Do we prevent somebody being hurt by superstition or faith by rejecting and challenging those things? 

Is it mistaken to support organised religion in membership or donations?

If people do good because they are human, not because God prompts them then is it right to risk giving God any credit when they alone own their good?

Patrick H

Control Beliefs

You have met Charlie. If you start off believing he is shifty and bad that will affect how you interpret what he does and says. You will think you have wonderful evidence that he is indeed shifty and bad. If you start off liking him you will take a different interpretation of the evidence and see him as likeable and decent. Your beliefs affect how you see things.
A control belief controls and co-ordinates how you look at the evidence and how you interpret it. Jack the Ripper authors always start with who they believe the Ripper to be and then they interpret the evidence to fit their belief.
If your control belief is that the Mormon Faith is the true faith, you will end up explaining the evidence against it away. This technique is so unscientific and misleading and arrogant. It is the reason why so many religious people still support their faith after finding evidence or even proof that it is wrong.
It only takes a tiny number of wrong beliefs or assumptions for one to end up being totally ridiculous. Catholics for example believed that priests were saintly. So they concluded that children accusing them of molesting them were lying or the devil was playing tricks. A simple and single belief led to huge disaster and ignorance. The casualties cannot be counted and never will be.
In court, if you are accused of murder and one witness says you were at the murder site and another says you were not, the control belief that the jury has will determine which witness they believe. It is really the control belief that has the only say ultimately.
A default control belief is the one that you start with. It is the best belief to start off with. We have to avoid excessive bias. We have to be as fair as we can be. We have to be fair to ourselves and to the evidence. Suppose we have adopted no beliefs in relation to an issue. We may have to select one of them automatically. We have to pick one of them. It can't just be any old one. It has to be the one that is going to take the least rationalisation. The default is always the position you should assume or the opinion you should have until it is proven wrong or improbable. The burden of proof is not on you to show that your control beliefs are desirable or right. The burden of proof is on those who contradict your control beliefs.
The correct default positions enable us to make ourselves honest people. If we are not honest with ourselves we must not and cannot ask others to trust us. Religious believers spew hatred towards atheists and agnostics and many scientists because they are jealous that these people exercise an honesty that they don't have.

Not only do we have control beliefs we have control feelings. Feelings also colour how we interpret the data we get. For example, the lover will not believe his beloved girlfriend smothered her grandmother to death to take her life savings because his feelings kick in and stop him seeing the evidence properly.
The control feeling we must have is how great it would be to be more rational. Otherwise we are just slaves to feelings. Our emotions are wired into us. If you feel angry you can't just turn it off with a button. You have to manipulate your inner programming to feel better. Just like you press the right buttons on a computer so you do it with yourself.
To avoid and minimise the damage and risks of control beliefs you need to know what the default beliefs are.
The default position is atheism. Agnosticism is not an option as the default position. Why? God means all-perfect being. A God who hides is not perfect for if he is really perfect he will be all-attractive and emulating him will be all-attractive. Agnostics might say that an imperfect God exists or one who does not have all power. True but this would not be God. It would just be a superior being. We might as well consider David Copperfield to be divine if we consider it to be divine.
Believers may have the burden of proof to show that God exists. Or it may be that the burden of proof is on the atheist to show that God does not exist. Or it may simply be the case that neither has the burden of proof. Somebody must have so it could be the person who hasn't decided if God exists or not. In that case, the burden of proof is to show that ignorance/scepticism is the correct stance.
The most extraordinary view is the one that demands the burden of proof the most. If the three positions demand it then faith in God needs it most.  If atheism is rational and if belief in God is also rational that does not mean they are equally sane.  If you do not need the God theory then it is more rational to be an atheist.
For atheists this view is God. For believers this view is atheism. They find it ridiculous and mad for one to say there is no God. But the concept of God is incoherent and silly and even if atheism is absurd it is worse. It surpasses atheism in being insane.
Some say that as most are believers and atheists are a minority the burden of proof is on atheism. No. Numbers are irrelevant. A doctrine can be sensible or absurd no matter how many people believe in it.
