Remember that scene in Die Hard, where Bruce Willis drops a huge pile of explosives down an elevator shaft, blowing up the lobby of the building and killing a few terrorists, but also shattering the building’s huge glass windows? You might recall that right after he does that the officious deputy police chief says to him, angrily, “I got a hundred people down here and they’re all covered in glass!” And Bruce Willis replies, “Glass? Who gives a sh*t about glass?”

I was reminded of that scene upon reading this article, by Tom Bartlett, in the current issue of The Chronicle Review. Here’s the set-up:

The implication—that religion is basically malevolent, that it “poisons everything,” in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens—is a standard assertion of the New Atheists. Their argument isn’t just that there probably is no God, or that intelligent design is laughable bunk, or that the Bible is far from inerrant. It’s that religion is obviously bad for human beings, condemning them to ignorance, subservience, and endless conflict, and we would be better off without it.

But would we?

Before you can know for sure, you have to figure out what religion does for us in the first place. That’s exactly what a loosely affiliated group of scholars in fields including biology, anthropology, and psychology are working on. They’re applying evolutionary theory to the study of religion in order to discover whether or not it strengthens societies, makes them more successful, more cooperative, kinder. The scholars, many of them atheists themselves, generally look askance at the rise of New Atheism, calling its proponents ignorant, fundamentalist, and worst of all, unscientific. Dawkins and company have been no more charitable in return.

Standard stuff, at least for anyone who follows this issue. But now let’s have a look at the evidence adduced by this loosely affiliated group of scholars to make us rethink whether religion strengthens societies:

Let’s say someone gives you $10. Not a king’s ransom, but enough for lunch. You’re then told that you can share your modest wealth with a stranger, if you like, or keep it. You’re assured that your identity will be protected, so there’s no need to worry about being thought miserly. How much would you give?

If you’re like most people who play the so-called dictator game, which has been used in numerous experiments, you will keep most of the money. In a recent study from a paper with the ominous title “God Is Watching You,” the average subject gave $1.84. Meanwhile, another group of subjects was presented with the same choice but was first asked to unscramble a sentence that contained words like “divine,” “spirit,” and “sacred.”

The second group of subjects gave an average of $4.22, with a solid majority (64 percent) giving more than five bucks. A heavenly reminder seemed to make subjects significantly more magnanimous. In another study, researchers found that prompting subjects with the same vocabulary made some more likely to volunteer for community projects. Intriguingly, not all of them: Only those who had a specific dopamine receptor variant volunteered more, raising the possibility that religion doesn’t work for everybody.

A similar experiment was conducted on two Israeli kibbutzes. The scenario was more complicated: Subjects were shown an envelope containing 100 shekels (currently about $25). They were told that they could choose to keep as much of the money as they wished, but that another member of the kibbutz was being given the identical option. If the total requested by the participants (who were kept separated) exceeded 100 shekels, they walked away with nothing. If the total was less than or equal to 100, they were given the money plus a bonus based on what was left over.

The kicker is that one of the kibbutzes was secular and one was religious. Turns out, the more-devout members of the religious kibbutz, as measured by synagogue attendance, requested significantly fewer shekels and expected others to do the same. The researchers, Richard Sosis and Bradley Ruffle, ventured that “collective ritual has a significant impact on cooperative decisions.”

Religion can elicit behavior that is good for society—sometimes.

See also a study that found that religious people were, in some instances, more likely to treat strangers fairly. Or the multiple studies suggesting that people who were prompted to think about an all-seeing supernatural agent were less likely to cheat. Or the study of 300 young adults in Belgium that found that those who were religious were considered more empathetic by their friends.

Now, I’m afraid I don’t understand either of those first two examples. With regard to the first, why is it admirable to give any of my ten dollars to the stranger? Surely I need to know something about the stranger, and about my own needs, to make such determinations. Does he need the money, or is he someone like Mitt Romney? What will he do with the money if I give it to him? I think something got left out of the story.

The second scenario is also confusing. Did each participant know that he would get nothing if the sum of the two amounts was greater than one hundred shekels? Do the participants know the size of the bonus? Was their goal to maximize the amount of money they receive? This all sounds like a problem in game theory and strategic thinking, and not as any sort of test of admirable conduct.

But that is beside the point, because mostly my reaction is the same one Bruce Willis gave to the officious deputy police chief. If the goal is to understand the role religion plays in society, then why on earth are you wasting your time with these rinky-dink, artificial, contrived, social science scenarios? Is there not an obvious natural experiment we can do? If we are worried that a lack of religious belief leads to greed and selfishness, then let’s investigate societies where free non-believers predominate. It turns out there are quite a few, in Scandanavia and Western Europe, and they utterly refute any notion that religious belief is necessary for a decent, moral society. Meanwhile, we can look to the most religious countries and ask if they show evidence of being unusually charitable and generous. Anyone care to defend the affirmative in that debate?

Bartlett himself makes this point elsewhere in the article:

Of course, you can hardly blame the New Atheists for their own success. They’ve been speaking out against religious extremism in all its malicious forms, whether it’s states permitting pseudoscience in school curricula or suicide bombers angling for a post-mortem harem. By comparison, humble studies of who takes the most money from an envelope can feel trivial.

Bingo! Bartlett continues:

But it’s not the criticism of ecclesiastical overreach that bothers Wilson and Atran; it’s the conflation of science and advocacy. Wilson supports efforts to destigmatize atheism, like the running feature “Why I Am an Atheist” on Pharyngula, and said so in his anti-Dawkins posts. Atran believes that “attacking obscurantic, cruel, lunatic ideas is always a good idea.” It’s proclaiming that religion is rotten to the core that they think is misguided.

To which a New Atheist would reply that after removing the obscurantic, cruel and lunatic ideas, very little of religion remains.

Reading Bartlett’s article really made my inner anti-intellectual wake up and say hello. Consider this exchange:

He responded to Wilson by maintaining that only one word was required to prove that religion is more destructive than beneficial: women. “Those with eyes to see,” Myers wrote, “can see for themselves that religion has for thousands of years perpetuated the oppression of half of our species,” which is “reason enough to tear down our cathedrals.” Some commenters were even more disdainful, like the one who branded Wilson a “hypocrite quisling.”

Going tit for tat, though with a touch less venom, Wilson accused Myers of “not functioning as a scientist” on the subject of religion. “It’s absurd for Myers to say that the impact of religion on human welfare can be understood merely by opening one’s eyes,” he wrote. Myers says that Wilson is advancing an overly benign portrait of faith in support of his pet idea. Wilson contends that Myers and the rest are fabricating a cartoon version of religion, one that doesn’t grapple with the science, and deciding on the outcome (religion is bad) before the evidence is in.

I’m with Myers. How on earth can Wilson talk so blithely about deciding outcomes before the evidence is in? Is Myers wrong about the oppression of women? Am I hallucinating the cruelty of so many prominent religious groups towards homosexuals? Or their pernicious effect not just on science education but on history as well? Or the tremendous support for right-wing politicians among religious voters, with all the harm that entails? And those, mind you, are just a few of the problems religion causes in the United States, a pretty civilized place in spite of all its problems. When we survey the world’s theocracies the situation gets far worse.

For heaven’s sake, we’re drowning in evidence for the harmfulness of religion. Open your eyes!

Against this litany we have a handful of social science experiments that are beset by so many variables for which it is impossible to control that it is not at all clear what they prove, and whose conclusion, as summarized by Bartlett, is:

Still, a growing body of research suggests that religion or religious ideas, in certain circumstances, in some people, can elicit the kind of behavior that is generally good for society: fairness, generosity, honesty. At the very least, when you read the literature, it becomes difficult to confidently assert that religion, despite the undeniable evil it has sometimes inspired, is entirely toxic.

In certain circumstances. In some people. I feel deeply chastened.

So much of the criticism directed towards the New Atheists seem based on missing the forest for the trees. It’s based on cherry-picking their most incendiary statements to distract from the major points. Yes, fine, Hitchens was being hyperbolic when he subtitled his book, “How Religion Poisons Everything.” So let’s posthumously resubtitle it with the more accurate, “How Religion Poisons So Many Important Things That It’s Hardly Worth Bothering About The Few Things It Doesn’t Poison,” and move on. And yes, Dawkins’s Neville Chamberlain comparison was ill-considered and he should not have been quite so dismissive of the cosmological argument. Happy now? Is that really what I’m supposed to focus on here?

Time to wrap this up. Bartlett writes:

Homework or no, [Daniel Dennett's book] Breaking the Spell was a best seller, while [David Sloan Wilson's book] Darwin’s Cathedral was not. If the conflict over the best scientific approach to religion is measured in popularity, the New Atheists would win with ease. As of this writing, PZ Myers has more than 100,000 followers on Twitter and Wilson has around 500. A YouTube clip of Dawkins tying Bill O’Reilly into knots has over four million views, while Wilson interviewing a fellow scholar, Michael Blume, on his findings about religion and fertility has around 300. Skewering God makes for better box office.

Heh.

There’s a lot more to Bartlett’s article, and while it is clearly a bit slanted against the New Atheists it is actually quite a bit better than most essays in this genre. So go have a look!

Comments

  1. #1 Lenoxus
    August 14, 2012

    It is of course hip to argue against one’s own popularity, but in any case, I don’t think he’s entirely right about the New Atheist “popularity” here. Yes, we’re a dedicated and growing demographic, but thus far the majority remains in a moderate-religious camp. The dominant cultural message remains that of the golden mean (a message which loves to portray itself as unloved and “maverick” merely because of the flak it gets from religious and anti-religious extremes).

