Why atheists are not as rational as some like to think

Why atheists are not as rational as some like to think
Richard Dawkins, author, evolutionary biologist and emeritus fellow of New College, University of Oxford, is one of the world’s most prominent atheists. Credit: Fronteiras do Pensamento/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Many atheists think that their atheism is the product of rational thinking. They use arguments such as "I don't believe in God, I believe in science" to explain that evidence and logic, rather than supernatural belief and dogma, underpin their thinking. But just because you believe in evidence-based, scientific research – which is subject to strict checks and procedures – doesn't mean that your mind works in the same way.

When you ask atheists about why they became atheists (as I do for a living), they often point to eureka moments when they came to realise that religion simply doesn't make sense.

Oddly perhaps, many actually take a similar view of atheism. This comes out when theologians and other theists speculate that it must be rather sad to be an , lacking (as they think atheists do) so much of the philosophical, ethical, mythical and aesthetic fulfilments that religious people have access to – stuck in a cold world of only.

The science of atheism

The problem that any rational thinker needs to tackle, though, is that the science increasingly shows that atheists are no more rational than theists. Indeed, atheists are just as susceptible as the next person to "group-think" and other non-rational forms of cognition. For example, religious and nonreligious people alike can end up following charismatic individuals without questioning them. And our minds often prefer righteousness over truth, as the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has explored.

Even atheist beliefs themselves have much less to do with rational inquiry than atheists often think. We now know, for example, that nonreligious children of religious parents cast off their beliefs for reasons that have little to do with intellectual reasoning. The latest cognitive research shows that the decisive factor is learning from what parents do rather than from what they say. So if a parent says that they're Christian, but they've fallen out of the habit of doing the things they say should matter – such as praying or going to church – their kids simply don't buy the idea that religion makes sense.

This is perfectly rational in a sense, but children aren't processing this on a cognitive level. Throughout our evolutionary history, humans have often lacked the time to scrutinise and weigh up the evidence – needing to make quick assessments. That means that children to some extent just absorb the crucial information, which in this case is that religious belief doesn't appear to matter in the way that parents are saying it does.

Even older children and adolescents who actually ponder the topic of religion may not be approaching it as independently as they think. Emerging research is demonstrating that atheist parents (and others) pass on their beliefs to their children in a similar way to religious parents – through sharing their culture as much as their arguments.

Some parents take the view that their children should choose their beliefs for themselves, but what they then do is pass on certain ways of thinking about religion, like the idea that religion is a matter of choice rather than divine truth. It's not surprising that almost all of these children – 95% – end up "choosing" to be atheist.

Science versus beliefs

But are atheists more likely to embrace than religious people?Many belief systems can be more or less closely integrated with scientific knowledge. Some belief systems are openly critical of science, and think it has far too much sway over our lives, while other belief systems are hugely concerned to learn about and respond to scientific knowledge.

But this difference doesn't neatly map onto whether you are religious or not. Some Protestant traditions, for example, see rationality or scientific thinking as central to their religious lives. Meanwhile, a new generation of postmodern atheists highlight the limits of human knowledge, and see as hugely limited, problematic even, especially when it comes to existential and ethical questions. These atheists might, for example, follow thinkers like Charles Baudelaire in the view that true knowledge is only found in artistic expression.

And while many atheists do like to think of themselves as pro science, science and technology itself can sometimes be the basis of religious thinking or beliefs, or something very much like it. For example, the rise of the transhumanist movement, which centres on the belief that humans can and should transcend their current natural state and limitations through the use of technology, is an example of how technological innovation is driving the emergence of new movements that have much in common with religiosity.

Even for those atheists sceptical of transhumanism, the role of science isn't only about rationality – it can provide the philosophical, ethical, mythical and aesthetic fulfilments that do for others. The science of the biological world, for example, is much more than a topic of intellectual curiosity – for some atheists, it provides meaning and comfort in much the same way that belief in God can for theists. Psychologists show that in science increases in the face of stress and existential anxiety, just as religious beliefs intensify for theists in these situations.