If a person said they saw a brick that sprouted wings and flew over the Atlantic that claim is so strange that it is up to the witness to prove its true. He or she is being unfair if he or she should ask somebody else to believe his or her claim. We reject the opinion that to say God exists is different from saying that. We reject the idea that God makes more sense than bricks sprouting wings to fly. If there is a God then it follows that he can make bricks do that. He can make egg yolks turn to gold. He can make virgins have babies without a man. He can do strange things ad infinitum. And maybe he does! Therefore to say God exists is WORSE than to say that a brick grew wings and flew. Its infinitely worse. If a flying brick is strange then the concept of God is pure insanity. So the burden of proof is on the believers. It is an extremely heavy burden of proof. They are the wackos. They need to do the proving.
What if you decide that, "Just because something looks supernatural doesn't mean it is and it could be a miracle?"
if a miracle is done as a sign, it doesn't matter if it looks sensible or not. God can tell you to announce a miracle for him and then he will do it
The answer that God does not make bricks that fly is irrelevant. The idea of God who can make bricks fly but doesn't is as crazy as the idea of a God who can and does. Isn't the man who asserts his grandmother is a Witch but never does magic saying she has absurd powers and saying it just as much as the man who says she does do magic? Anyway, at most the God believer can say they don't know if their God makes flying bricks or intelligent fried eggs.
To say God can change nature so that women in future will have babies without men and sex shows you need to be sectioned. Saying this is easier than a miracle happening
They have no right to say God doesn't do it.
If they do, they end up with a new burden of proof. They have to try and prove a negative which is impossible. You can never prove: "There are no such things as unicorns."
The idea that miracles can't happen (which means there can be no God) is a better one. There is no burden of proof on anybody who says that because the alternative is worse.
We must remember that the question of the burden of proof is not just about reason or logic or being sensible but respect. The person who makes a very serious claim and who does not give you proof or evidence to help justify that claim is cheating you and asking you to demean your rationality. That is what they are doing whether they mean to or not and you must not stand for it.
Ordinary believers cannot give you adequate evidence for God or the resurrection of Jesus Christ or any other religious piece of twaddle. They have been turned into cheats against themselves and those who they proclaim the faith to. They are led to break the commandment against dishonesty.
If God exists, the problem of evil arises. How can an all-good God create temptation and evil and useless evils like depression? Yet the Bible says there is no evil in God and he never tempts anybody to do wrong. The Christians say evil is a problem. They say if they take that problem as evidence that atheism is true then they have a new problem: if there is no God there can be no objective morality. So they conclude that it is necessary to deny that evil refutes God because they want to believe in an objective morality.
If Christians really trust that God uses evil to do greater good they would say, "O I would be so happy to die horribly of motor neurone disease if God willed it!" They would say, "Those babies tortured to death in X were so lucky!" And so on.
Christians are being flippant when they say that God lets us have free will because unless we are free to do great evil we cannot love. Thus they excuse God letting people like Hitler rise to power. They are flippant because nobody has the right to give anybody freedom unless they can use it responsibly and wisely. Getting the freedom to make mistakes is fine up to a point. You can let your daughter brave out life on her own if she will make a lot of mistakes as long as none of the mistakes will kill her or cause her permanent or grave damage.
The God of Christianity and Islam and Judaism supposedly makes laws that seem bad to us for we only have a limited view of the picture while he sees it all and understands it all. So he knows best. This is the kind of God who says, "Do X because I say so!" That is no way to ingrain a sense of responsibility into people. It treats them as children.
Our tendency to see something as good when it is grey is a scary one. If we are good, we are good because we want to be and not because it is good. It is only luck that what we choose happens to be good. That is the problem with people judging things as good and then saying that good shows God exists for it reflects God. They go as far as to say that the problem of good, how can good exist if there is no good God? is the only answer you need to the problem of evil. It turns man's flawed goodness into a revelation from God and that is a dangerous road to go down.
Why is there something rather than nothing? Instead of having the humility to say, "I don't know", religion says the answer is God. But God is a non-explanation. The supernatural by definition cannot be understood. God is supernatural so when religion says it can't understand how God can make all things from nothing it should admit that it doesn't know what it is talking about.
The default answer is, "I don't know." Anything else leaves you with the duty of dealing with the burden of proof. If you say the answer is God, you have to prove it.