    As for those social experiements, Jason’s “Mitt Romney” point was very good, and one I had never considered before. For the purpose of these experiements one can probably consider oneself “equal” on average to the other participant, and hence the “ideal” answer would be to split the money fifty-fifty. But an even more generous approach than other that or giving all the money would be to keep it all to “yourself” and immediately donate it to charity, on the assumption that the other player wouldn’t think to do that. I wonder if the experiements take that possibility into account?

    As for the experiment with the shekels, I fail to see how anything other than “take fifty shekels” could be the ‘right’ answer. Yes, your partner could be greedy and go for more, but why would he take the risk?

  2. #2 J. Quinton
    August 14, 2012

    “If you’re like most people who play the so-called dictator game, which has been used in numerous experiments, you will keep most of the money. In a recent study from a paper with the ominous title “God Is Watching You,” the average subject gave $1.84. Meanwhile, another group of subjects was presented with the same choice but was first asked to unscramble a sentence that contained words like “divine,” “spirit,” and “sacred.””

    Do they do any sort of control for this experiment? Because it seems pretty well established in the cognitive science literature that people will become more generous if they think that anyone is looking. Even if they subconsciously notice a poster of a pair of eyes on the wall above a coffee donation pot.

  3. #3 Verbose Stoic
    August 14, 2012

    Jason,

    I think the problem with both of your cases is that the contention here isn’t that religion is the only thing that can have those effects, but that it may be one thing. So, in the first case, they invent the social science cases to have controls. After all, while the countries you cite claim to be less religious, they also had a religion and so had a basis in that. More relevantly, they may in fact find some other way to provide those benefits, but that wouldn’t mean that religion was the only way to provide that. Thus, the artificial conditions that they can control for.

    In the second case, of the negatives, Myers and you both basically claim that these things are caused by religion without really addressing the claim that, perhaps, there is something else that causes it in both cases, or that other ideas — even ones you support — could lead to that as well. Does religion support misogyny, for example, because that’s inherent to religion, or because humans were misogynist and corrupted it to their own ends? To declare that RELIGION is bad because it was influenced by humans is a rather weak argument, and so more evidence is required. So, one can simply “Open one’s eyes” … but then one cannot be sure that one isn’t simply seeing a bent stick.

    For example, let’s look at the theocracies. Imagine that nothing else changed except the religion. Do you really think that they wouldn’t be dictatorships? After all, while one can claim that North Korea is de facto religious, the fact of the matter is that it built its dogma on pure secularism, as especially did China and the Soviet Union. When one looks at the evidence, being religious does not mean that there will be the problems that you cite nor is it the case that being free of religion ends them. Which, it seems to me, puts a bit of a damper on the “Religion poisons everything” argument, which to me is likely better expressed as “Humans poison everything”.

  4. #4 JeromeS
    August 14, 2012

    VS,

    After all, while the countries you cite claim to be less religious, they also had a religion and so had a basis in that.

    They don’t just “claim” to be less religious. They are less religious. Religion has long been in decline in both Europe and the U.S. The decline of religion has been accompanied by growing freedom, democracy, peace and prosperity.

    In the second case, of the negatives, Myers and you both basically claim that these things are caused by religion without really addressing the claim that, perhaps, there is something else that causes it in both cases

    Reigion has bad effects. The fact that other things also have bad effects is irrelevant to that point.

    When one looks at the evidence, being religious does not mean that there will be the problems that you cite

    It pretty much does. The most religious nations in the world tend to be among the poorest, most oppressive and/or most violent. Even within the United States, the most economically and socially backward part of the country (the south) is also the most religious part of the country. That’s not a coincidence.

    Which, it seems to me, puts a bit of a damper on the “Religion poisons everything” argument, which to me is likely better expressed as “Humans poison everything”.

    No, if it was just a matter of human nature we wouldn’t see the huge variation across different times and places that we do see. Culture is crucial. Religion is part of culture. And the effect of religion is overwhelmingly negative.

  5. #5 Friedrich Heß (Physiker)
    Germany
    August 15, 2012

    Über einen ehrlichen und deswegen anerkennungswürdigen Evolutionsforscher
    Als Herr Svante Pääbo einmal von Herrn Stefan Klein im ZEITmagazin beim Thema Genetik (Titel: “Alle Menschen sind miteinander verwandt”) gefragt wurde, warum die Frage, woher wir kommen, die Fantasie der Menschen dermaßen anrege, antwortete dieser, weil wir wissen wollen, wer wir eigentlich sind und weil wir hoffen, die Geschichte werde es uns verraten. Zum Schluss wurde er dann gefragt, ob er verstünde, warum sich die Menschen nach einfacheren religiösen Erklärungen sehnen und antwortete:
    (Svante Pääbo ZEITmagazin): Ich verstehe, dass Menschen, die vor existenziellen Herausforderungen stehen, religiöse Bedürfnisse haben. Die habe ich auch. Manchmal stelle ich mir vor, dass ich mit mir nahestehenden Verstorbenen geistig Kontakt aufnehmen kann. Das hilft mir dann, die Trennung zu verarbeiten. Trotzdem finde ich es naiv, an einen persönlichen Schöpfer zu glauben.
    Daraufhin wurde er gefragt, ob das nicht inkonsequent sei und er antwortete:
    (Svante Pääbo ZEITmagazin): Wer ist schon immer konsequent? Ich hatte einmal einen Doktoranden, der war fundamentalistischer Muslim. Er litt, denn natürlich glaubte er an die Schöpfung. Doch wir konnten uns einigen. Denn können wir kategorisch ausschließen, dass es einen allmächtigen und unergründlichen Gott gibt? Vielleicht ist die molekulare Evolution sein Plan, den wir nur nicht durchschauen.
    Ein zweifelsohne brillanter diplomatischer Forscher – der den Mut zur Offenheit hat. Denn diese Inkonsequenz, auf der einen Seite wie jeder Mensch, schwere Schicksalsschläge verarbeiten und am Ende den größten Verlust einsehen müsste, wohl wissend aber auf der anderen Seite die kritische Rationalität als Wissenschaftler nicht aus den Augen zu verlieren zu dürfen, führt in der gesamten Forschung zu einem Bruch der Objektivität und dies wird in ganz natürlicher Weise übersehen.
    Was ist ein persönlicher Gott? Ist es ein deistischer Gott, der die Dominoreihe anschubst, und wer schubst dann seine Existenz auf die gleiche Weise an und in diesem Moment meinen Gedanken, ganz gleich wie abstrakt und allgemein sich dieser über das Ganze vorentwickelt, gefangen in der Detektion einer Kernspinresonanz? Genau hier beginnt die Naivität und Inkonsequenz der naturwissenschaftlichen Forschung letztendlich durch uns alle, da wir glauben, unsere Gedanken seinen prinzipiell materiell nicht existent, nicht detektierbar, unterschlagen diese, wie von Geisterhand und eben „Totengeistern“. Ist diese Kette aller „fallenden Dominosteine“, seiner ganzen Verzweigungen, dann eine Menge, genauer die Menge aller möglichen Mengen und existiert diese? Und mit welcher bildet diese eine Identität mit der Russelschen Antinomie oder Ihrem exakten Gegenteil? Wir können also behaupten, dass wir selbst dort drinnen nicht enthalten seien, dann müssten wir selbst die Obermenge der Russelschen Antinomie verkörpern, und könnten damit unsere Klasse nicht mehr ad hoc verbieten, um ein Widerspruch zu bilden, also eben wie dann zu erwarten ist nicht existieren, durch solche unmögliche Gedanken. Daraus folgt dann das Gegenteil, und diese Menge, all der Mengen, die sich selbst enthalten, bildet mit der Menge aller Mengen eine Identität (Johannes 6 NT), die Russelsche Menge schließt sich also auch dadurch ganz aus. Enthält sich die Menge aller Mengen, könnten wir uns fragen und schon würde in unsere Endlichkeit die Allmenge aufs Neue hineinlegt, unendlich oft. Wir liegen aber eben in dieser und der Grund, warum diese über alle Zeiten sich selbst enthält, liegt daran, dass der bereits dargelegte Widerspruchsbeweis, über alle Zeiten, schon längst über alle Zeiten gesetzt ist, auch das Nachvollziehen in der Gegenwart, man denke auch dabei etwa an die vollständige Induktion. Dass auch Allgemeingültigkeit, man denke an die physikalischen Gesetze, immer gilt, liegt daran, weil das determiniert ist, also so beschlossen ist. Der lebensunmögliche ewigliche Zustand des Big Chill müsste also schon längst aus statistischen Gründen eingetroffen sein und das ist nicht der Fall, weil der Zufall unendlich, also in einem unendlichen Willen, in dem wir gesetzt sind, ausgeschlossen ist. Sonst wäre also dieser Wahn, diese Staubwolke des Big Chill, gleich einer allumfassenden Nuklearexplosion aus den besagten statistischen Gründen längst eingetreten. Aktuell und in einem endlichen Rahmen kann angenommen werden, dass die Entropie zunimmt, aber auf sehr lange Sicht, endet diese nicht in der Divergenz, im Kältetod, sondern die unendliche Real-Existenz gegen den Zufall, wie ich es ausdrücken würde, endet, weil partikuläre Systeme, eben nie abgeschlossen sein können, in ewiger Existenz einer Persönlichkeit, die nun verstanden werden kann, in der wir gesetzt wandeln. Sie werden also, wenn auch in für Sie nicht vorstellbaren Zeit- oder Entwicklungsabschnitten zurückgerufen, weil alles andere ausgeschlossen ist. Weitere Informationen stelle ich unter https://sites.google.com/site/jesusistelija/ dort dann unter Konsequenzen einer bestimmten Welt, Nathanprogramm, Jesus ein wachsendes Vermächtnis, bereit. Bitte die Adresse genau in Ihre Adressleiste kopieren. Gott kann also nur in Bestimmung bewiesen werden, weil er sonst ganz durch das Erklärungswerk unserer Unvollkommenheit, der Immanenz relativiert würde. Ich schicke das noch nicht einmal als Leserbrief, sondern nur als Kommentar, als Anregung, still und leise, den Wert dieser Nachricht einzuschätzen, stelle ich dem Leser allerdings anheim und vielleicht darf ich darauf hoffen, dass die Redaktion diesen Artikel nicht kürzt.

