Did your absentee father make you an atheist?

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A once-popular book that links atheism with shoddy fathering is getting a second life with a new publisher, thanks, in part, to the rise of nonbelief in the United States.

“Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism” by Catholic psychologist Paul C.Vitz posits that “intense atheists” throughout history — Nietzsche, Voltaire and Madalyn Murray O’Hair — had absent or rotten fathers. This, he argues, damaged their ability to form a relationship with a heavenly father.

Vitz also holds that many notable believers — Renaissance man Blaise Pascal, anti-slavery activist William Wilberforce and Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, among others — had great relationships with their dads, and were therefore more able to build relationships with God.

“We need to understand atheism has a lot to do with our emotional attitudes towards life, other people and a lot of other things,” Vitz said from his office at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, a Catholic graduate school in Arlington, Va. “I think that is an important thing for atheists and believers alike to take into consideration.”

And consider it they have. When the book first appeared in 1999, it polarized critics. The religious media loved it. New Oxford Review, a Catholic publication, described it as “an engaging analysis of psychological factors in religious belief and disbelief.”

But the atheist and humanist media did not swoon. Skeptic magazine panned it as “insulting to those of us who came to a point of non-belief as the result of careful study and consideration.”

Written By: Kimberly Winston
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com

87 COMMENTS

  1. What a (predictably) terrible article. Is it too much to expect that a writer for a major US newspaper would include some discussion of basic scientific/psychological methodology in an article about a book that purports to express a psychology theory? If they did the first thing they would say is that anecdotal evidence such as “famous atheists X, Y, and Z had absent fathers and famous Christians A, B, and C had great dads” is essentially worthless as scientific evidence.

    • In reply to The Headline:

      Did your absentee father make you an atheist?

      No, my non-absentee father made me one. He told me that 3,500 years ago, an old man with a beard in the clouds handed an old man with a beard on a mountain top a couple of slabs of granite with the meaning of life carved into them. My idiot-dunce sister believed him, but I instantly realized that that simply didn’t jibe with all the books with pictures of dinosaurs that I used to enjoy looking at while at the library.

  2. I am an atheist and think I had quite a good relationship with my Father. If I am an atheist as a result of the relationship I had with my Father, then I thank him for sending my down the right path and avoiding all the supernatural nonsense, especially Christianity.

  3. I’d like to think that I have a close and loving relationship with my daughters (9 and 6), but if that means they are doomed to a life of Catholicism, perhaps I need to start alientating them sooner rather than later. I’ll start tonight.

    • In reply to #4 by obzen:

      I guess Carl Sagan, RD, Feynman, or Neil DGT’s fathers must have been real bastards then.

      I’m currently reading “An Appetite for Wonder”, and I notice what a horrible relationship Richard had with his father. ;-)

      From the article: **“We need to understand atheism has a lot to do with our emotional attitudes towards life, other people and a lot of other things,” Vitz said **…

      No, it has nothing to do with those; it has to do with a lack of effing EVIDENCE!

      Steve

  4. Catholic psychologist Paul C.Vitz posits that “intense atheists” throughout history — Nietzsche, Voltaire and Madalyn Murray O’Hair — had absent or rotten fathers.

    It is well known that the RCC is infamous for “rotten Fathers” and covering up for their employed “rotten fathers” who abused the children entrusted to their care, – so it is perhaps no surprise that through RCC blinkers, RCC apologists will cherry-pick “rotten fathers” in the ancestry of atheists.

    This, he argues, damaged their ability to form a relationship with a heavenly father.

    Perhaps it just made them more critical of untrustworthy “authority father figures” – such as priests or absent imaginary “heavenly fathers”, which only deliver imaginary benefits to their followers in return for real trust and efforts.

  5. Atheism is rational. It is the position resulting from the lack of evidence for supernatural belief. It is rational belief. Religion is based on faith, not evidence or logic. It is irrational belief. Parents, school and society are influential but that doesn’t alter the essential non-rationality of faith and the rationality of atheism.

