IEET > Rights > Economic > Vision > Affiliate Scholar > Hank Pellissier > FreeThought > Technoprogressivism
Atheists are the most generous—even without heavenly reward!
Hank Pellissier   Nov 25, 2011   Ethical Technology  

Who gives the most to charitable causes? Those who believe in gods or those who don’t?

“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…” (Mark 10:21)

“Any charity you give is for your own good. Any charity you give shall be for the sake of GOD. Any charity you give will be repaid to you…” (Koran 2:272)

Charitable behavior gets big perks in the afterlife, according to Christian and Islamic theology. Philanthropy, in these creeds, is a highly profitable long-term investment, a down payment on ecstatic immortality. Quite the bargain!
But atheists? No heaven awaits them. No pearly gates, eager virgins, harping angels, fluffy clouds, or succulent oasis. No reward whatsoever. Atheists have no faith, no expectation of benefit from a deity. So, atheists are probably selfish, right? Pitiless, parsimonious. Totally stingy misers, not passing a penny off to the poor…correct?

WRONG! Atheists, non-believers, secular humanists, skeptics—the whole gamut of the godless have emerged in recent years as inarguably the most generous benefactors on the globe. That’s right. Hordes of heretics are the world’s biggest damned philanthropists. Both individually and in groups, heathen infidels are topping the fundraising charts.

First, the facts. 

The current most charitable individuals in the United States, based on “Estimated Lifetime Giving,” are:

1) Warren Buffett (atheist, donated $40.785 billion to “health, education, humanitarian causes”)

2) Bill & Melinda Gates (atheists, donated $27.602 billion to “global health and development, education”)

3) George Soros (atheist, donated $6.936 billion to “open and democratic societies”)

A century ago, one of the USA’s leading philanthropists was Andrew Carnegie, atheist.

Regarding “group efforts”—, the micro-financing organization that has distributed $261 million to people in 61 nations, has “lending teams” that post their generous efforts online. The leading team on November 22, 2011, is “Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists, and the Non-Religious.” These 18,127 benevolent blasphemers have lent $5,623,750 in 187,920 loans. Their simple motto is: “We loan because we care about the suffering of human beings.”

Trailing behind in the #2 slot are the “Kiva Christians” who have loaned $3,211,250. Their supernatural rallying cry is, “We loan because: Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)”

I’m gleeful that the irreligious are the most altruistic because I was incessantly told the inverse by credo-worshipping commenters after I published my article “Tax the Churches and Give the Revenue to Hungry Children.” Pious posters informed me that my secular proposal would seriously damage charitable causes, because it would hamper the vast, sublime generosity of the devout. Ha! The numbers above suggest that their contention is just the usual sanctimonious drivel. A favorite slogan of atheists is, “We Don’t Need God To Be Good” and the philanthropy figures I’ve presented indicate that is exactly the case, indeed, we seem to be “BETTER without God.”

In actuality, there are complex difficulties in funding religious organizations; I discovered this five years ago when I donated money to a impoverished tribal village in the Philippines that was being educated, and medically treated, by a Catholic layperson. The tribe had a sickly population of 66 individuals; within two years it had ballooned up to 100, even sicker at this point, with tuberculosis and malnutrition. When I strongly suggested to the Catholic layperson that my next contribution should be a bag of 10,000 condoms, to halt the population explosion, she replied, “Oh no, we are Catholics, we only practice natural birth control.” 

After that exchange, I moved my atheistic generosity to Kiva.


The top-slotted “Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, etc.” lending team at Kiva is led by a young Canadian duo, “Team Captains” Peter Kroll and his wife, Ravjee. I interviewed Pete via email:

Hank Pellissier: Hi Peter. How did you and Ravjee become atheists? Most atheists were raised religious—when did you decide to become non-religious?

Peter Kroll: My father is a non-practicing Christian and my mother was a non-practicing Muslim. One of my first memories regarding religion was asking my mom if we were Anglican or Protestant, I must have heard someone at grade school discussing it. She told me I could consider myself Christian, but I had never been to church, so in a way I always considered myself without a religion. I can’t say I ever really believed in God/Jesus and I had not heard of any other gods until grade 8 when we learned about Greek mythology. 

My wife was raised Hindu, the religion of her mother, her father was Jain. So she as well was raised in a mix-religion family, that was very moderate in terms of religion. When we first started dating we had a conversation about a Ganesh statue she had in her room. I asked her if she really believed it was god and she said she didn’t.

HP: How do you define yourself? Atheist, Secularist, Humanist, Agnostic, etc?

PK: Atheist and Skeptic. Sometimes a Secular Humanist. I find it especially important to emphasize the Skeptic label because that’s the mental tool we use filter out all the bogus claims that we encounter in life.

HP: How did you decide to start the KIVA group? How did you get so many people to participate? Are you surprised that your group is the top philanthropist?

PK: I’ve been a lender on Kiva since 2007. A year later Kiva launched the Kiva Community area where people could lend in teams. I immediately went looking for the Atheist team and didn’t find one so I decided to start it. I wanted to make sure all the secular-minded folks could team up together so I made a very long and inclusive name to get “us” all together regardless of labels. I think we got momentum early by focusing the team around team goals and open discussions. Kiva lenders are some of the best people I’ve interacted with on the Internet. We give each other a lot of respect, understanding and patience. At least, that is the experience I’ve enjoyed with my fellow teammates. Reading the daily digest of team messages I get in my inbox every morning makes me feel connected to a community of like minded folks, who like me, are trying to make the world a better place.

In my opinion there are two central world views. You either believe the world is in its current state for divine reasons OR you believe we humans shape the current state of the world. If you believe the latter you’re more likely to proactively help to make the world a better place. 

HP: How do you decide who to lend to? Are there certain people from certain nations that you are inclined to lend to? For example, Vietnamese are largely atheist—does that appeal to you? Do you avoid Catholic and Islamic nations, like the Philippines and Pakistan?

PK: I’ve been a Kiva lender for over four years, so my mood and/or the tools I’m using to access Kiva will influence who I lend to. One strategy is to be a “country collector” and lend to every country Kiva has available. Another strategy is to avoid micro-finance institutions (MFI or Kiva Field Partners) that are religiously affiliated. My teammates maintain a list of every micro-finance institution and score it on how secular it is (“secular score”) and also on how beneficial it is to the local community (“social score”) by providing extra services like savings accounts and/or education. These two scores are not related. I never focus on the religiosity of the individual borrower. I believe prosperity will provide people the chance to open their eyes to the grander truths of nature. 

HP: Have you had trouble with your funds being spent in a way you didn’t like? For example, finding out that it was used to proselytize at a mission? Or to build a church?

PK: I like to stay informed about which micro-finance institutions proselytize, it biases my lending away from those. However, some areas are only served by micro-finance institutions who proselytize so I do make exceptions. Many of my teammates would like to see Kiva gather information from the micro-finance institutions with respect to whether or not they are a secular organization. So this information can be shown on the micro-finance institutions details page on Kiva.

HP: Do you have any long term goals as non-religious fundraisers?

PK: We make yearly monetary goals but our long term goals are to help alleviate poverty and let people see that secular individuals have a lot to contribute altruistically towards their fellow humans.

HP: What message do you think your group’s generosity gives the world? There have been accusations that atheists are stingy—this seems to counteract it, doesn’t it?

PK: I think it gives a concrete and transparent example that secular individuals are generously leading in one aspect of philanthropy, micro-finance. In other areas of philanthropy it can be hard to determine if the sources of funding are more secular or religious. For example, how do we tell who is making donations for medical research? I don’t consider it generosity or philanthropy when individuals donate to a church. It’s not philanthropy if I go to the movies or a sporting event; church is a social form of entertainment. 

The Church of England publishes detailed financial information about their operations on their website. From what I can determine approximately 4% of the gross revenues are donated to registered charitable causes. The rest is spent on bureaucracy. 
HP: What do you see in the future for non-religionists? Gaining recognition and political rights for atheists, and a dwindling of special benefits for the religious?

PK: I think more people will become non-religious in the future. It’s the natural outcome of having a scientific education. As education and prosperity spread throughout the globe, so will secularism. Humanity is not going to survive unless we live in peace and order, the more we come to a common understanding of the nature of the universe and the more people get access to knowledge by learning languages which have scientific textbooks the more secularism will thrive. The future is bright for the non-religious. 

Bright future? Yes, indeed. I’m happy that secular-minded people are banding together and consistently opening up their wallets, and it’s wonderful that their funding isn’t squandered on expensive worship paraphernalia, forced Bible readings, and promulgation of fear-based ethics systems.

The Godless are Good! Hallelujah!

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.


The problem with your assumptions that the richest people in the world appear to be atheists. They give huge amounts of money which they will never miss. They are still the richest people in the world.

This doesn’t make atheists generous. It makes Bill Gates and Warren Buffet generous. It doesn’t say a thing about atheists as a group.

Check out this article with actual statistics.

I think that charitable contributions are dropping over time. If the number of atheists is growing, and it is, by your thesis, givings should be going up.

I enjoy your writing, but you’ve missed the mark here. A couple of rich dudes, and an interview don’t make a trend. Anecdotes don’t trump statistics.

Hi Pastor Alex—thanks for your comments, and thanks for providing the interesting link. I have several questions about the conclusions of that article but my main problem is that it is quite dated. The article was written in 2003, and it uses data from surveys that were taken in 1996 and 1999. 

As we all know, American atheism has immensely mobilized since that time. Most reports estimate that the amount of people in the USA who identify themselves as “non-religous” has doubled in the last decade; they are the fastest growing demographic in that sector.

I think we’re going to see more secular teams like Kiva’s organizing and contributing together.  I think we’ll also see more foundations forming that advertise themselves as non-religious, and those foundations will attract atheists funders.

I commend everyone who makes charitable contributions, religious people as well the irreligious.  But as an atheist, I find it quite irritating when “God-people” imagine they are morally superior to the irreligious, and thus I rejoice when atheist philanthropy comes out on top.

@Pastor Alex:  #1 It is petty to have such a argument such as who, as a group, is more charitable.  It is the, so called, believere who claim that without (their) God then there is no good or morality.  The larger point is that, clearly that is not the case.

Consider this:  The humanist is not only good and charitable, but also virtuous because there deeds are for the sake of the deed itself.  To the contrary, believers are without virtue, not to mention spritiously immature,  because their deed is done for the sake of reward and recongniton.

Two other “secular"charity organizations
that deserve to be praised are:

Richard Dawkins Foundation’s
Non-Believers Giving Aid / Disaster Relief Fund

Jolie-Pitt Foundation (The USA’s celebrity atheist couple!)

I urge non-religious people to support these organizations, plus the other charities I mentioned in the article.

3 more organizations that humanists/atheists might be interested in funding -

the 1st group helps the “Witch Children” of Nigeria -
these are children that Pentecostal ministers denounced as “witches” -  children have been tortured, killed and abandoned by their families,
due to cruelty of the Christian figureheads
CRARN is an shelter & school that takes in the outcast witch children
their link is:

To help victims of Islam, you can donate to the group “Violence is not our culture” - it’s url is
it’s purpose is to prevent, “cruel and inhuman punishments against women and girls such as stoning, whippings, female genital mutilation and honour killings.”

lastly, there’s FaithFreedom International - their goal is to, “bring about world peace by getting rid of doctrines of hate.”

I think there are a few things that get overlooked in the article provided by Pastor Alex and most discussions about religious donations.  Do these ‘statistics’ include the donations made by religious people to their own church?  If so, that should be counted more as membership fees and not altruistic giving. 
The other part of this discussion that gets white washed by Pastor Alex’s article is the question of whether religious donations can really be considered altruistic.  Altruism is the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others.  If religious people believe, however delusional that may be, that they are going to receive some afterlife ‘reward’ for their charity, then it is not altruism at all.  Altruistic and moral behavior is negated when you think big brother or an imaginary sky daddy is watching your every move. 
The fact that secular people are giving at least as much as religious people and possibly more is the big story here, because the secular population is still vastly outnumbered in most of the world.

Pastor Alex, I hope you remember your argument the next time that hoary old canard about how many people were killed by “atheist” regimes under Stalin (who got his formative training in a catlick seminary) , Mao and Hitler (who was an xtian by the way) is trotted out in the religious circles that you frequent. Be sure to refute it with the same intellectual honesty displayed in your post.

And don’t forget, Stalin and Hitler both had moustaches therefore god exists.


As an atheist, I`d love your claims to be true but I gotta side with the pastor on this one. Studies I have seen routinely show religious communities as the most philanthropic. Now, I`m not sure how this would stack up as individuals are compared as atheists rarely donate as atheists or through atheist groups whereas the religious very frequently donate through their religious organization. Unfortunately, your cherry picked examples of the wealthy philanthropists and a couple of anecdotes is not scientifically valid. Most atheists I know are die-hard skeptics and will have similar problems with your assertions and lack of evidence.



So you have take issue with the assertions and lack of evidence in the article which you back up with assertions and no evidence what so ever ?

At least you didn’t cherry pick your examples !

Altruism has an interesting genetic component -
it depends on the length of the AVPR1a
- here’s a link:

here’s another possibility—

“Young adults who identify themselves as “not at all religious” have an average IQ of 103 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as “very religious” have an average IQ of 97 during adolescence, Kanazawa says.