  6. #6 Verbose Stoic
    August 15, 2012

    JeromeS,

    They don’t just “claim” to be less religious. They are less religious. Religion has long been in decline in both Europe and the U.S. The decline of religion has been accompanied by growing freedom, democracy, peace and prosperity.

    Well, first, you miss the actual point which is that while they may be less religious — ie in terms of actual religious attendence — they started from a religious base that created many of their social institutions, so it’s hard to say that the good behaviour you’re seeing is uninfluenced by religion. Hence, as I pointed out, the need for the artifiical tests.

    Second, you have a correlation, but correlation is not causation. It is just as likely — and in fact more likely — that as society’s improve religion fades into the background. Add in that religion and education are negatively correlated and that better societies tend to be more educated, and your data gives absolutely no reason to think that the cause of the better society is the removal of religion.

    Reigion has bad effects. The fact that other things also have bad effects is irrelevant to that point.

    Well, see, my argument was that you don’t know whether it’s religion that has those bad effects, or whether there is something else that corrupts religion and those other things to have the exact same bad effects. History has pretty much shown that you don’t need a religious basis to do those bad things, as fully secular societies — the Soviet Union, China, North Korea — aimed for full secularity and didn’t produce any sort of freedom or prosperity. So, again, how do you know that it isn’t the case that any principle, no matter how noble, won’t be corrupted in the same way?

    This is actually very important because if you refuse to ask these questions then you risk whatever you use to replace religion in determining how we act and in building the social order becoming equally corrupted and thus being just as bad.

    It pretty much does. The most religious nations in the world tend to be among the poorest, most oppressive and/or most violent. Even within the United States, the most economically and socially backward part of the country (the south) is also the most religious part of the country. That’s not a coincidence.

    Again, you confuse correlation with causation. Additionally, you don’t ask why that is. Is it something inherent to religion, or something else? Noting that even in supposedly non-religious countries religion has played a major role, it’s also not a very strong argument to say that somehow being religious means that you’ll be oppressive or violent or poor.

    No, if it was just a matter of human nature we wouldn’t see the huge variation across different times and places that we do see. Culture is crucial. Religion is part of culture. And the effect of religion is overwhelmingly negative.

    But the same thing could be said of religion, then, since the vast majority of human cultures possessed religion and were, in fact, fairly fervent about it at times. So how can religion be the cause if it’s been there consistently across all those differences? Additionally, that religion’s influence has been overwhelmingly negative across all cultures in human historiy seems patently false, as we can name various massive benefits to it in various circumstances, usually when things were at their worst. Even Hitchens couldn’t deny the benefits religion provided, but he said that you could get those benefits other ways. The coutner to that is that you can of course also get those negatives other ways, so if there being other ways to get the benefits means that religion doesn’t get the credit for those benefits, that there are other ways to get the negatives also means that religion doesn’t get the blame for those negatives.

    Essentially, the argument needed here is that there is something inherent to religion that produces those negatives. Since it seems to me to be trivial to imagine a religion that doesn’t have those negatives, this seems absolutely false, but perhaps you could actually demonstrate that I am wrong.

  7. #7 MNb
    August 15, 2012

    @JeromeS: “The most religious nations in the world tend to be among the poorest, most oppressive and/or most violent.”
    Well, the very religious countries of South-America – I happen to live in one of them – still do not feel the global crisis. Economies do pretty well over here. So I am with VS that things are more complicated. They usually are.

    @VS: “the fact of the matter is that it built its dogma on pure secularism, as especially did China and the Soviet Union.”
    And now you are guilty of oversimplification. Maoism and Marxism-Leninism were belief systems. Secularism means separation of religion and state. North-Korea, China and the Soviet-Union typically did not separate belief system and state, very much the opposite.

  8. #8 James Sweet
    August 15, 2012

    I’m being a broken record here, but this just comes up so often… There are three questions, entirely independent questions, that often get conflated for some reason (along with my answers):

    1) Is any given religion true? (Don’t hold your breath, buddy.)
    2) In the optimal conditions, is religion inherently a net positive or a net negative. (I can’t say, and I really think the jury is very much still out. People may have their own gut intuitions on this topic — I know I do — but the evidence is conflicting. There are tantalizing hints that religious belief holds some benefit for some people some of the time, but it is not clear whether the results are generalizable, nor is it clear that it is worth the potential downsides even under the best conditions. It’s simply too soon to say.)
    3) Is religion as it is generally practiced now a net positive or a net negative? (Aaaaaaaaand, this is why I’m a gnu. I have as little doubt about the answer to this question as I do over the first. I don’t know if the world would be a better place with no religion, but I do know it would be better with a whole lot less. And that’s the only question that needs answering right now.)

    So let’s posthumously resubtitle it with the more accurate, “How Religion Poisons So Many Important Things That It’s Hardly Worth Bothering About The Few Things It Doesn’t Poison,” and move on.

    Okay, now that was funny! Bravo.

  9. #9 Verbose Stoic
    August 15, 2012

    MNb,

    And now you are guilty of oversimplification. Maoism and Marxism-Leninism were belief systems. Secularism means separation of religion and state. North-Korea, China and the Soviet-Union typically did not separate belief system and state, very much the opposite.

    I actually don’t deny that at all, but point out that that’s rather my point: their belief systems were not religious — and so would not be filtered out under secularism — and were in fact purely secular — at least, by their claims — and yet they did indeed do similarly bad things. So secular belief systems aren’t necessarily any better than religious belief systems.

    And I suggest that if you try to build a state that doesn’t have any belief system at all that it will either be impossible or absolutely horrific.

  10. #10 eric
    August 15, 2012

    Lenoxus:

    As for the experiment with the shekels, I fail to see how anything other than “take fifty shekels” could be the ‘right’ answer.

    Taking less would be the right answer if the bonus was a multiple (greater than 1) of the remainder. In that case, the right strategy is for both people to initially take nothing and then split the bigger pot that results from the bonus.

    But this just reinforces the point that there is no way to tell from the description what the ‘religious kibbutz-residents took less” results mean. It could mean they were more generous. Or it could mean they played the game stupider. Or that they played the game smarter. We can’t know without more details about the game.

  11. #11 eric
    August 15, 2012

    VS:

    they started from a religious base that created many of their social institutions, so it’s hard to say that the good behaviour you’re seeing is uninfluenced by religion.

    They started with a religious base of polytheism; the Norse gods. (Unlike Christianity), this was reasonably specific to the countries under discussion – so the corelation between prosperous nonreligious society now and Odin-worship in the past is stronger than the correlation between prosperous nonreligious society now and Jesus-worship in the past.

    So, anyone making this ‘religious root’ argument should be willing to attribute more of the current Scandinavian social prosperity to their Norse religion than to Christianity.

    Somehow, I very much doubt the users of this argument will do so. IOW, they are insincere in this line of reasoning; they won’t take it to its logical conclusion. They might say ‘religion,’ but most really mean ‘Christianity.’

  12. #12 Blaine
    August 15, 2012

    Wow!
    “Still, a growing body of research suggests that religion or religious ideas, in certain circumstances, in some people, can elicit the kind of behavior that is generally good for society: fairness, generosity, honesty. At the very least, when you read the literature, it becomes difficult to confidently assert that religion, despite the undeniable evil it has sometimes inspired, is entirely toxic.”

    Let me paraphrase. ‘Studies have shown that in some circumstances, in some places, even a blind squirrel can find a nut.’
    Or
    ‘Studies have shown that in some circumstances shitting off the Empire State Building would hit and kill a criminal thus doing some possible good. So shitting off the Empire State Building can do some good in some circumstances and is not entirely toxic.

    Religion is about regulating and enforcing the morals of the in-group vs out-group through stories, myths and gossip. Out-groups are generally dealt with in a vicious manner if they show signs of rejecting in-group morality.

    As Patricia Churchland said, dispatching religion is like shooting fish in a barrel.

    Or as once written on a Fine Hall blackboard: ‘It’s not that we’re not confused. We are, but about harder and more important things.’

  13. #13 Ian Kemmish
    August 15, 2012

    As a Western European, I notice that, in general, those in my country who actively pursue a particular faith do indeed give more freely to charitable causes than those who don’t, so I’m not entirely sure what that rhetorical flourish about us in the middle of this article is about!

    On a more, ahem, scientific, basis, I’d point out that this appears to be yet another in that endless stream of articles that conflates “religion” with “two or three sects within the Abrahamic faith”. If you carry on like that, you’re unlikely ever to reach any good, general conclusions. If you want to know what religion is good for, why not start “at the beginning”, with animism?