If you don't know then surely you are admitting that God is a possible answer? Not necessarily. It is better to say some natural cause is responsible and we don't understand it or don't have the intelligence or the knowledge to do it. You should always prefer to posit natural causes than supernatural. Eg, you get a hard boiled egg. You assume it was boiled in water. You don't assume some angel appeared and snapped its fingers to produce a boiled egg.
God according to the Churches did not make the universe from anything. He just told it to exist and it did. That is not creation but magic. It is not making but magic. Once you bring magic into the problem you can say that nothing did magic and became something! The possibilities are endless.
Holiness is a vice. It argues that one must be good for the sake of pleasing God. But nobody can explain how it can be God's business what we do?
Is good good because God commands it? Then it would be good if he asked us to sacrifice children.
Is good good whether God commands it or not? Then what do you need God for? What business has he commanding good? Commanding is always an attempt to compel a person to do something. We should do good spontaneously.
Some say that neither the above are correct for
The default position is that we help others for human reasons and keep religion and God out of it. Help the dying beggar man yes. But don't waste any of your motivation on the thought that you must do it for God or any of it for God. That is giving something to a being who cannot be proven when it could be given to the person you are helping. Waste no love on God.
The default position is that we do not have it. We are programmed by our past which makes us feel we do things freely. Our past is part of us and we think we own it and that gives us the feeling that we are free. But whatever we feel, we do not have free will.
Why can't agnosticism about free will be the default? Why can't we say we have no way of knowing if we have it or not? But we have no reason for thinking we have it.
The main attraction about believing in free will is that it seems to justify rewards and punishments. It is true that one should be punished for having done wrong but it is not as simple as that. One can't go back and undo it. Once its done one can't help it any more. Punishment is unjust because you don't have the power to make what has happened not to have happened.

The default position is to assume that there is no life after death. It looks as if death is the end and that is enough for us.
The default position is to assume that human nature is hypocritical. Just because you feel sincere does not mean you are sincere. The hypocrite Jesus condemned in Luke 16 felt he was sincere and Jesus said the feeling mattered not one iota. God was angry with the hypocrite.
The fact that priests and nuns are looked up to as moral though they honour a book replete with the fanaticism and violence commanded by God as the word of God shows the power of hypocrisy. They are so used to tricking people into honouring a God who commanded murder that they think nothing of it.
"Liberal" Christians pick and choose out of the Bible what they want to believe which is usually the nice and saccharine stuff. Why should anybody pick what they pick? What not take the nastier bits as inspirational? Most people believe the world is red in tooth and claw and you have to be ruthless to survive. They think morality and life can be nasty business so religion can be nasty business too. They would be happy to be edified by the Bible tales of this blood-drinking God who commands murder and genocide. The liberals have no right to criticise those who do that. They indirectly give them permission and encouragement to do so though they would prefer to forget that. They cannot say that Christian terrorists for example are not representative of the Christian religion. The Bible advocates religious violence so they are representative.
Liberal Christianity is just a heap of man-made religions. Each group has its own views. It is a form of fundamentalism and idolatry to be part of a religion like that. Idolatry is a form of fundamentalism and fundamentalism is a form of idolatry. God believers say it is awful to adore as God what is not God at all. But what about themselves? If there is no God they are mistaking nature and their own imagination for God! Idolatry can be condemned by the atheist too!
Fundamentalists don't have impressive evidence for their cocksure creed being true. Liberals have even less and so are really no better. Their system makes no sense because they end up making very big claims on slender evidence. For example, they might say that the virgin birth is just a metaphor for Jesus having been sent by God as the supreme teacher. But because they don't take too much of the Bible that seriously they end up with the same attitude as the fundamentalists which is that reason and science must be sacrificed in the interest of faith. Liberals are just fundamentalists with more popular and fashionable beliefs.
The God concept is inseparable from fundamentalism. It is always fundamentalist to believe in God or to say he exists. If God exists he deserves to be put first. The only way we can be sure we are doing that is by doing good at great sacrifice and personal suffering for all eternity. If God asked you to suffer forever for others and in love would you do it? The answer is no.
Belief in God makes you less moral not more.
