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Worldviews

Worldviews

Our Inescapable Pluralism

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The great variety of contradictory religious views is for many reason enough to conclude that there is no truth to be had in such matters, that no one religion is at all likely to be closest to the truth. In his debate with Dinesh D’Souza, John Loftus makes these inter-religious and intra-religious disagreements the gravamen of his case against Christianity, arguing that in effect they cancel each other out in virtue of the mutually exclusive nature of their claims.1 He does not see, apparently, that by such reasoning, the ageless debate between naturalists and theists is also cancelled, each position nullified. Indeed, every point of view falls prey to such a criterion. When we look within naturalism, we also find denominations and sects, a cacophony of diverse and contradictory positions on fundamental questions. It turns out, the problem of pluralism is an equal opportunity employer. Worldviews are like personalities. Each one is unique. Though there are types of personalities, just as there are broad worldview categories, none is identical. Whatever our worldview, that view must countenance the fact that many others think it mistaken. This is the problem of pluralism. The implication of this reality, however, need not be the defeat of any particular set of beliefs. Rather, the proper response is virtue. It begs modesty, a profound intellectual humility about our take on reality. And second, it should serve as a call to personal responsibility for our beliefs, and therefore to the epistemic virtues, for there is no consensus on ultimate questions that we can simply adopt by proxy.

Laurence Bonjour on Materialism as a Bandwagon

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Why have materialist views been so dominant? Part of the answer is that it is far from clear that dualist views, at least those that go much beyond the bare denial of materialism, are in any better shape. But it must be insisted that the inadequacies of dualism do not in themselves constitute a strong case for materialism: arguments by elimination are always dubious in philosophy, and never more so than here, where the central phenomenon in question (that is, consciousness) is arguably something of which we still have little if any real understanding. Instead, materialism seems to be one of those unfortunate intellectual bandwagons to which philosophy, along with many other disciplines, is so susceptible — on a par with logical behaviorism, phenomenalism, the insistence that all philosophical issues pertain to language, and so many other views that were once widely held and now seem merely foolish. Such a comparison is misleading in one important respect, however: it understates the fervency with which materialist views are often held. In this respect, materialism often more closely resembles a religious conviction — and indeed, as I will suggest further in a couple of places below, defenses of materialism and especially replies to objections often have a distinctively scholastic or theological flavor.

Physicalism

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Physicalism, the thesis that everything is physical, is one of the most controversial problems in philosophy. Its adherents argue that there is no more important doctrine in philosophy, whilst its opponents claim that its role is greatly exaggerated. In this superb introduction to the problem Daniel Stoljar focuses on three fundamental questions: the interpretation, truth and philosophical significance of physicalism. In answering these questions he covers the following key topics: A brief history of physicalism and its definitions; What a physical property is and how physicalism meets challenges from empirical sciences; ‘Hempel’s dilemma’ and the relationship between physicalism and physics; Physicalism and key debates in metaphysics and philosophy of mind, such as supervenience, identity and conceivability; Physicalism and causality. Additional features include chapter summaries, annotated further reading and a glossary of technical terms, making Physicalism ideal for those coming to the problem for the first time. ~ Product Description

50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists

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Fifty Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists presents a collection of original essays drawn from an international group of prominent voices in the fields of academia, science, literature, media and politics who offer carefully considered statements of why they are atheists. Features a truly international cast of contributors, ranging from public intellectuals such as Peter Singer, Susan Blackmore, and A.C. Grayling, novelists, such as Joe Haldeman, and heavyweight philosophers of religion, including Graham Oppy and Michael Tooley. Contributions range from rigorous philosophical arguments to highly personal, even whimsical, accounts of how each of these notable thinkers have come to reject religion in their lives. Likely to have broad appeal given the current public fascination with religious issues and the reception of such books as The God Delusion and The End of Faith. ~ Product Description

