Pharyngula

Cynicism in the face of Idiot America

I have to disagree with Red State Rabble and his announcement of the demise of Intelligent Design. We’re seeing signs of a shifting of strategies, the fading of a few personalities, and a little confusion on the part of our enemies, but it is a colossal mistake to be predicting their end at this time. Intelligent Design was nothing but the mask worn by one of the blank faces of ignorant creationism, and all we’ve accomplished with victories like the Dover trial is to take a slap at the façade. We’ve made them briefly recoil, and at best what we can expect is a brief respite while they try to change slogans. Nothing has happened to weaken the foundations of creationism.

I guarantee you that there have been meetings at the Discovery Institute where they try to strategize and rethink how to apply their resources and work their way around the temporary setback of the Dover decision. If nothing else, they’ll evaporate away, and the same people will re-emerge in a ‘new’ and ‘different’ think-tank, shedding bad baggage and expressing a new version of the same old story. Is there one person who changed their mind about Intelligent Design because of a court case? Take a look at the ID blogs, and you don’t find the proponents shrugging their shoulders and saying, “well, I guess we were wrong after all”…they’re going to try re-branding and re-tooling and they’re going to be peddling the same old piss in new bottles.

The supporting base is untouched. Megachurches are growing—and they aren’t preaching skepticism and the appropriate evaluation of the evidence. Talk to your average small-town good old boy, and they won’t have even heard of Dover or Behe or Dawkins or Johnson or Miller…but they sure as hell know they didn’t come from no monkey. There has been no dramatic change in our schools, so that they are now proudly teaching solid, uncensored biology; teachers still know that if they mention the scary “e” word, there will be parents who come down hard on them, and administrators know that if they don’t kowtow to the fundies, they’ll yank their kids out of school and hurt their funding base.

I see little, hopeful touches now and then. But no one takes on the root of the problem.

Read Tristero and wake up to what we face.

The megachurches thus become part church, part shopping mall and part country club. One in Tacoma, Washington, even has its own Starbucks. Brentwood Baptist Church in Houston has a McDonald’s on its 111 acres. The Prestonwood Baptist Church, near Dallas, boasts 15 baseball fields, a Fifties-style diner and a food court. New Birth Baptist Church, also in Texas, offers web links to “antiques”, “dining” and “health and fitness”.

In addition to the megachurches, there are 31 “gigachurches” in the US, which are defined as those that at least 10,000 people attend every Sunday; 73 per cent of all these are in Bush-Cheney territory in the South or West. Some offer bookstores and health clubs on their premises. The Lakewood Church, yet another in Houston, describes itself as a “non-denominational charismatic church” and has a congregation of 25,000 every Sunday. It says it will soon have more than 30,000 people attending the remodelled, $73m former “Compaq Centre” that was previously home to the Houston Rockets, a basketball team.

What the opposition has been doing is building institutions. They’ve been consolidating huge pieces of the social structure and making them their own. Imagine living in a town where, if you want to buy a cup of coffee or get a hamburger, you have to go to a church. We’re becoming Walmartized and Christianified—you are a commodity to destructive, stupefying, self-sustaining cultural monopoly. You want to oppose that by crying to the courts? Go ahead. A little defiance from on high just mobilizes and infuriates them. You aren’t touching them where it hurts, at the community and belief level. You aren’t building your own institutions to oppose them.

Red State Rabble is right, that some of the trappings of the Intelligent Design excrescence are showing signs of going off the rails…but Uncommon Descent and Intelligent Design News and Views and the Discovery Institute (and Pharyngula and The Panda’s Thumb, for that matter) are irrelevant, superficial phenomena. What counts is that millions of people sit quietly watching the stupidity grow, and millions more actively contribute to it.

I haven’t seen any reliable sign that the idiotification of America is receding, or even slowing down. I do see signs that some of us are trying to reassure ourselves that the worst has passed, and I think that’s a dangerous delusion.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike
    October 31, 2006

    Good observations about the non-decline of ID, however I’m not concerned that I’ll ever have to go to church if I want a cup of coffee.