Read more:


If atheists did have a 6-point IQ advantage over religious people, that would translate into a wealth advantage, since higher IQ has been linked to economic wealth.  Assuming that atheists and religious people were equal in generosity, and contributed the same amount proportionally, the atheists would be bigger funders because they would have more income.

This also helps explain why many of the very wealthiest people are atheists, even though atheists remain a small percentage of the population - because they’re more intelligent.

What assertions have I made? Beyond my statement regarding “the studies I’ve seen…” I don’t make any at all; and all I am asserting is that I’ve only seen studies that show the opposite of what Hank is saying. I never said the religious are more generous, I merely questioned Hank’s data he used to back up his positive assertion that atheists are more generous. He made the assertion and he has to back it up…and he hasn’t.
I suppose you could argue my statement that the religious routinely give through their religious group is an assertion requiring evidence but I thought that was pretty self evident to anyone who doesn’t live under a rock.
Anyway, here’s some evidence:

@ MarkNS - thanks for the link, but it doesn’t answer the question that other posters have noted—Gallup says that the churchgoers were “charitable” and “volunteered” more, but does this just mean they tossed bills in the collection basket and then sold cookies at the bake sale after Mass?  There is no mention of what they donated to.

To accurately determine who is “most generous” there’d have to be a survey of donors to non-religious causes.

I think the atheist Kiva team’s leading statistics ini micro-lending qualify as a less-biased survey, and, in general, the info I presented is much less suspicious than the vaguely-worded Gallup poll.


Hank, although I agree with MarkNS’ point that your data does not support your title, I’m happy to say that most atheists I know personally are quite generous.

I find it bewildering that in a group of people who pride themselves on being rational an rejecting “fairy tales” that they defend logical fallacies by personal attacks. I didn’t start the religious vs atheist debate. It was in the title of the article. Hank knows that I like his writing and I know that Hank appreciates feedback and discussion.

Fanaticism kills, whether it is religious or otherwise. Fanatics are people who already know the answer and refuse to listen to any one else. This problem is not limited to religion.

Starting and argument about whether atheists or religious people have killed more people in history is not just counter productive, it is stupid. No minds are going to be changed, no lives are going to be strengthened. No one is going to listen to the other side.

I don’t have an issue with atheism. It is your choice. I really don’t care. It isn’t my job to convince you otherwise. What is my job is to live the life that I have been called to to make the world a better place. I would really like to believe that others have the same goal. We won’t get far if the starting point for improving the world is a pogrom against people of faith.

I give to charity because I believe that it is right. I have no need to earn points with God. Christian faith shouldn’t work like that. That is does in many instances is a source of sorrow and a need for education and reform, but that is a different thread.

@Hank I’m not sure that a six point difference in IQ translates into atheist being richer. Correlation isn’t causation. I have seen this study pulled out before. It is one study, hardly an earth shattering contribution. I could just as easily argue that atheists are richer because they don’t give as much back to society, and my argument would be just as wrong.


In your response to my post you state “To accurately determine who is “most generous” there’d have to be a survey of donors to non-religious causes.”
YES! That is my point. How then can you assert in your blog title “Atheists are the most generous”?
I do not assert that the religious are more generous. I’m making no positive claims. However, like any decent skeptic, when I see a claim that doesn’t match my empirical experiences (eg. I’ve seen studies claiming the opposite of your assertion), I question the claim and demand evidence.
You have provided none and the burden of proof lies with you because you made the claim.


So you are saying that you do not derive your morality from bronze age mythology but rather you consider it to be an inherent human trait, perhaps with an evolutionary basis ?


@ Pastor Alex (and everyone else) - I just want to say that Pastor Alex is a great person, indeed very open-minded and Generous.

Regarding my headline - “Atheists are the most generous…”
it’s a true statement when applied to the 2 categories I presented
namely, that the 3 most generous individual donors are atheists
and that atheists have the leading team in Kiva micro-lending

Headlines - due to their brevity - are often simplistic condensed expressions of very complicated topics -

like I said before, I think it’s wonderful that both atheists and religious people are charitable, and I don’t intend to portray the religious as non-generous.

However, there’s been a long history of religious people claiming moral superiority, and I am pleased to present evidence to the contrary.

The best situation that could arise from this—is a competitive increase in charitable giving, from all religious and non-religious people!  A furious outpouring of donations by everyone, to prove that their belief system is the most Altruistic!

what a healthy way to compete - far better than wars, or burning at the stake, or stoning…

I derive morality from the core statement of Scripture, which is not the inerrant WORD OF GOD in my understanding but the story of people’s relationship with the world, each other and the divine. That core statement is “Love God with everything you’ve got and Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” (From the Pastor Alex paraphrase)
If you want a more in depth discussion of ethics you are welcome to look at the very rough and not quite complete draft of a book I’m working on in the area of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

Any comments, arguments, feedback is welcome, though I would really like critical thinking rather than “You mention the Bible so you’re wrong.” What ever else the Bible has, there is a lot of wisdom to be found as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously.

Pastor_Alex has a point in saying the rich give huge amounts they will never miss, and as an atheist / agnostic,  I very much like Luke 21:

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on

Problem is, however, as Hank is showing us, that most of his followers don’t seem to be paying much attention, so to speak..

The good Pastor also defends his fellow believers by rightly pointing out that “Anecdotes don’t trump statistics”, - so allow me to add to the discussion with some randomly picked statistics. – Ok, maybe not completely random, after all I am Danish.. , and I am not presenting these data as being in any way conclusive evidence, but they should at least give food for thought, and my personal opinion is that these figures very much support Hank’s conclusion, that atheists really do have a higher commitment to giving aid.

OK, so here’s the data:

USA:  Identify as non-believers:  3-9 %
  -    Commitment to foreign aid:  3 % 
  -    Aid as percent GDP :        0.20 %

Italy:  Identify as non-believers : 6-15 %
  -      Commitment to foreign aid:  8 %
  -      Aid as percent GDP :        0.19 %

Japan:  Identify as non-believers :  64-65% 
    -    Commitment to foreign aid:  29 %
    -    Aid as percent GDP:        0.53 %

Denmark: Identify as non-believers:  43-80 %
    -      Commitment to foreign aid:  52 %
    -      Aid as percent GDP :        1.19 %

Aid as percent GDP: (2004):

2011 Commitment to Development Index / AID:

Percent non-believers: (Zuckerman, 2005)

Ps. May I add, that countries with the highest percentage of atheists are also more peaceful, less criminal, more egalitarian, more democratic, etc… - think about it..

All in all I’d say there is abundant evidence in support of Hank, - here for instance:

Thanks Joern - !

two more nations that bolster my article’s point are
Sweden and Norway, they are listed
“1st and 2nd in Official Development Assistance
as a percentage of Gross National Income in 2009”

both are also among the most atheistic—
23% of Sweden has “no belief in god”
17% of Norway has “no belief in god”

@Pastor_Alex What ever else the Bible has, there is a lot of wisdom to be found as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously.

The same can be said for many works of fiction. There’s a lot of shit in them as well.

You can also apply bible code algorithms to any work of fiction (or non-fiction for that matter) and get post hoc prophecies out of them, just like the bible.  9-11 predicted in War and Peace ? You betcha. Good for hours of fun. Helps if you’re into conspiracy theories.

The big difference is that for most works of fiction you don’t have people slaughtering each other over doctrinal differences. That’s what makes your work of fiction so very special.

You say the problem is that faith should not work like it does.

I say the problem is that faith works exactly as specified in the holy books, when the handbook for absolute morality is a mass of contradictions then any behaviour can be justified using the book and no interpretation is any more or less valid than another.  You are just applying human values to your holy book and rightly coming to the decision that many parts of it are morally repugnant.

I note that you do not consider the bible to be the inerrant word of god but you did slip in the weasel word “divine”.

So do you think the bible is divinely revealed ?

If so, I’m interested, in a strictly theoretical way, how it can be divinely revealed but not inerrant and why you don’t have the same opinions about the Iliad, Veda, Norse Eddas, Book of Mormon and the many other operations manuals of cults through the ages.

Further ammunition for Hank’s hypothesis:
If we look at taxpayer giving to international causes we can see that the countries with the highest levels of organic atheism are also those whose governments are the largest supporters of international aid on a % of GDP basis.

I would suggest again that correlation doesn’t equal causation.
As has been discussed before in another column,  four countries taken out of context of the global list is not proper evidence.
I would point out the the countries you pick out as giving the least to foreign aid also score very high in inequality. The US is also the home to Hank’s heroic givers. The issue of giving whether privately or corporately is much more complicated than can be determined by a handfull of more or less random statistics.

I would also suggest that religion is much more complicated than whether or not someone answers ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a questionaire. There are ‘religious’ people that make me cringe on a regular basis, but there are also non-religious people who do the same.
The nature of what it means to be a person of faith is shifting radically in these present times and will look very different than what it did during the Christendom period when it was assumed that everybody should believe in God and should be shunned if they didn’t.

Trying to prove who is most generous, while an interesting discussion, is ultimately a waste of time. What would be more useful is to determine how to use the dollars given to aid more effectively to reduce dependency on the industrialized nations and not increase it.


I didn’t say the Bible was divinely inspired. I said it was the story of our relationship with the world, each other and the divine. That is a very different thing. The books that you list are also such stories. You should add the Qu’ran to the list.

I am not trying to tell you that you are evil, ungenerous or even wrong. I am simply pointing out issues that would, in any peer reviewed journal, have sent this argument back for more study.

Correlation is not causation.
There is a bias revealed in the way that data is assembled.
There is a bias in the way the information is presented.

I don’t really care whether you agree with me or not. I don’t really care if you believe in God or not. That’s not my problem.

It does bother me to hear such prejudice and ignorance spouted at me in the name of “rationality”.  Why does it bother you so much that I believe in God, though that God is no where near the God you imagine I believe in? I have never killed anyone, though I saved a few lives, not souls mind you, lives. Souls are God’s job.

My work in this life is to live the core statement that I mentioned above. Love God with everything I have, and love my neighbour as myself. All my neighbours. The ones I like, the ones that irritate me, even the ones who shower me with anger because of my faith. My love for God means that I don’t run around trying to make myself or my faith important. It isn’t. I don’t believe that money is God either, though many more people have died for the sake of money than any other reason on earth.

You know what does anger me? That millions of people are hungry, and thousands are dying. Not because their isn’t enough food. We grow more than enough food for every living being on this planet. They are dying because people want to make a profit. That is obscene. No amount of charity, from you, me or Bill Gates is going to change that. Only a decision by everybody alive that it isn’t going to happen any more will change it.
Make that decision today. I dare you. Then tell a friend or a dozen and dare them. Atheist, person of faith, or just plain confused, we are all human and it is well past time that we start acting like it.

If you really want to get annoyed and understand me better read my book in the link above.

The bottom line is that you can’t truly be altruistic or moral if you have the delusional belief that some one is watching over your shoulder (knowing your thoughts, etc) every hour of every day.  It’s only when you don’t have the belief that you’re being watched (judged) that you can truly be altruistic or moral. 

So, regardless of the statistics used, people who believe in supernatural deities (imaginary sky daddies) are not capable of acting altruistically.  The minute you bow down to a master (supernatural deity), then you give up your right to label yourself as altruistic or moral.

We’re watching you, Bryant.


Says who?

Why do you get to decide what is going on inside someone else’s head? That sounds very much like a God complex to me. I don’t do what I do because the bogey man is looking over my shoulder. Pay attention, I do it because I care about humanity. There may be people who live the way you describe and it is sad, but no sadder than people who live in ignorance about a significant portion of the world’s population because they can’t make the slightest effort to actually listen.

Science is about gathering facts. Facts, not opinions, not carefully arranged factoids, not prejudices and fears disguised as facts.  When you actually have facts to discuss, I will be glad to listen.

In the meantime I suggest you start taking 10% of your paycheck and giving it to any of the worthy causes listed above.

Hank, I agree with other commenters who have noted that the data don’t support the headline.

I think there are many generous atheists and believers, and many other atheists and believers are selfish and greedy jerks. The two dimensions are not strongly correlated.

I find it interesting that 12 of the top 23 Kiva teams are named either after a religion, or after a European nation—here’s the rankings:

1. Atheists, etc.
2. Christians
3. Team Europe
4. Australia
5. Poverty2Prosperity
7. Friends of Bob Harris
8. Team Obama
9. Belgium
10. Norway
11. Bahai’s
12. Canada
13. India
14. Lotus
15. milepoint
16. Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
18.  France
19. Netherlands
20. Germany
21. Mormons
22. Trolltech
23. Sweden

congratulations to all of these generous funders - !

I didn’t know about this until just now—
but there’s Atheist College Scholarship Money!

wonderful news -
another way keeping churches away from our children
can really “pay off”


Says common sense. 

It’s hilarious that you write: “When you actually have facts to discuss, I will be glad to listen.”  As a religious cult member, you’ve already given up on facts.  You believe in a mythology, which consequently like all mythologies is not based on facts.  So, you already aren’t listening to facts, or you wouldn’t believe in silly nonsense like supernatural deities and souls. 

My money and what charities I give to are my business, not yours…remember I don’t need people to know what and who I might donate too.  I don’t have the delusion that there is some mythical afterlife that I need to earn by following religious doctrine and dogma….10%...that’s funny.


