Dennett in The Guardian

Moving back across the pond, we find another wise op-ed, this time by Daniel Dennett writing in The Guardian. He writes:

I am confident that those who believe in belief are wrong. That is, we no more need to preserve the myth of God in order to preserve a just and stable society than we needed to cling to the Gold Standard to keep our currency sound. It was a useful crutch, but we’ve outgrown it. Denmark, according to a recent study, is the sanest, healthiest, happiest, most crime-free nation in the world, and by and large the Danes simply ignore the God issue. We should certainly hope that those who believe in belief are wrong, because belief is waning fast, and the props are beginning to buckle.

A national study by evangelicals in the United States predicted that only 4% of their children would grow up to be “Bible-believing” adults. The Southern Baptists are baptising about as many today as they were in 1950, when the population was half what it is today. At what point should those who just believe in belief throw in the towel and stop trying to get their children and neighbours to cling to what they themselves no longer need? How about now?

I find that last paragraph very comforting. I hope it is true.

Comments

  1. #1 dominich
    July 16, 2009

    My favourite bit has to be the update:

    This article was amended on Thursday 16 July 2009. Moon-landing sceptics were referred to as “loonies”, contrary to the Guardian style guide. This has been corrected.

  2. #2 eric
    July 16, 2009

    Zuckerman’s Society without God talks specifically and at length about secular Danish culture.

    Of course I would’ve read Jason’s book first, but I’m still waiting for it to come out on Kindle [/grumble]

  3. #3 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 16, 2009

    eric –

    My editor at Oxford assures me that a Kindle edition is on its way, and that Oxford now makes all of its books available on Kindle. Sadly, she did not know when the Kindle edition would be available.

  4. #4 Robert O'Brien
    July 16, 2009

    A wise op-ed? Perhaps in the parallel universe where algebraic topology is not boring, Gore won Florida, Begala’s comment to McCain was a zinger, and Daniel Dennett is not an oxygen-depleting parasite.

    Denmark, according to a recent study, is the sanest, healthiest, happiest, most crime-free nation in the world, and by and large the Danes simply ignore the God issue.

    Which study and how was it conducted?

    A national study by evangelicals in the United States predicted that only 4% of their children would grow up to be “Bible-believing” adults.

    Which study and how was it conducted?

    The Southern Baptists are baptising about as many today as they were in 1950, when the population was half what it is today.

    Notice how this pretentious moron does not provide citations for his assertions? This is known as proof surrogate.

    Incidentally, this myopic, Eurocentric moron apparently is unaware that traditional Christianity is expanding rapidly in Africa and Asia (including China), where most of the world’s population is located. Perhaps someday they will be evangelizing us, just like the Irish evangelized the Continental Europe in Late Antiquity/Early Middle Ages.

  5. #5 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 16, 2009

    Robert –

    Okay, this time you have gone too far! Algebraic topology is not boring.

  6. #6 CC
    July 16, 2009


    Incidentally, this myopic, Eurocentric moron apparently is unaware that traditional Christianity is expanding rapidly in Africa and Asia (including China), where most of the world’s population is located.

    I thought they were. That is, African missionaries come to Europe to try to Christianize the European heathens is the way it goes now.

    But anyhow, is the expansion of Christianity in those places at the expense of nonbelief or at the expense of other religions?

  7. #7 SteveL
    July 17, 2009

    @4 Robert

    Let’s see. You start your post accusing Daniel Dennett of being “an oxygen-depleting parasite” because he made several assertions without giving citations. You devote most of your post to three examples of this.

    Then you finish with the real zinger. He is a “myopic, Eurocentric moron because he is unaware that Christianity is expanding rapidly in Afric and Asia”. And the citation for your assertion about the growth of Christianity is…not given!

    I call Poe, because no one could possibly be that dumb.

  8. #8 valhar2000
    July 17, 2009

    I find that last paragraph very comforting. I hope it is true.

    I don’t know. The outgrowing of religion that Sci-fi promised me seems to be coming very slowly, if at all.

  9. #9 James
    July 17, 2009

    @7 SteveL
    “… no one could possibly be that dumb.”

    In this case, you are wrong.

  10. #10 Richard Eis
    July 17, 2009

    Yes Dennett, O’Brien is incapable of using google. You must hand deliver all references to him personally.

