I do believe that nice religious people make the world safe for extremists by teaching us [...] that faith is a virtue, teaching us that there's something good about holding beliefs without any substantiating evidence. Once you buy into that, [...] then the door is opened to extremists who defend their extremism by saying, 'oh well, it's my faith, you can't touch it, you can't criticise my faith, i don't even need to defend it because faith is faith.'
I do object to the assumption that anything that might be outside of nature is ruled out of the conversation. That's an impoverished view of the kinds of questions we humans can ask, such as "why am i here?", "what happens after we die?", "is there a god?" if you refuse to acknowledge their appropriateness, you end up with a zero probability of god after examining the natural world because it doesn't convince you on a proof basis.
Nowadays theologians aren't quite so straightforward as paley. They don't point to complex living mechanisms and say that they are self-evidently designed by a creator, just like a watch. But there is a tendency to point to them and say 'it is impossible to believe' that such complexity, or such perfection, could have evolved by natural selection. Whenever i read such a remark, i always feel like writing 'speak for yourself' in the margin.
People who believe in god conclude there must have been a divine knob twiddler who twiddled the knobs of these half-dozen constants to get them exactly right. The problem is that this says, because something is vastly improbable, we need a god to explain it. But that god himself would be even more improbable.
If you're an atheist, you know, you believe, this is the only life you're going to get. It's a precious life. It's a beautiful life. Its something we should live to the full, to the end of our days. Where if you're religious and you believe in another life somehow, that means you don't live this life to the full because you think you're going to get another one. That's an awfully negative way to live a life. Being a atheist frees you up to live this life properly, happily and fully
Isn't it a remarkable coincidence almost everyone has the same religion as their parents ? And it always just happens to be the right religion. Religions run in families. If we'd been brought up in ancient greece we would all be worshiping zeus and apollo. If we had been born vikings we would be worshiping wotan and thor. How does this come about ? Through childhood indoctrination.
I had always been scrupulously careful to avoid the smallest suggestion of infant indoctrination, which i think is ultimately responsible for much of the evil in the world. Others, less close to her, showed no such scruples, which upset me, as i very much wanted her, as i want all children, to make up her own mind freely when she became old enough to do so. I would encourage her to think, without telling her what to think.
I think the important thing to learn is that we can retain a sentimental loyalty to the cultural and literary traditions of, say, judaism, anglicanism or islam, and even participate in religious rituals such as marriages and funerals, without buying into the supernatural beliefs that historically went along with those traditions. We can give up belief in god while not losing touch with a treasured heritage.