Atheism: A Brief Insight

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Is a life without religion one without values or purpose? Julian Baggini emphatically says no. He sets out to dispel the myths surrounding atheism and to show how it can be both a meaningful and moral choice. He directly confronts the failure of officially atheist states in the twentieth century, and presents an intellectual case for atheism that rests as much on reasoned and positive arguments for its truth as on negative arguments against religion. Julian Baggini is editor of Philosopher’s Magazine and the author of several books on philosophy. He has also written for a variety of newspapers and journals, including the Guardian, the Independent, and New Humanist. ~ Synopsis

The New Atheism

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Recent books by authors such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens lay out some of the core ideas of what has been dubbed the "New Atheism" and have generated significant buzz. Stenger (philosophy, Univ. of Colorado; God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist) continues the debate with a review and defense of some of the key principles of the New Atheism as well as a general response to some of its critics. This book is largely focused on the scientific and expands upon Stenger’s thesis that the question of God’s existence is not beyond science. It also debunks numerous myths about religion and atheism and explores the possibility of a nontheistic "way of nature" based on the teachings of ancient sages such as Lao Tzu. Although the text is not as engaging or well written as some of the other New Atheist books, and the level and quantity of science may make it difficult for some general readers, this book is recommended for those already interested and engaged in the current discussion about God and religion, from either side of the fence. ~ Brian T. Sullivan for Library Journal

The Case for God

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A fascinating journey through Western civilization’s ongoing attempts to understand and explain the concept of God. Celebrated religion scholar Armstrong (The Bible: A Biography, 2007, etc.) creates more than a history of religion; she effectively demonstrates how the West (broadly speaking) has grappled with the existence of deity and captured the concept in words, art and ideas. Beginning in the majestic caves of Lascaux, Armstrong explores how religion became a meaningful part of prehistoric societies, and the ways in which these societies passed down their practices and ideas in the earliest forms of art. The author then moves on to early monotheism and its rivals, offering a brilliant examination of ancient Greek views on religion and reason, which laid the groundwork for so much of Western thought. Looking at the early Christians and Diaspora-era Jews in tandem, Armstrong delves into Talmudic study and midrash, as well as Christian adaptations of theological concepts. Throughout the book, the author argues against religion as an abstraction, noting that it most truly exists in practice. "Faith . . . was a matter of practical insight and active commitment," she writes. "It had little to do with abstract belief or theological conjecture." Nevertheless, scholars have always attempted to define and "prove" God, and Armstrong admirably outlines the best of them through the centuries, including Origen, Anselm, Pascal and Tillich. Armstrong claims that the "warfare" between science and religion is a myth perpetuated by those with axes to grind. Likewise, the modern atheist movement, "death of God" theology and even fundamentalism arise from extremists who see religion as correct doctrine,not correct praxis. Though mostly focused on the West, Armstrong maintains a global perspective, masterfully weaving in her solid understanding of the world’s panoply of faiths. Accessible, intriguing study of how we see God. ~ Kirkus Reviews

Phillip Johnson on the Secular Creation Story

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There is an unacknowledged creation story that is at the root of all secular learning which is the precise opposite of John 1:1 in every way. You will probably never hear this creation story told forthrightly at Harvard or Berkeley, because to state its elements explicitly would be to reveal that it is merely on creation story and that it is possible to conceive of another. A foundational story is much more powerful when it is pervasively assumed, so that its elements are never evaluated and it appears to be an unavoidable implication of reason itself. The materialist story is the foundation of all education in all the department at all the secular universities, but they do not spell it out. It is: In the beginning were the particles and impersonal laws of physics. And the particles somehow became complex living stuff; And the stuff imagine God; But then discovered evolution.

