Why is religion still such a big part of the world?

Why do so many seemingly intelligent people believe in astrology? Or homeopathic medicine? Or acupuncture? Or chiropractic “medicine”? Or any other system of beleif with no rational basis in fact?

Answer number one is, I think, the power of tradition. People believe in things because that’s what they were raised to believe. Peer pressure also forms a part of this answer, since people in general like to fit in with those around them.

Answer number two is, I think, a deep-rooted, perhaps even innate need to be able to explain the unexplained. For some people, this leads to a life of philosophical and/or scientific Inquiry. For other, it leads to a growing sense of credulity wherein thay are predisposed to believe anything that purports to explain the otherwise unexplainable. And, sadly, these two paths are not mutually exclusive; one can be a serious student of science and philosophy and still be suckered into believing one absurd notion or another.

Answer number three is, I think the nearly overwhelming power of anecdotal evidence, especially when experienced first-hand. Logical analysis, the scientific metod, and the doctrine of falsifiability are all well and good, but they often take a distant back seat to emotion when a person experiences (or knows somebody who experiences) what he or she believes to be “proof.” Sure, there’s no rational explanation to believe that homeopathic medicine could possibly be effective, but tell that to the person who suffered from sever hayfever for years until drinking a “magic elixer” and being “cured.” It doesn’t matter that many other people have not been helped or that there is no possible way in which the explained cause could have had the observed effect. Similarly, religion is full of so-called “faith promoting stories” that provide irrefutable “proof” of the existence of God to those willing to chuck logic and rational thought out the window.

Then, of course, you’ve got to consider the fact that religious beliefs provide comfort in the face of loss and pain, provide the weak and helpless with a sense of superiority over the strong and successful (in this life, of course), etc.


I agree with the sentiment of Lobsang.

I became an athiest at the age of 10, the same day I found out Santa Claus was not real. The logic flow was so simple to me, They were both figures I never saw, and by all historical references most likely would never see. They resided in impossible locations, were surrounded by mythological beings, and defied all laws of space and time to carry out what is generally accepted as their primary functions. Just like the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, I realized all of them were make-believe the same day.

Since then, I do feel pity, if not annoyance with people who have strong religious beliefs. I just can’t fathom the idea of personifying the answers to the as-of-yet un-answerable. Historically, what we didn’t understand we sooner or later figured out. What we figured out often brought up more questions. Its the nature of the universe. Chaotic, intricate and infinitely difficult to understand.

In my estimation the primary reason is fear. Humans are not willing to accept the amount of uncertainty that lack of belief entails. The extremely ignorant would likely become violent if they were faced with the universe as an unyeilding intellectual opponent when they are so… unarmed. Instead, and simple, all-inclusive explanation is the easiest, cleanest method for them to “understand” the universe and get on with their lives. Opiot of the masses, y’know.

Well, so many people are wrong about lots of things.

My favorite Schopenhauer quote comes to mind: “There is no absurdity so palpable but that it may be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to inculcate it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity.”

When a majority of people are brought up hearing superstitions laid out in all earnestness, “with an air of great solemnity,” by adults whom they have little choice but to trust (and who were themselves brought up the same way), then it isn’t too surprising that such beliefs persist. Children believe almost anything, and in the case of religion, those beliefs are often pretty deeply rooted by the time anything that might call them into question, like rational thinking, comes along. Many are never encouraged to question and doubt their religious beliefs, as they are with their Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy beliefs. If something does call religious beliefs into question, most people seem to be satisfied with the “how can so many people be so wrong?” answer. Doesn’t stand up to much analysis–to me it seems the worst rationale for holding a belief. But then most people aren’t really given to that sort of analysis.

In other words, a lot of people just don’t ever think much about it. Religious beliefs are not so much a part of their thoughts; they’re more a kind of background or foundation for their thoughts. It’s a lot of trouble to rip up a foundation, even a wobbly one.

It does surprise me a bit that intelligent adults can give the matter serious thought and still believe, but some do. It often seems to me that their religious beliefs, inculcated as they were from early childhood, are simply too deeply planted in the mind for the intelligence, which developed later, to root out. There are many kinds of intelligence, and not all kinds are given to critical examination of one’s beliefs.

Imagine no religion, to paraphrase John. (Not John the Baptist!) Most people just aren’t ready to do that. It’s sad, because when I do, I see a much better world.

