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Below you will find a variety of excerpts from each chapter.
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Selected excerpts from

"actually THINKING vs. just BELIEVING"

 

From Chapter 1.  Rwanda’s Tragedy:  Lessons toward Re-evaluating Belief

 

Over time I had opportunity to see that we humans had plenty of capacity for ugly nasty evil, and for noble good.  And it seemed that we each had some measure of each, even if sometimes in far from equal proportions.  Sometimes circumstances brought one side or the other to the fore, but it seemed to me that more often we tended to choose to cultivate one or the other tendency.  P 9

The intensity of any belief, or its majority status, clearly says nothing about it being an evidence-supported or constructive idea. P 14

 

… as I let TV and reading update me on current American culture and politics, I saw in steps of progressive clarity that thinking seemed to constantly be subservient to believing.  P 14

 

… the scale of challenges we humans face calls for recognizing tough realities without sanitizing them with the whitewash of cherished belief.  P 14

 

 

From Chapter 2.  Is Being “A Man of Conviction Enough?

 

We owe, in the most serious and intense meaning the word can carry, a decent, stable, and enjoyable world to generations yet to come. On this we must not fail!  P19

 

So, we must look at blind loyalty’s persistence in our midst today more critically than as just “how we are wired.”  Our brain power, whether seen as the gift of an all-mighty God or the end result of millennia of natural selection, allows us to analyze our tendencies, and what we owe to our descendants obligates us to analyze and then to overcome destructive tendencies.  P19


... Where do we get our training and practice at diverting ourselves from real evidence and ignoring what we don’t happen to want to believe?  What is this anecdotally supported but undemonstrable supplement that is possibly a placebo, which keeps many from making the tough and responsible choices in life?  ....  This is almost certainly the least welcome but most needed (question) I ask.  P 21

 

At the core, strong religious belief predisposes us  to the unconscious thought that “There is a supernatural solution to our problems. We really don’t have to worry over things because God will work out His will after all anyway.”  P 26

 

… We must face up to constructive engagement with the rest of humanity scattered all across our fair planet. Wishful thinking no longer cuts it. It’s not enough to have confidence that “our God” is the right one; our worst enemies think that way too. It’s not enough to have the subtle, calming, and comfortable thought that “If it happened, it must be within God’s will; ultimately He’s got things under control.” Man-made calamities have happened before, and that general risk isn’t decreasing with time.

P 29

 

… I expect more of myself and all of us in an educated and privileged society than I do of an illiterate villager in some poverty-ridden corner of the world. The beliefs they inherit are about all they have, so of course they hold on to them without further thought, and sometimes with blind ferocity. We must take a tough, deep, thorough, and painfully honest look at how our tendency to cling loyally to any and all of our clan’s positions, religious, political, or ecological, leads us to shortsighted decisions.  P 34-35

 

… This is not a call on believers to quit believing. It is a call on believers to take their stewardship of planet earth and their fellow humans seriously, practically, now, and permanently. Yes, to acknowledge that: accepting or ignoring a world of ridiculous inequity with regions of abject poverty stuck in hopelessness is to accept a world which will become progressively less stable. To acknowledge that: our myopic preoccupation with economic growth and the personal accumulation of wealth while ignoring deteriorating ecosystems locally and globally is to invite disaster on our descendants.  P 35

 

 

From Chapter 3.  Beyond “I Want it Now”:  The Battle vs. the War

 

… To one degree or another we all share the tendency to reach the conclusions we want before we fully digest the evidence. Then we stick with those conclusions, political or religious, for the rest of our lives. The more we can be aware of and fight that temptation, the more reliable both our thought processes and our conclusions.  P 48

 

Think about this for a second. Here we are in a society where the least educated among us in general have completed most or all of high school. They have had at least one class in history, in logical thinking through geometry, in the scientific method and valid conclusions, and in at least rudimentary aspects of literary analysis, including elementary aspects of recognizing bias. The more educated among us have had even more opportunity to see the world broadly and objectively. If we, a relatively well-educated culture, are still inclined to listen to extremists among us who beat drums of fear, who broadly portray the whole Muslim culture as evil and violent, what in the world do we expect of them? 

