What are the differences among the beliefs and practices of  Protestants, Episcopalians, and Unitarians?

Unitarians (or Unitarian Universalists since their merger in 1961) are not a Christian sect. Members do not have to believe in the divinity of Christ or in the existence of God. Instead, they follow seven principles that include upholdiong the worth and dignity of every person, the interconnectedness of the universe, and encouraging all along their own spiritual paths.

UUs have congregations that usually hold services on Sunday mornings, which makes them look like Christian churches. But their theology is quite different – see www.uua.org.

Why do so few Americans believe in evolution?

Very few Americans understand Evolution, including the ones who believe in it. Many have a partial understanding of it at best, and they couldn't tell you much about why Biologists are certain its true, though they might be able to mumble something about "fossil evidence."

This is my impression having spent decades discussing the subject with many people. I often hear so-called Evolutionists saying incorrect things about the subject — even while they're arguing with Creationists. I have stopped being surprised at hearing errors from both Evolution apologists and Evolution skeptics.

Whose fault is this? The Education System. Even in places where the subject is openly taught, it's often taught poorly. Either the teacher doesn't understand it, or he does but his teaching methods are shoddy. He winds up boring his students, and they don't recall what they've learned.

Don't believe me? Okay, find out for yourself: first, make sure you really understand the subject. I recommend this book: Amazon.com: Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives (9780385340922): David Sloan Wilson: Books Or, at the very least, fully read some wikipedia articles.

Then ask 20 friends (who believe in Evolution) to explain Evolution to you. Ask them to explain in detail, and ask them to explain why they believe whatever they're saying is true.

Can they answer these questions?

1. What are the specific mechanisms that allow offspring to differ from parents, in both sexual and asexual-reproducing species?

2. What are the requirements a system needs in order include Natural Selection?

3. What is the relationship between chimpanzees and humans?

4. How can features like the eye evolve independently multiple times?

5. Does it make sense to say that one organism is "more evolved" than another?

6. How long did it take for humans to evolve to their present state?

7. Can an organism exhibit a trait that isn't evident in its parents without mutation having occurred? How?

8. What is Kin Selection? What is Group Selection? What are the pro and con arguments for them?

9. Does Evolution have a purpose? Does it make sense to say that a certain trait evolved for a purpose?

10. Can a trait survive in a population, even if that trait doesn't give its hosts a reproductive or survival advantage? If so, how?

11. What is Punctuated Equilibrium and what are the arguments for and against it?

12. What do scientists mean by the word "theory"?

13. What evidence has convinced Biologists that Evolution is true?

What irks me is that if Evolutionists won the battle over what's taught in schools — if all schools agreed to teach Evolution and not Creationism — most people who believe in Evolution would pat themselves on the back and move on to another battle. This is because they are more concerned with the battle as a symbol than whether or not children are actually learning anything.

Yes, we can blame the Creationists. They are an easy target. But don't think if they all vanished tomorrow, we'd have a population that understood the subject. They might believe in it in a dogmatic way. In which case it's magical thinking that just happens to be true.

Belief and Beliefs: Can the existence of a god be proven or disproven?

It certainly cannot be proven.

My thoughts:

  1. Prayer does not seem to work – Every religion touts worship and making offerings as being the most effective method of contacting its particular deity. However, it's clear even to children, that prayer rarely works if it indeed works at all. The handicapped are never cured; the blind never regain sight and loved ones aren't prevented from experiencing gruesome and painful deaths. If a core tenet of religion does not work as advertised, why believe in the rest of it?
  2. Moving goalposts – Every time religion conflicts the changes in a society, religion is simply altered to encompass those change. Even though religion claims to be a "fixed" source of morals and ethics, it has managed to ditch its former approvals of slavery, the divine right to rule held by kings/emperors, the infallibility of its clerics, its advocating of violent warfare to spread the faith and a host other positions it formerly. Since religion is an invention of human beings, it simply reflects the current attitudes and mores of the people who believe in it.
  3. Various religions – Presuming a god or gods to be omniscient beings, it's odd how he/she/it/they consistently fails to foresee how various individual beliefs will (and do ) simply cause confusion, anger and strife. If there were truly omnipotent gods, wouldn't their making humans worship a single deity be more efficient and certainly cause far less of the strife and warfare that can attribute their origins directly to religious beliefs?
  4. Miracles – Although far more people are alive now than in the past, the numerous “miraculous” events which are commonplace in religious texts do not appear to happen today. This is particularly troubling as today methods exist to document these acts with more than rumor, apocrypha and vague written accounts. If there are indeed divine beings why don’t they do today what their followers profess that they did in the past?