Living Without God

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Ronald Aronson has a mission: to demonstrate that a life without religion can be coherent, moral, and committed. In the last few years, the “New Atheists” — Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens — have created a stir by criticizing religion and the belief in God. Aronson moves beyond the discussion of what we should not believe, proposing contemporary answers to Immanuel Kant’s three great questions: What can I know? What ought I to do? What can I hope? Grounded in the sense that we are deeply dependent and interconnected beings who are rooted in nature, history, society, and the global economy, Living Without God explores the issues of 21st-century secularists. Reflecting on such perplexing questions as why are we grateful for life’s gifts, who or what is responsible for inequalities, and how to live in the face of aging and dying, Living Without God is less interested in attacking religion than in developing a positive philosophy for atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, skeptics, and freethinkers.

Why You Think the Way You Do

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People often talk about worldview when describing the philosophy that guides their lives. But how have we come by our worldviews, and what impact did Christianity have on those that are common to Western civilization? This authoritative, accessible survey traces the development of the worldviews that underpin the Western world. It demonstrates the decisive impact that the growth of Christianity had in transforming the outlook of pagan Roman culture into one that, based on biblical concepts of humanity and its relationship with God, established virtually all the positive aspects of Western civilization. The two-pronged assault in our time on the biblically based worldview by postmodern philosophy and the writings of neo-atheists has made it even more crucial that we acknowledge and defend its historical roots. Unique among books on the topic, this work discusses Western worldviews as a continuous narrative rather than as simply a catalogue of ideas, and traces the effects changes in worldview had on society. It helps readers understand their own worldviews and those of other people and helps them recognize the consequences that worldviews hold. Professors, students, and armchair historians alike will profit from this book. ~ Back Cover

Desiring the Kingdom

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Malls, stadiums, and universities are actually liturgical structures that influence and shape our thoughts and affections. Humans — as Augustine noted — are “desiring agents,” full of longings and passions; in brief, we are what we love. James K. A. Smith focuses on the themes of liturgy and desire in Desiring the Kingdom, the first book in what will be a three-volume set on the theology of culture. He redirects our yearnings to focus on the greatest good: God. Ultimately, Smith seeks to re-vision education through the process and practice of worship. Students of philosophy, theology, worldview, and culture will welcome Desiring the Kingdom, as will those involved in ministry and other interested readers. ~ Product Description

Gregory Dawes on the Presumption of Naturalism

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So yes, my arguments might give us reason to prefer natural explanations when these are available, and to seek natural explanations when they are not. It follows that a proposed theistic explanation should be, at best, an explanation of last resort. One might argue that this view — that we should abandon the search for natural explanations only in extremis — represents a kind of “presumption of naturalism.” And so it does. ¶ My own view is that the naturalistic research tradition of the sciences has been stunningly successful and must rank as one of the greatest of human achievements. But I think it is poorly served by attempts to define science in such a way as to exclude the supernatural. The debate over intelligent design is instructive in this regard. One might win a legal victory by insisting that this proposed theistic explanation is not what we customarily call “science.” And this is true, for contingent historical reasons. But it would be much more effective to show that this particular proposed theistic explanation, with its deliberately vague appeal to an unspecified “designer,” is practically vacuous. it lacks the first and most important virtue of any proposed explanation, namely that of testability. It follows that this particular proposed theistic explanation should be rejected. ¶ Could the theist produce a better one? I doubt it, but then it would be most regrettable if we were to forbid him to try. Nothing could be more antithetical to the spirit of free enquiry than this kind of censorship. If proposed theistic explanations are to be defeated, as they have been so often in the past, it will be by way of the free contest of ideas.

The Consequences of Ideas

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From public-policy decisions and world events to theology, the arts, education, and even conversations with friends, history’s most influential ideas affect nearly everything we see, think, and do. Thus it is critical to understand and take seriously the ideas that are shaping us. The greater our familiarity with the streams of thought that have saturated Western culture through the ages, the greater our ability to influence this culture for Christ. R. C. Sproul expertly leads the way with The Consequences of Ideas. Tracing the contours of Western philosophy from the ancients to the molders of modern thought-including Plato, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, and Freud-Sproul proves that ideas are not just passing fads. They endure for generations to come, with wide-ranging consequences for us all.~ Synopsis

