. What makes religious beliefs bad is the same thing that makes any belief bad; trying to impose it on other people against their will.

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