  6. My Father was absent from my life for 21 years. Then returned with no explanation. His Father was a southern Baptist Preacher and so I was indoctrinated from birth. However having never asked my Dad what he believes down deep and his code of social ethic behavior may suggest he don’t but I have no idea and don’t really care. From an early age always had questions that would remain suppressed. Then one day at my Grandmothers funeral the officiating preacher stated that my Grandmother was sitting around a big table with the rest of the family there enjoying a big feast. Maybe it was his ridiculous enthusiastic tone or it just sounded down right absurd at the time, I told myself that’s it I can’t pretend to be one these anymore. As I looked around at the rest of the people it also seemed that they were just sheep and would believe anything a preacher told them. One of the biggest reasons for thinking the way I do is for obvious reasons like most people who come here. Richard Dawkins , Hitch and Sam have really shown me the logic I searched for. When I hear people talk about their experiences and dreams I can relate to an extent. My own personal experience is that my brother died at the age of 4 and I was 2. I have no memory and have had no dreams of my brother. When my grandparents died I had a couple dreams where they showed up and one was really profound it seemed so real. So after my experiences and taking in the evidence it would seem that most of this occurs from deep sub conscience. For the most part I am still in the closet with my new freedom.

  7. “The rise of militant, evangelical, fundamentalist atheism in our time adds to the pertinence of this book,” said Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press, the Catholic publishing house that has reissued the book.

    That pretty much told me all I needed to know about the book……

    Dawkins was sexually molested by a clergyman

    …and that confirmed it. I understand it was a teacher, not a clergyman, and there is no sign of the unpleasant incident having any long term deleterious effect on our good Doctor.

    I grieve for the trees sacrificed to foist this excrement on the human race.

  8. This is such appalling logic, nevertheless it’s what I’ve come to expect.He has taken a few prominent examples, made a sweeping generalisation and then rushed in with his conclusion. Not a shred of evidence to be seen! As usual the religious argument is being presented by way of a personal story and analogy.

  9. Jesus had a rotten father (just read the Old Testament) who is the paragon of all absentee fathers (no reliable trace of him has ever been found).

    Mr Vitz please think before speaking, or better yet, think and then don’t speak.

    Furthermore, my definition is a rotten parent is one that indoctrinates their children with preposterous stories before they have the mental faculties to determine fact from fantasy, which damages their ability to form a relationship with reality. This kind of parent is all too often not absent, and has a far more pernicious effect because of prolonged exposure

  10. This is just another example of the sort of emotional claptrap used to prop up ridiculous claims. Their argument is so weak that they have to invent a narrative to explain away any reasoned opposition.

  11. While the whole premise for this book is bizarre to say the least, it is interesting because the whole Father Fetish thing is a Catholic obsession. God the Father, priests are called Fathers and then little girls and nuns go through the whole Bride of Christ deal who is supposedly the Son of God – which would technically marry you to your big brother. In the Old Testament the believers are always the Children of God. And while I get that it is all metaphorical, what kind of weird metaphor is this? Especially one that is supposed to be relevant to our modern world.

    As with a lot of things, this has a lot to do with projection. I think most Atheists would see the psychology of the family dynamics of their family of origin as having marginal to no effect on there inability to accept a theist explanation for how the universe exists and functions.

    That said one of the things that I found most difficult about organised churches as a child was their whole ‘God loves you like a father. You are a child of God’ thing.’ Especially the whole ‘honour your father and mother’ deal. They clearly knew nothing about my family. Though my father does make the God of the Old Testament look like a rational, mature, fluffy kitten my rejection of religion in my late teens was not about my own awful father. Maybe a minor sub-conscious motivator, but the conclusion I reached that God (as defined by the church) was highly unlikely and I suspected “created” to suit the agenda of the ruling classes. I got that from reading books on Church history and my science teacher, who bless her would indulge me in long debates in which I threw every religious argument I could find at her and she then patiently explained why each one made no sense.

    As someone raised religious becoming atheist is more of an intellectual journey, through of course it has emotional and psychological drivers as well. Becoming religious is often the opposite. Like a lot of people who turn to religion and come to Jesus in a time of deep emotional and personal crisis or with psychological damage the Church provides them with a refuge and can give their life purpose and meaning, Love and community. However, the price can with some religions be very high – they want your obedience and intellectual freedom. Now if you are religious and you find this last paragraph insulting and ridiculous because of course that is not why you are religious, now you understand why this book makes little sense as an explanation for atheism. I could probably write this book and swap Atheist for Catholic. People become Catholic because they want an idealised father figure they never had growing up, etc. etc. This is how weird and absurd this argument sounds in reverse.