  14. #14 Eric Lund
    August 15, 2012

    James Sweet @0819 raises an important point: that the way religions (at least the monotheistic ones) are allegedly designed to be practiced differs substantially from how they actually are practiced. The idealized ethical system laid out in the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels has much to recommend it, but as others have pointed out (Mark Twain and Gandhi among them), hardly anybody (and certainly not the people who so loudly call themselves Christians) actually practices this system. Similar comments can be made about Islam.

    There is evidence from history that religious zealotry is harmful to the progress of nations. For most of the past 500 years the Islamic world has significantly lagged the Western world in technology and science, but 800 years ago the reverse was true. Most surviving ancient Greek manuscripts came to us by this route, and Muslim scholars developed a fair amount of foundational mathematics (algebra and algorithm are words of Arabic origin). But a wave of fundamentalism (possibly aided by the Crusades) swept the Muslim world in the 13th century, and these countries have generally not been on the cutting edge of science since then.

  15. #15 Mu
    August 15, 2012

    The big stick of the New Atheist movement is the easy claim the all religion is evil because all religions are somewhere against someone, making them not 100% inclusive to every individual. A hypothetical church that brings world peace, supports scientific advance, ends hunger and provides free healthcare for everyone is evil if it decides to exclude all red heads. Despite 99% of the word being so much better off it would have to be fought because of the injustice to red heads.
    Only an ideal world governed by pure reasoning is acceptable – unless pure thought leads to Nietzsche, and you have an atheist evil exclusionary society.

  16. #16 eric
    August 15, 2012

    A hypothetical church that brings world peace, supports scientific advance, ends hunger and provides free healthcare for everyone is evil if it decides to exclude all red heads.

    I somewhat disagree. There are people who are going to argue that any hypothetical movement (faith or otherwise) which does wonderfully good things, is still corrupt at heart if it knowingly perpetrates a lie in order to get people to do those good things. In that respect, I agree with you, that argument is out there, being made by some gnu atheists as well as others in the arguments general, moral question form (is it right to bring about a good end through deception).

    But that, IMO, is not the focus of what people like Harris and Dawkins say about religion(s). They are making comments about the actual religions we have. About how they have historically behaved – e.g. towards women. And that these behaviors have lead to great real suffering.

  17. #17 Wow
    August 15, 2012

    Ian, your recollection is incorect.

    The balance is tiped by two things

    1 when the religious give money, it’s most likely to their church. Who build their buildings and this is not charity. The church often requires promotion and following the faith as requirements for geting the aid. Atheists have no church an atach no dogma to the money.

    2 churches are tax exempt, the remainder being taken up by the other taxpayers.

  18. #18 Deepak Shetty
    August 15, 2012

    @Verbose stoic
    Which, it seems to me, puts a bit of a damper on the “Religion poisons everything” argument, which to me is likely better expressed as “Humans poison everything”.
    Because surely its not Nazism or Fascism or Racism forms of thought that are problematic- It’s just that Humans poison everything.

  19. #19 Jim Harrison
    San Francisco
    August 15, 2012

    It’s a good thing that truth or falsity are irrelevant when it comes to promoting ideologies because lord knows these arguments about whether religion is good or not would be pretty ridiculous if you took them seriously as history or sociology. You might as well have an argument about whether clockwise is good or bad.

    Since religion has been mobilized in the service of every conceivable cause over the last several thousand years, it just doesn’t mean very much to announce that it is progressive or regressive. The only sensible thing to say is that it depends, and what fun is that? For example, anybody who actually knows some history can easily come up with a narrative about how religion has furthered the social and moral condition of women—think of the high status of virgins and widows in the early Christian church or the way in which moral causes like abolitionism gave American ladies a route to meaningful political activity in the 19th Century. Of course, as everybody knows, it is just as easy to tell the story the other way around. Or do you want to claim that Christianity was the great opponent of science. Step right up. Easy to do. Almost as easy as making the opposite case. Is Sweden one of the most secular nations on earth? Yep, but the precondition of that fact is that it was the first nation on earth to achieve universal literacy, something that occurred because the Lutheran church insisted on it. Ironies abound.
    Since religion doesn’t have any bones in it—unless of course the Catholics are right about that Holy Ghost business!—there is no unchanging essence to praise or denounce.

  20. #20 jane
    August 15, 2012

    Ian Kemmis – Right on. There were plenty of Native American religions that had nothing to do with the Hebrew tribal deity, and tenets of those religions that seem almost to have been designed to help people live in an environment long-term without going into overshoot and starving en masse.

    Returning to monotheism, as for the “religious places are backwards” argument, it could also be the reverse, that if you are effectively doomed to be poor no matter what you do, you are more likely to put your emotional energy into finding happiness through religion (which might work) than into finding happiness through the consumption of goods and services (which cannot work, unless perhaps you belong to a small, lucky elite). Places that are poor tend either to be isolated or lacking in important material resources, or to be peripheral states whose wealth has been sucked out to support an imperial center, or both. I am not aware of any citations to support the theory that getting religion will cause you to have less water (although it may indeed cause you to get more screwed by the empire of the day, depending on which religion you choose).

  21. #21 Michael Fugate
    August 15, 2012

    It is interesting how things like literacy come back and bite religion on the ass – reading the Bible for yourself can be enlightening – just not in Christianity’s favor….

  22. #22 Neil Rickert
    August 15, 2012

    I follow a couple of Christian blogs on patheos. For most of what they post, it is hard to distinguish them from atheist bloggers.

    To which a New Atheist would reply that after removing the obscurantic, cruel and lunatic ideas, very little of religion remains.

    Yes, that is pretty much it.

    If you like tradition, and you welcome the social aspects of religion, then maybe there is something in it for you. But you won’t find much more than tradition and social support systems, once you eliminate the crazy.

  23. #23 Blaine
    August 15, 2012

    Some of you might find the following interesting:
    In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence (Blackwell Public Philosophy Series) by John Teehan(2010)
    http://www.amazon.com/Name-God-Evolutionary-Religious-Philosophy/dp/1405183810/ref=sr_1_48?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1345057860&sr=1-48&keywords=god+name

  24. #24 Dan L.
    August 15, 2012

    These “evolutionary religious scholars” should try to study the effect of religiosity in the Milgram experiment. My hypothesis: religious people are probably much more likely to do immoral things when an authority figure tells them to.

    Yeah, it’s complicated, but religion seems to me to serve mainly as a means for unscrupulous people to exploit the scared and credulous.

  25. #25 Wow
    August 15, 2012

    Dan, that isnt a religious person trait.

  26. #26 MNb
    August 15, 2012

    @Eric Lund: “Muslim scholars developed a fair amount of foundational mathematics.”
    Actually scholars from India taught them those foundational mathematics. While it’s true that Western Europe (Byzantium is a different story) was incredibly backward due to centuries of Barbarian Invasions the islamic cultures did not develop much new knowledge themselves. Their scholars were better at conservation and reworking.
    It’s also known when stagnation began: the destruction of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258.

    @Dan L: That would interesting indeed.

    “religion seems to me to serve mainly as a means for unscrupulous people to exploit the scared and credulous.”
    I am not sure about that “mainly”, but you don’t need to be a scholar in history that religion is well fit for it. It’s how the pope won the Investiture Controversy.

    Until now in human history every single society organized by means of a political system used religion to ensure loyalty. Every single one stagnated at one point and experienced a downfall, ultimately going down.
    It will be interesting to see if the secular systems will be more stable. The first signs are hopeful. Europese countries survived decolonization.
    Absence of religion is not a sufficient condition though. This tribe never complicated things:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirahã_people

    Contradicts pretty much though that mankind is naturally religious.

  27. #27 JeromeS
    August 15, 2012

    Well, first, you miss the actual point which is that while they may be less religious — ie in terms of actual religious attendence — they started from a religious base

    All societies “started from a religious base.” The point is society has improved as religion has declined. The best societies in the world today are among the least religious. The worst societies are among the most religious. You want us to believe that’s a coincidence. I think your claim is absurd.

    … your data gives absolutely no reason to think that the cause of the better society is the removal of religion.

    The rise of science and democracy is directly linked to the decline of religious doctrines and authorities. The Enlightenment was the rejection of religious sources of knowledge and morality (divine revelation, sacred scriptures, prophets, popes, pontiffs etc.) in favor of the secular sources of science and reason.

    Well, see, my argument was that you don’t know whether it’s religion that has those bad effects

    No, we do know that it’s religion. The catalog of atrocities ordered, condoned or perpetrated by God in the Bible? Religion. The absurd moral teachings that fill the Old Testament? Religion again. The doctrine of eternal punishment in Hell? Religion. The endless wars of Christian against Muslim and Catholic against Protestant? Religion yet again.

    But the same thing could be said of religion, then, since the vast majority of human cultures possessed religion and were, in fact, fairly fervent about it at times. So how can religion be the cause if it’s been there consistently across all those differences?

    Huh? The same thing IS true of religion. Culture matters. It’s not just a matter of human nature. Some religions are much worse than others. Christianity is much more harmful than Buddhism, for example.

    Additionally, that religion’s influence has been overwhelmingly negative across all cultures in human historiy seems patently false, as we can name various massive benefits to it in various circumstances, usually when things were at their worst.

    National Socialism also had benefits. It brought Germany out the Depression. It united the German people. It made the trains run on time. Just because an ideology or belief system produces certain benefits for certain people at certain times doesn’t mean it’s a positive influence on the world. The influence of religion is overwhelmingly negative.

  28. #28 JeromeS
    August 15, 2012

    For example, anybody who actually knows some history can easily come up with a narrative about how religion has furthered the social and moral condition of women—think of the high status of virgins and widows in the early Christian church or the way in which moral causes like abolitionism gave American ladies a route to meaningful political activity in the 19th Century. Of course, as everybody knows, it is just as easy to tell the story the other way around.