Clearly, the idea that being atheist is down to rationality alone is starting to look distinctly irrational. But the good news for all concerned is that rationality is overrated. Human ingenuity rests on a lot more than rational thinking. As Haidt says of "the righteous mind", we are actually "designed to 'do' morality" – even if we're not doing it in the rational way we think we are. The ability to make quick decisions, follow our passions and act on intuition are also important human qualities and crucial for our success.

It is helpful that we have invented something that, unlike our minds, is rational and evidence-based: science. When we need proper evidence, science can very often provide it – as long as the topic is testable. Importantly, the scientific evidence does not tend to support the view that atheism is about rational thought and theism is about existential fulfilments. The truth is that humans are not like science – none of us get by without irrational action, nor without sources of existential meaning and comfort. Fortunately, though, nobody has to.


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Sep 27, 2018
The difference betwen Transhumanism and religion is that one of them, if not true (now) can be made so in future.

Sep 27, 2018
Science is not nearly as testable as people think. Sure, one can test a chemical reaction, but can one test if something is better for life on earth? There are too many variables. All we can do is try to survive and let evolution take its long winding road.

Sep 27, 2018
Among other things, the article refers to "eureka moments" that convince atheists God is not present. What brings this abouty? What specific evidence "proves" that accepting the presence of God is worthless? The fact that they asked for a pony and didn't get it? And is their "belief" well founded, or just a case of the manifestation in so many of embracing an assertion so strongly that they devote themselves to behaving like they believe it? Intruding into conversations, even on other topics, to promote the assertion; spending moments calculating how to make it seem like the assertion is involved in everything; speaking about the facets of the belief as if they are known to everyone.
As evidence, note the logically psychotic "Hitchens Principle" which says that, if someone promoting an idea does not provide evidence, that automatically "proves" it untrue and no one needs to prove any alternate assertion.

Sep 27, 2018
Atheism is a belief system just like religion and philosophy. Science is a non-belief system because it requires empirical evidence—information gathered by observation or experimentation. Belief systems can't lead to technologies, while applied science leads to computers, spacecraft, and biotechnology—in fact, all technologies. So religion, philosophy or science: which one is the true?

Sep 27, 2018
Atheism belief is typically not based on a certain belief, but a denial of a certain belief that would make them feel uncomfortable. In that sense it is far from rational.

mqr
Sep 27, 2018
People who claim atheism have very strong emotional idols, if anyone mention them, they will become very emotional.... It reminds me one of my preferred Nietzsche quotes where he prevented people from becoming the enemy that they were fighting. So religions are rejected because they are corrupted power structures, filled with sexual abusers, gossip, superstition, etc..... it sounds like modern science: do you believe in Darwin? or you will not be able to have a job!!!!! "oh, just the dumb believe in creation"..... or one of my preferred ones "men are inferior to women, women are holy.... say otherwise and you will never find a job because our movement has so much power"

Most atheists wrongly relate religions to the nature of the divine.... so if religions are a cauldron of psychopaths, therefore they assert that there is no creator, everything is senseless and chaotic

There is spiritual life.... and usually far from it, there are religions...

Sep 27, 2018
I tried an atheist group in San Diego; i found one could not have a scientific discussion with them. If I talked abou the latest science news, or science and mathematics(especially mathematics), they reacted like the religious do to new ideas.

I got into sungod mythology of jesus christ, and biblical archaeology; i find that many atheists who study either the old or new testament cannot accept one or another idea.Like, for instance, Bart Ehrman, who can find every contradiction and old testament midrash of jesus christ refuses to accept any suggestion that jesus christ is a sungod rehashed. No amount of christian quotes from back then saying that jesus christ is a sungod will convince him. F@@! the astrology analogies - the twelve followers of jesus are a personification of the twelve constellations.

Sep 27, 2018
I remember trying to talk to Acharya S, who was 1) one of the major proponents of the sungod idea of jesus christ, and 2) one of the most atheist and violently opposed to religion, how Jacob Bronowski liked to point out that mathematics and poetry share a common property of analogy. And, that mythology was just poetry. But, I'd go further and explain that mathematics is constructive and fact driven, while poetry isn't. She reacted violently.