Based on your posts, and I have to admit I was overly hostile in my first response, you seem to be a very decent human being.

For what it’s worth, based on what you have written here, you do not appear to derive your morality from revelation and authority as transmitted by holy books, but from those qualities that are inherent in all humans such as empathy, altruism and kin selection.

Of course as humans we also share negative qualities such as xenophobia and tribal sectarianism, which while they may have been useful in our evolutionary past, only act to our detriment in modern society.

My contention is that ancient texts have very little to offer in our transition to a modern global society and in fact are one of the main threats to peaceful future.

You of course may disagree.

Bryant, here’s a scenario to consider - no supernaturalism required. We or our descendants may someday gain the capacity to reanimate dead persons, based on information patterns intentionally archived or naturally preserved from the past. If feasible, it seems reasonable to suppose that the process would, at least at first, require substantial resource investments. Toward whom would the investments be directed? Who would decide and what would be the criteria? Whatever the specific answers might prove to be, we can generalize to say that it’s not at all irrational to imagine that the living would reanimate the dead according to merit.

Quid pro quo with Christianity (and other faiths; however for this comment will stick with Christianity):

if Christians will readily accept MMJ, nonviolent satanism, porn, etc., etc., as being legitimate escapes, then some of us will more readily accept Christianity as legitimate escape.

@ Bryant re “My money and what charities I give to are my business, not yours”

Absolutely. These things are your business, and yours alone. Others have no right to tell you how to spend your money and which charities to support.

Similarly, others’ beliefs and what church they go to are their business, not yours.

Live and let live is, I believe, the only way to live together in a mature society. Of course, it must be interpreted symmetrically. I let you live, and you let me live.

@Lincoln Cannon

Science fiction, like religious cult mythology is not a good basis for a logical discussion. 

In your grossly hypothetical scenario, you use the word ‘merit’, which translates to worth, which in today’s society means money..not altruism or morality. 

Now, please suspend your deliberate ignorance and recognize that when I said ‘mythical afterlife’ I was not referring to some science fiction reanimation.

@Guilio Prisco

I agree, people should keep their religious cult beliefs to themselves and not pronounce their delusions as if they were the reasonable basis for a discussion.  I’d be happy to never have to hear another immature person tell me about their supernatural deity or how they want to ‘save my soul’. 

I don’t have any interest in controlling anyone else’s thoughts or preventing them from attending whatever private religious cult ceremonies they want.  As long as they keep their doctrine and dogma to themselves, I’m happy to live and let live.

@Intomorrow - I have no interest in nonviolent satanism, porn, etc. (I don’t know what MMJ is), but I certainly consider them as legitimate escapes when they don’t hurt others. And I consider Christianity as a legitimate escape when it does not hurt others.

Of course, some Christians would disagree. But there are intolerant people in all religions (including the “new atheist” _religion_), in all philosophies, in all political parties, in the right and in the left. This is what we should get rid of: intolerance.

@Bryant re “delusions”

Modern science considers as a reasonable hypothesis that in a few decades, or centuries, we may be able to create synthetic realities (think VR worlds running on supercomputers) inhabited by sentient observers.

From the point of view of these observers, we would be the Gods that created their reality.

I invoke the same principle of symmetry that I have invoked before in another context and conclude that, if we can create the reality of other sentient observers, other sentient observers may have created our own reality. For all practical purposes, this would mean that one or more Gods exist.

Wrong? Perhaps, let future experiments decide. Delusional? I don’t think so.

Interesting thread. I’m not going to comment on the extent to which the data do or don’t support Hank’s original assertion: enough has been said on that already. What interests me more is the question that seems to lie implicitly behind much of the discussion: is there are moral dimension to the choice of whether, and if so in what way, to believe in God? Or to ask a related but somewhat different question: do we indeed have any business commenting on each other’s theistic or atheistic beliefs, or should we, as Giulio suggests, simply “live and let live”?

I’m not willing to go as far as Giulio on this. The system of ethics that makes most sense to me is consequentialist (and indeed utilitarian. provided this is interpreted widely), and since the belief systems that we choose to embrace will generally have consequences, this means (according to my preferred system of ethics, which I believe to be itself a matter of choice rather than of truth) that they are a legitimate matter for public discussion, rather than a matter for “live and let live”.

As Pastor Alex says, correlation doesn’t equal causality, so whether or not the data support Hank’s assertion is of only limited significance for deciding whether or not one should believe in God. The answer is also likely to vary from person to person, since the consequences of the choice will vary from person to person. Still, I bristle somewhat at statements like, “Scripture is the story of people’s relationship with the world, each other and the divine.” It isn’t. It’s a collection of stories, rules, and proverbs that happen to have formed the basis for one religious tradition. Certainly they shed some light on people’s relationship with the world, each other, and our conception of “the divine”, but nowhere near enough (relative to other writings and studies) to justify the amount of attention they get. I also think that, other things being equal, it is best to base one’s beliefs on evidence, or at least to avoid beliefs that clearly conflict with it.

Just to add to what Ghost-beyond-the-Machine says above. The data I have seen show that the religious give more to charity. partly this is because they give to the Church (and that’s partly motivated by self interest). Partly it’s because free-riders are not a concern to them, nor are they motivated by the desire to actually make the world a better place (at least, no more than anyone else). What differentiates them is the desire to tick the box to earn points with their god.

If you look at countries in which wealth is shared with the poor most effectively, they tend to be the least religious. That’s because charity is a very ineffective way to transfer wealth - it’s all done for show and to make people feel better, rather than to actually make a difference (which is why there is no concern about free-riders). I wrote an article on this in Free Inquiry:

“that they are a legitimate matter for public discussion, rather than a matter for ‘live and let live’.”

MMJ is medical marijuana in America, Giulio.
@Peter, this segues into a random example of what is wrong with public discussion, the public is too capricious to trust; the example is:
I read an account of how awhile back an elderly person had had a bad experience with marijuana (which since it was pre-MMJ, was likely to have involved less pure marijuana), and sponsored an referendum on Election Day three weeks ago to ban it. The referendum passed and MMJ establishments have gone out of business.
The example is merely to demonstrate how arbitrary and capricious the public is, the public is overly susceptible to being swayed by demagogues, so public discussion at this time doesn’t do us much good, if any. Positive news is, it appears the current generation is more tolerant than previous generations. So I could see how another few decades—or even just one—will see a much more tolerant world.

@Bryant, I have gone out of my way to avoid telling you what to do with your soul, or even commenting on whether you have on. I am curious about “Getting real on the 10%” did you think it was too low?

Whether or not religion is real for you, it is real for millions of people, so it would be advantageous as we evolve into a higher being to learn to tolerate each other.

@ Peter, you are right, I should have said “a story” there are many, as I think I implied later in my post. I don’t see very many people suggesting that we ban reading about Newton, or Galileo, or even the Greek philosopher scientists even though they are out of date and have been proven to be quite wrong in many of their assumptions. Why should stories that talk about all the bad and good ways in which human can relate be relegated to forbidden land just because we think we have grown up enough to not need them? The reaction of people in this thread is evidence enough that we haven’t really evolved as a species in more than 10,000 years. In the space of time we went from horse and buggy to the space shuttle our ethics have gone from atrocities and apathy to atrocities and apathy. Very few people want to make significant change because it will upset too many things, so we continue to starve people and enslave them in the name of profit.

While we are knocking religion, anyone want to take a kick at Free Trade and Globalism as a religion?

There have been also articles right here discussing the Singularity as having religious overtones.

I have noticed religious language coming from some atheists, though I’m sure it was completely by accident, but how many of you have heard that if religion is eliminated that a perfect area of rationalism and peace will be ushered in? Sounds like the second coming to me.

@Intomorrow, “So I could see how another few decades—or even just one—will see a much more tolerant world”

You couldn’t prove it by me. Certain things are gaining in the tolerance area, others are losing. I hear the same things about immigrants and indigenous people now that I heard decades ago. They just couch them in different language.

This thread is an example of the intolerance of the modern world that is just going to get worse. As long as people prefer being right to thinking critically there will be intolerance.

The problem is that being religious or being atheist does not address our basic human desire to let someone else take the responsibility for growing up.

First of all, a big FU to this site for making me register just to leave a comment.

Now, @hank

I think you may be addicted to flame bait. Your articles, just their titles, are by far the most provocative on this site.

I personally think it’s petty (not to mention fallacious) for conflicting ideological groups to throw up statistics that claim they are the morally superior ones. If you data mine and cherry pick long enough you’ll find what you’re looking for, but that doesn’t prove your ideology is correct.

I am not an atheist, and I don’t like it when you claim moral superiority any more than you like being slandered with claims of moral bankruptcy. If you want people to think you’re a good person, it’s a good idea to be respectful of their ideology. Research has indicated that people react to challenges to their belief systems the same way they react to physical threats.
That explains a lot.

When it comes to charity, I’m a consequentialist. All that matters is that the money helps people. Why the money was donated is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if it was given out of true empathy, a fear of hellfire or for a tax write off.

I’m glad Ghost beyond the Machine brought up the poor woman donating two copper coins. I was thinking about that as I read your article. A billionaire giving away vast sums of money is generous, and very helpful, but it’s not really selfless since they won’t even notice the difference. Selflessness is helping people at your own expense. I wonder which ideological group members would be most likely to run into a burning building to save a stranger. 

Anyone interested can check out my blog
I have a few posts that are vaguely relevant to this discussion.

@ Tom—I read your article, I thought it was excellent—I’m just going to re-post it here for everyone - highly recommended—

There’s also an Atheist Fundraising drive for Doctors Without Borders, over at—here’s the link:

If you try to accuse me of being overly-optimistic, it wont hold up in or out of court, Alex. But there is a certain attempt to be optimistic at IEET… why, sometimes one can get caught up in the enthusiasm!
50 years ago if you had said you wanted a black or mulatto for president, you might have gotten beaten up in parts of Dixie.
If a gay program had aired on TV in 1961, the producer would have been arrested, the studio fined, and the film confiscated. So we can say superficially things have changed; and what is superficial? religion might be more substantive than ideology yet one can make a case that religion is still superficial—pretentious.

When does superficial become substantial? perhaps we will find out sometime next decade.

“If you want people to think you’re a good person, it’s a good idea to be respectful of their ideology.”

But what if their ideology is Khmer Rouge ideology, or Manson’s? at any rate, I separate ideology from religion.

“The problem is that being religious or being atheist does not address our basic human desire to let someone else take the responsibility for growing up.”

What do you expect when adults are manipulated with childish religion and politics? just for starters, Christmas is extremely childish. Bible stories are childish.

@Giulio Prisco

A hypothesis is not a fact, it is merely a best guess.  Until tested and verified it is not something to base a conclusion on.  To consider a hypothesis as the factual basis of an argument is delusional.


The part I found hilarious about the 10% is that is comes straight from religious cult doctrine.  A tithe is one tenth, or 10%.  Tithing is almost entirely done by religious cults. 
I never said religious cults weren’t real, I know very well that they are real, even though they believe in fairy tales.  What I do find disturbing is that the end game of the largest of religious cults is a belief that the members will receive some afterlife nirvana and the non-believers deserve an eternity hellfire and brimstone.  The arrogance of that delusional belief and the adherence to such a doctrine is malevolent and immoral.  The fact that these are just delusional beliefs is not the point, it is what the believers want to be true.  So, if you want to talk about toleration…why should I tolerate the beliefs of people who think that non-believers deserve an eternity of suffering. 

I certainly don’t think that abolishing religion is desirable and certainly would not lead to utopia. On the contrary, I think there is a large percentage of people that could not handle civilized society without the delusion of some imaginary sky daddy keeping them in check. It goes back the point about people not acting morally or altruistically if they believe their every move and thought is being judged.

@ Armand - thanks for your comments.  I checked out your site, but I couldn’t find the articles that you indicated pertained to this topic.  Send specific urls next time, if you can.

By the way, I agree strongly with what “Intomorrow” said above.  I don’t think ideologies should be respected unless they have merits that deserve to be respected.  If they are idiotic and dangerous ideologies, they should be completely exposed for the fallacies that they are, and quickly dismissed.

“I think there is a large percentage of people that could not handle civilized society without the delusion of some imaginary sky daddy keeping them in check. It goes back the point about people not acting morally or altruistically if they believe their every move and thought is being judged.”

Now we are getting somewhere. Not that Pastor Alex is necessarily mistaken, it is that IEET is not specifically a religiously oriented site. If one of us went right now to a Holiday themed site and wrote “Humbug!, Christmas is an outdated celebration”, the response would be:

“why do you comment here?”

Or say one went to the Madalyn Murray O’Hare Atheist site to write:

“as CS Lewis wrote, everyone has a God-shaped empty space in the soul waiting to be filled by The Lord”,
there would be no purpose to such a post, even though it is true many do have a God- shaped void in their souls.


... BTW, I personally don’t mind any discussion of religion in general; Christianity in particular—though only because I was raised Christian!.. if one is a Mormon, one is interested in Mormon-related articles, obviously. Someone raised an Islamic is naturally interested in Islamic-themed articles.
It is relative to time and place, a fact many know here, but not all: as many Westerners are suspicious of Islam, for instance, Islamics are suspicious of us and for good reason. Laws are different, and laws change; for example the laws in Egypt and Libya are now different from those of a year ago—and will be in a ‘state’ of flux in the future. We wont go into Sharia, as we are already off-topic.