  2. #2 Steve LaBonne
    October 31, 2006

    I think you’re both right (though PZ moreso); the underlying base of support is not receding and continues to be a huge problem, but I do think the bozos now pushing ID are going to move on to the next scam, just as they did after it became clear that “creation science” wasn’t going to get them where they wanted to go. Since the trend has been to steadily whittle down the overt religious content in order to try to fly under the judicial radar, I’m predicting some gussied-up version of “teach the controversy” that they will imagine will somehow pass Constitutional muster better than those textbook “warning” stickers did. They’re probably “brain”storming the Next Big Thing right now.

  3. #3 afterthought
    October 31, 2006

    True on all counts.
    Never let your guard down.
    Aways vigilant against evolving IDiot strategy.

  4. #4 bernarda
    October 31, 2006

    What do the megalochurches have to say about this analyis by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s fame.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YzPuCGShI8&mode=related&search=

  5. #5 Blake Stacey
    October 31, 2006

    PZ wrote:

    Is there one person who changed their mind about Intelligent Design because of a court case?

    Journalists, perhaps, have changed the way they describe Intelligent Design. This may only be an artifact of my poor sampling, but it appears to me that ID has received much less “equal time” since Dover.

  6. #6 usagi
    October 31, 2006

    You and tristero over at Digby. And you’re quite correct. It’s very real, it’s very dangerous, and it’s going to get a great deal worse before it gets any better.

  7. #7 jeffw
    October 31, 2006

    Close to 50% (150 million) of americans are young earth creationists of various stripes. Unlike atheists, they meet every week, and have tons of money. This problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Better hope the courts don’t shift a little further to the right, or it’s the end of america as we’ve known it. Nothing lasts forever. I’ll wait to see how the next election plays out before I move to europe or new zealand.

  8. #8 Foggg
    October 31, 2006

    The potential to have a Fool for Christ representing part of PZ’s Minnesota in Congress, with her “hundreds of scientists” pushing ID, shows the enormous power of the movement. Being lukewarm is blasphemy.

  9. #9 99 bottles
    October 31, 2006

    PZ said, “What the opposition has been doing is building institutions. They’ve been consolidating huge pieces of the social structure and making them their own. Imagine living in a town where, if you want to buy a cup of coffee or get a hamburger, you have to go to a church.”

    Not just building new ones, but relying on the old ones. Is is what it means when one says that “religion” is socially constructed. It is also the reason that mere blogging, particularly the “thesits are insane” rhetoric, is and always will be ineffective.

    This isn’t about mere beliefs and rituals, it’s about an entire tribal identity. When you say, “but God is a phantasm” it has no meaning to a theist, who can dismiss you as a rich, white, liberal professor with tenure. How is anything you say about God, or the lack thereof, relevant in their world?

    We need not engage in positive or constructive debates with apologists or theologists, but once you get past, “There is no evidence that anything described in the Bible actually happened,” atheism in its rhetorical and political form is out of gas.

    Modern secular liberalism traces its roots to the good works movements of the 1800s and 1900s. There is more to be gained by education and material improvement than there is by blowing hot air. But hot air is cheap, and it’s fun to blow. If it rallies the troops, more power to you. But if you think that saying “God is a phantasm” over and over is doing anything positive to promote secularism or atheism or even the tiniest doubts in the minds of theists, it’s not only the theists who are delusional.

  10. #10 Steve LaBonne
    October 31, 2006

    Not-intended-to-invoke-Godwin comment: a commenter to tristero’s post rightly reminds us that a lot of rational Germans sat around laughing at those uneducated Nazi rubes and their blowhard leader…

  11. #11 George
    October 31, 2006

    An excellent documentary related to the whole “educators kowtowing to the fundies” topic is this:

    P.O.V. – The Education of Shelby Knox.

    She tried to bring sex education into public schools in Lubbock, Texas and met with huge amounts of resistance.

    She fought and fought and eventually got chewed up and spit out by the fundie culture there. Her ideas went nowhere.

    http://www.incite-pictures.com/Shelby_Knox.html

  12. #12 99 bottles
    October 31, 2006

    btw, the best way to fight the ID movement is to ask them how their beliefs are different from Deism. They openly hate deists, but to differentiate themselves they have to reveal their evangelical agenda. Which isn’t “Intelligent Design” at all.