    Yes, that’s the problem with “narratives.” You can create a narrative to say anything. That’s why if we want to discover the truth we need to use the methods of science and reason, not “narratives.” The idea that Christianity has been a positive force for political and social equality for women is preposterous. Christianity has preached and institutionalized the subjugation of women for its entire history. Christian churches fought tooth and nail against every major political and social reform to provide equality to women — the right to vote, access to contraception and abortion, freedom from discrimination in education and the workplace, the Equal Rights Amendment, and so on. And they defended their position with explicit appeals to Christian scripture and tradition. Today, Christian churches are virtually the only remaining institutions in western society that exclude women from positions and opportunities available to men.

  29. #29 makeinu
    August 15, 2012

    Does religion support misogyny, for example, because that’s inherent to religion, or because humans were misogynist and corrupted it to their own ends? To declare that RELIGION is bad because it was influenced by humans is a rather weak argument, and so more evidence is required.

    I’m sorry, but that’s a completely specious argument. RELIGION is a purely human invention. It’s not some “thing” that exists separate from humans and their behaviour, and to deny that RELIGION codifies misogyny and other forms of discrimination diminishes your argument to meaninglessness.

  30. #30 Dan L.
    August 15, 2012

    @Wow:

    ?

    @Mnb:

    I dunno, human reasoning does seem to be flawed in ways that foster religion — agency detection, pareidolia, and everything. But I think you’re right that the Piraha show that it’s possible for culture to correct for a lot of that nonsense. On the other hand, the Piraha do believe in spirits and a sort of mythological multi-layered cosmology that includes the “dream world.”

  31. #31 Jim Harrison
    August 15, 2012

    Jerome–

    You appeal to the methods of science and reason. Do these methods include knowledge of previous eras in their specificity or do you have special knowledge of what happened in the past because you’ve got an amazing reason-o-scope? The rest of us, alas, are stuck with reading books and other documents to figure out what happened. With that handicap, it’s no wonder things don’t look so clear cut for us.

    By the way, you write “Christian churches are virtually the only remaining institutions in western society that exclude women from positions and opportunities available to men.” That’s a strange statement since there are many Christian denominations that have female clergy. If you mean to assert that reactionary religious groups are reactionary, you’re right of course but you’re not taking too many chances in making this bold claim.

    Let me ask you some questions for you to answer solely for yourself. Do you really know your ass from your elbow about the actual history of, say, Protestantism in the U.S. in the 19th Century? Have you really checked to see whether the status of women in the early church was better or worse than it was among the pagans? Since religious movements, like other human institutions, work with or against the prevailing opinions and practices of their time, surely you can’t make blanket statements about whether they are progressive or regressive without looking at the societies in which they work. Have you done that? Ever?

  32. #32 JeromeS
    August 15, 2012

    MNb,
    Well, the very religious countries of South-America – I happen to live in one of them – still do not feel the global crisis. Economies do pretty well over here.

    The most prosperous country in South America is Argentina, but even Argentina is quite poor by first-world standards, with a GDP per capita only about one-third that of the U.S. and less than half that of western Europe. Chile is about the same. Most of the remaining countries are much poorer still. South America also has a long history of political oppression and instability, and brutal human rights abuses. So I’m not sure why anyone would cite it as an example of the supposed positive influence of religion.

    As seems to be the case almost everywhere, the poorest people in South America tend to be the most religious. Poverty and religion go hand in hand.

  33. #33 JeromeS
    August 15, 2012

    Jim Harrison,

    You appeal to the methods of science and reason. Do these methods include knowledge of previous eras in their specificity or do you have special knowledge of what happened in the past because you’ve got an amazing reason-o-scope? The rest of us, alas, are stuck with reading books and other documents to figure out what happened. With that handicap, it’s no wonder things don’t look so clear cut for us.

    No, the reason things don’t look so clear-cut to you is because you have a sanitized, sentimentalized view of religion that is not consistent with modern or historical reality.

    By the way, you write “Christian churches are virtually the only remaining institutions in western society that exclude women from positions and opportunities available to men.” That’s a strange statement since there are many Christian denominations that have female clergy.

    I have no idea why you think the fact that many Christian denominations have female clergy in any way conflicts with what I wrote. The single largest Christian sect is the Catholic Church. As you may know, the Catholic Church does not allow women to become priests. Neither does the Orthodox Church. The Catholic Church led the fight against allowing women access to contraception, a fight it is still waging in the developing world. It also leads the fight against legal abortion around the world. Control over one’s fertility is crucial to political and social equality. If women cannot control how many children they have and when they have them, they will never be equal. The Catholic Church has been fighting tooth and nail against equality for women for its entire existence.

    Among Protestants, the largest denomination in the U.S. is the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC reserves leadership roles in the church to men, and teaches that wives should “submit” to the leadership of their husbands. And they justify these teachings with explicit appeals to the Christian scriptures. Many other Protestant denominations have similar teachings. The fastest-growing church in the U.S. is the LDS Church. It too excludes women from the priesthood.

  34. #34 Dan L.
    August 15, 2012

    @Jim Harrison:

    Are you arguing that religion has only ever had good effects? That it has no effects at all?

    I’m also seeing this “early church” phrase come up a few times without any specifics or references. I’m smelling BS. Be specific: who, where, when?

  35. #35 Jim Harrison
    August 15, 2012

    Beats me why anybody would think I’m writing as an apologist for religion. Since Christianity was culturally dominant during the last two thousand years of European history, almost everything that happened, good and bad, has had a religious dimension. To claim that it was religion that was the cause of the good or the bad is a strange move. Religion was bad? Compared to what? There really was no alternative during most of those centuries. You guys are on a rag about religion so you chalk everything up to it. That’s convenient, but rather arbitrary. Do you really think that the lights would have automatically come on in the Dark Ages if it weren’t for the damned Popes?

    About the period of the early Church. When the shit hit the fan during the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, it was largely the bishops who maintained what order and civilization was possible granted the triumph of barbarism. I’m certainly not a fan of Christianity, but that’s just a fact. It’s also a fact that women played a key role in the early years of the church. Read the letters of St. Jerome (not the comments of Jerome S) some time. That said, it’s also true that the church relegated women to a subordinate role politically, but then so did traditional Roman society and essentially all the societies of that era. By the way, whatever you think of Christianity, the Roman culture it supplanted was astonishingly brutal, which is part of the reason that even pagan authors acknowledged that the practical charity and personal morality of the Christians were an improvement on what took place in the arenas.

    I object to coarse Manichean theories of history propounded by people who don’t show a huge hell of a lot of evidence that they know any history at all. If I were writing to people who were claiming that Christianity has been all roses and ponies, I would cite very different cases in making the same point to different folks.

  36. #36 Dan L.
    August 15, 2012

    @Jim Harrison:

    Notice that my post consisted only of questions. I think yours is a pretty reasonable view. The “early church” stuff makes me suspicious because from what little I know early Christianity was very diverse in terms of beliefs and practices and the Catholic church isn’t necessarily representative of that diversity.

    The Romans were bastards, no doubt about that.

  37. #37 JeromeS
    August 15, 2012

    To claim that it was religion that was the cause of the good or the bad is a strange move.

    Why is it “strange” to claim that religion has had — and continues to have — a huge influence on human behavior?

    Religion was bad? Compared to what?

    Secular liberal democracy.

    There really was no alternative during most of those centuries.

    Huh? Why was there no alternative? Why did human history have to unfold in the way it did? Why couldn’t it have been different? You seem to be suggesting some sort of predestination.

    That said, it’s also true that the church relegated women to a subordinate role politically, but then so did traditional Roman society and essentially all the societies of that era. By the way, whatever you think of Christianity, the Roman culture it supplanted was astonishingly brutal, which is part of the reason that even pagan authors acknowledged that the practical charity and personal morality of the Christians were an improvement on what took place in the arenas.

    The claim that some other religion or civilization was worse is not a defense of Christianity. The Vietnam War may have been worse than the Iraq War. That doesn’t mean the Iraq War was a good thing.

    In any case, the more important question is not the effect of religion in the past, about which we can do nothing, but the effect of religion in the world today. And for the reasons Hitchens and Dawkins and Harris and Dennett and many others have explained, that effect is overwhelmingly harmful.

  38. #38 Wow
    August 16, 2012

    The demand for control over another woman’s uterus is founded on religion.

    Rejection of contraceptives is based on religion.

    Demands on two people being disallowed from marriage because they’re gay is founded on religion.

  39. #39 Wow
    August 16, 2012

    Jim,’explain how religion wasn’t the cause.

    If you’re going to witter on about the real issues being hidden from the peons behind some religious facade, therefore religion not beingbthe cause, you’re wrong.

    How many kings or cardinals or oprime ministers would go in towar on their todd?

    None.

    Without a lot of other people to do the dying, leaders don’t do war. It risks their life.

    So by using religion, which has taught unthinking obedience to orders and that any atrocity can be justified if you’re told god said it was fine, these teribke things can happen.

  40. #40 Wow
    August 16, 2012

    Dan, 9:1 ???

  41. #41 MNb
    August 16, 2012

    @JeromeS: “The most prosperous country in South America is Argentina, but even Argentina is quite poor by first-world standards, with a GDP per capita only about one-third that of the U.S”
    In economy relative standards are preferred to absolute ones. By no means you can argue that religion is the decisive factor here given the high religiosity of the same USA. Like I wrote things never are that simple.