There is enough to disagree about and to give people an excuse to argue and discriminate against people about without religion. This includes liberal religion. It causes division and trouble we could do without. Liberals may still say things like, "Jesus showed us what God was like," and "God is love and he loves us all". Fundamentalists will feel their own fundamentalist and extremist faith assisted by such teachings. They will feel, "Even liberal scholars agree with me that much so I can be totally confident my faith is true."
We want happiness for its own sake. It is an end in itself. We will do what helps us all to be happy together. We don't need to believe in God for any of that. God is irrelevant. It is not God we want but happiness. Christians admit this and stop lying to yourself and to us.
There has never existed a person who put say money before all things. No - that person thought money would buy happiness so it is the happiness he wanted.
A miracle is an event that cannot be explained by anything natural. It is supernatural. We have to assume something in relation to miracles happening.
1 We may assume that they can happen.
2 We may assume that they cannot happen.
3 We can say we can assume neither.
4 We might assume that they can happen but don't.
Four options. One option says they are believable. The other three says they are not. So being outnumbered, the default position is that miracles are not believable. Taking any other position is biased and unfair.
Even if we think miracles can happen, the problem then is how do we know if an event really is a miracle? We can assume that it is a miracle. We can assume that it is possible that it is a miracle. We can assume that there may be unknown natural laws that can explain it meaning it is not a miracle. We can assume that the witnesses are mistaken or misled.
The default position here is that the miracle presumption is outnumbered so the default position is that we should not accept an event as a miracle. So we will assume that we can never know if a reported miracle really was a miracle. Maybe it was but that is not the point.
A miracle has to be unlikely or improbable - by definition. If it is routine for statues to come to life, then it is not a miracle or wonder anymore. If we had nothing but sunshine since the world began a shower of rain would be a miracle. So we should be sceptical.
The burden of proof is on the believers. They have a duty to show us that the miracle happened. And they have a duty to show that it must have been a miracle. There are more important things in life than worrying about verifying miracles. Go and help out in the soup kitchen and don't degrade yourself and others by wasting time on signs and wonders. If you disagree then you show your own arrogance and your crave for religious excitement.
Believers usually present evidence for miracles that no sane person would take seriously.
Christians believe that God miraculously wrote the gospels through men. If he did, then why didn't he get them written down a few months after the alleged events? The further away from the events an account is written the less credence we can lend it. The gospels contain loads of miracle stories - you need very good evidence that miracles happened. The gospels appeared decades after Jesus died and therefore cannot count as good evidence.
Some liberal Christians instead of saying, "Jesus rose from the dead", may say, "It is possible that Jesus rose from the dead." So they speak of miracles as possible but not of miracles as having happened. But if you can base a religion and hopes on possible miracles then you end up having no reality check and gullible is the only word to describe you. There is no way the Mormon who says it is possible that God revealed the Book of Mormon to the Prophet Joseph Smith can be refuted. There is no way to show the man who writes a Bible that he thinks aliens inspired him to write and which says Smith was a nut and a fake is wrong. The end result is a faith that looks like it cares about reason and truth but which is really just a manifestation of fundamentalism. It is fundamentalism masquerading as good sense.
Liberals and Roman Catholics incidentally make little effort to keep the most vulnerable and silly members of their flocks away from miracle mongers and charlatans.
No matter how strong the evidence is for a miracle, it still only shows at best that the miracle was possible not that it actually happened.
The default position is that we should be secular not religious. All that matters is acting like a caring God to others instead of caring if God exists or not. If God does not exist we must be him.
Here is an argument I give without comment that the main reason we do anything we do is that it serves us in some way. It says that we do everything we do mainly for ourselves. You may call it predominant egoism. We at least expect some return for everything we do even if it is a little bit of a good feeling.
"When I act and take a sweet, I take the sweet because I want to use my will and I want to have the sweet. There are two motivations not one. The I wants show it is me who I have at the centre. The wanting is the same if I want to use my will for YOU to have the sweet. I want to will and I want you to have it. The sweet for myself is not selfish because I have it but because I want it. Therefore if I want you to be happy that is selfish too! But in a good way!