The topic is something I’d have to look into in great depth before having any idea of what to write.


The difference between religious scriptures and “Newton, or Galileo, or even the Greek philosopher scientists” is that few people today, if any, elevate the latter to the status of religion. So while I think there is a genuine need to debunk the sacred cows of religion (such as scripture), there doesn’t seem to be the same need to “debunk” Greek philosopher scientists. Certainly there are aspects of Newtonian or Galilean thinking that are outdated but still prevalent in our society, but this is less because people have a religious attachment to them than because the more up-to-date theories remain counter-intuitive and confusing for many. People don’t seem to get threatened - and thus become aggressive - when you point out that Newton is out of date in the same way that people do when you debunk the sacred cows of traditional religion. Religious intolerance is still a much greater problem than any intolerance on the part of atheists, even though you clearly (and understandably) find the latter more annoying.

But I’m with you on the lack of progress in ethics vs technology, and I’m with you on the need to value critical thought (and I would especially add *empathy*) over the desire to be proved right. Let’s hope intomorrow’s tentative predictions about increasing tolerance are proved right. Better still, let’s try to actually prove them right!

@Byrant re “A hypothesis is not a fact, it is merely a best guess. Until tested and verified it is not something to base a conclusion on.”

I base my plans for tomorrow on the hypothesis that I am still alive tomorrow. This is a hypothesis (merely a best guess) which, by definition, cannot be tested and verified until tomorrow.

re “To consider a hypothesis as the factual basis of an argument is delusional.”

This is exactly what partisans of Intelligent Design say in support of their demands to ban Darwin from schools.

@Pastor_Alex I don’t see very many people suggesting that we ban reading about Newton, or Galileo, or even the Greek philosopher scientists even though they are out of date and have been proven to be quite wrong in many of their assumptions.

This is not a good analogy.

Newton based his laws of motion in part on tidal data provided by Flamstead, the Astronomer Royal at the time. This data is still valid and Newtons laws still accurately model this data and continue to be valid for objects with a size and velocity commensurate to what we experience in every day life.

Then new data came to light, specifically the orbital period of Mercury, which was not explained by the classical laws of motion, and the theories of motion were changed to meet the new data, that is Einstein’s laws of special and general relativity.

This is how science works.

This is not how religion works.

No evidence of any kind will cause the holy books to be changed and in fact, as with most fanatics, will result in the faithful redoubling their efforts to censor any criticism.

So while there is a progression in science there is no such progress in religion. Any changes to religion are the result of external, secular forces. As advances are made in science, religion gradually cedes it’s position of authority in more and more areas.

We only need look at recent advances in the neurosciences which increasing show that consciousness has a purely material basis and there is no need for a non-material explanation (i.e. soul).

And I won’t even get into the ongoing anti-evolution freakshow presided over by the religious right in the US and increasingly in Islamic theocracies as well.

@Peter re “The system of ethics that makes most sense to me is consequentialist (and indeed utilitarian. provided this is interpreted widely)”

I agree, this is the system of ethics that makes most sense for me as well. I wish to add that I don’t care for abstract ethics, but only for concrete ethics related to the well being and happiness of actual persons. Persona are more important than books, and more important than abstract “truths”.

Re religion: For many and perhaps most Europeans, religion is not an important issue. When I went to the US for the first time about 25 years ago I was very surprised to see people praying before dinner: I had never seen that in Europe.

Many Europeans and basically all the people I know here (and I know many people) are de-facto atheists - but when you ask them about their religion they will routinely state the religion of their parents or grandparents, because the topic is not even important enough to deserve a caveat.

My impression is that we just don’t give a damn, whereas most Americans are either obsessively religious or obsessively anti-religious. My other impression is that we are tolerant of others’ beliefs as long as they don’t directly bother us, whereas Americans want to convert others to their beliefs, or lack thereof. I am often critical of our Old World, but as far as this particular point is concerned I prefer our European way.

I agree with Giulio’s comment that “most Americans are either obsessively religious or obsessively anti-religious”

regarding Christian “charity” - I have a personal anecdote to relate—when my aunt died she left $500,000 to a group of cloistered nuns, who thanked her profusely at the funeral. It was well-understood that my aunt donated the money in exchange for copious Prayers from the nuns, soliciting God to let her inside the pearly gates. So… was my aunt “charitable” ?  This type of cash-for-heaven exchange has been going on in various forms for perhaps two thousand years in Catholicism - it’s what Luther rebelled against.

another story—when I was 10 years old, at Catholic school, I went to confession monthly because I was thoroughly indoctrinated with the Fear of Hell. To keep my soul pure, I donated half my allowance to the Pagan Baby fund, that (supposedly) baptized pagan infants in India.  If I put in $5 I got to name a pagan baby any name I wanted, so now there are perhaps 8-12 named “Henry Alphonsus.” So, was I being charitable, or was I just a brainwashed child, raising funds to spread a cult?

to continue what I wrote previously, the “Money For Prayers” exchange is still going strong—here’s a link:

and here’s the group - Poor Clares - that I believe my aunt funded:


these are clear examples of Charity-With-Religious-Benefits attached - it certainly doesn’t qualify as “humanitarian” - since it is entirely for personal gain

@Hank re “cash-for-heaven exchange”

There is also cash-for-reputation, and cash-for-feel-good. I don’t see a big difference.

So changes in religion are from “external, secular sources”? I will accept this if you mean that religion changes to adapt to culture and shifts in reality outside the circle of “religion”.
I would argue that truly significant change is always internal. If you study church history you will find that the church resists change until an internal figure moves to reform the existing understanding and structure. A major shift happens, sadly accompanied by a split in most cases as the tension between the diehards and new leaders becomes overwhelming. Then life goes on. Religion has been evolving and changing since the very beginning.

Anyone who as actually read the Bible will see a dramatic shift in our understanding of God from the bloodthirsty deity of Joshua, Judges and Samuel to the God who demands justice for the poor in the prophets to the God Jesus talks about who continues the call for justice, but reiterates the radical call for love for the world.

Paul begins the codification of Christian theology which will grow and change over the coming centuries with some acceleration in the last century.

Our understanding of who and what God is has changed a great deal from the period that the scriptures began to be written down. There is an incredible amount of diversity within Christianity about these ideas. The church I serve welcomes and ordains people of all genders, orientations and cultural groups. We have a dual learning stream with Imams in Toronto and our national magazine sponsored the Darwin exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum.

I was a bit puzzled at your comment that science works purely on evidence. Try getting a grant proposal for research into an area that is deemed “off limits” scientists are human and defend their intellectual territory with all the enthusiasm of a religious person defending their faith. I agree it ought to work that way, but it doesn’t.

You continue to generalize religion when you talk about “ceding authority” like the world is somehow taking it away. What is more accurate is that many people of faith are recognizing that their ‘authority’ is not supposed to be cultural or scientific. We are fascinated by advances in science, but have no interest in trying to control or dictate what is correct. As I have said in other threads. Science is about process, pretty much as you described. Religion is about relationships. The two have a great deal to say to each other, but not in a dictatorial way. Neither has authority to say to the other “you aren’t real”. Of course some scientists want to be theologians and try very hard to prove that religion isn’t real. The problem is that they may be good scientists, but they are very bad theologians.

One last thing. Some commented that I was out of my element commenting in IEET threads. IEET is about ethics. I enjoy discussions about ethics. I only bring my faith to bear on discussions in which faith has already been talked about, such as this one. If it weren’t for my sign in name most of the time you wouldn’t know I was a Christian pastor.  I am here to stay. I suggest you find a way to deal with it.

Several commenters have stated that being rich and donating billions isn’t really generous.

I disagree, especially in the case of Warren Buffet. I believe him to be an extraordinarily generous man. It’s easy to think we’d all act like him if we were billionaires, but that’s only idle boasting…  Warren has actually done it -

here’s a link about him:

@Giulio The UK may be something of a halfway house between the US and (continental) Europe on this, as on so many issues. We certainly have our share of Christian fundamentalists and militant atheists. Also, the European tendency to be nominal believers but de facto atheists may also have a darker side: I have long had the impression that religion had become something of a taboo subject, quite possibly because it has been such a divisive issue in our history. At least it’s a subject of debate in the US, even if (again, as with so many issues) at times an obscenely polemic one. I also think that the “Muslim challenge” is to some extent forcing us Europeans to confront this taboo, and figure out what it is we want to stand for (religious tolerance? protection of minorities? cultural diversity? freedom of speech? gender equality? LGBT rights?). But you’re right: we seem to have gone much further than Americans in internalising our secularism to the extent that it just isn’t an issue.

@Hank I didn’t give money to baptise Indian children (thank God 😊 ) but your story resonates somewhat with my own childhood. Do you think part of what drives your relatively militant stance is the sense of having been lied to as a child? I certainly have that within me.

On cash-for-whatever, at one level I do believe that everything we do is ultimately selfish, ultimately a way to feel good. But only in quite a weak sense. I certainly think there are more authentic ways of being “good”, and less authentic ones. To be aware of our vast array of mixed, and not necessarily particularly noble motivations, to have decided that we want to be good (in your sense Giulio: making persona happy, not in some abstract sense), and to exert a healthy (not excessive) degree of mental discipline so as to achieve this: I think that’s about the best we can aspire to, at least as humans1.0

I agree with what Pastor Alex said,

“Try getting a grant proposal for research into an area that is deemed “off limits” - scientists are human and defend their intellectual territory with all the enthusiasm of a religious person defending their faith.”

A topic I’m going to write about next month is the “taboo fields” in Science…

@ Peter - yes, good points - the USA never had all the bloody religious wars that Europe had, so asserting religious views here is not as taboo.  I think that’s a good thing, btw, because it permits us to more easily confront fundamentalism.  Another good point you made is, yes, Giulio is right in that charity-for-feeling-“good” is still probably high in atheist giving.  I’d like to think that charity was motivated entirely by compassion or out of a desire for “problem solving”- but it probably isn’t.

I like your comment about degrees of “goodness”. Our motivations are complex and often deep below the surface of our consciousness. I doubt many people wake in the morning and think “I wonder what evil I can cause today?” What usually happens is that people function on autopilot and don’t think about the consequences of the actions until it is too late. The real battle isn’t really about good and evil, but about awareness. If we are going to grow as a species we will have to wake up and start thinking about the choices we make.

The work of ethics primarily this task of critical thinking about the nature of the choices we are making. The choices between good and evil are the easy ones.

Do we vaccinate this child or allow the risk of polio in the future? Pretty simple.
Do we vaccinate children against their will or the will of their parents in order to eliminate polio? Much more difficult because we need to take into account the autonomy of the people involved. If we assume that we are right and force vaccination or trick people, than we are essentially claiming that there are two levels of humanity, ours and theirs. This is a conflict between two goods and is a much more difficult choice and requires a great deal more thought and consultation.

@Hank, I will look forward to reading your article.

“Let’s hope intomorrow’s tentative predictions about increasing tolerance…”

Tolerance, yes, tolerance has increased, will increase.
Respect, no. Love, certainly not. Love is when you’re in a house of worship; outside of a house of worship you care about you and yours—you care about your people.
Everyone else can just drop dead.
Do we care when a stranger dies? no. Agape love is mythological.
A house of worship is a neutral zone, a demilitarized zone; as soon as you leave that DMZ you are in a free-fire area.

@ Pastor Alex - on this topic, I recommend reading “The Better Angels of Our Nature” by Steven Pinker - it is about how and why there’s been a decline of violence in human history. 

One fact he brought up is that most people, about 80%, don’t think they are doing anything evil when they murder someone.  They regard it as their work to make sure Justice is carried out. We find this notion appalling, but it’s the same notion that impels Muslim fathers to do “honor killings” and soldiers universally to kill each other.


People are motivated by what they think is in their own self interest (even when they don’t know what actually is in their best self interest).  Avoid pain and seek pleasure is about as complex as the majority of people get each day. 

So, what is evil?  Are people that worship an imaginary deity that they believe killed 99.99% of the earth’s population, acting with benevolence or malevolence. 

As for the vaccination conundrum you are having, children are not adults and do not get to decide their medical treatment.  Parents do not have the right to endanger their children by refusing medical treatment.  Giving birth to another human being does not give you the right to endanger that person.  Conflict resolved.

“I agree with Giulio’s comment that ‘most Americans are either obsessively religious or obsessively anti-religious’ “

Aye, and as Peter pointed out once such is part of what makes America so dynamic (to use that platitude)—
or near-chaotic, depending on your view. IMO, Pete is correct, America is ‘dynamic’, however that is only if one plays an awful lot of games.
Talk about humoring people; in America we have to humor religious fanatics, far-leftist utopians, far Rightists who think Eisenhower was a Commie, tree-huggers who live in the years 1970- ‘71, conspiracy-theorists who think the Queen of England sells heroin and Helen Keller shot JFK. One is at a disadvantage being a normal male in America, though it appears women who are careful can be normal; a guy who isn’t into something extreme—i.e. sports mania—is considered not red-blooded.
In ‘Life Extension’ it is related how Albert Hoffman told an American who took a large dose of hydergine to improve his hearing,
“Ach, you Americans are such extremists!”