Hands down, despite good numbers of them being highly educated, the masses there have not had as much opportunity for basic education. They have their own extremists beating the drums of fear and hatred. Are they somehow going to be less susceptible to believing ideologically driven nonsense about us?  P 48-49

 

There will continue to be discussions of how we’ve made various errors in planning and managing the war in Iraq, but they all fail to go back and recognize the basic reality that there is no right way to fight the wrong war, and that we as a society must learn the difference between leaders with strong beliefs (ideology) and leaders with the courage to think things through, to analyze and learn.  P 54

 

 

From Chapter 4.  “My” Better Angels:  The Role of Religion in this War

 

I know some who still genuinely feel that they are not being paranoid in fearing that Muslims as a whole are out to get us, to conquer the world. I would simply point out that while that is the aim of radical fundamentalist Muslims, radical fundamentalists of any kind have never shown an ability to stay unified. Look at your own Christian denomination or even local congregation. The more inflexibly some assertive subgroup holds their beliefs, the more likely they are to fracture from within. We don’t have to fear a unified Muslim attack, unless it is we who unify them with our own irrational attacks. Fundamentalists can’t keep a united front, or even a united core.  P 59-60

 

In a nutshell, if we can begin to relax and be less defensive about our beliefs, we can take our own faiths fairly seriously, but be accepting of others. Despite our greatest worries, we’re not going to fall apart as a nation because we’re not following one particular view of “God’s way;” however, we might fall apart because we quit respecting each other’s values and religious freedom, including the conviction that there may be no god.  P 63

 

… the insistence that there is a loving and everlasting God who will ensure eternal life to His followers is the ultimate in doing (believing) something because it feels good. Facing like a grownup the uncomfortable possibility or probability that this life is it, that we have no supernatural solutions coming to rescue us from our shortsightedly self-made hell on earth is hardly “feel-good.” A real adult can get past the sense of loss; we can focus on the real responsibilities and the hope of leaving a decent and enjoyable earth to future generations, and we can find joy in every step we accomplish towards that.  P 66-67

 

… The bottom line is that religious freedom, and every other freedom, implies respect for and a degree of understanding and acceptance of our differences. None of that leads to imposed values. Don’t resent it, celebrate it; it could be someone else imposing their values on you.  P 68

 

… Whether we like it or not, the world is increasingly a global village. We can fill the role of constructive leader, who not only seeks our own security, but the general good of all. Conversely, we can be as primitive and divisive as our current enemies in being dead sure that our particular belief system is exactly right and everyone should just fall in line.  P 69

 

… (Muslims) need to recognize that religious freedom is a good thing, and speak out and take action in its favor. If you don’t want Hindus or Christians forcing their religion on you, surely you can embrace the general idea that religious freedom is good for all.  P 71

 

It is worth remembering that our best chance at having some degree of logic prevail, at limiting the radical impulse for war, is when things are the least stressed. This puts urgency on our mission. It is human nature that when things look scariest and most hopeless, more people resort to irrational beliefs, be they cultural or religious or both. If we keep creeping closer to all-out cultural war, it will get harder and harder to avoid. Now is the time for clear thinkers to step up and help our respective cultures step back from the brink.  P 72

 

 

From Chapter 5.  Confidence vs. Cockiness:  Reflections on Leadership

 

The tendency to strongly and narrowly believe in one’s faith has often been mistaken for personal confidence, a characteristic we like in leaders. Notice though that the confidence that makes one closed to new information and alternate points of view is actually much shallower than the personal confidence that makes one able to be open to new information and points of view.  P 76

 

 