  12. “Catholic psychologist Paul C.Vitz posits that “intense atheists” throughout history — Nietzsche, Voltaire and Madalyn Murray O’Hair — had absent or rotten fathers.”

    They also had pubic hair, breathed air, had four limbs, etc. What an a-hole.

    • In reply to #20 by woefulb:

      “Catholic psychologist Paul C.Vitz posits that “intense atheists” throughout history — Nietzsche, Voltaire and Madalyn Murray O’Hair — had absent or rotten fathers.”

      They also had pubic hair, breathed air, had four limbs, etc. What an a-hole.

      Well I’ll be…….I do too!

  13. “The best answer I have to explain that is I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t studied them (the exceptions) enough.”

    Not just “enough,” “at all” is more accurate. That quote defines nicely his whole argument.

  14. First, I don’t know what a “Catholic psychologist” is. The combination of words has no meaning.

    Second, this idiot has it exactly backwards. The absence of a father figure is more likely to lead to an epiphanic religious conversion. See: W. Jindra, “Religious Stage Development Among Converts to Different Religious Groups,” The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 18:195-215 (2008): 200, 201; Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion, 53.n.

  15. I had a wonderful relationship with my father and mother and grandparents for that matter! I am a proud atheist today because I can think rationally. My father probably is, to some degree, responsible for my objective, rational approach to life– he always encouraged such thinking and we enjoyed learning about science, the natural world, and the cosmos together. My father never had the opportunity to go to college, but he made sure his children did and sacrificed much (along with my mother) to make that happen. I appreciate that sacrifice every day. Because of this influence that encouraged curiosity and wonder– I was curious enough to read Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. That’s what finally helped me realize that I wasn’t the only one not to believe in supernatural magic and, indeed, that was a good thing. Thanks Dad and thanks Professor Dawkins! As for Vitz and his fellow fools– I cannot help but laugh and pity such pathetic and desperate assertions!

  16. Calling God a loving father is extraordinarily perverted, considering he arranged to have his son crucified. This is minor event in his career, considering his record as the Big Daddy of all genocidal mass murders.

  17. My father would read Jesus stories out of a kids book on some days while I sat in his lap, and other days he would read from my kids science books. I missed very few days of Sunday school while I was growing up, and my dad and I went to the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago every year for over a dozen years. He’s still alive and going to church, and I do not.

  18. Talk about absentee fathering, when I was a child and was silly enough to believe he existed this so called heavenly father was never there for me when I felt I needed him. Talk about bad parenting, read the Bible, look how he treats his so called children and what he demands of them. Look how he teaches by example supporting genoside, racism, women as the property of men etc. Fortunately I had a great relationship with my real father who was a good man, not anything like that sociopathic phychopathic heavenly one who demands you worship him or he will throw you into a fiery pit. Good parenting, jest look what he demanded of and did to his only begotten son.

  19. I guess by being dead my father was absent but I was an atheist prior to his passing so it kind of doesn’t jive for me. The books on atheism, he left behind, may have secured my opinion that religion was bullshit but it was much later when I found them; never read any, of course.

  20. This is a good moment for the famous quote from The God Delusion about the Christian ideal of a ‘loving father’.

    The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

    • In reply to #32 by aldous:

      This is a good moment for the famous quote from The God Delusion about the Christian ideal of a ‘loving father’.

      The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

      That particular, oft-quoted description of the Almighty and His B. C. shenanigans by Richard always reminds me of this excerpt from The Age of Reason by Tom Paine:

      “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.” @

      It’s tantamount to blasphemy on this site to do so, but I have to say I prefer the Thetford corsetmaker’s son’s version.

      • In reply to #40 by Katy Cordeth:

        It’s tantamount to blasphemy on this site to do so, but I have to say I prefer the Thetford corsetmaker’s son’s version.

        You can ‘prefer’ them both, especially since they are on two different subjects.