@ Intommorrow and Bryant—“Empathy” is genetic—see this link:

there an allele in the gene that carries oxytocin that determines how much empathy a person has.  Also, empathy can be, and is, developed through meditation, by enhancing the brain center that is directly behind the left eyeball.  This has been verified in UCLA studies that examined Tibetan monks via MRI scans.

Don’t be a nihilist and dismiss empathy as an invented or religious construct because you think all humans are essentially selfish.  That notion is not true.  Empathy serves a valuable purpose and is floating amongst us in the gene pool.

I guess you missed my point about religion evolving. It is interesting that you take the Bible literally when you want and dismiss it as fairy tales the rest of the time.

I would agree that pain and pleasure does account for a lot of our motivation, but the point is not whether our motives are about pain and pleasure, but what causes that pain or pleasure? Empathy is the ability to recognize another person’s pain or pleasure and either want to alleviate it or celebrate it.

As for the vaccination question, I would have answered in the opposite. We have no right to force people to accept something even if we believe to be the greater good. The first part of medical ethics is “Do no harm”.

@Hank I have read studies that suggest we can artificially increase empathy, but I’m still not convinced. With the Tibetan Monks did they increase their empathy by meditation or meditate because of their empathy? I am skeptical of an claim of a single gene that controls anything.

“Don’t be a nihilist and dismiss empathy as an invented or religious construct because you think all humans are essentially selfish. That notion is not true. Empathy serves a valuable purpose and is floating amongst us in the gene pool.”

You have convinced us; now tell the above to billions of people (at least males) who would like nothing more than to harm or kill each other in some way. That will be the hard part, Hank—a Real tough Deal, McBeal.
BTW, not to even necessarily dismiss extremists, they help facilitate change, albeit in a quite unruly manner. If it weren’t for those who reacted so strongly against the Civil Rights movement, so many blacks wouldn’t have been radicalized and Obama might not be president today. Thank God for small favors, Pastor Alex.
No point in writing how it ought to have happened, it was how things did occur.
To go partly on-topic, if the religious will allow the non-religious to do as they wish, as long as they are not outside the laws of the time, then they will be reciprocated. The caveat is laws change according to time and place.

Ethics to one side, statutes have changed and will continue to change.



We have lots of genes, many are unnecessary and are evolutionary throwbacks.  The study you linked points out the potential to have a social response like empathy when the oxytocin receptor gene is present, but it has more to do with social impairment when the gene is absent.  The findings were based on testing the subjects, not on observing their normal day to day behavior.  So, it would be a leap to use this study to prove that the majority of human beings do not operate on a simple pleasure seeking, pain avoidance model.  Also, the average person is not a Tibetan monk.

...“there an allele in the gene that carries oxytocin”

No wonder Limbaugh had to go doctor shopping.

So: awareness, critical thinking, nurturing empathy (is it really behind the left eyeball Hank? I’ll have to check that one out! 😊 ) - this sounds like a pretty good recipe for a better world!

On polio vaccinations, sorry Bryant but you’re trying to make things appear simpler than they are. Alex’s question was whether we should vaccinate children against their will or the will of their parents in order to eliminate polio. He didn’t specify exactly who he meant by “we”, but I’ll go with “the state” for now. This then becomes a conflict between liberalism and the clear benefits that we expect vaccinating such children to have (not only for the children concerned but, as Alex points out, as a means to eliminate polio).

When I talk about interpreting utilitarianism in a wide sense, one of the things I mean is to take a *rule* utilitarian viewpoint. This is essential in order to make utilitarianism workable, otherwise you end up doing a cost-benefit analysis every time you go to the bathroom. Liberalism - which for now I’ll define as a presumption in favour of non-intervention by the state - has earned its credentials as a good “rule” in this context, destructive when taken to an extreme but nevertheless an essential part of well-functioning societies (even including, for example, the Scandinavian social democracies). So we should not dismiss as lightly as you seem to our reluctance to do something as illiberal as vaccinating children against the will of their parents. So Alex’s point - that not everything is black and white, that we need to think critically, and that polio vaccinations provide a good illustration of that need - stands in my view.

“it would be a leap to use this study to prove that the majority of human beings do not operate on a simple pleasure seeking, pain avoidance model.”

Bryant you seem to be implying that pleasure-seeking-pain-avoidance and empathy are somehow opposed. They aren’t. Empathy simply has the effect of modifying the calculus by which you instinctively measure pleasure and pain, essentially creating a positive correlation with that of the object of your empathy. This is the kind of thing I meant when I said that we are always selfish, but only in a weak sense. Empathy is like a glue that helps bind us together, and prevent us from tear ourselves (and each other) apart. It’s definitely something we need more of.

Admittedly, this is probably using quite a wide definition of the terms “pleasure” and “pain”. But I think this is necessary to validate your claim that we always operate on that basis. If we were to refer merely to physical pain and pleasure, then clearly your claim would be false (there are many counter-examples).

Of course we know it was oxycontin, not oxytocin, Limbaugh used, which brings this to mind: since the majority of Christians are Rightists (including Limbaugh) their generosity is negated by the negative factors of Rightists Christians and those of other strict faiths. It would be too long a list of negatives to go into, however one could say a key factor is the visceral urge to scapegoat present in most people, focused in Christianity on crucifying for the overarching purpose of concentrating the sins of the world on crucify-ees, latter-day sacrificial lambs.
In other worlds a sacrificial victim, as Jesus supposedly did, takes on the sins of the world to absolve the crucifiers of their larger guilt. And, naturally, people and animals were sacrificed for thousands of years before Jesus—for eons.
IMO merely the subliminal urge to crucify, present to a greater or lesser degree in the collective unconscious of most faiths, negates any and all generosity. The urge to crucify is a subset of double-bind; Christians for instance usually treat others well yet have a Dr. Hyde-side, wanting to help but also severely punish (basically cripple in some way) others as if they were their own children.

God exists, yet only internally—in the mind; and my hypothesis is that God is the collective unconscious.


I choose the words I use, when talking about religious cult mythology, carefully. So that people who actually read what I right understand that I do not believe the silly nonsense.  When I talked about the bible fairy tales earlier, I was talking about religious cult members wanting to believe they are true, not that they were true.  Reading comprehension is a skill many people need to work on. 

Your deflection about religious cults evolving does not change the fact that the majority of people do bow down to a mythical deity that they believe killed 99.99% of the world’s population and want to believe that those not part of their religious cult deserve an eternity of torture.  Notice that I am not validating the delusional beliefs, but pointing out the malevolence in those beliefs. 

How does giving a child the polio vaccine cause harm? (besides the prick of the needle and mild soreness at the spot of the injection afterwards)

The pleasure seeking, pain avoidance model is regardless of the cause of each.  This discussion began about altruism…which should be motivated by doing good for others, so whether it causes pain or brings pleasure to the individual is irrelevant. If people are doing something to gain pleasure or prevent pain in themselves, then they are not acting in an altruistic manner.

Yes, empathy can be developed via meditation—here’s a quote below, followed by a link - the UCLA/Tibetan monk study is one of many that show that the brain has “plasticity” that it can be changed

- we all know that brains can be damaged (concussions, stress, glue-sniffing, etc.) but it can also be improved via numerous methods. I am not just an optimistic Californian to assert this - there are numerous research studies that demonstrate this.

“those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The findings will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.”

I will have an e-book out in about a month that has the subtitle “150 science-proven ways to optimize the brain” - you can read that, and in the meantime, I recommend the Steven Pinker book, “Better Angels of Our Nature” that shows how violence is decreasing and he explains why.  But basically, it is decreasing because our brains are improving, due to better education, government and health care.

on another note, the book below suggests that Jesus Christ never existed. I found it very convincing.

@ Bryant
I read what you right very carefully.  You continue to make fallacious assumptions about religion. There is a minority of people who take the Flood mythology as historical fact. The majority read it the way it was intended to be read as a parable of the cost of deciding to reject morality. It is a theme that is picked up by the prophets later, suggesting that lack of morality and equality are what lead to the Israel’s downfall.


Science is a proven way of knowing.

No other ways of knowing have ever been shown to produce true knowledge.

You conflate the process of science with the human activity that is the actual working of science.

Human beings are not perfect and this is reflected in how science is actually conducted.  In this sense it is similar to other human activities such as religion or politics.

What distinguishes science from religion is that the scientific method acts as a negative feed back mechanism that (eventually) removes human subjectivity from the process. It may take a long time from our point of view but when viewed from a suitable historical perspective it can be seen that science is progressing in the direction of greater understanding of how reality works.

Compare this to religion, which does not generate true knowledge and is driven by a positive feed back mechanism that amplifies human error. It’s like having a thermostat designed so that the hotter it gets the more it runs the furnace. It can’t possibly work any other way as it is not driven by evidence and experimentally generated reproducible results.

It takes all that is bad in us, puts it on an alter and grovels before it.

Or as Richard Dawkins put it:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

You claim that religion and science are different ways of knowing. Historically we see that this is patently untrue. So far there is no truth claim made by religion that has been shown to be true by science. The world is not 6000 years old, all species were not created at a single time in their current form, we are not descended from a single ancestoral pair of humans, Joshua did not stop the sun in the sky, the angel that stopped Abraham from murdering his son was a symptom of mental illness just like the voices in his head that set him on his murderous course, the Israelites were not held captive in Egypt and so ad nauseam.

After 4000 years or more, not one claim made by religion has been shown to be true. And this is just the xtian/jewish ones. When one looks at the conflicting claims made by different religions it just cranks up the insanity level.

When you whine on and on about personal attacks and fanaticism (the irony meter went off the scale there) I get the sense of an organization that has grown complacent after millenia of unopposed power bewildered that any one would dare criticize them. Talk about a sense of entitlement.

Religion was our first and worst attempt to understand the universe.

I’d say it was time for religion to pass the torch, but luckily it’s not your choice and luckily for us this is what is finally happening.

If we are not so lucky, religiously inspired theocrats will get their way and usher us into a new dark ages.

The idea that Jesus never existed is not a new one. Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ is another book on the same idea. He managed to upset both theologians and Egyptologists at the same time.

The problem with taking a historical Jesus out of the picture is that we are then left with a huge conspiracy to create Christianity out of thin air. I don’t think that humans are smart enough to pull it off without someone blowing the whistle. Something happened within history, but we are unable to define what it is because there is simply not enough information. Still we can extrapolate because of the effect of the event on the people who were around at the time. This is similar to studying particles by their effect on other particles in a medium.

I am willing to accept that we are perhaps killing fewer people deliberately. We are still allowing roughly 5 million children to die every year because feeding them would reduce the profit made by the big food corporations. That figure doesn’t include adults by the way. ( We need to move from simply not killing each other to actively feeding those to need it, to allowing those people to feed themselves on land that they own by returning land that was illegally sold to corporations and wealthy nations. 
I think we are far from the point at which we can start congratulating ourselves on how we are improving as humans.

Steve—very well-spoken and I am fully in agreement with you in every detail.  I am very optimistic though, about non-religionists advancing politically in the USA - even the Republicans aren’t eager to nominate a Bible-thumper—and the younger generation is often stridently anti-religious !  Hooray!  Meanwhile, let’s keep up the good work of spreading the good Atheist News.

Alex - well, I read the book “Nailed” and I found it very convincing.  It is not difficult to imagine Jesus as an entirely fictional character.  Quite easy really.  Krishna, Shiva, Ganesh, the Greek and Roman and Egyptian and Germanic gods - all fiction, although they were thoroughly regarded as fact in their time.  Jesus is probably just an invented “Santa Claus” character - the book “Nailed” notes that he doesn’t appear in the Roman diaries of the time, in fact, he only appears in “re-written” segments (aka “forgeries”) of one historian.

There’s going to be further investigation of Jesus’s historicity, and when it becomes evident that he’s fiction, the faith built around his invented words and deeds…. will ....? You tell me.

here’s one link:

@ Steve

I had a long erudite comment written, then I realized I was wasting my time. You obviously know all the answers. Enjoy them.


I know more of the answers than my ancestors.

I can not claim that this is due my own effort or abilities, it is the privilege of living after Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Planck, Watson, Crick and their colleagues.

My hope is that our descendants know even more of the the answers.

I doubt that our race will ever know all of the answers.

I doubt that it will be possible to prove Jesus didn’t exist. I also doubt it will be possible to prove that he did.

Proving whether or not a dude name Jeshua walked the earth is immaterial. Realistically, there were lots of Jeshuas, given that Jeshua or Joshua was just about as popular then as John is now.

What is important is not so much his historicity as the effect on history his life has had, fictional or not. It is that fact that needs to be dealt with. He has reshaped the earth in a way that no other person (real or not) has except for other major religious figures such as Buddha or Mohammad.

At this point in time it is immaterial in any case. The people of faith will still maintain their faith and ignore any suggestion of “proof” as conspiracy. I don’t think that proof will change anything. In fact it has been shown that proof will actually have the opposite effect of forcing people deeper into their bunkers and refusing to listen to any form of reason at all.(

This phenomenon is apparent in everyone from Young Earth Creationists to atheists. I even recognize in myself which is why I read all the people who disagree with my position carefully and try to understand how their viewpoint may or may not impact my concept of the world. Scott Peck in his first book “The Road Less Travelled” talks about the failure of most people to be able to change their understanding of the world they live in.