  42. #42 Dan L.
    August 16, 2012

    @Wow:

    I suspect you’re just baiting me. Never mind, you’re not worth trying to engage anyway.

  43. #43 Jim Harrison
    August 16, 2012

    I don’t object to blaming every human evil on religion because the claim hurts somebody’s feelings. I object because the claim is obviously false. Treating religion or Christianity as if it were a single thing with an unchanging essence is not a lot more credible or, for that matter, different than the chalking up the troubles of mankind to the malignity of a literal Satan.

    JeromeS seems to think that his preference for secular liberal democracy is relevant to making judgments about history as if secular liberal democracy were something that could have been willed into existence at any time if only people decide to be rational. Well, my Dad used to say that wherever you are, you’re someplace. You’re also some when, which means people are faced with the very specific problems and opportunities of their times. Nobody, not even the most powerful political and religious leaders, can treat the future like a blank piece of paper and design a world after his own whim. Secular liberal democracy just wasn’t a possibility until fairly recently. You do know that, don’t you? By way, to note that people don’t have limitless choices is not to subscribe to some sort of determinism. Individuals and societies have options; but their options are always bounded. This is news?

    If you’re going to look at history as a struggle between reason and passion or enlightenment and ignorance or good and evil, you’ll find that the fault lines run as often or more often inside religion as between religion and some other institution. It could have hardly been otherwise, especially in eras when almost all educated or even simply literate people were clerics.

  44. #44 Tim Martin
    United States
    August 16, 2012

    With all this talk about what religion is and isn’t responsible for, have we even bothered to define it?

    I read a lot of atheist blogs, and I am aware of only one blogger (Eric MacDonald) who has made explicit the definition of religion that he uses (and still, it seems to me that he doesn’t always stick to it.) There may be other bloggers who have done the same, but I think it’s safe to say the number is very small. As a result, when I read atheist blogs that blame religion for X, I literally don’t know what they’re saying is to blame for X. You can break “religion” down into many things, such as “adherence to dogma,” or “suppression of doubt,” or “encouraging belief without evidence,” or “performance of rituals” – some of these things are causative factors of the kinds of religious ills that atheists write about, others aren’t. Why don’t more people break “religion” down into its components?

    Take PZ’s claim that religion encourages misogyny, for example. What would falsify that statement? I would think that the existence of believers who are nonetheless progressive and feminist would falsify it. If you say that A causes B, but not all the time, then it’s clearly not A that causes B. So then PZ might modify his statement to say “A tends to cause B.” Ok, great. Why does it happen sometimes, but not other times? How does A cause B? When it comes to misogyny and religion, it probably isn’t the belief in god, or the practicing of rituals, that are to blame. It’s probably the adherence to dogma and suppression of rational thought that are to blame (just to give some likely examples). These are scientific questions to ask, and I agree with the “anti-new atheists” when they say that atheists aren’t always scientific. If you don’t want to break religion down into its atomic parts and understand cause and effect on a more meticulous level, you aren’t being scientific. I understand that atheist bloggers are primarily interested in fighting a battle against religion, not with studying it. But I see no reason to discourage understanding by avoiding defining one’s terms, and by grouping a number of different things under one word, “religion.”

  45. #45 JeromeS
    August 16, 2012

    There’s probably no entirely satisfactory definition of religion, but I like Steve Bruce’s definition. I think it encompasses every major variant of what is generally regarded as religion:

    Beliefs, actions and institutions predicated on the existence of entities with powers of agency (that is, gods) or impersonal powers or processes possessed of moral purpose (the Hindu notion of Karma, for example), which can set the conditions of, or intervene in, human affairs.

  46. #46 Tim Martin
    August 16, 2012

    I will say I’m fond of the definition Eric MacDonald chose to use, which is from Scott Atran:

    …religion is (1) a community’s costly and hard-to-fake commitment (2) to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents (3) who master people’s existential anxieties, such as death and deception (4).

    Since we atheists talk so often about social ills, I really like the fact that this definition includes the word costly. I think this might one of the things that really does, on a basic level, cause some of the ills associated with religion. Humans who are paying a price want to see others pay that price as well. So they seek to control others, and brand their behavior as deviant. This could come from the human (primate?) desire for fairness run amok.

  47. #47 JeromeS
    August 16, 2012

    Take PZ’s claim that religion encourages misogyny, for example. What would falsify that statement?

    I don’t think all religions necessarily encourage misogyny, but the major ones certainly do. The Bible and the Koran contain numerous teachings that encourage or explicitly demand a lower status for women than men. And it’s not just the sacred writings of these religions that demean women, but the preaching of their leaders and the rules and structures of their institutions, such as the Catholic priesthood and Sharia law in Islam.

  48. #48 Dan L.
    August 16, 2012

    @Jim Harrison:

    I’m with you that defining “religion” is a step that should be taken much more often in criticizing religion, but your reasoning completely ran off the rails:

    Take PZ’s claim that religion encourages misogyny, for example. What would falsify that statement? I would think that the existence of believers who are nonetheless progressive and feminist would falsify it. If you say that A causes B, but not all the time, then it’s clearly not A that causes B.

    You see the problem? The existence of progressive believers does not logically contradict the assertion that religion encourages misogyny.

    So then PZ might modify his statement to say “A tends to cause B.” Ok, great. Why does it happen sometimes, but not other times? How does A cause B? When it comes to misogyny and religion, it probably isn’t the belief in god, or the practicing of rituals, that are to blame. It’s probably the adherence to dogma and suppression of rational thought that are to blame (just to give some likely examples).

    Is “belief in god” — an entity whose existence can only be confirmed by revelation or authority — actually distinct from “adherence to dogma” or “suppression of rational thought”? Is “practicing rituals” actually distinct from “suppression of rational thought” (this one’s a little trickier but very satisfying once you understand it)?

  49. #49 Dan L.
    August 16, 2012

    Oops, emphases don’t show up in blockquotes. Jim, you switched verbs in mid-argument. “Encourages” does not mean the same thing as “causes.” Dirty move.

  50. #50 JeromeS
    August 16, 2012

    I don’t object to blaming every human evil on religion because the claim hurts somebody’s feelings. I object because the claim is obviously false.

    This assertion might be relevant if anyone actually had blamed “every” human evil on religion. Keep hitting those strawmen, Jim.

    Treating religion or Christianity as if it were a single thing with an unchanging essence is not a lot more credible or, for that matter,

    Yet another strawman. Christianity has many different sects and groups with significant variation in teachings and practises. In that sense, it obviously isn’t “a single thing.” That fact does not in any way conflict with the conclusion that the overall effect of Christianity is harmful.

    By the way, what is “essence” of Christianity and how has it changed?

    Secular liberal democracy just wasn’t a possibility until fairly recently.

    Why not? Simply asserting this is not an argument. In any case, as I said, the more important questions concern not religion in the past, which we can’t do anything about, but religion in the world today. Secular liberal democracy is most definitely possible in the world today, because we have numerous examples of it.

  51. #51 Jim Harrison
    August 16, 2012

    Surely whether particular religions at particular times and places have a tendency to intensify or lessen misogyny depends upon the society it is embedded in and works to change. And religions are not necessarily self consistent on this point or any other. From a modern perspective, most societies have been extremely misogynistic, so that remarks from clerics that would sound alarming when coming from a modern mouth tell us more about the state of opinion at the time than something specific about religion.

    I was reading some remarks of David Hume’s the other day. He’s usually counted as an enlightenment philosopher and a promoter of respect for women. He certainly valued their company and believed that the more visible presence of women in the society of his day was having an improving effect on civilization. Nevertheless, he obviously didn’t think that women are the intellectual equals of men or are likely to ever be their equals. Indeed, he wrote as much. Was he a misogynist?

    PZ knows a great deal about developmental biology, but if he knows a huge hell of a lot about social history, he’s keeping it quiet. Surely history is at least as hard to figure out as zebra fish.

  52. #52 Wow
    August 16, 2012

    It doesn’t seem to have done so, jim.

    Besides, thst christianity holds in very mant cultures whilst keeping a really good choke hold on womn’s rights.

    Why are you so very wedded to the idea that religion is good, jimmy?

  53. #53 eric
    August 16, 2012

    Take PZ’s claim that religion encourages misogyny, for example. What would falsify that statement?

    Like evolution, that is both a theory and a fact. :) The theory is that relying on faith rather than reason will tend to reinforce certain biases, whereas reason is more likely to reduce them.

    The fact of religious misogyny is that if you put a marble in a bag for every major sect in the world today, or even in history, and drew one marble out at random, your chances are overwhelmingly good of getting a misogynist marble. Whatever religion could be in principle, the set of real religions observed on earth is overwhelmingly sexist in fact.

    You can certainly ask what would falsify the theory. But asking what would falsify the fact is a bit of a nonsequitur. Like falsifying the facts of evolution, the only thing that could do that would be a different historical reality.

  54. #54 Wow
    August 16, 2012

    Tim, 2:09

    The thing is when religion is said in english on a western world blog, it means cristianity whenever the religious use it.

    So why do their work for them and weaken only our argument with caveats whilst letting th religious continue without any qualifiers and retain simplicity of srhument without turnimg away other sects by specifying their meaning of religion?

  55. #55 Wow
    August 16, 2012

    Dan, so you saying just ‘?” To me is what?

  56. #56 MNb
    August 16, 2012

    @Eric: “Like falsifying the facts of evolution”
    Eh no. Bring me the fossil of a cat from 80 million years ago and evolution is not a fact anymore.
    Show me something falling upward (no other forces involved) and gravity is not a fact anymore either.