I tried to explain this plus point out that in mathematics questions assumptions, and most people don't, and then they make over-generalizations to Eric Drexler, Chris Phoenix amongst every other nanotechnologists; they reacted violently.

Sep 27, 2018
I've tried to share my Gospel of Truth to numerous atheist groups on facebook, http://wwwscienti...dit.html

they make no comments. Same thing on twitter. If I share this with a Candida Moss, who wrote books showing the Roman torchering of christians didn't happen, she and her followers react coldly.

Sep 27, 2018
Atheism belief is typically not based on a certain belief, but a denial of a certain belief that would make them feel uncomfortable. In that sense it is far from rational. -Bart_A
The fact that you are a theist makes you unqualified to make statements on how atheists think or feel. That is, unless you were an atheist at one point in your life, but your reaction to articles on evolution suggests that you are still blindly running on religious tenets acquired during childhood.

Sep 27, 2018
Talking to atheists about anything- science or religion - is just as bad as some of the science talk here on physorg . . . like for instance about dark matter; you'll see all kinds of guys saying dark matter is non-scientific, and all kinds of guys pushing their own theories.

Sep 27, 2018
It seems to me we live in an incredibly ironic universe. Religion is a consequence of evolution (of groups) and science requires faith (that it will lead to more good than harm).

My hypothesis is you can reconcile religion and science if you understand that much of religion is a consequence of the evolution of groups. For example, an inventory of what principles religions share around the world suggests the more those principles are shared, the more likely those principles increase the odds of that group successfully competing with other groups.

Sep 27, 2018
I am an atheist, and I am perfectly rational. Here is a picture I took of the Moon cracking open like an egg. I'm guessing a UFO came out of the resulting hole. On the other hand, it could be a picture of Mothman. I'm not sure which yet. :)

https://ibb.co/kWHHEn

Sep 27, 2018
Years ago any suggestion there are bacterial communities deep underground was summarily dismissed. Evidence on drill bits was dismissed as surface contamination. When we finally opened our minds to this possibility, rigorous studies improved our understanding of the universe.

The same applies to religion. Some people quickly dismiss religions as simple nonsense, but religion is so persistent, and adaptive, it should be systematically studied. Who cares, you might ask. It looks to me like we are missing a part of the story of evolution, which means we don't understand ourselves, and we are going to be even more surprised by what exists out there in the universe.

Sep 27, 2018
It looks to me like we are missing a part of the story of evolution, which means we don't understand ourselves, and we are going to be even more surprised by what exists out there in the universe.


IMO, there is nothing rational about religion. That is not to say that it is not an inevitable product of self awareness and high intelligence.
Once we become aware of our own mortality, and that of loved ones around us, then how is such an intelligent, emotionally advanced species supposed to deal with thoughts of our own impending doom, or the loss of a child, or sibling, or partner, or parent? We make stuff up to lessen the hurt, otherwise we'd possibly become evolutionarily useless. Having made stuff up, it undergoes its own form of evolution into the various religions that the planet has seen.


Sep 27, 2018
@jonesdave.
Once we become aware of our own mortality, and that of loved ones around us, then how is such an intelligent, emotionally advanced species supposed to deal with thoughts of our own impending doom, or the loss of a child, or sibling, or partner, or parent? We make stuff up to lessen the hurt, otherwise we'd possibly become evolutionarily useless. Having made stuff up, it undergoes its own form of evolution into the various religions that the planet has seen.
A very good, succinct, well observed, summary there, jonesey. :)

PS: I became atheist at aged 9; when I realized how innocents (unborn babies, newborn babies, children and adults) were at the mercy of 'chance' and forces (natural and human) beyond the control of victims; and also beyond the control/care of whatever 'deity' was being believed in/appealed to by victims who were religious/spiritual but ignorant of the 'chance' and natural forces (including evolution/mutations) affecting them. Science helps.