Sooo,,,in short…the existence of a god or gods, cannot be PROVEN even by its disciples meaning that there is no real need to DISPROVE it. If or when the devout can prove that their beliefs are indeed anything other than a philosophical outlook on life, then a debate can begin. Until then, there is nothing for myself and others who don’t share their beliefs to disprove.

What is one thing you have to believe before you can experience it?

Experiencing oneself as a "person in a world".

A 'person' is a socially constructed entity that serves as the "lead character" in a life story, which is a running narrative by which the mind comprehends the stream of events. One must believe in this narrative and become engrossed in the story before one can experience oneself as being that person-in-a-world.

BTW, there's relevant info if you google "person socially constructed" http://www.google.com/search?q=p…

Most experience themselves as a person in a world and it is difficult for them to imagine that things could be any other way. However not all minds believe in the narrative of a person-in-a-world. For example, mystics believe (and experience) themselves to be unified 'motions' of a cosmic whole.

"That which is the subtle essence, in it is the self of all that exists. It is the True. It is the Self, and thou … art it." (Chandogya Upanishad 4:10:1-3)

From a mystic perspective…

"The person is merely the result of a misunderstanding. In reality, there is no such thing. Feelings, thoughts and actions race before the watcher in endless succession, leaving traces in the brain and creating an illusion of continuity. A reflection of the watcher in the mind creates the sense of 'I' and the person acquires an apparently independent existence. In reality there is no person, only the watcher identifying himself with the 'I' and the 'mine'." (I am That, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, http://bit.ly/bvBQYR)

"So long as people do not understand the true nature of the objective world, they fall into the dualistic view of things. They imagine the multiplicity of external objects to be real [naïve realism] and become attached to them and are nourished by their habit energy. Because of this system of mentation, mind and what belongs to it is discriminated and is thought of as real; this leads to the assertion of an ego-soul and its belongings, and thus the mind-system goes on functioning. Depending upon and attaching itself to the dualistic habit of mind, they accept the views of the philosophers founded upon these erroneous distinctions… By setting up names and forms greed is multiplied and thus the mind goes on mutually conditioning and being conditioned. By becoming attached to names and forms, not realising that they have no more basis than the activities of the mind itself, error arises, false-imagination as to pleasure and pain arises, and the way to emancipation is blocked… (Lankavatara Sutra, http://bit.ly/azCaUY)

So from a mystic perspective, one must first believe in the person-in-a-world narrative before one can experience being a person, on a planet, within a society, with possessions, a job, a name, a reputation, and so on. There is however no point in life at which we 'decide' to believe this narrative, instead we are biologically and socially conditioned to accept it as 'normal'.

Why do some atheists and agnostics know more about religion than some believers?

This question already received a lot of answers, but none represents my personal experience. I did not grow up religious. My mother comes from a staunchly Catholic family; she still considers herself a believer but never talks about it or goes to church. My father comes from a staunchly Protestant family; he rejected the doctrine completely. When they wanted to marry, their families were deeply upset (interfaith marriages were frowned upon at that time in Germany) and sent priests to give them a talking-to.

That may have been the last straw, anyway my parents agreed that nobody should be force-fed religion like they were when they were young. In contrast to most of our classmates, my brother and I were not baptized. Our parents told us that we should explore for ourselves and figure out what we believe before joining an organized religion. I took and take that mandate very seriously. I never had the luxury of going with the flow of beliefs indoctrinated since childhood. My parents wouldn't influence me either toward atheism or Christianity and during religious education classes (all but mandatory at German schools) I always got the perspective of an outsider looking in.