It isn’t answers that are going to help us, but questions. Without questions we will never move forward. Science is all about questions, answers are only a byproduct. Certainty is death.

@Hank I’d be interested to know more about what the book you referenced says in terms of key arguments. From the bandoli site (and the much more informative and excellent wikipedia articles on the subject) I’m left with the impression that probably somebody did exist on whose life the later myths were loosely based. Knowing what we know about cults, a movement like Christianity surely had to have started with a charismatic leader. There’s plenty about the gospel accounts that I find sufficiently plausible (including the essentials of the crucifixion, i.e. minus the dramatic touches obviously) for me to find it easier to believe that the stories is based on a real person rather than *entirely* made up.

I guess the question I have is: if Jesus did exist, would we necessarily *expect* him to be mentioned in the Roman diaries of the time? In other words, is this a case where absence of evidence equals evidence of absence?

The important point of course is that this should be a question of purely academic interest. I find the subject fascinating, but there is no justification for allowing it to influence our views on anything important (such as ethics and emerging technologies!). There is no justification for thinking that the gospels are any *more* than a fictional account loosely based on the life of someone who actually existed. Why should we care whether they are even less?

Pop Quiz, what is the single most talked about subject in the Bible?

Free copy of my upcoming book, which should be reading in a year or so to the first person who gets the correct answer.

The answer is a direct commentary on Peter’s question.

@ Alex, the book is called “Nailed” author is David Fitzgerald - he helped me produce the world’s first Atheist Film Festival in San Francisco 2.5 years ago—and… well - I politely disagree about the importance of whether Jesus historically existed or not.  If proof accumulates that Jesus never existed, why would people decide to revere him and his words? 

Already, for me, the “teachings” and history of Jesus are nonsensical.  The four books of the Gospel have wildly conflicting details, in important events - like the patrilineal line of Jesus’ descent (why is this even included if Joseph isn’t even his father?  Isn’t “God” supposed to be the father of Jesus?) Also conflicting narratives in the last words of Jesus before dying on the cross, and in defining who visited his empty tomb after the crucifixion. The notion that the Creator of the Universe would have anything to do with such a flawed confused book is… excuse me… very very silly.

The teachings are often weird too.  Lately, as a parent, I am struck that Jesus asked his apostles to abandon their families and follow him.  This action renders idiotic the whole notion of “Christian Family Values.”

I am with Steve, on the question of the value of Christianity. Much or most of it has been a long rather horrible mistake, IMO.  The slaughtering Crusades, the persecution of Science, the burning of witches and heretics, the propaganda about “Divine Rights of Kings” and the abusive notion of Hell and today’s Catholic clerical celibacy and molestation of children… Christianity has centuries of misdeeds to atone for and it needs to completely get out of the way of science and rational thought.  Plus, as my article seeks to convey, it’s value to Ethics is wildly exaggerated.

People can change their minds on religion.  I am from a Catholic family—today some of my siblings are atheists, others are strident Bible-thumpers.  I have noticed that many people set their religious opinions in their college years, when their neo-cortex gets largely developed.  The presence of Atheist and Secular student organizations on campus is really going to help teenagers escape the religious nonsense of their parents.

You are a religious person… but can you give me simple answers, like where in the Universe does your God live, where’s his Heaven? Why did he want his Son killed? Why does He permit a world where there’s misery and injustice?  Please don’t answer that “His ways are mysterious”—that kind of Dark Ages submissiveness and lack of curiosity isn’t acceptable in our world today.

The best that Christianity can hope for, in my opinion, is that some of the parables and sayings can remain as philosophical teachings, on a shelf next to other literary lightweights and frauds, like Kahlil Gabran and Carlos Casteneda.

sorry if I sound harsh, but I get tired of this.  In the same way that I am weary pretending - for the sake of my 7-year-old - that Santa Claus exists.  Religion eats up - WASTES - a lot of valuable time and money and brain cells.

@ Peter—

here is the Amazon link to the book that says Jesus didn’t exist—

and here’s another book for Alex—since he is commendably brave enough to read the opposition—


I’m not making assumptions about the people in religious cults.  Surveys of these groups have demonstrated that the majority of them believe in the major events from the bible fairy tales as having actually happened.  The fact is that the religious cult members continue to bow down to a mythical deity that they believe would kill 99.99% of the population and subject all non-believers to eternal torture.  The fact that is is in reality a fairy tale, does not change that this is what the majority of cult members want to believe in.

@Peter Wicks

I do not think that pain/pleasure model and empathy are opposed to each other.  One is the overriding motivation for the majority of people and the other is a separate construct that fits is with many the pleasure seeking motivation for many people.  Having empathy does not mean that you are not following a pain avoidance, pleasure seeking model, just that your sources of pain and pleasure might be guided by societal norms rather than strict selfish endeavors.

@Giulio Prisco

You posted: “re “To consider a hypothesis as the factual basis of an argument is delusional.”

This is exactly what partisans of Intelligent Design say in support of their demands to ban Darwin from schools.”

First, Darwin is a person and he’s been dead for quite a while, so banning him from the schools is illogical.  Second, what I think you were supplanting Darwin for, was the theory of evolution, which is not a hypothesis.  It is a theory that has withstood 150+ years of scrutiny and study.  Partisans of intelligent design are clueless when it comes to scientific theories, and think their delusional mythology is more important than reality.

I’ve posted a rather extended review of this article on our blog, and, using some of the best available data, it appears that in fact religious people give more money—to both religious and non-religious causes—than do the less religious.

Brad Wright
Dept. of Sociology
University of Connecticut

Here a link to one study, out of many, that examine the correlation between Intelligence and Atheism:


A common claim made by defenders of religion is that science answers “how” questions while religion answers “why” questions.

Religious “why” questions such as “why are we here ?” are questions that beg the answer, the question implies agency and intent in the form of a mythical being and the answer always involves that big guy in the sky.

As Karl Popper pointed out, a theory that explains everything explains nothing.

The question “why are we here ?” asked from a religious point of view is incoherent, we have no ultimate purpose, we were not created, we were certainly not created for a reason, there is no teleological direction or purpose in our lives, when our physical bodies die no non material component lives on.

The same question asked from a scientific point of view is actually a number of related “how” questions, “how did life on earth originate ?”, “how did our species come to be ?”, “how are we related to other species ?”,  “how are human attributes like altruism and xenophobia related to our evolutionary past ?”, “how can we maximize human well being ?”.

The religious “why” question is based on a personal fear of the dark and death. It is a childish refusal to admit that we are not the centre of the universe, there is no ultimate meaning to existence and we are not going to be reunited with Aunt Ada, Fluffy and Rover when we die.

There seems to be an undercurrent of let’s just bury our heads in the sand, ignore reality, piss away the one life we really know that we have in return for a bogus promise of eternal bliss.

It is as if by refusing to understand reality you can change the nature of the universe to conform to your wishes. Try holding your breath and kicking your heels against the ground at the same time, perhaps that will work.

Well, that’s your choice, feel free to delude yourself as you see fit, but when you present your dogma in the public marketplace of ideas don’t cry persecution when they are criticized.

And especially don’t play the martyr when it is pointed out that indoctrinating children with this poisonous trash is a form of child abuse.

I’ll finish off with another Karl Popper quote:

“No rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude. “

@Bryant I don’t think empathy is primarily about complying with societal norms. Nor do you have to be a Tibetan monk to practise it. See for example this delightful story of someone meditating on a train:

In a sense I don’t really care to what extent empathy is genetic, to what extent it is a social construct, or how precisely it relates to our pleasure-seeking pain-avoidance motivation. The important question is how we can nurture it (assuming we agree the world needs more of it), and how best to deploy it.

Empathy starts with an awareness of one’s own feelings: unless we have that it is difficult to clearly perceive those of others, we will tend to confuse them with our own. If there is one thing that is clear from this thread it is that the issue of whether religious belief is “good” or “bad” (which is essentially what we have been discussing, right?) is one that provokes strong feelings.

Another point about empathy is that it provides an insight into how other people think, and *why* they think it, than we are ever likely to obtain just by cold analysis. As Hank says, people can change their minds about religion. But as with everything this is much more likely to happen if they feel listened to, in other words if we make the effort to empathise. (And let’s be clear, when we post comments on a blog it’s because we are trying to change people’s minds, and be prepared to change our own in the process. Otherwise it would be a bit pointless.)

In the same vein as my previous comment, there’s a good answer to the Karl Popper quote in Steve’s comment: if rational argument isn’t working, then rather than smugly dismissing your correspondent as “irrational”, try adding some empathy. You’ll probably have more success.

@ Peter—I think you might be over-estimating the value of empathy.  I suppose sometimes it works, but other times it is probably viewed as wimpy weakness.

I was raised in a conservative Catholic family.  I found my way out of Catholicism easily, but it was harder to let go of the right-wing politics.  I was a Republican 18-year old in 1972 at the wind-down of the Vietnam War.  I didn’t get any empathy from any of my college friends for my position, but I changed anyway, because I was surrounded by people I respected as intelligent - so I listened to them. A bit resistantly, but I listened…

Sure, there were rude people who just treated me like crap because of my youthful, inherited-from-my-parents position - and I did ignore them. You’re right about that.  But the smart people I respected still quite forcefully discussed the issues with me -

I switched from voting for Nixon in the primaries of 1970 to campaigning for George McGovern.  But I think it was because my mind was still inquisitive… that’s the primary reason

Your question is very good though—how can religious people be persuaded that their viewpoint is wrong?

Where in the Universe does your God live, where’s his Heaven?
The God who owns me (I certainly don’t own her) lives in the universe in the same way you and I inhabit our bodies. Heaven isn’t a place it is relationship with God. That’s why the idea of doing good to get into heaven is nonsensical.

Why did he want his Son killed?
She didn’t.  That is the way that the real perpetrators avoid their complicity. The truth is that we killed God because we didn’t want to give up our pride and certainty about the world.

Why does He permit a world where there’s misery and injustice?
When we talked about vaccinating children for polio against their will, some folks were all in favour of rounding them up and forcing them to be vaccinating. After all it is only a pin prick and so much better in the long run for everybody. But it eliminates free choice which is why others agreed with me that it was evil, or at least not a good idea. When you wonder why there is misery and evil, look in the mirror and ask yourself what you did to alleviate it or exacerbate it. We have free choice, and we choose misery and evil a great deal of the time. Don’t go into earthquakes and such. If we were really an intelligent species we would put more than minimum effort into understanding and getting along with the world we live in. Again a free choice. Neither God or I demand anything of you. Choose for yourself, but then live with your choice.

I agree that people change their mind about religion. They do constantly. People become atheists, people become religious. None of it is my issue or my job. Believe what you want, it doesn’t make you less human or less deserving of respect.

Believe me I can’t wait for the varieties of unthinking Christians to fade away, but I assure you that when they are all still gone, there will be plenty of people like me to continue to challenge and annoy you.


Poisonous trash huh? Back to answers I see. Tell me what of the following is poisonous trash and I will stop teaching it.

All people are worthy of love and respect regardless of whether we like them or not.
The world is not ours to do with as we wish. It belongs to itself and has intrinsic value beyond what we do to or with it.
Animals don’t belong to us either. We are responsible and should be accountable for how we treat them.
We are responsible for the world in which we live. We need to work for justice and peace for EVERYONE not just for ourselves.
There is no person who is outside of humanity; no one who does not deserve to have the basic needs of life met.

I teach this not because it will gain us some cosmic brownie points because it won’t. The world doesn’t work that we. In fact if we live this way we will be ridiculed and persecuted because the rest of humanity won’t like being reminded that they don’t. I teach this because I have a fundamental faith I am loved, as are you. There is no magic formula, no price tag, no special prayer, no rules to follow, no “I’m better and you’re damned” Just the reality of being loved when I don’t deserve it.

Love doesn’t mean the mushy feeling you get when you look at puppies, pizza or your soul mate. This love is an attitude that says, “I want the best of life for you.” It is more like the parent of a teenager when their progeny has once again broken the rules, and yet still the parent values and loves in the midst of the brokenness.

@Peter There is a way to change another human being’s mind. Not by argument but by relationship. It is why AA etc. works. Not that the purpose of relationship is to create change, but rather relationship means that we are living in a system and as one changes the other must respond. This is not a infringement of free will, but there is a choice of how to change.

If atheists spent less time trying to make the religious feel stupid, deluded, less human, and just hung around and had conversations they would get much further in freeing the world of toxic religiosity.

@Bradley Wright and all you generous religious folks:

Even Tom Rees, who has written an excellent article on this,  -  admits that, according to the (somewhat muddy..) data he’s seen, the religious give more to charity.

The crucial question, however, is this: Provided the above is true, does it follow that religious folks are also more generous ?

As Hank Pellissier himself has done already, I also highly recommend Tom Rees’ excellent analysis, which concludes as follows:

But does this mean that the religious are more generous than atheists? Here the data are clear. The resounding answer is no!