        • In reply to #46 by aldous:

          In reply to #40 by Katy Cordeth:

          It’s tantamount to blasphemy on this site to do so, but I have to say I prefer the Thetford corsetmaker’s son’s version.

          You can ‘prefer’ them both, especially since they are on two different subjects.

          Two different subjects? The god of the Old Testament and… what, exactly?

          • In reply to #47 by Katy Cordeth:

            The god of the Old Testament and… what, exactly?

            Paine describes the book and Dawkins its author.

          • In reply to #48 by aldous:

            In reply to #47 by Katy Cordeth:

            The god of the Old Testament and… what, exactly?

            Paine describes the book and Dawkins its author.

            potato, potato.

          • In reply to #49 by Katy Cordeth:

            potato, potato.

            Literary criticism, even common sense perhaps, isn’t your strong point if you think a book and its author are the same thing.

          • In reply to #51 by aldous:

            In reply to #49 by Katy Cordeth:

            potato, potato.

            Literary criticism, even common sense perhaps, isn’t your strong point if you think a book and its author are the same thing.

            Good point, well made. I’ve never quite understood why Helen Fielding and Sue Townsend get the recognition they do.

          • In reply to #48 by aldous:
            >

            Paine describes the book and Dawkins its author.

            Hahaha… at least Paine was describing something real !

            Steve

          • In reply to #55 by aldous:
            >

            Real but fictitious

            Ahem… now I think you are pulling the “potato, potato” string. How is something that is “fictitious” real?

            I guess god is “real” as a concept; the word “god” certainly exists. But I have trouble with “real” applied to something I consider imaginary.

            Steve

          • In reply to #64 by Agrajag:

            I guess god is “real” as a concept; the word “god” certainly exists. But I have trouble with “real” applied to something I consider imaginary.

            Interesting point, isn’t it? Is an illusion or a delusion ‘real’? Somebody who sees a ghost very likely sees something but misinterprets what they see. The gods, I would say, are misinterpretations of reality.

          • In reply to #48 by aldous:

            In reply to #47 by Katy Cordeth:

            The god of the Old Testament and… what, exactly?

            Paine describes the book and Dawkins its author.

            I’m a little concerned that you and three others believe authorship of the Holy Bible can be ascribed to God. He inspired it, certainly, and is a major, some would say the main, character, but He isn’t the author, aldous.

          • Who inspired the bible and why and what evidence do you have of this

            In reply to #72 by Katy Cordeth:

            In reply to #48 by aldous:

            In reply to #47 by Katy Cordeth:

            The god of the Old Testament and… what, exactly?

            Paine describes the book and Dawkins its author.

            I’m a little concerned that you and three others believe authorship of the Holy Bible can be ascribed to God. He inspired it, certainly,…

          • In reply to #73 by JHJEFFERY:

            Who inspired the bible and why and what evidence do you have of this

            In reply to #72 by Katy Cordeth:

            In reply to #48 by aldous:

            In reply to #47 by Katy Cordeth:

            The god of the Old Testament and… what, exactly?

            Paine describes the book and Dawkins its author.

            I’m a little concerned that you…

            What evidence do I have that God inspired the Bible? I dunno, I always assumed the character existed in the form of oral accounts and the Old Testament and other early books were an attempt to transfer these stories, rules etc to a written medium. A bit like the Grimm brothers and their fairy tales: there were hundreds of these things floating about, being passed in spoken form from one generation to the next; the Grimm boys collected them, put ‘em in a book, and we get to enjoy them today. Rumpelstiltskin’s your uncle.

          • In reply to #74 by Katy Cordeth:

            In reply to #73 by JHJEFFERY:

            Who inspired the bible and why and what evidence do you have of this

            What evidence do I have that God inspired the Bible?

            It is certainly possible to say that the idea of god inspired the bible, whether or not there is an actual god. Once again, it is possible to have a “real” concept of an imaginary entity.

            Steve

          • In reply to #75 by Agrajag:

            In reply to #74 by Katy Cordeth:

            In reply to #73 by JHJEFFERY:

            Who inspired the bible and why and what evidence do you have of this

            What evidence do I have that God inspired the Bible?