    Then, of course, there are good conservative and even (gasp!) religious arguments in favor of separation of church and state. Read anything written by the signers of the Declaration or in attendance at the constitutional convention. You’ll soon learn that the nice thing about protestantism is that it comes in 57 varieties, and they all hate each other. “Let those crummy Presbyterians run congress? I’d rather have separation of church and state!!!”

    But to learn about these you have to approach evangelicals and understand their history, motives, and concerns, and we all know that talking to scary crazy people is, well, scary. Better to stick with the blogging than actually, you know, trying to change someone’s mind.

  13. #13 Steve Reuland
    October 31, 2006

    Aw, cheer up PZ.

    Notwithstanding the growing phenomenon of the mega-church, the fact is that church attendance and religiosity in general are on the decline. The mega-churches draw almost all of their members from other churches. The fact that commercialism and social clubbing are no longer an implied part of church-going, but are increasingly being blatantly woven into the fabric of the church itself, is probably not a good sign for those concerned with maintaining the integrity of the Christian religion. If people go to church to hang out at Starbucks and watch baseball, how seriously are they taking the other bits? And what happens when a more appealing social club appears?

    Maybe there is something to worry about when moderate sects like the Episcopalians are being phased-out and replaced by nut-jobs. But maybe it’s a sign that religion is surviving only by becoming more extreme, and in doing so alienates the more numerous level-headed people in order to maintain the smaller base of hard-core believers. If that’s the case, then it’s only a matter of time before it sinks into irrelevance.

  14. #14 99 bottles
    October 31, 2006

    George said, “She fought and fought and eventually got chewed up and spit out by the fundie culture there. Her ideas went nowhere.”

    Duh. Lots of missionaries got eaten over the years when they went into the jungle with their message of salvation. I’m suprised she thought she could get away with parachuting in and leading a revolution. But them I’m one of those scary moderate traitors.

  15. #15 Flex
    October 31, 2006

    If you haven’t already, you’all might enjoy reading, “The Big Ball of Wax” by Shepard Mead. Written 1954, it is about an unholy union between advertising and religion….

    I just re-discovered this book in one of my local used bookstores. It’s a good read, but scary.

  16. #16 Greg Peterson
    October 31, 2006

    The new face of creationism is an old one–a brand of consequentialism that states that evolution must not be accepted because its truth is just too, too awful. It leads to abortion and Nazis and pornography and hippies. They lost the scientific “debate” outright, and so they retreat from science and reason altogether and say, in essence, “Never mind what the evidence says…is this something you WISH to be true?” It’s post modern magical thinking.

    But it’s not even honest, of course, because there is nothing to connect the fact of evolution alone to increased suffering and obstacles to flourishing. These defeated creationists present a false dichotomy–reject evolution or have a life without meaning in which you can never know right from wrong, in which your daughter will be a prostitute and your son a drug-abusing Nazi.

    By every measure, this is a lie, since pathology is well-known among the faithful, and comparisons among nations demonstrate that the most secular have some of the lowest rates of negative social issues (teen pregnancy, STDs, violent crimes, etc.). But I am convinced that this is the tactic they will use most, at last among the semi-sophisticated (not to say moneyed) followers they wish to brainwash (those who have never had a proper education are already in the fold, anyway). They will in effect say that there is a treasure chest buried in the back yard with one meeelyun dollars in it, and we don’t have any evidence for it, but you must believe it, because really, wouldn’t it just be too too awful if that were not true?

  17. #17 99 bottles
    October 31, 2006

    Steve Reuland said, “But maybe it’s a sign that religion is surviving only by becoming more extreme, and in doing so alienates the more numerous level-headed people in order to maintain the smaller base of hard-core believers.”

    Shh. You’re totally ruining the mood in here.

  18. #18 jonathan Smith
    October 31, 2006

    Florida for some reason seems to be a hotbed of I.D recently,what with “A creationism event hosted at the Sun Dome Sept. 29th 2006 and now the Evidence of Design Conference, November 3-4, 2006 – Clearwater and Tampa, Florida.A qoute from the later reads”The C. S. Lewis Society is sponsoring this conference, which will thoroughly equip church members and leaders with generally non-technical, cutting-edge information. It will demonstrate practical steps to use design-evidence as a thoughtful bridge to skeptics who have been taught through Darwinian evolution that God is a myth. This conference will enable Christians and others to use simple evidence to demonstrate there is in fact a designer of life and that he is Jesus Christ.
    What a sweeping statement if only science was so simple.