Again: Read the article, but he makes a very important point in saying that,
private individuals in the United States are the most generous in the world, every day giving six cents to foreigners in need compared with a meager one cent given daily by each Dane, -


The U.S. government gave fifteen cents on behalf of each citizen, but the Danish government gave ninety cents per capita. Put private and public giving together, and Denmark—one of the least religious countries in the world—is clearly the far more generous nation

And that is exactly what I was trying to say earlier: Comparing nations rather than individuals appear to give a clearer indication of who is the more generous: Believers versus non-believers. - Now, - please don’t dismiss the data I provided earlier by saying yeah, - but it’s easy just to pick countries to suit your own opinion, etc. - Compare any countries you like, and in the majority of cases a clear pattern emerges. Guess which !

Now, - I don’t mean to say that is a final blow to religionist claims, but I challenge anyone to come up with a good explanation.. - At the same time, you can perhaps explain to me also, why predominantly atheist societies are not only the most generous, but, as also said earlier, the most democratic, most egalitarian, less criminal, etc. etc. ???

One more thing: During 10 years with a right-wing government, Denmark actually lost it’s position as the highest ranking country in the world in terms of foreign aid. Now, - with Social Democrats back in power, one of their first decisions was to increase foreign aid.
Now, I’d be surprised if it’s not the same pattern in the US: Republicans are less committed than Democrats, and need I ask: Who are the more religious.. ?


You’re why I usually don’t bother discussing much with religious zealots.  There is a complete devoid of logical discussion in your ‘arguments’.

“The God who owns me (I certainly don’t own her) lives in the universe in the same way you and I inhabit our bodies.”

The only advice I can give, is to grow up.  This silly, childish delusion about some mythical, supernatural deity is really sad for anyone over ten years old. 

By the way, AA ‘works’ because people trade one addiction (alcohol) for another (religious cult).


You’re coming across as quite the deist. A sort of “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” approach to theology. Spinoza meets the Wizard of Oz.

None of your examples are poisonous trash but then all of the examples could just as easily (some would say more easily) be done by a non-religious person.

@ Bryant

You too with the answers. I don’t normally argue with people who are certain of themselves because they lack the capacity to grow. Sad really.

When you lose some answers and grow some questions, we’ll continue this chat.


The problem you are having is in the way you frame the question. “How can we convince people to give religion?” You can’t. No argument in the world will convince someone else that they are wrong as Bryant, Steve and myself have so ably proved. Certainty, facts, argument are all a waste of breath and time. That’s why I haven’t tried to convince either of these worthy gentlemen to take up Christianity. I have simply answered the questions that were posed in the faint hope that they actually wanted the answer.
What changes people, as I have said before, is relationship. One person relating to another, as you and your school colleagues did. Respect is a part of that. As long as a person of faith thinks, feels or otherwise perceives that you are trying to change them, they will resist. Give up trying. Just be yourself and tell your story. The people who need to hear will hear and will allow themselves to be changed.

There are people who need to become atheists to grow. There are also people who need to live in faith to grow.  No one should be trapped as one thing their whole life.

@ Ghost-beyond-the-Machine—thanks again for your contribution—you are really wonderful at this—I know you have your own site but it would be great if you wrote for IEET—think about it!

@ Pastor Alex—you are putting up a marvelous challenge, although seriously out-numbered. I admire your persistence!

Here’s another interesting link that lists studies that indicate that atheists often evidence superior morality:

That previous link of studies is so valuable that I’m just going to reprint three of them here:

Abraham Franzblau, “Religious Belief and Character Among Jewish Adolescents,” Teachers College Contribution to Education, no. 634 (1934): found that the higher the acceptance of religious beliefs, the less inclined to honesty the adolescents became!

Murray Ross, Religious Beliefs in Youths, New York 1950: a survey of 2,000 associates of the YMCA found that those who labeled themselves atheists and agnostics were more willing to help the poor that those who called themselves religious.

David M. Wulff, Psychology of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Views, New York 1991 p219-220: reported in his vast study that people with religious affiliation and / or attended church regularly and / or rated doctrinal orthodoxy as important tend to be prejudiced, intolerant of ambiguity, dogmatic and racist.


Atheists and Deists, not Christians, have also - in both the USA and UK - been the leading figures in:

Abolition of Black SLavery
Women’s Suffrage
Peace Movements—Anti-War Activism
Animal Rights

One of my favorite sentences in the article is this:

“The one common denominator you see in the short list above is that the atheism of these people enabled them to see outside the confining, amoral box of organized religions.”

@ Steve

If this is the way you teach those principles…. or does that only apply to people you agree with?


Yup, lots of atheists good-ish people and lots of religious are bad-ish. I never said otherwise. I wonder if the improvement will continue as the box of organized religion fades (I’m an advocate of disorganized religion myself). As Atheism, secular humanism and plain just don’t care become the majority, what will be the impetus to higher moral character? I hope it does continue, we certainly need something, and I’m not putting my hopes on either the Singularity or Gabriel intervening and solving our problems

I would love to request the next item to be taken on by atheists. World Hunger, not solved by charity which is only good for short term band aids, but real justice which will mean redistribution of land so people can grow their own food.

This is what I am talking about…

Questions are essential!


“You too with the answers. I don’t normally argue with people who are certain of themselves because they lack the capacity to grow. Sad really. “

You really should stop trying to project your own deficiencies on to other people.  When you claim that you worship some mythical deity that runs the universe, then it is you that claims to have all the answers.  (With none of the facts or evidence)  I’m really starting to feel sorry for you.  Your childish beliefs hinder your ability to think rationally.

Finally I can post comments. I hope I don’t regret registering to this site
anyway, for those who doubt that Jesus actually existed, you’ll find that most critically historians agree that Jesus existed and regard events such as his baptism and crucifixion as historical (look Jesus up on Wikipedia and it gives a number of outside sources).  His existence is also supported by several non-Christian documents including Jewish and Greco-Roman sources such as the works of 1st century historians Flavius, Josephus, and Tacitus, whom few historians doubt the genuineness off.  Furthermore, the scholars who argue that Jesus is a Christian invention are a minority.

I personally hope that trans-human society won’t be like this; continually debating with each other on who is right, who is wrong, who is more rational or morally superior instead of actually doing something about the all that is wrong with the world and the suffering that is happening as we continue these tedious debates.  Charity is not about making yourself feel good about yourself (that’s more of a result than a motivation) or earning points with God or anything like that and we shouldn’t boast about who gives more.  That’s just being smarmy.  It’s about helping people.  Its about improving lives and saving them from starvation and afflictions that could be prevented.  So lets stop trying to act or be better than the other person and actually do something.  From this I go by the bible quote “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” James 4:17

kind of off topic, but there is an interesting article post on the i09 blog about the singularity.  I recommend reading it and the comments bellow it.  It makes for a good discussion.

@hankpellissier on 11/28 at 11:28 AM
One often sees the morality of religious people questioned because of their supposed motivation. Regarding your questioning of the motivation of people who donate to charity:
I suggest that, from society’s point of view, it matters not what people think but what they actually do. Ask yourself, do you really want to stand in judgement of people’s thoughts like a god, or do you want to take the more reasonable path, if you must judge at all, of judging your fellows by what they do, (and that includes yourself).

I think if you want to debate what really matters about morality you should take on board the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy definition:

It depends on the topic. Hank has a gift for bringing out the discussion in people. Add religion into the mix and it becomes irresistible. As for whether the Singularity will be like this, I would expect that as long as we are human enough to hold an opinion we will argue about it. As messy as it seems, it does makes us stronger as long as we learn and move forward. If the only thing we do is recycle what we already think we know, our rut will turn into a grave soon enough.


I think the issue is that we have different definitions of rational. I agree that our morality must be based on our actions, and more the results of our actions.

@ Hank

At Hank, your comment about us being like gods got me thinking. There is a rational, utilitarian purpose for believing in God.

If we are like gods, then like the mythic gods you talk about we are accountable only to ourselves, and if we are caught to a god who is more powerful, but in not way more ethical. The planet and its people are playthings.

If there is a God to whom the universe and its inhabitants belong, then we are accountable to something that is greater than us and will measure our actions against their results. Until we are ethical enough to measure every action against its future results and restrain ourselves, we need an outside power to do so. Right now we are like teenagers left alone in the house. We are destroying it because we can’t be bothered to think beyond what we want in this moment. AND WE DON"T THINK THERE IS ANYONE TO CARE.

@Christian Corralejo

Obviously you haven’t done any serious research into the historical evidence for the bible fairy tale character Jesus.  Your sources have all been dismissed as either fraudulent of simply not proof of anything more than there were christian cult members in Rome decades after the Jesus character’s stories were set.


“There is a rational, utilitarian purpose for believing in God. “

No, there isn’t, but feel free to keep deluding yourself.  It’s hilarious to watch.

Bryant, I am afraid your comments are only reinforcing the(now common) perception of atheists as intolerant thought cops.

The image of atheists used to be one of free thinkers against the intolerance of the church. But now the roles seem reversed.

Free thinkers believe in freedom of thought for everyone. For those who want to think freely but deny others the same right, there is another word.

Often I don’t resist the temptation to participate in related Facebook discussion on religion, frequently started by our host Mike on this topic. A few months ago, a fascist “New Atheist” started by paying lip service to tolerance and free thought… and ended by proposing forced therapy for believers, in the purest Inquisition style.

@ Pastor Alex - I am not the person who said anything about people being as gods - maybe that was Peter Wicks.  But.. I do like the idea - although we won’t really be godlike, IMO, until we have immortality or near-immortality.

@ Bryant and Giulio - Forced Therapy for Believers… “De-Programming” - I must admit the notion pleases me. It is similar to Richard Dawkins assertion that religious education for children is child abuse.  I ‘m inclined to agree, because I was raised with threat of Hell, extremely disturbing especially in puberty when a priest said I’d fry forever for “onanism.”

Hank, please. You know I am your friend. But if you support forced therapy for persons who are only guilty of believing what they like in the privacy of their own head, then you are a dangerous fascist. Please tell me that this is not what you mean.

Of course freedom of thought does not imply freedom of actions harmful to others, and I share your opinion about that asshole priest.

By the way, I know something about all that. I was kicked out of a catholic school at 12 for extreme violent behavior. They wanted to program me, and I didn’t let them.

@ Giulio —well… hmm… You do know, don’t you, that parents at least in the USA have hired “deprogrammers” to repair their children after the kids have been brainwashed in cults?  A friend of mine was whisked off to a Moonie Camp in the ‘70’s and… he’s still a Moonie.  One of my sisters also came back from an Evangelical CHristian summer camp… a completely changed person, i.e., religious fanatic… Other “cults” that have isolated vulnerable people, separating them from their families so that they have no other realities to compete with the new indoctrination, are (I believe) Scientology and Hare Krishna.

I am not sure what to do about the religious indoctrination of children. I suppose Richard Dawkins wants the secular state, rather than religious parents, to “indoctrinate” the children in a secular, rational, scientific manner…  The notion of asking that children at least be exposed to secular thinking does strongly appeal to me—Many kids are cloistered in fundamentalist schools and communities… Who has the right to manipulate a child’s brain?  Parents?  The state?  No one? 

Please don’t worry about me being a dangerous fascist.  I was just expressing amusement at the idea of forcing therapy on religious people, not stridently endorsing it.  An amusing idea… I do think, tho, when the population gets more secular, there will be more family and friend “interventions” when people slip into religions… and counselors available to help them escape…

congrats to you on your violent and successful escape from the Papal Cult!

@Hank @Pastor Alex Yes, empathy alone isn’t the answer either: we also need to be prepared to criticise, refute, even condemn. But I whole-heartedly agree with Alex’s emphasis on relationship, and empathy is surely an essential part of relationship. I also think it’s important not to confuse empathy with “softness”, in the sense of being unwilling to confront or criticise. We can certainly go to far with empathy, if we get so caught up in the feelings of others that we lose our objectivity, but if suitably channelled I’m convinced that it can help us to hone, channel and more effectively and constructively delivery any criticism we think we need to make.

@Hank @Giulio On “forced therapy for believers”, what exactly are we talking about here? It sounds dramatic and (I agree with Giulio) pretty awful, but what do you each have in mind exactly? Giulio as per my comments above I’m not quite as convinced as you seem to be that believing what I like in the privacy of my own head is nobody else’s business. What I believe in the privacy of my own head influences what I say, and what I do. The people who raised Hank (and myself) with the threat of hell were probably, to a large extent, sincerely professing what they believed, in the privacy of their own head. The core problem was that they believed a toxic fallacy, not that they professed something they believed in.

@Christian Nice to see you back, thought we’d scared you away. You (like Alex) seem to be the kind of religious believer we should be discussing with, empathetically, even if (or rather especially because) we disagree. There are others I wouldn’t light a candle to, of course.

@Hank re “Who has the right to manipulate a child’s brain? Parents? The state? No one?”

Of course, the correct answer is no one.

But in the real world, parents often try to manipulate a child’s brain, and the state often tries to manipulate a child’s brain. Which is often worse (the generation of my parents was heavily manipulated by the fascist government in Italy in the 30s).

One good thing is, that children are much stronger and much more independent than we think. I remember when I was a kid, we just did not pay any attention to adults but assumed that all they said was bullshit. I believe most children do that.

My apologies Hank, I got the reference from here:

@Peter re “What I believe in the privacy of my own head influences what I say, and what I do.”

Not necessarily.

I have trouble accepting metrics. In David’s piece on 1957, a commenter attempted to persuade that the ‘70s were better than today based on metrics; yet though the ‘90s may have been better than today, I know of no evidence people were better off in the ‘70s.

