Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Garbage In, Garbage Out

An Associated Press poll recently reported that 1 in 4 American adults did not read a single book last year. And of the few who did read anything at all, their primary choices were the Bible and related religious works, “The Bible and religious works were read by two-thirds in the survey, more than all other categories.” Full story here.

The problem: every new human baby on this planet is essentially the same empty container as baby’s have been for thousands of years. Despite the fact that we have made astounding general advances in science, knowledge, medicine, and culture, a new baby’s head has none of those advances and advantages in it by default. We have to start over educating every new generation, catching them up to the front edge of where our collective knowledge is for that generation. A baby could be raised to have just as backward, ignorant, and simplistic a worldview as a baby born a 1,000 years ago if it doesn’t get access and exposure to the crest of the wave of our knowledge of the world.

If we feed our minds with superstitious, religious, fuzzy-headed religious nonsense, and judging from the poll information we’re reading little else, we are in real danger of turning future generations of us back to a dark age of theological tyranny. Americans are buying tens of millions of copies of the Left Behind books, which describe in elaborate gloating detail all of the horrible wretchedness that non-believers will be left to endure at the hands of the anti-christ after the believers are all raptured to heaven. (No doubt all of the readers view themselves as being among the chosen few virtuous people who will be saved.) Countless copies of the Bible are sold every year so that people can engage in endless textual exegesis that promises to do little except hold us back politically, historically, and morally as it works its way into our minds and our lives.

Our minds will come to embody those ideas, principles, images, and practices that we put into them. Even if you think it’s a good thing that so many people are reading the Bible, you cannot think that it is good for us that that’s all we read when we read at all. There are so many better sources that we could be expanding our knowledge of the world with. And the further behind a generation falls by not reading and getting educated, then the harder it will be for the next generation to catch up. And the less we know about biology, physics, history, and society, the easier it will be for the darkest side of the religious urge towards fundamentalism, intolerance, and ignorance to take over.


Josh May said...

Amen to that.

I think a well-known quote of Plato's is particularly relevant here:

"My good friend, you are a citizen of Athens, a city which is very great and very famous for its wisdom and power -- are you not ashamed of caring so much for the making of money and for fame and prestige, when you neither think nor care about wisdom and truth and the improvement of your soul?"
- Plato, Apology (F.J. Church translation)

But, this quote highlights the failure on the individual's part to educate herself. And, as I think this post rightly points out, there is also a society-wide concern here. And, as such, it should be considered as a large social issue that could benefit from society-wide efforts.

(FYI: I think there's supposed to be link in the post to the full story about the reading survey. But it's not there.)

Anonymous said...

The interesting and sad thing to me is that the bible is one of the easiest books to discredit that's ever been written.

God and his followers commit every kind of horrendous act possible.

Of course, when any of this stuff is talked about rationally, the immorality and evil of the bible stands out easily.

So Matt, as you've stated before, the atheist's job is to make more people awake of this stuff much more actively.

For anyone who doesn't know who evil the bible is, heres a site that does a good job of showing it, not that's very hard:

Jon said...

Off topic - subject has implications for philosophy of mind - is such an excellent site -

Source: University College London
Date: August 24, 2007

First Out-of-body Experience Induced In Laboratory Setting.
Science Daily —

A neuroscientist working at UCL (University College London) has devised the first experimental method to induce an out-of-body experience in healthy participants. In a paper published in Science, Dr Henrik Ehrsson, UCL Institute of Neurology, outlines the unique method by which the illusion is created and the implications of its discovery.

The study participant sits in a chair wearing a pair of head-mounted video displays. These have two small screens over each eye, which show a live film recorded by two video cameras placed beside each other two metres behind the participant's head. The image from the left video camera is presented on the left-eye display and the image from the right camera on the right-eye display. The participant sees these as one 'stereoscopic' (3D) image, so they see their own back displayed from the perspective of someone sitting behind them. (Credit: Image courtesy of University College London

Anonymous said...

Just as I do not want Bible thumpers to be preaching to me, I do not think that I should be preaching to them to give up their beliefs. I do believe that religious beliefs are harmful and dangerous, but I do not believe that people should be forced to accept any idea -- no matter how good or true.

F. Fletcher
Anyhow, I wonder if religion itself does more to make more people atheists than any arguments atheists might make.

Anonymous said...

I am troubled by the mere thought that any reasonable person would view indoctrination as an appropriate means of furthering religious belief, or any agenda. But, this is what takes place every day. It seems that there are two conclusions one can draw from this: that these people have no shame when it comes to doing what they believe, or have been taught to believe, is right; or that these people are simply unreasonable. I would like to believe, if only for the sake of being a respectful as possible, that the former is the case. That being said, it seems that people often feel the need to bolster or reaffirm their own faith in the absence of a suitable potential convert. This is where the "Left Behind" books, and others, come into play. It seems to me that instead of entertaining wild fantasies about the brutal yet sinfully satisfying demise of the "heathens," one's search for enlightenment or strengthening of faith would be better served by turning inward and searching for truth. I have always felt that, regardless of what faith you subscribe to, that faith is for you alone. 'To each his own,' I say. Of course, that motto has recently led to my being labeled a "Liberal Hippy." By whom, you ask? My pastor.

--Michael Evey

Anonymous said...

Dean Writes

How can anyone have faith in words that they think a God provided for humankind? Words are just words without opistemic backing--in the form of truth value--to make the teachings a functioning resourse, or even a position of belief. when man tries to establish what a god is saying, human error will pervail (based on what their motivation is for the purposes they desire).

Carlo said...

I always thought the leaders in our society had a policy of dumbing down the masses. It really isn't feasible that we could have a society of philosophers. I don't think much would get done. It is in the interest of the movers and shakers to keep the masses ignorant for the sake of stability. No reasonable person could ever accept that the bible is a legitimate source for knowledge. And I really don't think our leaders actually subscribe to such - many of whom have an education level that surpasses most of us. Public policy ought to measure up to our ideals of truth and integrity. Our leaders have failed us by pandering to religion for political gain. I have reservations however about what a society would be like if it were ninety-five percent atheist. What would people do with all the free time? Where would their minds wonder?

Here's a must have link for any skeptical reader of the bible.