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Seeing past each other

May 10, 2015

Some priming experiments suggest that the religious may not like atheists in part because the very idea of atheism reminds them of their own mortality.

One notion Christians tell themselves about atheists is that:

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.

The notion that important knowledge will be rejected unless its messengers are well-behaved is a bit odd. Someone studying mathematics doesn’t reject Stokes’ theorem because his math professor is a drunk, nor does someone studying geology reject plate tectonics because her geology professor is lecherous. When a doctor gives me a diagnosis, I don’t dismiss it if I later find out he has been charged with family violence.

Conversely, there are many Christians I love and admire. Many in my own family. That does not go one small step to persuading me that their religion makes sense.

Atheists reject the message, not its messengers. Neil Carter has a good post explaining why Brennan Manning’s quote above is nonsense. I wonder, though, if there is a psychological difference between believers and non-believers, in how they associate a message with its messengers. I’ve often seen fundamentalists cast personal aspersions on Darwin, as if that somehow should affect how anyone views evolution. Of course, that fallacy is seen more in politics than in religion.

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