            It is certainly possible to say that the idea of god inspired the bible, whether or not there is an actual god. Once again, it is possible to have a “real” concept of an imaginary entity.

            Steve

            I’m not really sure what’s being argued about here. I thought it was a given that the idea of God inspired the Bible. I don’t think anyone is saying the guy is real.

            The notion that people have a “real” concept of an imaginary entity is what’s been messing up our planet for the past few thousand years, isn’t it?

            hashtag: confused

          • In reply to #76 by Katy Cordeth:

            I’m not really sure what’s being argued about here. I thought it was a given that the idea of God inspired the Bible. I don’t think anyone is saying the guy is real.

            You have to practise doublethink. Their arguments don’t work on sane premises. But they don’t work on their premises either. In reality, shall we agree, God is a mythical person. However, even if you accept, for the sake of argument, that he is a real person, he’s a very horrible person, as summed up by Dawkins in The God Delusion. So, you beat the supernaturalists over the head with reality and give them a second going over by showing that they fail, even in their own terms.

  21. Aside from the “relationship with God” babble it does pose a possible explanation to what makes some people natural believers and other natural atheists. Have often wondered what makes some people so prone to believe and other not. Thought it might be genetic but maybe a strong father figure is one of the triggers. Sounds plausible. My dad and I never got along and I have always had a natural repulsion to religion. Sample size of 1 is not very convincing I know. Would be an interesting survey to see if there is a link between strong father figure and tendency to the faith. Is just the basic tendency to believe. Am sure it is quite possible to have a tendency to believe (possible linked to a strong father figure) and then decide it is all bollocks after a bit of investigation. When I think of the few religious people I have met the do seem to be very fond of the Dads

    • In reply to #35 by Catfish:

      Aside from the “relationship with God” babble it does pose a possible explanation to what makes some people natural believers and other natural atheists.

      It’s only a possible explanation if it actually has some grounding in fact which it doesn’t. Anecdotal evidence is worthless. If they really wanted to test the theory they could do some actual research, collect data on atheists and theists and about their fathers. But they won’t do that because the people proposing this really have no clue how to do actual science.

      Also, there is a fairly good possible explanation staring us in the face. That theory is that while our emotions and childhood experiences certainly influence the things we come to believe for some of us so does reason and that reason leads rational people to the conclusion of atheism when they evaluate the evidence and arguments honestly.

      • In reply to #36 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #35 by Catfish:

        Aside from the “relationship with God” babble it does pose a possible explanation to what makes some people natural believers and other natural atheists.

        It’s only a possible explanation if it actually has some grounding in fact which it doesn’t. Anecdotal evidence is w…

        Exactly what I was thinking. Some of us have a predisposition for emotional thinking and some of us use our brains. It’s possibly an inherited trait.

  22. It’s an interesting concept, but I’d be surprised if there were any correlation. If anything, there would be an inverse correlation wouldn’t there – those whose fathers were absent or abusive, would be more likely to look for a substitute – cue magic man in the sky.

    I have a great relationship with my dad, but I’d like to think that even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t resort to worshipping a made-up substitute.

    p.s. pierrecardona2012@3 – big belly laugh.

  23. In reply to #42 by wanstronian:

    It’s an interesting concept, but I’d be surprised if there were any correlation.

    TBH, I wouldn’t expect anything less from a so-called catholic psychologist. His argument is complete BS, as aztek explains. He doesn’t even know what he is talking about anyway.

    “We need to understand atheism has a lot to do with our emotional attitudes towards life, other people and a lot of other things,”

    Say wha….?

  24. @OP – “We need to understand atheism has a lot to do with our emotional attitudes towards life, other people and a lot of other things,

    Like most faith-heads he has it backwards – due to the usual cause – the lack of a concept of a clear religion-free mind.

    Atheism has a lot to do with the absence of emotional entanglements in the contorted irrationality of the blind acceptance of the false authority of dogma.

    ” Vitz said from his office at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, a Catholic graduate school in Arlington, Va.

    So! – probably no dogma-free open-minded objective thinkers, using science rather than “faith”, there!!!

    “I think that is an important thing for atheists and believers alike to take into consideration.”