Sep 27, 2018
Having made stuff up, it undergoes its own form of evolution into the various religions that the planet has seen.


"Every time you recall a memory, your brain changes it a little, until your best and worst memories become your greatest illusions." - Octavia, The Expanse

One other thing, if there really was One True God, religion would be unnecessary.

Sep 27, 2018
For example, an inventory of what principles religions share around the world suggests the more those principles are shared, the more likely those principles increase the odds of that group successfully competing with other groups.


I think these commonly shared principals are the result of the evolution of our emotional and intellectual capacities, and predate religion. I further think that religions arose as systems of control based on those fundamental principals. They did so by attributing these natural principals to inscrutable supernatural agents, which in-turn, provided all the justification needed to impose arbitrary control, judgment, and tyranny.


Sep 27, 2018
IMO, there is nothing rational about religion. That is not to say that it is not an inevitable product of self awareness and high intelligence.


Fine, you can begin by treating religion as collective mental illness if you prefer, but there must be reasons for it to exist and I am arguing that it needs to be studied in a methodical fashion like everything else. I am not saying it has a basis in fact, because most religions have their own set of mutually inconsistent "facts." I am saying shared philosophies can enhance survival of a group in some circumstances, and are thus "adaptive" from an evolutionary perspective. This goes to your point that it might be the inevitable product of self awareness and high intelligence.

Sep 27, 2018
[deleted]

In my time as an atheist I have noticed two things. First, there are atheist extremists who are just as irrational (and preachy) as the religious sort. Second, over last few years, I think I see a large influx of new atheists but they seem to be of the extremist type. I suspect they became disillusioned with their extreme religious views and flipped to the opposite extreme pole.

I wonder what the results of this study would be if extremists were put in religious and atheist groups of their own. I suspect the most frustratingly irrational people are zealots of both kinds, and more moderate people tend to work science and rational thinking into their daily lives more often regardless of religion. I'd bet a dime zealots are also more likely to be Flat Earthers, Jet Contrail Phobics, AGW deniers, ride 'em dino-boy Jesus believers, anti-vaxxers, MAGAts, alien analprobeologists, holocaust deniers, ISIS neck choppers, and whatever dozen other stupid ideas people have cooked up this week.

Sep 27, 2018
Believers in western religion and atheists share a common core belief: both believe that the material universe exists. There is no rational basis for this belief, nor any empirical basis. It is pure faith.

And it happens to be wrong. Therefore, the question is not whether science or religion has it right. They are both wrong.

Sep 27, 2018
I like the way you conduct yourself, Phyllis Harmonic.

Sep 27, 2018
I am an atheist. By this - I mean that I do not believe in a supreme being or beings. I accept that there COULD be a supreme being - but at this point I see no evidence of one - so choose to call myself an atheist - but one who would change my position in a heartbeat - if real evidence were presented.
In a previous life I was a theist. I believed in a magic sky fairy - who could wave a magic wand - and create a universe out of whole cloth. Said deity - created a perfect universe - that then went terribly wrong - so he had to send all the souls he created to hell for eternity - unless they accepted Jesus as their savior - and then they could go to heaven for eternity. In retrospect - I had no evidence for this belief system - it was given to me by my parents - and I had not yet developed the critical thinking skills to challenge it.

Now someone writes an article and says that both positions are irrational. Total bullshit.

Sep 27, 2018
I'm going to join you @greenonion. I am an atheist. Like some artificial intelligence, I ridicule religion. I maintain that logic is the face of all knowledge. But I am also not an atheist in the fact that the universe itself teaches me otherwise. The boundaries of the edge of the universe would confound the best of us and it is very humbling. With that said I do respect all of my friend's beliefs in their religions and I admire their pursuit of those ideas expressed in their religion in the hopes that it betters all of mankind. I think that's what we all seek as the spawn of the planet Earth.