… rather than pointing fingers at leaders, we need to look in the mirror. We must get better at choosing leaders who articulate in clear terms their commitment to process (thinking), not just endpoint (belief). We must get better at recognizing and choosing deep confidence, the kind that can say “Now wait a minute, I hadn’t thought of it that way before. Where did you get that information; is it verifiable?”  p 78

 

 

From Chapter 6.  Theater of the Absurd

 

… Can we really run around imposing our will because we think (and have good reason to) that some leader is a bad guy? Does force-feeding our version of democracy, whether the prerequisites to stable democracy are in place or not, make it an appealing and effective diet – or a despised foreign thing?  P 84

 

 

From the Preface to Section III:  America’s Durable Internal Stability

 

Interestingly, while we view the world in a competitive way as we must, it is likely true that what is really good for America in the long run will also be good for the rest of the world, and vice-versa.  P 89

 

If we think and act only for the immediate and only for ourselves, the world at large is likely to become a decidedly less stable place.  P 89-90

 

 

From Chapter 7.  Nobody Left Behind – But Who Gets Short-changed?

 

… doors of opportunity are opened or shut based on one’s level of achievement in school; … everybody does know this fact.  P 99

 

Teachers can be expected to be well prepared, to be thorough, to be creative, to be fair, to work at motivating, to never give up on anyone or any group, to be professional, to set high standards, and to lead by example, but they can’t be expected to make anyone (or everyone) learn. People can and unfortunately do choose to remain undereducated and ignorant.  … no matter how hard teachers work to help students eventually make different choices, in the end teachers and schools can’t actually force wise choices on their students.  P 99-100

 

… While we have zero tolerance for weapons and drugs, we seem to have infinite tolerance for habitual disruption, for disrespecting others’ right to learn. It seems this official tolerance is based in a background of excuse-making. Are we doing young people any favors when we allow them to continue chaotic habits? Never mind being prepared for university, will these habits lead to success in the workplace?  P 101

 

 

From Chapter 8.  Intelligent Design vs. Evolution

 

… we all have a natural tendency to see and believe what we want to see and believe.

To fight this tendency I have come to a mantra that I think is actually broadly applicable: Evidence Matters. And yes, it matters more than what may have been my previously held, most-cherished beliefs.  P 108-109

 

… Because people tend to tie the idea of atheism to evolution, and because you can’t prove atheism, many continue to resist the overwhelming actual evidence for evolution.  It may not be what some want to admit, but the evidence for evolution continues to mount.  Scientists well this side of Darwin had no idea how well DNA and amino acid sequences would reveal degrees of relatedness.  And the “problem” with absent transitional forms (missing links) is turning out to be a strength as every decade reveals more and more previously absent but newly discovered forms that fit in where predicted.  Still, that doesn’t change the fact that it is going to take some time to accept evolution the way we eventually accepted the earth not being at the center, and to get over being threatened by the idea.      P 111-112

 

From Chapter 9.  Too Many Topics – Not Enough Time

 

Addressing the global population growth situation may well be one of the keys to humanity’s survival for the next 250 years. If we make it that far without degenerating into chaos, we can make it much, much deeper in time.  P 120

 

… although we must accept the competitive nature of economic survival in the world, it is nevertheless true that what is good for us in the long run necessarily takes into consideration what is good for humanity in a global sense. They go together. It takes thinking beyond how to out-compete our fellow humans.  P 121

 

We need to act with the knowledge that the long-term good of the poor in developing countries is tied to our long-term good.  P 122

 

… It should be obvious that there eventually needs to be an end to even legal immigration. If the earth doesn’t have an infinite carrying capacity, neither does America; population stability at some point must be a good thing.