I think that religion is an important subject for people to reach their own conclusion, both because we're all just guessing and because the stakes are high. If we assume for a minute that there is a God, then not believing in God, or believing in the wrong God, can make the difference between living in eternal bliss, or not living, or unspeakable agony. You have to admit that those are very high stakes, even if you assign only a 1/1000 chance to God existing, or less. It is worth making sure that there is no believable religion on earth, or believable grains of salt in a religion, before shutting the case. If there is a God, it is critical to learn what he's like and what his plans for us are, if any. For an agnostic or any but the most secure atheists, this is a good reason to explore various religions and their commonalities, not as someone who believes but as someone looking for the fundamental truths of human existence.

Why do atheists feel the need to evangelize their beliefs?

SOME atheists evangelize. And by "some" I mean a small minority. Most PEOPLE — theists and atheists — spend very little time evangelizing. I know lots of Christians who never try to convert anyone.

It's funny to me how you and some atheists on Quora might have been separated at birth. They write questions like "Why do Christians feel the need to convert everyone?" CHRISTIANS don't feel this need. SOME do. The same is true with atheists.

Just about the only place I ever talk about my atheism is on Quora, because SOME people here are endlessly interested in the topic.

I have about 40 atheist friends. We almost never talk about being atheists. What is there to talk about? We'd rather talk about "Luck," the new HBO series that's about to start, created by the guy who created "Deadwood." And it stars Dustin Hoffman! Isn't that awesome? I can't wait!

Where was I? My Christian and Jewish friends don't try to convert me. What they do — when they're being pious — is go to churches and synagogs. Most of the time, they talk about stuff like "Luck," which is premiering January 29 on HBO. Set your DVR!

Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are four people — well, three and a corpse. They are I grant you, loud, but four loudmouths do not an army make.

Meanwhile, how many Christian evangelists can you count? And Muslim extremist leaders? And proselytizing Scientologists? Did you just run out of fingers? I did.

You are, perhaps, confused by the fact that, until very recently, atheists in America couldn't speak up at all. Now, it's finally (relatively) safe for them to do so.

Our brains are rigged to be impressed by differences, so a cracker will seem huge if all you've ever had before is a crumb. Maybe, to you, the fact that we've gone from total-radio-silence to a few people writing books and debating on chat shows, seems like the start of an atheist takeover. It's not.

Start worrying when every sitcom has an atheist character on it; when most Hollywood movies are about atheists; when the history of atheism is regularly taught in schools and when atheists are brought into schools as guest speakers; when atheists amass outside churches and hold up picket signs; when they become a large-enough voting block to elect an atheist president; when they hijack a plane and crash it into a skyscraper…

Less than 2% of the American population describes itself as atheists. [1] There may be more — closet atheists — but, being closeted, they keep quiet about their views, so they're useless to the evangelist corps.

Don't confuse atheists on Quora with rank-and-file atheists. This is a (great but) artificial environment — one in which people tend to be more forceful and agressive than they are in meatspace. Because on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dem…

Why do humans believe in things without evidence?  Why do they continue to believe in things even as studies containing contradictory evidence emerge?

Generally speaking, 90 per cent of things we encounter in our daily lives are taken up on faith. There is simply no way around it. If you are going to work and see a board saying the road is closed ahead and you should take a detour, you will very probably not go check. You will simply drive around the said obstacle without verifying if it is actually there.

I could go on and on with examples. Taking the word of your friend on a topic you know nothing about, believing your son didn't steal (when the whole neighbourhood might know otherwise), believing by default that your spouse isn't cheating on you, believing that you can make it on your own as an entrepreneur when everyone you know thinks it is unlikely to work.

