6
Why does the truth matter anyway?

Some people believe in god because it comforts them, not because of proof. Why does it matter whether or not there is a god? Why does the truth matter? Or why does proof of it matter?

Posted: December 31st 2008

Eric_PK

The truth matters because people make decisions on what they believe is true.

In the past, people didn’t understand that germs cause diseases, and therefore lots of people died.

Or, some people believe that they don’t need to take care of the earth because they’re only here temporarily but will have eternal life in heaven.

Posted: January 1st 2009

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

bitbutter www

Imagine a person wanting to persuade you that the truth doesn’t matter. They think that 'the truth doesn’t matter’ is a true statement, or in other words, they think that 'the truth doesn’t matter’ is (part of) 'the truth’. So if they are to be consistent, they have to maintain that it doesn’t matter that 'the truth doesn’t matter’. And further still, that it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t matter that the truth doesn’t matter… and so on, an infinite regress.

This person who’s telling us that the truth doesn’t matter is in an impossible position. If the truth really doesn’t matter then they have no business trying to persuade us about what they take to be the truth—the fact that they are trying to do just that reveals that they don’t really believe it themselves.

Although this doesn’t answer the question of why the truth is important, I hope it shows that anyone claiming that the truth is unimportant is on very shaky ground.

Posted: January 1st 2009

See all questions answered by bitbutter

logicel

Now that the tacit agreement to protect religious beliefs from criticism is broken, perhaps psychologists and sociologists will conduct studies focusing on the equally tacit bit of wisdom that religion comforts, and if it does, what is the particular quality of this comfort? Is its quality on the par with the teaching of coping skills, imparting of knowledge, and encouragement based on expertise that one can find in the best of therapeutic interventions? Or is it the kind of comfort that is associated with the easy way out, like drowning one’s worries and sorrows in a bottle, or regarding abuse as a sign of love, as battered spouses do until they finally are able to see that good is really bad?

Every since atheists have started to criticize religious beliefs loudly, openly, and consistently via websites, bestsellers, and associations in recent years, the most significant criticism have come from the I am an atheist, but segment. In short, they are the atheists who will admit while religious beliefs aren’t something they can embrace will insist nevertheless that belief in belief is a good thing. As this notion is consistently challenged across the board in every other aspect of our lives, it is ridiculous to regard somehow that religious belief should be exempt from the same scrutiny and be allowed to drift along in a closed-system bubble, unanchored to an evidential basis.

Like Dawkins, I find this attitude insulting to believers, as if they are incapable of learning new skills that will enable them to be fulfilled and happy, and because of this arbitrarily perceived lack of ability, we should just plump them in front of the boob tube of religion, letting them vegetate because we are too occupied or busy to focus on their lack of coping skills.

The truth matters because each one of us merits it. And the acquiring of truth is an on-going process, not like the imagined, monolithic, unmoving truth that is the dismal selling point of religion.

Check here for answers to a similar question.

Posted: January 1st 2009

See all questions answered by logicel

Paula Kirby www

Hi!

I’d like to answer your question on two levels: the effect on the individual believer, and the effect on society as a whole.

Personally, although I think the type of believer you’re talking about is mistaken, I agree that this, of itself, doesn’t pose a major problem to anyone else. If it suits that person, and if it gives them comfort in time of trouble, well, I don’t feel a strong need to deprive them of that.

But believing is not a cost-free exercise. Religion demands a huge amount of a believer’s time, energy, focus and, of course, money. Now, it’s up to each individual how they want to use those things, of course, and if they choose to spend them on their religion, they’re free to do so. But if you were planning to invest all those things in, say, a charity, would it be sensible to do so simply on the basis that you liked the idea of it? Or would you want to check out that it really exists first? That the people running it were legitimate? That it really is doing the good things that it claims to be doing? To out the truth of its claims, in other words?

I would suggest that it DOES matter whether God really exists or not, if you’re planning to invest a lot of your life pursuing religious activities.

Belief has other personal costs too: Christians are taught to think of themselves as sinners; in need of forgiveness; as deserving of hell if it had not been for the death and resurrection of Jesus. I don’t think these are psychologically helpful thoughts to have about ourselves so, again, if we ARE going to have them, it would be nice to know that there was a basis for them in truth, wouldn’t it? No point being laden with guilt and a sense of sinfulness if the religion that gave them to us is not actually true, is there?