    “Take PZ’s claim that religion encourages misogyny, for example. What would falsify that statement?”
    Investigate all religions, count 1) how many give men more rights than women, 2) how many give equal rights and 3)how many give women more rights than men. If the distribution is about equal (I’m not going to be picky; if category 1 is below 50% I’ll be satisfied) PZ’s claim is falsified as far as I’m concerned.
    Now if category 1 is above 50% PZ’s claim is not proven yet, but yeah, there is a pretty strong correlation.
    Alas I hardly know religions with female priests at the top, everybody worshipping a female ubergod. Does anyone?
    Even Hera, who kicked some serious ass now and then, wasn’t entirely the equal of Zeus.

  57. #57 Dan L.
    August 16, 2012

    Surely whether particular religions at particular times and places have a tendency to intensify or lessen misogyny depends upon the society it is embedded in and works to change. And religions are not necessarily self consistent on this point or any other.

    Do religions tend to work to change societies? Or to maintain stasis? Or do different religions have different relationships to the status quo at different times? But yes, this is at least a valid argument. However, religions are usually pretty consistent on at least one point: deference to authority. There may be an exception in Buddhism, but on the other hand the concept of karma does reinforce the idea of knowing and staying in your place in the “grand scheme of things.”

    Ultimately, I agree with your premise that religion does not necessarily entail misogyny. The dominant religion in a patriarchal society reinforces patriarchy, the dominant religion in a matriarchal society reinforces matriarchy.

    From a modern perspective, most societies have been extremely misogynistic, so that remarks from clerics that would sound alarming when coming from a modern mouth tell us more about the state of opinion at the time than something specific about religion.

    Most societies about which we have historical evidence. There are exceptions — the first few hundred years of Japan’s monarchy featured as many women as emperor as men and the Iroquois (IIRC?) were very nearly matriarchal in a lot of ways. Hunter gatherer societies are quite frequently more egalitarian than pretty much any “civilized” society, though in those sorts societies women and men do seem to voluntarily adhere to traditional gender roles (as defined within that society). This isn’t universal by any means, it’s not necessarily difficult to find “misogynist” hunter gatherer societies but the diversity is impressive. It suggests to me that many of the thousands of human societies that have left no historical record may have been significantly less misogynist than even our own “progressive” society.

  58. #58 Dan L.
    August 16, 2012

    Dan, so you saying just ‘?” To me is what?

    A request for clarification. Obviously.

  59. #59 Jim Harrison
    August 16, 2012

    So there are two boxes you can check: religion is good or religion is bad? Isn’t that just a teeny bit simple minded, even for ideologues?

  60. #60 Dan L.
    August 16, 2012

    @Jim:

    Are you talking to me? I don’t think religion is either all good or all bad. I think you’re right on that serious critiques of religion require a more sophisticated investigation and discussion of the nature of religion. Your initial critique of PZ’s argument wasn’t valid, but pointing that out doesn’t mean I don’t agree with your conclusion.

  61. #61 JeromeS
    August 16, 2012

    Surely whether particular religions at particular times and places have a tendency to intensify or lessen misogyny depends upon the society it is embedded in and works to change.

    Religion is part of culture. Culture doesn’t merely reflect human behavior. It shapes human behavior. It has a causal effect on human behavior. A religion such as Christianity or Islam whose sacred texts teach a subordinate role for women, whose clergy cite those sacred writings to justify the subordination of women, and whose traditions and organizational structures institutionalize the subordination of women does not lessen misogyny. It increases misogyny.

  62. #62 Wow
    August 17, 2012

    Well, what’s wrong with that, jim?

    Do we agonise over whether murder is good or bad? Child rape: good or bad?

    No, we don’t bother with that, do we.

    So why is it bad to do the same thing with religion?

  63. #63 Wow
    August 17, 2012

    A ckarification to what?

    PS surely the ?? was a request for carification on the ? you sent to me.

  64. #64 eric
    August 17, 2012

    MnB:

    Eh no. Bring me the fossil of a cat from 80 million years ago and evolution is not a fact anymore.

    Yes, and? How does that make it not a theory and a fact? I am not sure what you’re quibbling about, the ‘theory and fact’ description is common and mainstream. See here for one discussion of it.

  65. #65 Dan L.
    August 17, 2012

    @Wow:

    This has been an incredibly stimulating line of discussion. Thanks. Have a nice day.

  66. #66 Wow
    August 17, 2012

    Well, next time you fel like needing similarly stimulating conversation, you know how to start the quest.

  67. #67 Tim Martin
    August 17, 2012

    First off, Dan L, you’re attributing my comments to Jim Harrison.

    The existence of progressive believers does not logically contradict the assertion that religion encourages misogyny.

    You’re right; I was sloppy. Let me correct myself. PZ said, quote, “religion has for thousands of years perpetuated the oppression of half our species.” So let’s agree to gloss this as “religion encourages misogyny,” and not “religion causes misogyny.” The difference being that the former does not require that every example of religion be also an instance of misogyny.

    Now, here is the point I’m trying to make. What is “religion?” We certainly can’t evaluate PZ’s claim until he’s defined his terms. In my initial comment, I asked “With all this talk about religion… have we even bothered to define it?”, and no one answered “yes.”

    We haven’t defined it. We still don’t know what we’re talking about, and this is a problem.

    For example, say that you define religion as “a set of facts about a supernatural being and how to relate to that being, and rules that must be followed as a result of those facts.” This is a definition that focuses on the dogma of a particular religion. But as we all know, there are many people who belong to a particular sect who do not follow, or believe in, all the dogma. Even within christian sects that do not, say, allow women to be priests, there are people who think that this is bullshit (and who remain in that sect for whatever reason). In these cases, religion is not causing these people to act misogynistically. For other people, of course, christian dogma will have this effect. The scientific thing to ask is what causes this difference? If you can have two people, with the same religion and the same dogma, one of whom believes misogynistic things because of it and one of whom who doesn’t, what actually caused the misogyny? Yes, it is true to say that christian dogma “encourages” it, but this is merely a probabilistic statement – an admission that we cannot predict when dogma will and will not change a person’s mind. As a scientist, I’m interested understanding the causation on a more meticulous level.

    Let me give just one more example for now. One of the central tenets of Buddhism (of all the sects, if I’m not mistaken), is non-violence. And yet, Buddhism has been used to condone violence by many different groups in many different places. What has happened is that Buddhist adherents have simply twisted the doctrine of non-violence to suit their own purposes. So, based on the dogma of Buddhism, the religion is actually non-violent. But people are violent, and so they take the dogma and do what they like with it.

    Both of these examples illustrate that dogma is not destiny. If we want to understand cause and effect, we have to break “religion” down into its atomic parts. Misogyny (to stay with this specific example) is a general tendency of some (many?) humans and/or human societies. Many christian sects are misogynist because the society in which christianity formed was very misogynist. Some people define religion as “belief in the supernatural,” but it’s completely possible to believe in a supernatural female-figure who made women superior to men. Therefore, it isn’t true that belief in the supernatural encourages misogyny. The human mind encourages misogyny (at least, under certain conditions), and when humans invent religion we build misogyny into it. When humans are taught misogynist ideas via religion – are taught that it is “god’s word,” are taught to suppress doubt, are taught to adhere to authority – then they are more likely to believe so even if they would not have been misogynist otherwise. This is a more accurate version of PZ’s statement. This gets closer to an explanation of the mechanisms behind religion’s perversion. I think that if we do this more often, we’ll actually learn more about how religion works.

    Dan L. wrote:

    Is “belief in god” — an entity whose existence can only be confirmed by revelation or authority — actually distinct from “adherence to dogma” or “suppression of rational thought”? Is “practicing rituals” actually distinct from “suppression of rational thought” (this one’s a little trickier but very satisfying once you understand it)?

    Yes, I think so. Belief in god, or “concern about whether or not god might exist” has many different degrees. I’ve been learning about this lately by talking with nonbeliever friends of mine who call themselves agnostics. These are very rational people, not religious in any way, yet some of them express a bit of concern about whether a god *might* exist, and whether or not humans actions are being judged by “him.” I have no concern about this whatsoever – I concern myself with the existence of god precisely as much as I concern myself with the existence of magic gnomes. But there are other rational, nonbelieving people who are not quite there. They do not have any dogma or rituals. But their degree of belief is slightly greater than mine, and probably yours.

    But my friends’ belief probably will not lead to misogyny, or a crusade, or the abrogation of reason. These things need not come as a package deal.

    Also, consider this: many of us atheists were believers once (I was). While I was not always rational about it, I was trying to be. I did believe, but I did not try to adhere to dogma, or suppress my rationality. I practiced rituals, like communion, but the mere eating of bread was not what kept me in the pew. It was my upbringing, it was lack of education, it was ideas I had to wrestle with. There must be many people like this, at all stages of belief. To say that “belief in god” and “suppression of rationality” are the same is to confuse “being wrong” with “giving up on reason.” You don’t have to give up on reason – sometimes, you’re just wrong. All believers are wrong, but it is the active encouraging of faith over reason that is especially pernicious, and tends to make people be more wrong than they otherwise would. It is the active encouraging of adherence to authority that makes people who would otherwise doubt, stop doubting. These, I think, are the atoms of religion that contribute to the social ills we atheists write about. Again, I feel that we should seek to understand the specifics more than we do.

  68. #68 Wow
    August 17, 2012

    Tim, lok at a thesaurus and dictionary.

    These will explain what religion is.

    OK?

