Religion’s Claim To Be Non-Disprovable

  • In prior eras, people believed in religion on matters of fact in addition to matters of ethics
  • Religion was seen as a source of accurate historical and scientific information
  • However, as other, more accurate, institutions took over from religion on matters of history and science, religion retreated to only covering matters of ethics
  • But why should we trust religion to be any more useful on matters of ethics than it was on matters of history or science?
  • The notion of religion being a “separate magisterium” is a fallback position that is at odds with the way that religion was treated for most of human history

Professing and Cheering

  • Dennett suggests that much of what is called “religious belief” should be called “religious profession”
  • The question isn’t why people believe a particular thing, but why they say they believe that thing
  • There is another form of explicit belief that’s more like cheering for a particular team or faction
  • Many of the more ridiculous forms of explicit belief can be characterized more as cheering especially loudly for a particular side

Belief As Attire

  • Another form of belief is belief as group identification
  • Belief, here, serves the same purpose as religious clothing - it’s a way to indicate who is in the group and who is outside the group
  • It’s easy for someone to be passionate about group identification, even if they don’t believe the things they’re saying are literally true

Applause Lights

  • There are words and phrases that act as “applause lights”
  • Convey no meaningful content; just tell people that they ought to cheer (or boo)
  • Most applause-light phrases can be detected by a simple reversal test - if reversing the phrase sounds abnormal or makes no sense, then the original phrase is probably an applause light
  • While there can be legitimate reasons to say applaus-light-like sentences, such a sentence without meaningful specifics following is acting as an applause-light