And, connected with this idea of sin, religion limits our options. Of course we don’t have to believe in God in order to know it’s wrong to murder, rape, steal, be deliberately cruel to one another etc. We have evolved as a social animal, and our survival would be greatly jeopardised if it were socially acceptable to do these things. So I’m not talking about religion limiting our options to do things that we can all see would be bad. But it limits our options to do all sorts of things that are clearly NOT bad: various religions limit what their followers can eat; what they can wear; what they can do on “holy” days; what they can read; who they can mix with. These things are NOT necessary for health and happiness, or for a good life – so it DOES matter whether the god who supposedly imposed them really exists or not. After all, if the god doesn’t exist, there is no need to limit ourselves in these ways.

And there can be even more serious consequences for the individual believer too. Many religions, having their roots in times when these things were not understood as they are now, are deeply opposed to homosexuality and claim that homosexual behaviour is sinful. So if the individual believer is gay, or thinks they might be, there is a huge cost here, isn’t there, in terms of confusion and guilt? So here, too, it matters deeply whether there is good reason to believe it’s TRUE that the god in question actually exists. Because if there ISN’T good reason to think so, then individuals are suffering this guilt and confusion for no good reason.

So yes, I think the truth DOES matter, even at the level of the individual.

Then there is the question of how religious belief causes believers to interact with others.

Most religions – and certainly Christianity – aren’t content with just imposing their rules and beliefs on their existing followers: their aim is to convert others.

Again, if a religion is going to try to convert others to its beliefs, doesn’t it matter whether its beliefs are based in truth or not? Doesn’t it make a huge difference? What right does a religion have to go tell people that they must believe, and that they will suffer for not believing, unless the claims of that religion are based in truth?

And because religion is associated in many people’s minds with morality (an association which, as I suggested earlier, is quite unnecessary – there are very good evolutionary reasons why we value “goodness”), believers often look down on those who don’t believe, or who don’t share THEIR beliefs, and think they can’t be good or moral. Again, this isn’t a helpful way to approach other people: it’s divisive, for a start, and it’s very insulting to people who don’t share the beliefs but are in all respects as good and moral and kind and caring and fulfilled as the believers are.

If the claims made about the various gods are not true, then this is a purely negative consequence of religion, so again, it MATTERS whether it is true or not.

At a national level (in the UK), the law states that all schoolchildren must take part in a daily act of Christian worship; buildings and land used for religious purposes are automatically exempt from being valued for tax purposes; religious activities – including the costs of missionary work to convert others – are automatically treated as charitable and so are given tax-free status; religious leaders are automatically given places in committees considering ethical issues; and we have 26 Bishops in the House of Lords, having a direct influence on the legislation of this country. I could go on, but you get the idea! Religion is granted a lot of influence in this country, and at the taxpayers’ expense too.

Now, if there was good reason to believe that the claims of religion were TRUE, then there would be good reason for society to support religion in this way. But if there is NO good reason to believe that the claims of religion are true, then it is quite legitimate to challenge the influence that religion has, isn’t it?

So religious belief is far from just being a personal matter for the individual. It directly affects all of us, whether we want it to or not.

For all these reasons, I would argue that it matters very much indeed whether or not there is good reason to believe that there is a god.

Hope that helps.
Paula

Posted: January 1st 2009

See all questions answered by Paula Kirby

brian thomson www

When it comes to human issues, religious or otherwise, “truth” is elusive. So, when it comes to scientific matters, the best approximation to “truth” is what’s left when you remove human factors from any investigation, as much as possible.

Have you been following the news from the Middle East, particularly Israel and Gaza? What kind of decision-making processes went in to creating that situation? What is the “truth” there?

If we try and “see through” the religious issues, take the people out of the equation, and get down to earth, that’s where we end up: pieces of earth. What piece of earth is worth dying over? “Holy Land”?

Posted: January 1st 2009

See all questions answered by brian thomson

SmartLX www

Try asking a religious person the same question. Why does it matter whether or not there is a god? Their answer: because if there is, and you are not living for him, you will suffer forever.

From an atheist’s perspective, what does it matter that people believe in false gods (and at least 4 billion people certainly do)? It affects their lives in the here and now in huge ways. These people are wasting vast amounts of time, money, energy and effort for a reward they will never receive. That’s the best-case scenario; many of these people are also victimising those who do not share their beliefs, in a variety of ways.

If belief’s only effect was to comfort people, it’d be harmless. That’s just not the case.

Posted: December 31st 2008

See all questions answered by SmartLX

 

Is your atheism a problem in your religious family or school?
Talk about it at the atheist nexus forum