  69. #69 Dan L.
    August 17, 2012

    @Wow:

    Well, next time you fel like needing similarly stimulating conversation, you know how to start the quest.

    Actually, you started it by responding to my initial comment. The question mark was asking for clarification on your response. And then you decided to start an argument about that apparently. You seem like a very angry person. Seek counseling.

    @Tim Martin, Jim Harrison:

    Sorry about the identity mixup guys!

    @Tim Martin:

    Yes, I agree. Deeper analysis of what religion actually is is needed to inform any serious critiques of religion. (Deep analysis might include but wouldn’t stop at the entries for “religion” in dictionaries and thesauruses).

    Let me give just one more example for now. One of the central tenets of Buddhism (of all the sects, if I’m not mistaken), is non-violence. And yet, Buddhism has been used to condone violence by many different groups in many different places.

    I’d appreciate specific examples rather than your assurance that such examples exist. It wouldn’t surprise me but I’d still like to know the specifics of what you’re talking about.

    I’ve been learning about this lately by talking with nonbeliever friends of mine who call themselves agnostics.

    Agnostics do not believe in God, so I don’t think your argument really works. Belief in God — not considering whether God exists but actually concluding that God exists — is either going to be a result of adhering to dogma or some kind of personal spiritual experience.

    But my friends’ belief probably will not lead to misogyny, or a crusade, or the abrogation of reason. These things need not come as a package deal.

    Agreed, different religions have different dogmas, some more harmful than others. The dogma that God exists does not necessarily entail misogyny. On the other hand, in our society the word “God” is inextricably bound to connotations of patriarchy. God’s referred to as “He” or “Him” and the creation dogma explicitly puts men first and women second. When Unitarians ordain female ministers they are going against the grain. We can simultaneously acknowledge the truth of “religion does not necessarily entail misogyny” and “in fact, religion does (contingently) entail misogyny”.

    Just because it’s a contingent fact doesn’t mean it’s a coincidence. I think there are very real reasons why the world’s dominant religions are patriarchal. Those sorts of reasons can be adduced by more seriously looking at the nature of religion as you’ve suggested we should.

  70. #70 Tim Martin
    August 17, 2012

    Examples of Buddhist warfare:

    There were a number of Buddhist-inspired revolts during the Tabgatch (Tuoba) Empire in China, throughout the fifth and sixth centuries. One such revolt was lead by a monk named Faqing, who took the title of “Great Vehicle,” and declared the arrival of the new Buddha. He had 50,000 soldiers under his command, to whom he awarded spiritual titles (first-stage bodhisattva, etc) for killing.

    In the mid 17th century, the Fifth Dalai Lama enlisted the help of a Mongolian army to wage war against, and ultimately subdue, rival Buddhist schools. He justified the action by claiming that the general of the Mongolian army, Gushri Khan, was actually a bodhissatva in disguise, a transcendent agent intent on furthering Buddhism, and therefore violence was justified.

    Buddhist military groups were an institution in Japan, from the tenth to sixteenth centuries. The activities of “solider Zen” adherents were particularly notable during the Asia-Pacific War. One of their justifications for killing stemmed from the Buddhist principle that the self does not exist. If the self does not exist, then killing a human is no different from cutting down a blade of grass.

    After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Communist government began to suppress the practice of Buddhism. This soon turned into flat-out persecution. Religious activities outside the walls of temples were prohibited, Buddhist temples were destroyed, monks were beaten or killed, etc. However, around the time of the Korean War, Buddhist leaders in the country noticed an opportunity to get back in favor with the government and grow their influence again. They began to conflate Buddhism with patriotism, and encouraged monks and nuns to take part in political activities, in order to “better serve the needs of ordinary people.” The government warmed up to this support. Buddhist ideals were corrupted in the process (eventually Chinese Buddhists began calling for the killing of the US invaders), but Buddhism in China experienced a revival, rather than being stamped out as the government originally intended.

    And so it goes. I’ve learned about these examples and others through the book “Buddhist Warfare,” if you’re interested.

    Agnostics do not believe in God, so I don’t think your argument really works. Belief in God — not considering whether God exists but actually concluding that God exists — is either going to be a result of adhering to dogma or some kind of personal spiritual experience.

    Are you sure? It seems to me you’re trying too hard. I have heard many people say that they feel like there must be “something more” out there – meaning the supernatural. Granted, culture probably gave them some of these ideas, but still these people are not blindly following dogma or suppressing rationality. They are exploring their thoughts honestly. And the first hominids to invent religious beliefs were doing the same (there could not have been any dogma for them to follow). Again, this is what happens when humans use their faulty monkey brains to make conclusions about the universe – sometimes we get things wrong. But being wrong isn’t the problem. Being wrong and insisting that we aren’t, and that we shouldn’t question our previous conclusions, are the problem.

  71. #71 Dan L.
    August 17, 2012

    @Tim:

    Are you sure? It seems to me you’re trying too hard. I have heard many people say that they feel like there must be “something more” out there – meaning the supernatural.

    You’re equating agnosticism and a general sense that there is “something more” out there with “belief in God” and I’m the one who is trying too hard?

    One can be an atheist and believe there is “something more out there.” You’re the one who thought it was important to define religion before we talk about it, right? So define “belief in God” since apparently I have no idea what you mean by it.

  72. #72 Tim Martin
    August 17, 2012

    I specified that I was talking about people who feel there is “something more” and that something more is supernatural. Atheists don’t fall into this category, but there are people who do. They tend to call themselves “not religious, but spiritual.” Again, an atheist might say the same thing, but he or she would not be implying anything supernatural, whereas some people do. Aside from that, I’m not sure what else I can give you. All I know is that if a person can be unsure of god’s existence to the extent that he is *worried* about it, then his unbelief must be of a different type than mine.

    I don’t think we need to resolve our differences now, but if you’re going to continue to assert that belief in god, adherence to dogma, suppression of rational thought, and practicing rituals are all the same thing, then you should present your argument for it, because you haven’t yet.

  73. #73 Dan L.
    August 17, 2012

    I specified that I was talking about people who feel there is “something more” and that something more is supernatural. Atheists don’t fall into this category, but there are people who do. They tend to call themselves “not religious, but spiritual.”

    Tim, when I talk about religion and my own beliefs I constantly say stuff like “I’m not religious but I’m spiritual…even though I don’t believe in spirits.” I think you’re more seriously underestimating the variety of expressions of spiritual thought than I am — I don’t think spirituality is closed off to atheists, I just think it has a stupid name.

    Furthermore, you’re conflating “superstition” with “belief in God”. These are not the same things…and I really don’t think it’s fair for you to say “I’m trying to hard” when you’re pulling nonsense like this.

    I don’t think we need to resolve our differences now, but if you’re going to continue to assert that belief in god, adherence to dogma, suppression of rational thought, and practicing rituals are all the same thing, then you should present your argument for it, because you haven’t yet.

    I never asserted any of that in the first place — I asked if it might be true. But to be fair, I DO think belief in God is necessarily a matter of dogma. If you believe in God (i.e. actually factually believe in God, not occasionally stare into your belly button and wonder if there might be some greater power out there) then you’re either adhering to religious dogma, or you’ve had a spiritual experience that felt to you like an experience with God. In the latter case, I’d argue that it’s dogmatic to assume that the experience was actually caused by God — I think one should be open-minded about the source of spiritual experiences.

    As far as the equivalence of ritual and suppression of rational thought, they are actually equivalent. Going through a the motions of a ritual suppresses rational thought, and rational thought is suppressed by going through the motions of rituals. Like I said, this is tricky. It’s also highly speculative and explaining it would require going into some detail about how I think brains work which I don’t really feel like doing right now.

    Now, do you want to talk about superstition or belief in God? I think they’re both interesting topics but they are not the same topic.

  74. #74 Dan L.
    August 17, 2012

    Oh, I should mention that I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to suppress rational thought in the right contexts. Rituals are good tools as long as they are used correctly.

  75. #75 Wow
    August 17, 2012

    Dan, I still don’t know what you’re missing from my statement.

    And now, when you turned al angry (go back and read it. You’re making things up), you complain that I’m being angry.

    Where? Where was I being nasty?

    Do you want to know who turned nasty first and where?

    You. 9:21.

  76. #76 Wow
    August 17, 2012

    Tim, where in bhuddist doctrine does it have AS A CENTRAL TENET pacificm and never taking violence?

  77. #77 Kevin
    August 18, 2012

    If we are worried that a lack of religious belief leads to greed and selfishness, then let’s investigate societies where free non-believers predominate. It turns out there are quite a few, in Scandanavia and Western Europe, and they utterly refute any notion that religious belief is necessary for a decent, moral society.

    Can you expand on that? It seems as if you are taking a subjective value judgment – which morality inherently is – and presenting it as an objective point. For example, abortion is widespread in the UK. Is that decent? What about sexual exploitation (i.e. deceiving someone for sex)? Pornography? Drunkenness? Selling complex financial products with ruinous penalty clauses to fish-and-chip shop owners with poor English language skills?

    Are you confusing decency and morality with the ability to get a flu vaccine?

  78. #78 Wow
    August 18, 2012

    Well, lets measure it by the morality espoused by christians.

    Teen pregnancies.
    Violent crimes.

    I guess these can be measured, right?

  79. #79 Sandeep Sabir
    http://www.thegreatplanet.com/programming-of-life-documentary/
    September 1, 2012

    Thanks for the post. I recommend you to watch this documentary about religion and evolution named ‘Programming of Life’

    http://www.thegreatplanet.com/programming-of-life-documentary/

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