There's a bigger picture to be had then religion and debates about it. Debates on religion are like the squabbles at a soccer game who's the better? It's a waste of time. What we need to focus on are the very pressing issues that are affecting everyone specifically global warming and maintaining the planet's ecology.


Sep 28, 2018
F@@! the astrology analogies - the twelve followers of jesus are a personification...
As a wanna-be atheist, but my brain is so overwhelmed by how phenomenal the physics laws link us to the universe says, that is somebody screwed up stuff there. Have you ever thought about taking drugs? DMT is supposed to be really good for religion.

Sep 28, 2018
F@@! the astrology analogies - the twelve followers of jesus are a personification...
As a wanna-be atheist, but my brain is so overwhelmed by how phenomenal the physics laws link us to the universe says, that is somebody screwed up stuff there. Have you ever thought about taking drugs? DMT is supposed to be really good for religion.


one more time - http://wwwscienti...dit.html fucking read! look up the god dam fucking references!

Sep 28, 2018
Religion is a consequence of evolution (of groups) and science requires faith (that it will lead to more good than harm).

My hypothesis is you can reconcile religion and science if you understand that much of religion is a consequence of the evolution of groups. For example, an inventory of what principles religions share around the world suggests the more those principles are shared, the more likely those principles increase the odds of that group successfully competing with other groups.


Science does not require faith at all, apart from in the sense that you need to trust the experts in things you yourself are not expert in but science is self-correcting in any way, following the evidence.
So what if religious ideas are due to how we evolved, they are still incorrect, we just now understand why and how.
Any totally rational being will never believe in any religion at all, since there is not one shred of any evidence for any religion being true, not once, ever.

Sep 28, 2018
howhot
I do respect all of my friend's beliefs in their religions and I admire their pursuit of those ideas expressed in their religion
Why? Just look at this one example - and explain to me the utility in respecting insanity. http://www.gleepy...eaf2.pdf


Sep 28, 2018
Dawkins is not an atheist hes an ANTIRELIGIONIST. The only appropriate stance.
The same applies to religion. Some people quickly dismiss religions as simple nonsense, but religion is so persistent, and adaptive, it should be systematically studied
Systematically studied? What are you talking about mark? What makes you think it hasn't been?

Look up gamblers anonymous.

Some scams are more successful than others. This one happens to promise you absolutely everything you ever wanted, including tribal membership.

No wonder it persists.

Sep 28, 2018
I like the way you conduct yourself, Phyllis Harmonic.


(✿◠‿◠)

Sep 28, 2018
Sadly, most people don't realize a lot of what is identified as 'science' is nothing more than the current consensus of people self identifying as scientists. What is sometimes identified as science is nothing more than an often repeated hypothesis that lacks proper study. The more its repeated, the more its accepted as 'settled'. LOL, Years later there will be a new hypothesis to replace the old one. Perhaps, due to corroborating evidence that could be a 'Eureka'! moment or maybe just leads to a 'leaning' to a new belief.

Sep 28, 2018
I gave Duude a five in error. I was looking for a decimal point when it logged in.

Sep 28, 2018
I gave Duude a five in error. I was looking for a decimal point when it logged in.


I was at least able to null your 5 with my 1. :) And you get my 5 : )

Sep 28, 2018
a lot of what is identified as 'science' is nothing more than the current consensus of people self identifying as scientists
And chemistry is nothing more than the current consensus of people self identifying as chemists. So what's your point? Do you think that the facts that they have spent their lives studying chemistry - and are building on thousands of years of the development of knowledge regarding chemistry carry any weight on the topic of what is science?

What does atheist mean? It means not subscribing to the notion that one or several super- or above-human individuals exist outside the laws of physics etc, fudging them. Note that that this or these figures are claimed to be separate beings. It is as logical to attack an a-theist as it is to attack an a-FlyingSpaghettiMonster.

@ those of us atheists/still-searchers, already grown up and discarding sky daddy, realizing that there is more at play in our universe than only clumped up coarse matter: after freeing oneself up from the illogical deus-trash there is nothing wrong with studying nature, thinking things through and then accepting that there is a pervasive non-personal energy empowering all unfolding in our cosmos. Not in the sense of pulling any strings, but by having brought about the beautiful set of universally applicable laws of nature according to which all could and can evolve. Nothing is outside the grand scheme, but rather deeply interconnected as a kind of oneness.