Believing in things we have no explanation for is a uniquely human characteristic. It is this tendency that has powered literature, art, and even large amounts of science throughout history. Sometimes the basis for belief is a person we have learnt to to trust, sometimes it is a set of assumptions. Needless to say, it has its downside as well. When one becomes to attached to one belief, he or she resists change, often in the face of overpowering evidence to the contrary.

I think belief (of this sort and any other sort) is the same as imagination. Imagination is what separates human beings from a large number of other species. Basically, when you believe something, you imagine it to be true. All belief is imagination, at one level or another.

There seems to be scientific evidence pointing in the general direction of the fact that we have evolved to be believing creatures. A part of the human brain that has not been found to exist in other animals (so far) governs our tendencies towards "superstitions". See this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/…

As to why believing was naturally selected to be a human characteristic, your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps because human beings would not have become what they are if it had not been for imagination and the search for beauty and meaning. I personally believe that all religions started out as a way for man to make sense of the world. Simply put, man thought there must be more to the world than what seems and he made stuff up to satisfy his curiosity. He did it because he had to.

Is Santa Claus real?

From http://www.positiveatheism.org/w…

I. There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18) in the world. However, since Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist religions, this reduces the workload for Christmas night to 15% of the total, or 378 million (according to the Population Reference Bureau). At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per house hold, that comes to 108 million homes, presuming that there is at least one good child in each.

II. Santa has about 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 967.7 visits per second.
This is to say that for each Christian household with a good child, Santa has around 1/1000th of a second to park the sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left for him, get back up the chimney, jump into the sleigh and get on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false, but will accept for the purposes of our calculations), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household; a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting bathroom stops or breaks. This means Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second — 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second, and a conventional Reindeer can run (at best) 15 miles per hour.

III. The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh is carrying over 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself. On land, a conventional Reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that the "flying" Reindeer could pull ten times the normal amount, the job can't be done with eight or even nine of them — Santa would need 360,000 of them. This increases the payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, another 54,000 tons, or roughly seven times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch).

IV. 600,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second crates enormous air resistance — this would heat up the Reindeer in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of Reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the Reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire Reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip. Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accelerating from a dead stop to 650 m.p.s. in .001 seconds, would be subjected to forces of 17,500 g's. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, instantly crushing his bones and organs and reducing him to a quivering blob of pink goo.

V. Therefore, if Santa did exist, he's dead now.

What is the difference between faith and blind faith?

As Quora User and Nathan Ketsdever have stated, faith is not belief without evidence.  Faith is merely the extent of belief.  In otherwords, if your belief is so strong that it affects your actions and attitudes, it has become faith.  If you have complete confidence in something or someone, you have faith.  Faith is synonymous with the word, trust.  Thus if someone is "faithful" then they are someone you can have faith in. 

Thus blind faith is having completely confidence in someone or something without any reason to do so.  It's typically used pejoratively.  Hardly anybody I know has a completely "blind faith" because even if their faith is based on shaky or faulty reasoning, they usually have some reason or some story to how they came to this faith. 

For example if a child believes in Santa Claus so much that they have complete confidence in his existence or reality, they have faith.  But is it really a blind faith?  If you ask a child why they believe in Santa Claus, they might say that they believe in Santa Claus because their parents said he exists.  At that point, it is no longer blind faith.  They have SOME reasoning for this faith in Santa Claus, even if it is not the best reason.  They trust their parents, who have their best interest at heart. 

Now the term "blind faith" could alternatively mean, having faith in something which you cannot observe scientifically.  I believe this is the way many atheists use the term.  This use of the term however, is rhetorical abuse.  It is essentially claiming that unless something can be observed in a rigorous scientific way, it is not reasoned and cannot be evidence.  It is imposing an evidential foundationalist philosophical worldview.  The fact of the matter is that human beings do not operate that way.  If I have faith in the goodness of my parents to me, I have not subjected their goodness to rigorous scientific testing.  Yet I have every reason to believe in their goodness and have faith in them.  Rigorous scientific observation is not the only path to knowledge and the intellectually honest should reject any claim that it is.