JP Moreland on Passive Liabilities and Active Power

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The Ontology of naturalism knows nothing of active powers. The particulars that populate that ontology are, one and all, exhaustively characterized by passive liabilities with regard to their causal powers. A passive liability is such that, given the proper efficient cause, it is and, indeed, must be actualized. As such, the actualization of a passive liability is a passive happening, not an action. This fact about passive liabilities is what makes their owners bereft of the sort of first-moving, active spontaneity that is a necessary condition for the exercise of free will. ¶ All natural objects with causal powers posses them as passive liabilities. Again, these liabilities are triggered or actualized if something happens to the object and, once triggered, they can produce an effect. For example, dynamite has the power (passive liability) to explode if something is first done to it. And so on for all causes. They are, one and all, passive potentialities. There actualizations are mere happenings to the relevant object. ¶ But active power is different. In virtue of possessing active power, and agent may act, initiate change or motion, perform something, bring about an effect with nothing causing it to do so. Active power is not something admitted in the ontology of the hard sciences, period.

Julian Baggini on the Four “New Atheist” Horsemen

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A second feature of atheism is that it is committed to the appropriate use of reason and evidence. In order to occupy this intellectual high ground, it is important to recognise the limits of reason, and also to acknowledge that atheists have no monopoly on it. The new atheism, however, tends to claim reason as a decisive combatant on its side only. With its talk of “spells” and “delusions”, it gives the impression that only through stupidity or crass disregard for reason could anyone be anything other than an atheist. “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence,” says Dawkins, once again implying that reason and evidence are strangers to religion. This is arrogant, and attributes to reason a power it does not have.

JP Moreland on Determinism Twice Over

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This story is physically deterministic in two ways. First, the physical state of the universe (and everything in it, including you) at a particular time and impersonal laws of nature are sufficient to determine or fix the chances of the next successive state. This is temporal determination. Second, the features and behavior of ordinary-sized objects like glaciers, rocks, human beings and animals is fixed by the states of their atomic and subatomic parts. This is bottom-up or parts-to-whole determinism. If genuinely mental consciousness exists, it is a causally impotent epiphenomenon. Among other things, this means that a feeling of thirst never causes someone to get a drink; thoughts and beliefs play no role in directing or bringing about our behavior. Many philosophers right think that if a view implies epiphenomenalism, the view must be rejected.

Dennis R. Danielson on Copernicus and Scientific Superiority

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In the hands of some, the myth of earth’s dethronement appears more than a mere anachronism or disinterested misunderstanding. For when Fontanelle and his successors tell the tale, they are openly “very well pleased” with the demotion they read into the accomplishment of Copernicus. But a trick of this supposed dethronement is that, while purportedly rendering “Man” less cosmically and metaphysically important, it actually enthrones us modern “scientific” humans in all our enlightened superiority. And often it insinuates, without warrant, that scientific advance is inevitably accompanied by an abandonment of the quest — a quest that may encompass what is sometimes called religion — to grasp humankind’s possible purpose or significance within the universe as a whole. By equating anthropocentrism with the now plainly untenable geocentrism, such modern ideology dismisses as nugatory or naïve the legitimate and still-open question about the role that earth and its inhabitants may play in the dance of the stars. Instead it offers, if anything at all, a role that is cast in exclusively existential or Promethean terms, with humankind lifting itself up by its own bootstraps and heroically, though in the end pointlessly, defying the universal silence.