    They do consider emotional entanglements perverting objectivity in thinking. – It’s just that Catholic theologians are like hermits looking for a view of the universe from inside their dogma-enshrined caves, while scientists watch the skies aided by modern telescopes.

    Catholic establishments still need centuries of catching up in scientific subjects, as they did at the time of Galileo.

  25. My dad died when I was two, so you can’t get much more absent than that…….I would claim that had nothing to do with my atheism, more a balancing of what was reasonably true as I grew up, then reading around it and also being immensely put off by my mother’s ‘eyes-closed-fingers-in-ears’ devotion to catholicism

  26. possibly the most groundbreaking aspect of this is that women aren’t to blame

    edit:

    There could be something in this though. father is absent, mother does most of the upbringing, it’s possible (actual in my case) that the mother compensates by throwing god into everything in an attempt to control her children, children learn quickly when their parents are out of their depth. critical thinking ensues

  27. It claims that autistic people are more likely to be atheists. Interesting. I think I heard somewhere that this is actually true. I wonder if it’s because we on the spectrum are less influenced by herd mentality.

    • In reply to #57 by InYourFaceNewYorker:

      It claims that autistic people are more likely to be atheists. Interesting. I think I heard somewhere that this is actually true. I wonder if it’s because we on the spectrum are less influenced by herd mentality.

      I also think it has to do with the fact that autistic people tend to be less emotional and see things more rationally than others. That is perhaps also the reason why many of the prominent scientists and intellectuals have “suffered” from Aspergers or other forms of autism.

      • In reply to #61 by Nunbeliever:

        In reply to #57 by InYourFaceNewYorker

        I also think it has to do with the fact that autistic people tend to be less emotional and see things more rationally than others. That is perhaps also the reason why many of the prominent scientists and intellectuals have “suffered” from Aspergers or other forms of autism.

        To say that we are less emotional is such a crock of shit. We feel joy, frustration, anger, emptiness, take your pick, like everyone else. However, I think there might be accurate to say that we’re less likely to use emotion to inform ourselves about the reality of the world and how it works. That said, my neurotypical brother never believed in God, not even as a little kid– he was an atheist decades before I shed the agnostic label– and my neurotypical dad might as well be an atheist (though he says agnostic).

        Incidentally, I strongly believe that Dr. Jack Kevorkian had Asperger’s Syndrome… But when have I ever missed an opportunity to say that?? :)

  28. Whether or not it’s possible to build a relationship with the almighty is predicated on its existence.

    But as usual, that small incovenient matter doesn’t appear to occur to the religious mentality, which simply assumes God exists.

    So, sigh; plus ca change!

  29. From a psychological point of view one would think the opposite was true. If your father was absent, the would you not long for a “heavenly father” to take his place? Oh, I forgot. This is not really about science or psychology. Just another Christian crackpot bashing non-believers.

    • In reply to #59 by Nunbeliever:

      From a psychological point of view one would think the opposite was true. If your father was absent, the would you not long for a “heavenly father” to take his place? Oh, I forgot. This is not really about science or psychology. Just another Christian crackpot bashing non-believers.

      My Heavenly Father turned out to be absent

  30. Mark Brumley from the OP:

    “Some atheists try to equate atheism with rationality. Vitz’s book shows that atheism, like many belief systems, has significant irrational elements.”

    A typically dishonest religious double turn. It is entirely rational to not believe in things for which there is no evidence. Belief in the Father the Son and the Holy Ghost are entirely irrational !

  31. I haven’t read the book, but did read the full article. If Vitz has the statistics in his book to back up his claims, atheists wouldn’t have an argument. What all the polarisation of opinion tells me is that he hasn’t supplied statistical proof, and what a soft science psychology really is.

  32. If, by a stroke of luck (for this article at least) there is a psychological causal link between being fatherless and atheist, I would imagine it would be that the absence of a father figure forces you to seek out other authorities in your life, and in the process of judging authorities you inevitably come to the conclusions that they’re all as stupid as each other and none of them have all the answers.

    So I would propose the exact opposite. Overbearing fathering encourages mindless obedience and thus religious superstition.