For millennia we have expanded human impact into ‘nature,’ with the rate of that expansion accelerating tremendously in the last century. Yet ultimately it is nature, living things, which keeps earth in livable balance and sustains us. If we encroach forever, we do so at our own peril.  P 123

 

… Ultimately don’t we need to shift our thinking from ‘growth’ to ‘sustainability’? Quality of life isn’t dependent on growth; in fact, in the long run it is a focus on sustainability which can maintain quality of life.  P 123 

 

The combination of exporting our jobs and importing our laborers while expecting to maintain our lifestyle is non-sustainable pie-in-the-sky. We must revalue hard work and re-evaluate our expectations.  P 126

 

… just think about this: in 1930 the human population reached two billion, and no generation of people had ever lived through a doubling of the population. Remember that we had hit our first billion in 1800. Those born before 1930 who are still alive have now lived through more than a tripling of the population! Now ask yourself, how much combustion of any fuel did the average person among those living in 1800 do in their lifetime? Now think of how much the average person burns today (be sure to picture the indirect, not in-person, burning we do beyond driving our cars and heating our homes; remember, energy intense products include aluminum cans, plastic, and innumerable common daily items). Can we seriously be the least bit surprised that we have raised a significant atmospheric component to levels higher than ice-core samples show going back nearly the last half million years? Further, can we be surprised that this historically high CO2 level would have some significant consequences on other aspects of our atmosphere and ocean (temperature and pH)?  P 129-130

 

There are already hate-mongers within our midst. I see finger-pointing emails circulate; I hear some talk radio hosts spout nonsense; I read articles about the increase in hate-groups of various types. All of this should make us pause.  We don’t have to react like fearful and easily manipulated illiterate people.  We can and must question beliefs that are divisive and destructive. We can and must be up to the task. We must stand for right, for freedom, for equality of opportunity; we must give no quarter to bigotry and prejudice aimed from any group toward any other group.      P 136

 

 

From Chapter 10.  Wishful Thinking:  Low Taxes and Great Services

 

… we need to continue to tweak capitalism to bring out the broad best in our society. Despite the elitist mantra that a lower tax rate for the wealthy is good for the economy, there is nothing economically good about increasing deficits and certainly not about our ever-growing debt.  P 139

 

… Those on the right who complain about redistribution won’t like the facts, but we have been progressively redistributing the wealth, from the ‘rest’ to the ‘richest’ ever since about 1980. In 1980 the top 1% took in 9.1% of pretax income, and the bottom 80% of us took in about 54.2%. By 2005 the top 1% took in 18.1% of pretax income, virtually doubling their take. By 2005 the bottom 80% of us had dropped to 44.9% of pretax income, losing almost 10% of the 1980 share. Yes, we have been doing a grand job of redistributing the wealth, from the middle class to the richest.

P 139-140

 

… The whining about redistributive tax policy milking the wealthy to favor the middle class or poor should end; the data show that for over a quarter century it has clearly been a case of redistributing the wealth from the middle class to the wealthy. Is that conscionable, or constructive?  P 141

 

… we should look at every conceivable way of providing decent healthcare to everyone, and so reform is needed, but we can’t blindly fall for the ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ mentality; we do have to live within our means. Really! In part this may mean that we lower our expectations that doctors fix what’s wrong with basically no consideration of cost. Part of this means we take more individual responsibility for our lifestyles and choices, and the natural consequences. This also means something that we never hear from politicians because they have to ask for votes; it means that we accept eventual death as part of the circle of life.  P 146

 

… despite the unpopularity of limited or rationed access to healthcare, there is a limit to what we as a society can actually afford, so there must be limits to procedures that are offered on the public dollar. Does society owe anybody this degree of expense for such short-term payoff?  P 147-148

 

… Well, dear senior citizens… Please, don’t put other people in the position of pointing out what we can’t afford; step up to the plate yourselves and loudly and collectively demand that we reign in Medicare spending to what we can afford, to what you are comfortable asking your grandchildren to pay for.