Victor Reppert on What Governs Reason

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It is not enough that one mental event cause another mental event in virtue of its propositional content. Someone who engages in rational inference must recognize the correctness of the principle of sound reasoning, which one applies to one’s inference. Modus Ponens works, affirming the consequent does not. Our inferences are supposed to be governed by the rules of reasoning we recognize to be correct. However, can these rules of inference ever really govern our reasoning process? According to physicalism, all of our reasoning processes are the inevitable result of a physical substrate that is not governed by reasons. ¶ So we might ask this question: “Which laws govern the activity we call rational inference?” We might stipulate, for the purposes of this discussion, the idea that laws of physics are accounts of the powers and liabilities of the objects in question. If the materialist claims that laws other than the laws of physics apply to the assemblage of particles we call human beings, then those particles are not what (mechanistic) physics says they are, and we have admitted a fundamental explanatory dualism. If however, the laws are the laws of physics, then there are no powers and liabilities that cannot be predicted from the physical level. If this is so there can be a sort of emergence, in that the basic laws governing a sleeping pill will not mention that the pills tend to put you to sleep. Nevertheless, the pill’s soporific effectiveness can be fully and completely analyzed in terms of its physical powers and liability. If this is so, then we will be rational if and only if the physical configurations of matter guarantee that we are physical, and in the last analysis, the laws of logic do not govern our intellectual conduct.

Materialism and Its Discontents

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The clear facts of consciously valued experience and of freely chosen purpose, the intelligibility and elegance of the deep structure of the physical world, the visions of transcendent value in art, the categorical demands of duty and of the search for truth, and the testimony of so many to a felt power making for goodness and uniting the mind to a higher selfless reality of wisdom and bliss – all these things the materialist has to consign to illusion. May it not be that it is the materialist who is refusing to see what is there?

Eric Reitan on a Meaningful Universe

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Everything we care about — and, more significantly, everything we should care about — is something the universe of “blind physical forces” just doesn’t care about. A materialist view of reality turns morality and goodness into the idiosyncratic concerns of a single species that might never have existed (and if we hadn’t, the universe wouldn’t have cared a whit). When we are gone (as we will be), the universe will once again just be a world of meaningless facts and events. The world of things without life, without personality, without a capacity to care — this, according to the scientific picture endorsed by Dawkins and Stenger and others, is the ultimate reality. ¶ Juxtaposed against this picture, there is the hope that the essence of the universe is characterized by something else — what Martin Luther King called “a loving purpose.” It is the hope that there is something fundamental that eludes empirical investigation and which is essentially on the side of goodness. In such a universe, the moral agent who cares about the good is in tune with the fundamental truth about the universe in a way that the sociopath is not.

Tim Folger on the Fine-Tuned Universe

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A sublime cosmic mystery unfolds on a mild summer afternoon in Palo Alto, California… The day seems ordinary enough. Cyclists maneuver through traffic, and orange poppies bloom on dry brown hills near Linde’s office on the Stanford University campus. But everything here, right down to the photons lighting the scene after an eight-minute jaunt from the sun, bears witness to an extraordinary fact about the universe: Its basic properties are uncannily suited for life. Tweak the laws of physics in just about any way and — in this universe, anyway — life as we know it would not exist. ¶ Consider just two possible changes. Atoms consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons. If those protons were just 0.2 percent more massive than they actually are, they would be unstable and would decay into simpler particles. Atoms wouldn’t exist; neither would we. If gravity were slightly more powerful, the consequences would be nearly as grave. A beefed-up gravitational force would compress stars more tightly, making them smaller, hotter, and denser. Rather than surviving for billions of years, stars would burn through their fuel in a few million years, sputtering out long before life had a chance to evolve. There are many such examples of the universe’s life-friendly properties—so many, in fact, that physicists can’t dismiss them all as mere accidents. ¶ Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us. ¶ Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multi verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