  19. #19 HPLC_Sean
    October 31, 2006

    This conversation is far too intelligent for most average small town good ol boys. Most propaganda, like the religious kind, has a very simple comforting message that they can all sing over.
    What does science bring them? 1) Forget God and Heaven. You’re born from specialized cells secreted by specialized organs and when you’re dead, you’re dead. 2) Every living creature is at least distantly related starting, in our own case, with our common ape ancestors. 3) Your lifestyle is destroying the Earth and God can’t protect you. 4) The universe is not here just for you.
    Boy, that’s pretty grim stuff PZ.
    You think we could spruce up our message some?

  20. #20 Peter Barber
    October 31, 2006

    One [megachurch] in Tacoma, Washington, even has its own Starbucks. Brentwood Baptist Church in Houston has a McDonald’s on its 111 acres. The Prestonwood Baptist Church, near Dallas, boasts 15 baseball fields, a Fifties-style diner and a food court. New Birth Baptist Church, also in Texas, offers web links to “antiques”, “dining” and “health and fitness”.

    Maybe they will soon offer residential space (à la Landover Baptist) to their congregations, who will move onto these church campuses and allow the rest of the USA to rejoin the real world?

  21. #21 jeffk
    October 31, 2006

    I figure that cosmology is next on their plate. Imagine the absurd questions you’re forced to answer about the basics of evolution, the 150 year old foundation of biology, and then imagine the stupifying questions they could ask about science that’s been exclusively developed in the last 50 years and takes a fairly serious grasp of math to understand. It’ll be the same shit all over again – because they don’t get it, it ain’t true.

  22. #22 Madam Pomfrey
    October 31, 2006

    What about all the other things science brings them, like flu vaccines, statin drugs, cell phones, knee replacements, cars, antibiotics? They somehow manage to take advantage of these and more (when they can afford them) while decrying “science.” How many biblical literalists follow the example of the Christian Scientists and refuse all modern medical treatment, since after all the Bible clearly demonstrates that illness is caused by evil spirits?

  23. #23 George
    October 31, 2006

    99: “Duh. Lots of missionaries got eaten over the years when they went into the jungle with their message of salvation. I’m suprised she thought she could get away with parachuting in and leading a revolution. But them I’m one of those scary moderate traitors.”

    She was one of them – the product of a Lubbock Republican fundie household. She gave herself to Jesus and swore not to have sex until she got married. But she had the sense to realize that teen pregnancy had become a huge problem in Lubbock, despite the fundie culture.

  24. #24 Keanus
    October 31, 2006

    PZ has a good point–the folks at the DI are in disarray with no clear path forward. For the moment they are marking time, until they create a new strategy. And this time it won’t be so easy as replacing creationism with intelligent design and purging their writings of the word God. But they will launch a new strategy with new clothing and language.

    On the other hand the megachurches are for me a sign of coming decay. As others in the comments preceding mine have noted, loyalty to Starbucks, arcades, and MacDonald’s are easily changed. If that’s what makes the churches mega, then they won’t be mega long. All such efforts are soon eclipsed by other attractions. And keep in mind that megachurches almost always revolve around one or two charismatic politician/preachers who will all soon die or go to jail when their financial shenanigans are uncovered (think Kent Hovind or Jim Bakker). I fully expect to see some megachurches go on the auction block or be sold to some developer for a new shopping center or a condo complex.

    But they will be with us for a while so what do we do while they slowly decay. Launch an offense! The Dover decision has already had a bit of an impact on the media, with more and more articles revealing a skepticism about ID that wasn’t shown even as recently as two years ago. As individuals we need to make sure than any mention of ID or evolution in local media, broadcast or print, is accurate. If it’s not, raise a stink. We need to be as aggressive in pushing an accurate picture of evolution into the public arena as the promoters of ID have been in painting ID in living color. I know that the NCSE already offers support for teachers and school administrators in battles over evolution, but maybe we need a broader campaign to make that support more widely known and more readily available with a roster of attorneys and biologists nationwide ready to aid schools when they come under fire. Sort of like the ACLU, but with a laser focus on evolution–and science in general.