The default position is to assume that much of what is referred to as faith is really not faith at all but self-deception. The fact that our control beliefs always lead to self-deception proves that. Suppose my default position is atheism. That affects the way I see the evidence - I see it as backing it up. Even if it does back it up, I am still
We see people sacrificing a lot for their self-deception. Young people take risks speeding because they feel they will live forever. Wives risk their health and children to stay with abusive husbands for they have deceived themselves into thinking its not the men's fault and that the men love them and are eager to change. We see more sacrifices for self-deception than for sensible faith. Religionists tend to be more devoted to dodgy religious teachers than the boring Vicar. So we should assume that self-deception is more common than faith. We should assume the religionists are deceiving themselves.
We are weak vulnerable creatures. We tend to fool ourselves to cope with harsh realities. So it should be assumed that a person is fooling themselves until proven otherwise.
Religion is the biggest instance of self-deception. It is because it makes people feel its needed to keep them on the right path, it is because it offers them a God who allegedly loves them, it is because it tells blatant lies like, "We judge the sin not the sinner", it is because it promises damnation to those who do not obey it, it is because it promises happiness in Heaven forever as a carrot. It stands to reason that the thing that tries to satisfy our worst fears will depend on people deceiving themselves more than anything else would. Clergy and popes prey on vulnerability. Religion is keeping people away from truth. It proves this when it condemns the default positions we have taken as sinful. It seeks an unfair advantage and is manipulative.
In regard to religious faith, suppose a highly educated person such as Thomas Aquinas or William Lane Craig believe in Christianity. Are they irrational for believing such a nonsensical religion? Some say no. But if a religion is nonsensical then it is up to the educated followers to prove that they are not irrational. If they won't do it then we can make it our business to challenge and expose them. You can be rationally wrong. But you can also be irrationally wrong. If you are wrong it is likely that you are irrational as well. The default position is that they are irrational.
If you claim that nonsense is true and are highly intelligent, you have an obligation to prove to your listeners that you are not deliberately lying or deceiving yourself.
If you embrace an extraordinary belief, that means you have to provide others with extraordinary evidence for the truth of the belief before you can ask them to accept it. This is to justify asking them to believe. You don't ask the world to believe Saint Francis of Assisi was a woman without evidence. It's only fair. The extraordinary nature of the belief demand extraordinary evidence. Also, your extraordinary belief isn't the only one out there. We can't have everybody going about with different extraordinary beliefs or we would have chaos. It would encourage charlatans. Also to say your extraordinary belief is true while somebody else's is wrong would be unjust and it would be arrogant and sectarian.
Also, if you claim to have an extraordinary belief you have to provide evidence that you believe it. We are not speaking of providing evidence for the belief being true but evidence that you accept the belief. For example, if you believe that you really have two heads: one visible and the other undetectable then that is mad. It would be extraordinary if you believed that.
The default position is that babies do not need to have original sin taken away in baptism. They don't have any sin of any kind.
Baptism is based on the death and resurrection of Jesus. There is no evidence at all that Jesus rose. There is no evidence that anybody in the gospels believed that he did. There is only evidence that they said they believed he rose. The witnesses of the resurrection were never cross-examined or investigated. It's just gossip and hearsay. Baptism is insulting to the child. It tries to make them members of a man-made religious system.
Baptism is supposed to work a miracle on the child. Parents should ask for extraordinary evidence for this miracle. What they get is none at all. This demeans the child.
The default position is that children have no need of religious faith. We know from Freud, that if we do harm, the reason is the unhealthy thinking patterns that got into our programming before we reached six or seven or whatever age one takes to be the age of accountability. Doctrines such as that, "God watches you all the time to see if you are being good," or, "God will punish you or send you down to the Devil", or "Santa will bring you no presents if you are bad", all ingrain such patterns. Children would be better to be taught that actions are good and less good. No action is completely bad or completely good. To encourage a child to think of himself as bad or good is too black and white and is abusive. Telling children to take all their comfort and joy in God is really teaching them the crave for instant gratification that later on in life will turn then into alcoholics or drug addicts. Children do not distinguish between themselves and the good or bad they do. If you call something they do bad, they will think, "We are bad". To use fear to control a child is abuse - especially when it is religious type fear. 
Control beliefs would be fine if they were correct. But believing something does not make it true or good. Error risks unwittingly harming and making life hard for others and yourself. We must take care to follow default beliefs or beliefs that are well supported. We need to be open to correction and new light.