We’re In This Together

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On a recent broadcast of the Infidel Guy (Sep. 16, 2008), a caller challenged Gary Habermas, the evening’s guest, to reconcile the omniscience of God with human free will. Habermas did his best to argue that there is no necessary conflict, that God knows because we freely choose, we do not so choose because God knows. For my part, I think it’s a legitimate and difficult objection. I’m not yet persuaded by either Molinist or Openness attempts to reconcile the two, much less compatabilism or the notion that it is solved by God’s being outside of time. But what followed is what struck me. Habermas took the opportunity to ask Reggie Finley, the host, whether he, as a naturalist, believed in free will. Reggie paused, then conceded that he was still trying to figure that one out. Good luck, because while free will may be problematic for the theist, it is probably a lost cause for the naturalist. For example, in his excellent and lucid work, The Significance of Free Will, Robert Kane manages to find a place for indeterminacy in matter (in quantum theory), but not for agency, the sine qua non of free will in my judgment. My point is not to wade into the deep waters of human freedom. Rather, I’m taking exception to the widespread impression that it is only the theist who must accept mysteries, antinomies, and quandaries. The truth is, all worldviews are beset by unique difficulties and internal conceptual problems. And, we remain perplexed by many mysteries that we share in common. That is to say, we’re in this together. With our amazing, but limited human faculties, the world remains puzzling to us all. In the ongoing debate about what is and is not real, it would serve us well to be mindful of the problems with which each worldview must wrestle. To that end, here are some that occur to me for both Christian theism and for Naturalism.

Living at the Crossroads

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How can Christians live faithfully at the crossroads of the story of Scripture and postmodern culture? In Living at the Crossroads, authors Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew explore this question as they provide a general introduction to Christian worldview. Ideal for both students and lay readers, Living at the Crossroads lays out a brief summary of the biblical story and the most fundamental beliefs of Scripture. The book tells the story of Western culture from the classical period to postmodernity. The authors then provide an analysis of how Christians live in the tension that exists at the intersection of the biblical and cultural stories, exploring the important implications in key areas of life, such as education, scholarship, economics, politics, and church.

Michael Egnor on Behaviorism

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Having convinced only a small fraction of Americans that chance and tautology — i.e. Darwinism — adequately explains life (despite a court-ordered monopoly on public education for the last half-century), materialists are moving on to your mind. Materialism posits that your mind is meat. No soul, no spirit, just chemicals, congealed by natural selection to dupe you into believing that you’re more than an evanescent meat-robot. It’s a hard sell, but that’s not to say that materialists haven’t tried. In the first half of the 20th century, behaviorists proposed that internal mental states were irrelevant or didn’t exist at all. All that mattered in the study of the mind was stimulus and response. Behaviorism turned out, unsurprisingly, to be a sterile avenue of research, as one might guess about a theory of the mind that denied or ignored mental states. As a theory of the mind, it is now largely regarded as insane, even by materialists. Behaviorism may be the only scientific theory to be finally extinguished by a joke: After a night of passion, one behaviorist rolls over in bed and says to the other: "that was good for you; how was it for me?"

The Secular Web on the Wastefulness of Pursuing God

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Life is short. Nevertheless, billions of people invest incalculable hours making fruitless pleas to nonexistent gods, participating in lavish rituals with no tangible effects, and whittling away tight budgets to support extravagant religious institutions or “spiritual advisors.” Worse still, antiquated religious ideas lead people to impose needless hardships on themselves and others, to rationalize discrimination and other forms of mistreatment, and to hasten environmental destruction because they believe that “the end of the world” is imminent anyway. And for every outward manifestation of wasteful, counterproductive, and even downright harmful activity motivated only by religious belief, there are countless instances that are not nearly so obvious. Religious belief has exacted a toll on people’s emotional well-being as well. Just how much energy has been drained searching for meaning where none is to be found, or been squandered on false hopes and unwarranted fears? How many believers have agonized over the uncertain destination of their loved ones after death? How many have struggled to discern exactly what they did to displease God after falling victim to a natural disaster? How many have been tormented trying to make sense of why God allows terrible things to happen to good people? In the absence of any clear revelation about what God wants us to do, how many have fretted about whether their own actions or beliefs, or those of the people dearest to them, are enough to avoid hellfire? How many of those who have lost their faith in old age have looked back at all the missed opportunities, the roads not taken, the life that could have been, had they not been born in a religious household, or had they abandoned religion in their younger days!