I earnestly believe that if children somehow had to wait until their teens to be exposed to religion, and then use the intellectual skills they’d developed by then to decide whether the “god” answer or the atheistic view made the most sense, the world would be dominated by atheists instead of the other way around. I don’t mean “dominated” in a control-struggle way, either, I just imagine that theists would be in a distinct minority, numbers-wise.

Of course, by the time they reach their teens, many kids have been so thoroughly indoctrinated with their fairy tales as “fact” they can’t even begin to question them objectively. Everything they encounter has to be filtered through that religious “fact-checker” in their brains, which leads to all sorts of impossibly convoluted logic from trying to reconcile two irreconcilable systems.

If you could somehow wait until your reasoning skills were sufficiently developed to rationally examine the evidence on both sides of the theism/atheism debate… god(s) would only appeal to the dimmest of thinkers.

MrO and godzilla temple said what I wanted to say, and better than I would have said it. To that, I add that young people are discouraged from even questioning what they are being brainwashed with, er, taught. “God moves in mysterious ways. It’s disrespectful to your Sunday school teacher to back her into a corner like that”, etc.

Or it could be that you’re assuming that they haven’t bothered to question their religious beliefs. While this may be true for some of them, I don’t see how you can substantiate this in general.

Moreover, such a premise would not explain those people who were not raised in a religious environment, and who converted to theism after investigating the matter.

I wouldn’t compare Santa Clause with God thou… Santa at least brought me presents… :slight_smile: Thou I was intrigued how he managed the logistics of it all. Especially since I had sent my Christmas Gift Wish list only 3-4 weeks beforehand.

Well back to other myths… Lobsan, even knowing your being provocative, I would only be careful of coining all theists as less than cerebral. Some are smart… thou I won’t give the majority that much credit. Its the “sheep” aspect of being religious because mom and dad were, everyone is… etc… that gets to me.

The fact that the earth is some kind of huge dieties "playground" for morality dilemmas seems comforting for some... other beleive their wives are faithful... others think they understand life. Let them feel good about life and mythology.

I have my doubts about how prevalent a scenario the above represents. Trouble is, so few people grow up completely outside the influence of religion, there’s not much of a sample size to look at and determine how many people would “choose” a particular religion objectively, from a pool of competing worldviews.

t’s not like someone chooses Christianity, or Buddhism, or islam, from among a level playing field of contestants and does so at a stage in life when their critical thinking skills are at their highest.

I’d be interested in looking at some data which attempts to measure the rate at which irreligious people, later on in life, objectively “investigate the matter” and “convert to theism.” Oh— and convicted felons don’t count. :slight_smile:

No one here so far has proposed the idea that our brains are hard-wired for religious belief. As humans were forming clans, villages, etc., the ability to control the plebes with rituals was selected for. Those clans that didn’t practice this kind of control were more likely to die off.

On another topic, isn’t it true that the vast majority of today’s atheists were raised as religious, then lost their belief as a result of their reasoning abilities? And I think it’s also true that a child born to an atheist family will be much more likely to be an atheist himself when he gets to the age of majority, whether he analyzes his belief system or not.

In my observation, atheists are a highly moral group. I would expect this given that we’ve thought about the deep questions more than the average Joe Sixpack. But with a new generation of atheists, what will happen to their morality, if they don’t have this self-analysis, and they don’t have the fear of god to keep them in line? Does the fear of god play an important role in the moral behavior of Maynard Muskeevote?

God is dead. Unfortunately, the corpse has proven remarkably resistant to being towed away.

Perhaps if God were still alive, we could ask Him to create a towline big enough to carry Him away… but that’s no longer an option.

The point I tried to make is - if someone believes in something which I see as far fetched, then It will lower (not remove) my trust in their common sense.

Let’s say for instance someone you trusted and liked one day ‘confessed’ that he had been abducted by aliens, and that they had replaced his brain with an excact copy, and that all the time they are trying to contact him through the radio, and he seemed to believe it. Would you still trust his sanity as much as you did before? Would you trust him to babysit your children? Or drive you somewhere? Or run your town well?

To summarize, I see a person with strong religious beliefs as gullable, and therefore they might be gullible in other aspects of their lives.

I am sorry if that offends you, I don’t mean to. But I can’t help feeling that way.

About your first point, I did say “a lot of people,” not all. About the second, I’ll admit that those people are a mystery to me. Not sure how common the scenario is. I’ve known a few who have converted from never taking religious matters seriously to theism, but I personally have never known anyone who converted from serious, carefully considered, rational atheism to theism, though I’m sure they do exist.