The hypothesis from some commenters here on the religious being more generous than atheists would be even more problematic; would be, however organized religion is so unappetizing today, I don’t want to read anything more about religio-political manipulation, which is what it is about when we strip away the obfuscation—after all, religion whelped politics.
It does strongly appear any positives of religion are now erased by the negatives. It wasn’t always this way, however IMO religion is today as rancid as some of the food I see given away in soup kitchens (for instance MSG-laden Cheetos). Giving away what we don’t want isn’t charity, it’s more akin to waste disposal. Naturally it is more complicated: merely because someone is at the bottom doesn’t mean there is anything decent about them. And that is not off-topic because some of you are not aware how bad the situation is at the bottom…you wont see too many uneducated, aggressive males in faculty lounges (their common denominator, as one might guess, is dysfunctional families).

@ Giulio - rather aggrievedly, I must agree with you - my own children do indeed think most of what I say is “bullshit”—

it might be my fault - I raised them to be overly-assured, argumentative atheists. 

Now they love to point out when I’m erratic and illogical

not everyone gets the chance to think freely—

Scientific-thinking, thinking rationally, holding all ideas - religious, political, economic, philosophic, ethical - up to logical scrutiny - I’d be content if that was emphasized in schools, with religion not being an out-of-bounds issue….

by the way, Giulio and Peter—you Europeans—can you write an article about the chaos on your continent?  will the EU dissolve?

Too many variables; would have to know:
a) the size of the tax write-off a religious org. is gaining;
b) how dissembling a religious org. is;
c) how unhealthy the food at a given soup kitchen is;
and many more.

... d) the number of lice on a cot in a faith-based homeless shelter…

There is something to sociology-metrics, however it is difficult to grasp.

The discussion about manipulating children’s brains reminds me of this discussion over at practical ethics a while back: Well worth a read. Ultimately I think it’s a bit pointless to suggest that we shouldn’t be manipulating children’s brains: it’s what we’ve been doing since the stone age. The question we should be asking is what kind of “manipulation” is most likely to prepare our children to thrive in tomorrow’s world.

Pastor Alex has rightly emphasised the need for critical thinking on this thread. That’s certainly a value (and a habit) we need to instil in children. And respect for empirical evidence. Honestly, I think we can do without the myths of traditional religion. As I once wrote in an exchange with Dorothy Deasy (and she accepted the point): those (adults) for whom the idea of simply letting go of these traditions seems to grim have a special responsibility to ensure that they at least take care to sort the wheat (“love thy neighbour as thyself”) from the chaff (“and on the third day he rose again”)

@Giulio I wonder if the point about kids assuming what adults say is partly cultural. In cultures where adults tend to use words to express their feelings vividly, using various kinds of exaggeration and colourful images, kids will probably wise up that much faster to the fact that they shouldn’t take what adults say as literally accurate. This is much less the case in Anglo-Saxon culture, and this can make religious (and other) indoctrination much more insidious.

Re believing something in my own head, surely this is bound to influence what I do and say, particularly when the beliefs in question are as pervasive and value-laden as religious ones. In any case nobody here is advocating telepathic mind-control: if we’re interested in what people believe, it’s because they talk about their beliefs, and therefore influence others. So what I believe, even in the privacy of my own head, IS other people’s business (and vice versa).

If I started generalizing Europeans, or Chinese, or Americans in the same way religions are generalize in this thread, I would quite rightly have people challenging my assumptions.

The particular is not the general. One religion may be toxic, the next helpful, a group much be indoctrinating indigenous Hutu people into wearing three piece suits to show they are “good Christians” while another is working in partnership with local people of all faiths to recover and improve local farming methods.

The world is complex. We know this, but it is so much simpler to generalize even though we know it is intellectually lazy. This is one of the reasons why as a species we are still far behind where we should be ethically.

I read an excerpt of Better Angels, I’ll have to wait until January to buy it. The couple of things that I see is that altruism is not necessarily leaving money for strangers. That’s a fascinating experiment, but doesn’t allow for the fact that people want to know that their charity dollars are going to make a difference, even the perception that it will make a difference is enough. Just look at all the guilt porn that is out their trying to get people to donate. Even Kiva for all its strengths is working to connect people to people.
Violence is another issue. Actual violence may be dropping, but as many children die every year as people died in the Second War and it isn’t necessary. It is completely preventable. We just don’t. Hunger is also used politically, so while it isn’t directly violence it is use to subdue people. We need to move from just not killing people to actively helping them to live.

Will the EU dissolve? I hope not! But Merkel really has to start to apply some critical thinking to her own preconceptions, and those of her advisers, and allow the ECB to significantly loosen monetary policy. An inflation target of around 5% should just about do it. We need to get people *spending*. Disclosure: I bought a load of renminbis today so I have an interest in a weaker euro! But I also think it’s what Europe (and the global financial system) urgently needs. Carrying on with this ridiculous, recessionary austerity religion is becoming very dangerous. The European Council meeting of 9 December could be a make or break moment.

By the way I’ll take this opportunity to advertise a movement a friend of mine has started that is trying to get “armchair Europeans” off their armchairs and fill the space left by in intransparent politicians and policy-makers and vociferous eurosceptics. If you’re interested search for Avanti Europe on Facebook.

@ Peter—I read what you suggested at: - good site to check out, thanks!

regarding comments there, I’d like children to be taught Logic/Reason/Scientific Thinking
but I am opposed to them being taught “Faith”—a word that has been tossed about a bit even here, by Alex. 

Faith to me just means believing in things that have no proof.  And that’s not good.  Kids being taught that “Faith” has value just leads to fuzzy-thinking Stupidity. CHildren being taught rationality at an early age have a distinct advantage, I believe, over the muddle-headed, non-investigative mentality that Faith encourages. To believe something just because of “faith” is to severely disengage your brain.

To make myself clear, I can’t abide the notion of “Faith-Based” religion. 

I consider it a horrible waste of time and brain cells to stuff kids’ skulls full of myths, legends and magical notions, when they could be learning something useful and fact-based, like Neurology.

@ Hank

Faith is a tricky thing. I don’t feel at all fuzzy headed. I apply critical thinking to my everyday life, including my relationship with the divine. There are a lot of things we put our faith in. The free market economy, which people continue to tout in spite of the evidence that it just doesn’t work. The idea that science is an absolute, which makes scientists cringe.
The funny thing about myths, legends, and magical notions is that they are likely to happen anyway. It’s like parents who refuse to let their kids have play guns or swords, so the kids pick up sticks and play with guns and swords anyway. Children inhabit a world of wonder and imagination. Then we tell them to grow up and get over it and live in a miserable world where they’ll probably have to work at McDonalds for the rest of their life to pay for the Masters in Organic Chemistry that didn’t land them a job. We kill creativity and call it teaching rational thought, but what we are doing is just putting our young into a different shaped box that has no more reality than the “Faith” box you object too.
Life is more than we can imagine or know. What we really need to do is teach a few critical thinking skills and let our progeny figure things out for themselves. They’ll do better without our help.

@Giulio Prisco

“Bryant, I am afraid your comments are only reinforcing the(now common) perception of atheists as intolerant thought cops.”

Am I preventing you from thinking whatever you want?  No
Am I preventing you from saying whatever you want?  No

So, what is this nonsense about ‘intolerant thought cop’?  Are you so weak minded that when someone challenges your delusions, that you can no longer think about them? 

I am not denying you the right to think or say whatever you wish.  But don’t be so childish as to think that if you post nonsense it will not be challenged.


“I apply critical thinking to my everyday life, including my relationship with the divine.”

Now that’s funny…you critically think about your ‘relationship’ with your imaginary friend.  Faith is the delusion that what you have no proof of or logical basis for is real.  And all your anecdotal ramblings about the free market, science, guns, sticks and McDonalds doesn’t change that.

@Peter Wicks

Empathy - Ur Not Doin It Rite

You’re assuming that empathy works to the benefit of the recipient.

It could be that the purpose of empathy is to allow one to predict the actions of others and use that information to ones own advantage.

It could be that we are actually puppets dancing to strings being pulled on by empathy.

This is a sub text in the science fiction book “Distress” by Greg Egan:

“But how much is understanding and how much is a delusion of understanding?. Is intimacy a form of knowledge, or is it just a comforting false belief? Evolution isn’t interested in whether or not we grasp the truth, except in the most pragmatic sense. And there can be equally pragmatic falsehoods. If the brain needs to grant us an exaggerated sense of our capacity for knowing each other—to make pair-bonding compatible with self-awareness—it will lie, shamelessly, as much as it has to, in order to make the strategy succeed.”


But it’s fun being a martyr !

And a lot easier than examining one’s core beliefs.

Think of it as a challenge to discover whether empathy is for the user, or the usee.

Pastor Alex, I need religion—but perhaps that only means I’m a fool. At a more science-oriented site one has to cover all the angles in being critically rational; whereas at a religious site all one has to do is, say, love God and one has it made in the shade. But there probably is no heaven, only hell: if one has every bone in one’s body broken, such is hell. Or think of it as a challenge!

@ Guilio

Don’t worry about Bryant, he’s only got one string to his fiddle. When he grows up he might mellow.

I agree that the evangelical atheist that seems to assume that they are the new majority can get pretty strident, but tolerance goes both ways. We need to just get on with our life and let others get on with theirs. It is only if they directly interfere with the right to conscience and association guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that it becomes a problem.

@ Steve

You have a good point that empathy works both ways. It is good for the recipient because they will get better treatment if the people they meet see them as human, and their feelings and desires acknowledged as real and reasonable. It is also good for the empathizer since they are more likely to get more of what they want with less effort. The world is not a consistent win/loss situation. Most of the time if we look at it from the right angle it is a win/win or at least mostly win/mostly win.
Lack of empathy whether deliberate or natural will eventually lead to reprisals. This is why sociopaths mostly ‘fake’ empathy in order to fit in and succeed. It is a rational decision that empathy is necessary for survival. Bear in mind that no more sociopaths end up as murderers than the rest of the population.
Thus empathy may be both natural and learned.

Will probably be offline for a while:pity, this is one hell of a thread! Much more I could say about faith, basically I agree with you Hank, although of course we all need faith in something. @Steve I think empathy benefits primarily the empathiser. Not a zero-sum game, however.

@Bryant re “Am I preventing you from thinking whatever you want? No”

No, because you can’t. I am not sure of what you would do if you could. That is why I will always fight to keep authoritarian groups out of political power, even when I happen to agree with their specific positions.

@Hand and Peter re “Will the EU dissolve?”

I certainly hope so. In its present form, the EU is worse than useless to the 99% of EU citizens 😊

But the naive optimist in me just Liked the Avanti Europe page on Facebook as suggested by Peter, and will take a look.

@Giulio Prisco

You stated: “No, because you can’t.”

So, when did I ever try?  When have I ever stated that people should not be allowed to think what they want or say what they want?


Considering it is you that is still talking to imaginary friends, I suggest it is you that needs to grow up, little one.

I agree with Peter, this has been a great thread.

It’s wandered all over the conversational map but still managed to remain true to the original article.

And despite some of my forthright comments I’d say this is due as much to those whose ideas I disagree with (I’m talking about you Pastor_Alex) as those with whom I agree.

Thanks for providing the opportunity to participate Hank.

@ everyone—Yes!  Thank you all for a great thread—

I hope to meet you again chatting
on some of the other wonderful articles
that are posted at IEET

It has indded been a great thread, Hank, but please: one more response ought to be made which will be the very last one. Christian C., a rather precocious college-aged guy, provided the elemental-yet-crucial issue below,

I personally hope that trans-human society won’t be like this; continually debating with each other on who is right, who is wrong, who is more rational or morally superior instead of actually doing something about the all that is wrong with the world and the suffering that is happening as we continue these tedious debates.”

The short answer* is, since most of us at IEET—or at the very least a plurality—are Americans, that the Framers of the U.S. wanted it that way. 1776 was the year of the Declaration of Independence (not the Declaration of Agape Love); Adam Smith published ‘The Wealth of Nations’ (not ‘Lay Up Your Treasures in Heaven’; ‘the Industrial Revolution (not the Christian Love-Revolution) was hitting its stride in England and was to hit continental Europe and then America full-force.
*The long answer would have to be for another thread since this one is exhausted. However Since Christian C. is a young guy new to transhumanism, he deserves an answer to simple-but-profound queries., selection, that went through THX accreditation, brings about this kind of vibrant colours in the computer animation which i cannot truthfully keep in <a >moncler uk</a>, It is accurate SunPower required this particular offer a lot more than Complete. The organization offers substantial marketplace reveal within the Ca <a >chanel canada</a>, been handled as well as had been hitting theaters, Nitzken stated., <a >moncler outlet shop</a>.brief walk in to Stresa, the industry wonderful small city. All of us discovered an excellent wines club within Ing Buscion that is really enjoyable <a >gucci outlet online</a>, What’s humorous is actually basically might have hitched somebody producing $74, 000, we’d obtain $1, two hundred. So how exactly does this particular <a >moncler women jackets</a>, oncologists tend to be attaining exactly the same remedy prices, however along with less unwanted effects. along side it results, each from the ladies, <a >canada goose sale online</a>.
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