    If christianity is expanding in africa and asia then i feel very sorry for such places.

  11. #11 Jim Harrison
    July 17, 2009

    Christianity emerged from the ruins of the Roman empire and has always benefited from social and political disaster. If, as may very well occur, our civilization is en route to ecological catastrophe, O’Brien may well be right that the Christians of Africa and Asia will bring the faith back to America in the same way that the Irish supplied so many missionaries to continental Europe. Thing is, you have to assume a Dark Ages to make this hypothetical plausible. Perhaps O’Brien is hoping for such an outcome or even actively working to bring it about for the glory of his God.

  12. #12 Michael Kremer
    July 18, 2009

    Well, I am capable of using google. So let’s check Dennett’s claims, shall we?

    He says that “A national study by evangelicals in the United States predicted that only 4% of their children would grow up to be “Bible-believing” adults.”

    I haven’t found the study, but the NYT refers to a “highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/06/us/06evangelical.html?hp&ex=1160193600&en=5519ede029c494c4&ei=5094&partner=homepage

    That would mean that the study said that 4% of ALL current teen-agers will grow up to be “Bible-believing” adults. That’s NOT 4% of the children of evangelicals (“their children”) but 4% of ALL children. Not the same thing.

    And anyway the claim is “highly suspect” according the NYT.

    The study in question apparently uses a highly stringent definition of “Bible-believing” according to which only 6-7% of US adults are Bible-believing Christians. So if only 4% of current teenagers grow up to be Bible-believing, well, that is a significant drop, but not what Dennett’s writing might suggest.

    http://www.youthministry.com/?q=node/5029

  13. #13 Michael Kremer
    July 18, 2009

    On Baptist baptisms: Dennett is right, but from this document you can see that baptisms have fluctuated up and down around an average just about the number in 1950/2009. So the situation is not really as new as Dennett makes out. The SBC has been losing out to other denominations for a long time now.

  14. #14 Michael Kremer
    July 18, 2009

    Sorry: here’s the link I missed out.

    http://www.bpnews.net/pdf/TharpBaptisms.pdf

  15. #15 snaxalotl
    July 20, 2009

    so, christianity is going like the clappers in the vast regions of the poor and uneducated. obviously a great indication of the value and staying power of christianity, as long as you accept the premise that these regions will never undergo much economic or educational development

  16. #16 eric
    July 21, 2009

    Jason – thanks for the Kindle update.

    R. O’B – even if Dennett is wrong on some particulars, the statement that Christianity or religion is expanding is irrelevant to his main point that ‘we don’t need religion to have a stable culture.’ Dennett only needs one example of a non-religious culture to make his claim stick, and if you want to refute it, you have to do so by demonstrating his example is actually religious or actually unstable. Merely pointing to more examples of religious cultures does nothing to refute his claim.

  17. #17 Robert O'Brien
    July 27, 2009

    Let’s see. You start your post accusing Daniel Dennett of being “an oxygen-depleting parasite” because he made several assertions without giving citations. You devote most of your post to three examples of this.

    You need to work on your reading comprehension. I did not claim Dennett is an oxygen-depleting parasite because of this op-ed; I had already formed my opinion of him based on his work, which is worthless. The only thing he is qualified for is a job as a mall santa.

    Then you finish with the real zinger. He is a “myopic, Eurocentric moron because he is unaware that Christianity is expanding rapidly in Afric and Asia”. And the citation for your assertion about the growth of Christianity is…not given!

    Yes. You need to learn the difference between an op-ed published in a newspaper that provides no citations for specific studies the author cites for his claims and a critical response posted to a blog. Also, just as the decline of Christianity in parts of Europe is common knowledge, the growth of Christianity in Africa and China is something people who claim to be educated about the world should know.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-jesus-1-1-webjun22,0,2458211.story

    I call Poe, because no one could possibly be that dumb.

    In your case, I call socially inept and pretentiously moronic.

    Yes Dennett, O’Brien is incapable of using google. You must hand deliver all references to him personally.

    The onus is not on me.

    If christianity is expanding in africa and asia then i feel very sorry for such places.

    And I am sure they join me in feeling sorry for your washed-up country (England, yes?), which continues its slide into irrelevancy.

    so, christianity is going like the clappers in the vast regions of the poor and uneducated.

    Your thinly veiled racism and unfounded feelings of superiority are noted.

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