    • In reply to #67 by Seraphor:

      If, by a stroke of luck (for this article at least) there is a psychological causal link between being fatherless and atheist, I would imagine it would be that the absence of a father figure forces you to seek out other authorities in your life, and in the process of judging authorities you inevitably come to the conclusions that they’re all as stupid as each other and none of them have all the answers. So I would propose the exact opposite. Overbearing fathering encourages mindless obedience and thus religious superstition.

      Given the actual current state of our scientific understanding of psychology you can pretty much make up any theory you want and it’s equally likely. And even if there is some correlation between fathers and atheists that doesn’t mean it’s a causal relation or even if it is causal which way the causal effect goes. Maybe fathers like to be patriarchs and when their kids turn atheists they want to leave Maybe wealthier and better educated families tend to have more atheists and also more fathers who for various reasons decide that they want to do things other than fatherhood. It’s all just pointless speculation.

      The starting point would be to do actual demographic research on fathers and atheism but I doubt we will see that because the people who actually know about science and would do that don’t see enough evidence that the theory makes any sense to begin with. There are too many actual interesting questions that could benefit from social science research.

      This is a question about complex human behaviors, beliefs, and intentions. And if we are honest we admit that science has very little to say here so far. We don’t have good scientific models for why most animals — even fairly simple ones — do what they do so expecting us to have predictive models like this for humans is far too ambitious. And it’s an example of how little many educated people really understand science that people do put forth these kinds of hypotheses with no actual valid data — just irrelevant anecdotes about famous atheists — and they are treated seriously in the popular press rather than simply dismissed as they should be.

  33. So…my ability to believe in Sky Daddy depends on my ability to believe in Real Daddy? Sky Daddy will really be there for me if Real Daddy is? Okay, then! Which Greek or Roman or Germanic goddess can I have a real relationship with because my mom was such a complicated woman? Or…hey, what if my Dad was more like Thor? Or Zeus? Or Wotan? My dad sometimes smashed things up with a hammer and you’d think lightning could shoot out of his eyes…so maybe it’s Thor for me.

    What a retarded premise. Isaac Newton supposedly hated his parents so much that he wanted to burn their house down with them in it, yet in spite of his scientific acumen, he was an ardent believer in God. On a personal level, I could name at least ten religious believers who had really shitty relationships with their fathers, or who had no fathers at home at all. Conversely, I can name numerous atheists who have great family relationships, even with their Christian parents. This article is a religious turd wrapped in a flyblown piece of pop-psychology shit.

  34. My father is one of the biggest influences in my life, and is very Christian. I’ve lived under his roof pretty much my whole childhood (my parents divorced when I was about 5 or 6) and lived with him and my oldest brother after we moved out of the family place until I was about 19 or so. I got a bit of my interest in music and art from him, we were as much friends as we were father and son growing up (though it never stopped me from being disciplined if I needed it) and we get along just fine to this day.

    And I’ve been an atheist for over 20 years now.

    So no, I can say with all complete honesty that an absentee father did not make me an atheist. That’s pretty insulting.

  35. Seems to me a better topic for a book would be “Why do Catholics whose fathers were clearly absent or rotten since they failed to protect their children from raping priests, continue to be Catholic?”

  36. My father made me an atheist. He taught me critical thinking, showed me the wonders of the wonders of the natural world and fostered and encouraged my voracious reading habit. And he and my mother raised my brother and I secular. After the new atheists and their books how could I be anything else?

  37. I would like to point out one very promising fact. If you notice the original article was written in the religion section of the Washington Post. There are 28 comments following the article. Not one of those comments is pro religion. Interesting. I’m thinking the skeptics, atheists and the nones are making huge strides towards the notion that it is OK not to believe. Lets hope this trend continues.

  38. Yet another variation on the tired old “Atheists Hate God” theme, based on the premise that God is real, and atheists are just contrarians who refuse to accept his supernatural authority.

  39. An “absentee father” could mean an absence of a strong force of indoctrination in many cases. What a revelation! “Damaged (our) ability to form a relationship with a heavenly father”? Here’s hoping.

    I admit I do think It’s more like a head-start on independent thought and the gift of finding people like the members present. Those who’s youth wasn’t dictated over, or firmly shaped by “what dad said”. After all, there’d be no religious bigots, were there no parents instilling such a mindset in their offspring.

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