By the way, Rashak Mani–I’ve noticed others pointing this out in your posts, but I haven’t seen your response: Why do you insist on spelling “though” as “thou”? “Thou” is a different word, you know. “Tho” would be a casual option. Honest, I’m not attacking you–your writing is good. I’m just curious about this one persistent spelling mistake.

Oh, your main point–true, if people derive comfort from their religious beliefs, I don’t really object. When those religious beliefs are imposed on me, though (notice the spelling!:wink: ), or when they are intertwined with government policy, it becomes annoying.

I have read the whole thread now, and I’d just like to thank everyone for thoroughly answering my question.

I grew up in a vaguely religious environment (RE at school, and general take-forgrantedness that God exists) and at an early age rationally questioned it and ceased believing in it.

It is probably because of the vagueness of the religion in my upbringing that enabled me to dismiss it so easily. I understand that a strong religious upbringing makes it difficult to let go, even if you turn out to be a very intelligent/rational person. As it is a scary thought to decide to let go of something that your life is based on, to remove the foundation. Like removing the ground from underneath you.

Someone asked why I chose this username if I am an atheist (Strictly speaking I am agnostic as I agree that we can never really know God doesn’t exist, but I believe it so much that you can call me atheist. Afterall,- we can never really know the centre of the universe is not made of custard)

I’ll read ‘Theif of Time’ again and give you an answer*. I can tell you now I don’t like it anymore. I want to be MrVimes, the coolest bastard in Discworld. Dirty Harry with an English accent.
[sub]*I know it has something to do with similarity to my real last name, and a fascination with buddhism, and something to do with time[/sub]

I’m on the same page as Lobsang. Raised catholic on a vaguely religious environment but once I got to the age that I could think about it by myself I became an atheist, of the “it’s all an elaborate fairy tale” variety. I genuinely think that when I die that’s then end, there will be nothing left of me except my memory with the people who knew me and that doesn’t prompt me to seek confort. Life is ups and downs and I simply cannot understand, on a personal level, how people can tie that with their faith. Unfortunately I lose a little bit of respect because of that. I feel like some people prefer to believe in an elaborate story and have their thoughts dictated by organised religion, because of this weak need to feel special and protected. It wouldn’t bother me so much if it weren’t for the group cult aspect of it. I absolutely despise fundamentalisms of all kinds. I hope we will reach a day and age where religion has no place. Where people are guided to goodness by a strong bond and sense of ethics and order. It’s clear to me where the concept of God came from but it is not clear why it hasn’t died yet.

It doesn’t offend me at all.

I just find it a bit . . . omnibus in scope.

Anyway, even assuming you’re right with regard to religious people being gullible concerning their belief in God (or god), surely you must agree this is not the only way a person can be shown gullible. In fact, I’m willing to guess that everyone is tripped up (or prone to be tripped up) by something that’s less than rational.

I do agree with that.
Let’s forget why someone is being gullible for the sake of argument. - If someone who is respected and admired, one day admits to something that I consider gullible (believing something that I strongly disbelieve), then my respect for them will lower.
I do still respect certain religeous people, but I will always give them a sideways look when they are demonstrating their intelligence and wisdom.

Since TOny Blair admitted he was religious, I no longer hang on his every word. But I do still support him and enjoy his articulate speeches.

I read recently that 6% of Brits and 65% of Americans would describe themselves as “devoutly religious” – I can’t link to it as I can’t remember where I read it. Sorry. I believe I also recall recent figures suggesting a number significantly under 10% go to church regularly in the UK.

Even if remotely accurate, those numbers would lead me to suppose social considerations have a very significant impact on modern day, post-Darwin belief.

fwiw, Lobsang’s opinions seem pretty mainstream for this part of the world.

I do not know for an objective, demonstrable fact whether God exists or whether any particular religious belief is true. However, here are some things I do know for a fact, from personal experience:

Many of the smartest, and many of the wisest, and many of the goodest, people I have known (both in person and by reputation), are religious. And their religious beliefs are an integral part of who they are and why they are that way.

There are many different religious beliefs out there. Some of them are much more illogical and ridiculous than others. And some, if not all, of the ones that are not inherently ridiculous, have been presented in ridiculous ways, or held by ridiculous people, or given ridiculous twists. To put all religious beliefs in the same basket would be like setting the belief that life exists somewhere else in the universe equal to the belief that little green men from Mars probed my anus last night.

Prove it.