P 149

 

… Well, if we don’t want to bail out some financial behemoths in the future, we must never again allow any of them to become so big that we can’t let them fail. What’s the only thing to keep these free market mergers and acquisitions from creating these dangerously enormous institutions? It clearly is government regulation and oversight. Some may not like it or want to accept it and change their cherished beliefs, but that doesn’t change the evidence or the results of clear thinking.  P 152-153

 

… The last few elections were primed for reactionary votes, and didn’t disappoint.  It may take several years or even decades, but someday we may come to review and eventually reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that unlimited corporate money somehow equals free speech.  Behind the spin on many issues and races are puppet strings made of dollar bills, and the puppeteers want reactionary votes, not thoughtful ones.  P 160

 

… I personally applaud the Tea Party folk for their emphasis on cutting government spending and living within our means. I find it ridiculous though that so many of these same people forget their own broad generalization when it comes to specifics; they want to keep their Social Security, their Medicare, and their infinite military. Further, I find any suggestions that we should cut our taxes before we pay off the national debt absolutely self-serving. Future generations don’t owe us such a luxury.  It will likely take a couple of decades, and our national debt (not deficit) should be expressed in billions not trillions, before we can responsibly talk about cutting our taxes. Yes, we need to operate with a surplus for a good number of years, steadily paying down our debt, and not complain about it!  P 162

 

… what we need is a shift away from loyal belief toward real thinking (honestly processing information), and a change in our posture and attitude toward each other. We need to take ownership of the consequences that our leaders’ actions bring – we put those leaders in power. We must get better at seeing through distortion and spin in the media, and we must not get locked in to one position forever. If we learn to do more than just hold our beliefs, if we learn to stay open to new information, to really question and analyze, and to adjust our thinking and conclusions when necessary, we’ll be so much more likely to create a great future for our great-grandchildren and their peers.  P 163

 

 

 

The following is a summary from a presentation given at the 33rd International Critical Thinking Conference, July 22-25, 2013, Berkeley, California

A Commitment to Being Part of the Solution

If you’re willing to face the tough reality that: our times call for our best scientist & engineer like problem-solving skills, part of effective problem-solving involves a willingness to change our minds to fit verifiable evidence even when we don’t naturally like the evidence, and that religion is “belief of preference” which comes with the following natural baggage –

      1.  Those with unshakable conviction that their god is the right god are significantly quicker to dive headlong into conflict with the belief that god is on their side.

      2.  Many use the reassurance of a supernatural solution to calm them into not taking problems seriously or urgently.

      3.  Many form the habit of settling into ‘beliefs of preference’ rather than carefully evaluating verifiable evidence, and that affects our approach to many challenges.

 

Note:

Forming a plurality of committed and active citizens - who cultivate, promote, and live rational thought and choices - is in process already.  You can be part of it.  Start individually, but become part of a growing, unifying force in democracy; help prevent chaos.

 

Specifics:  Recommended reading – Nonbeliever Nation by David Niose, The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer; The Friendly Atheist blog.  Consider joining/networking with -  the American Humanist Association; the Secular Coalition of America, etc.

 

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If you’re not willing to face such tough reality, and must hang on to your faith, consider this commitment:

Part I:

Because I choose to maintain my faith in my particular God, or in some nebulous god, but do want to avoid the pitfalls of simply believing what I happen to want to believe in any other fields, I acknowledge the following:

a. That the coincidence of birth is the single greatest explanation for

 why  the vast majority of my fellow-believers subscribe to the faith

 which we do.

b. That a collection of scholars, evangelists, and theologians from every known religion and sect could be assigned to remain locked in a room until they had agreed on all the general and the detailed elements of “truth,” and they would never come out.

            c. That my faith is no more objectively verifiable than any other.

            d. That every other faith is as legitimate as mine.

 

Part II:

Because of what I acknowledge, I commit myself to the following:

a. Never being part of religiously driven cultural wars where I support being willing to die for, or kill for, our ‘right’ god.

b. Never presuming that since I hope that there is ultimately a supernatural solution to our problems, that I will let myself just shrug at taking the challenges of our times (ecological, economic, sociological, …) seriously and urgently.

c. Always consciously guarding against letting myself fall for ‘beliefs of preference’ in any field other than my choice of ‘God.’