Sep 30, 2018
So if we equivocate it is as bad to be mostly rational as it is to be completely irrational. More problematic for the article is that we know from nation statistics that degree of non-religiosity correlate with happiness (c.f. Scandinavia) and not 'a cold world'.

Most problematic is that despite the ending implication that magic cannot be tested same as other superstition, science advances has now encroached on that subject. Prayer studies has been supplemented by Large Hadron Collider standard particle theory and experiment results in telling us that religion is useless in the sense that there are no 'souls' so no 'afterlife' reward, something that several well known physicists started to note in public last year. Arguable the recent, last and 3 ways consistent, Planck cosmic background data release robustly implies that the now known completely natural universe - objects and actions - has no 'gods'.

[tbctd]

Sep 30, 2018
[ctd]

But this is what you get from 3 million in religious grants. Biologist Jerry Coyne:

"Templeton gave her and her co-PI Stephen Bullivant (also a religious scholar) nearly three million dollars to study the nature and variety of "unbelief". While the grant summary pretends that this is a dispassionate inquiry into the origin and nature of atheism, I wrote at the time that giving the grant to these two was "like asking creationists to direct a sociological study of why so many scientists accept evolution."

And indeed, it's clear from Lee and Bullivant's writings that their study is tendentious. It's not a rational inquiry into atheism, but rather an attack on atheism, and, in Lee's latest article in The Conversation, "Why atheists are not as rational as some like to think" (click on screenshot), she positively celebrates irrationality."

[ https://whyevolut...dissing/ ]

Sep 30, 2018
@flashgordon: "If I talked abou the latest science news, or science and mathematics(especially mathematics), they reacted like the religious do to new ideas. I got into sungod mythology of jesus christ, and biblical archaeology; ..."

It sounds to me like you spouted pseudoscience such as 'biblical archeology' or mythology, or tired old religious chestnuts such as that math - constructed and selected on the grounds it works by humans - somehow implies efficiency and irrationally 'gods'. Only religious would be interested, and no one consider it science - your sect leaders have you confused.

As for science on religion, see my previous comment here: religion is now known to be useless (if you ever expected an 'afterlife' reward).

Oct 02, 2018
Geez I was just trying to throw a couple of comments in. I really wanted to make the point that I respect other religions but religion is not my cup of tea. I'm sure many others feel the same way. I believe in diversity and a diversity of thought seems to me to be a good thing. So even though there are a lot of examples of people doing cultural stuff that is certainly contrary to our upbringing, if we all agree it is within acceptable practices of society then why not accept it. It's simply part of having an open mind about things you don't and won't practice.

Science, on the other hand, is a very well described process of deduction, logic, reporting, and observation. It's a human process the transcend the thinking of religious dictation. Science unites us and it is a reward for being Human.


Oct 02, 2018
Atheism is a belief system just like religion and philosophy.


Nothing could be further from the truth. Atheism is the absence of belief systems. Only a fool would make this statement,

Oct 02, 2018
flashgordon - here is your comment. I do not fool with uneducated fecal regurgitators. I put them on ignore. You will receive no further comment from me.

Oct 02, 2018
Being a true atheist is to recognize why humans have these strange things called beliefs. Belief is our euphemism for our amazing capacity for self delusion. We gain co-operation by concocting a delusional description of a possible future, and selling that delusion to other humans. Successful delusion salesmen are called "Leaders".

Being an atheist is also recognizing that you are also human, and cannot truly escape that fact. So you must be continually on guard against your own tendency toward delusion.

Being a theist is to give in entirely to delusion, and follow it to its extreme. A theist can take delusion straight to psychosis.

Oct 02, 2018
And so the logical conclusion is that this article is worthless. I doubt the writer has much of a grasp on what atheism actually is.

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