Re: Religion and evidence

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Tue 17 Jan 2006 - 20:20:48 GMT

  • Next message: Ben Dawson: "Re: Religion and evidence"

    Ben Dawson wrote:
    > My parents, despite having religious convictions, were pretty relaxed
    > about their faith and never forced their beliefs down my throat. We'd
    > go to church occasionally, say the Lord's prayer before a meal and I
    > was told a few Bible stories, but that's about as far as it went. I
    > grew up believing in God, until I reached my late teenage years when
    > I became more interested in science and evolution and began to
    > question my beliefs a bit more. From then on, I knew I was an atheist.
    > What is interesting, is that my sister, who had exactly the same
    > upbringing, took entirely the opposite path, and about the same time
    > that I realised my own atheistic views, she became insanely religious.
    > I've never really enquired about the reason for the strength of her
    > beliefs (kind of a difficult subject to raise), but I think you're
    > right when you say it's all down to interpretation. Maybe our
    > interpretations of our own experiences were just different.

    Actually, despite what you say below, I'm not convinced that this is off-topic. It seems to tie in with the questions Chris was asking about
      why certain memes decline or increase in popularity over time; and why some people should accept a given set of memes and others not.

    In the case of siblings I suspect that we are not actually given the same upbringing: our parents' reactions to us are hugely influenced by our place in the family, our sex, personality, health, etc.

    But that aside, the family surely provides a sort of cultural microcosm about which we can ask the same sorts of questions as we can about wider society. In the family, why does one person accept a meme or memes, and another rejects them? In wider society, why does it sweep through one generation, only to be wiped out in the next?

    Context has to be a big factor I guess: the memes in competition with it. But the individual can make a choice, here, too. Certainly we've all encountered memes we've chosen to reject. And it's certainly possible to reject memes even when the rest of society, or our family, accepts them. Sometimes we even choose a particular set of memes simply because they run counter to what everyone else believes. So it can't just be a matter of going with the flow. I don't think the mind-as-a-memeplex view can account for this element of choice.

    > Do you think there's ever a chance you might switch back to atheism?
    > Say for example, if your prayers went unanswered or something occurred
    > that made you doubt God's power? Or do you think you'll be Christian
    > for life?

    Look, I don't want to give the impression that I have the Christian's equivalent of a magic lamp in my handbag, to be polished whenever I want to make three more wishes. Prayer is more about God's wishes than mine.
      And who can tell how each of us will respond in difficult circumstances? Physical pain, bereavement, seeing our loved-ones suffer . . . All I can say is that I am in the habit, now, of turning to God when these sorts of things happen; and he is in the habit of not letting me down; so I cannot envisage switching back to atheism. Any more than I can envisage suddenly discovering that I've been wrong all along about my oldest friend, or my husband, or my father: I trust them on the basis of years of experience - experience, admittedly, of my own interpretation of their behaviour, but I guess that has to be good enough for me.


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