  25. #25 Observer
    October 31, 2006

    I can’t agree more with PZ. Joel Olsteen of Lakewood “Oasis of Love” Church got a $10 million book deal (his wife also got into a court scuffle recently over an altercation with a flight attendant). These churches are big business, big social arenas – they have everything from singles dating groups to daycare, etc, etc. Their members give tithes, even though many can’t really afford to.

    Now, Olsteen is more like a New Testament as a self-help guide kind of preacher, but these community ties are strong. Just as my parents have their strong church community, the common bond HAS to stay alive or the community crumbles. Lakewood Church is going strong. Not that all of this is necessarily bad, but it is if and when it becomes political like the Colorado megachurches or when parents hand down some of this stuff to their kids. I get a bunch of religious emails from co-workers who don’t realize I’m an atheist and who are Lakewood members–a lot of prayer in school stuff, pro-Bush, pro-creationism (with a small c) issues. Very red state country. It concerns me, because the Board of Education is on tenuous ground.

    You may find it painful to read this link, but they’re very good at updating religious articles, and they’re not necessarily pro-church articles. London seems to be getting $35 million for a church. It’s happening in other countries, too. I look at this occasionally to see what’s going on: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/

    ———-

    ** Lakewood Church shares the entrance to the underground garage with a Landmark Theater. While people go see indie, foreign and gay-themed films on one side, the chuchgoers file into the stadium on the other side. Just an observation.

  26. #26 Matt Dowling
    October 31, 2006

    Think this all sounds bad? Imagine LIVING in the midst of it everyday as you make your work commute in NORMAN, OKLAHOMA. I like to think of this place as the middle part of the buckle of the bible belt. Being so close to the action, I do agree with Steve Reuland that the churches are hurting. The megachurches have become SO charismatic that they do frighten people away from the christian movement (at least here). My sense (at least from the sidelines) is that the whole thing is a big turn-off for many and might become a victim of its own success. As an aside, I’ll never forget that shot in “The Root of All Evil” when Dawkins was sitting in that megachurch “worship” service in Colorado Springs. Poor fellow…

  27. #27 Observer
    October 31, 2006

    Jeff K, cosmology is already in their arguments. David Mills refutes a few of those points in his book, “Atheist Universe – Why God Didn’t Have A Thing To Do With It.”

  28. #28 Scott
    October 31, 2006

    A local university has an extension course examining the ideas behind ID. We had a guest speaker, who is a teacher of YEC. It was fascinating to hear him talk. The take away statement that will stick with me was, “It’s plain and simple if you believe in the Bible.”

    That seems to be the bottom line. Evolution; astrophysics; geology; cosmology; biology; paleontology; chemistry; mathematics; etc; etc. That’s all *waaaay* too complicated. Everything, absolutely everything you need to know is right here in this one little book. All you have to do is Believe. Period. End of discussion. End of thought.

    No more scary science, science that most people didn’t bother taking in the first place. No need to think for yourself, or question what you know, or have to admit how little you know. None of this scary “relativism”, where there is no absolute truth. Belief is easy. Learning is hard. Knowledge is bad.

    Ignorance can be cured. *Willful* ignorance is almost impossible to change, because people have a strong vested interest in perpetuating it.

    I don’t always agree with PZ, but this one seems pretty clear. Ignorance is being institutionalized and organized. And a few court cases aren’t going to stop it.

    SIgh…

  29. #29 jeffw
    October 31, 2006

    I’ll never forget that shot in “The Root of All Evil” when Dawkins was sitting in that megachurch “worship” service in Colorado Springs.

    I loved that. The expression on his face was truly unforgettable. I’d like to blow it up into a big a picture and hang it on my wall.

  30. #30 ChaosEngineer
    October 31, 2006

    I was worried about the gigachurches until I found out that attendance is on the order of 10,000/week. So they’re really just plain old kilochurches with a hyped-up name.

  31. #31 johnc
    October 31, 2006

    What’s really scary for those of us outside the US looking in is that no one seems to have a good handle on why this kooky evangelical stuff is not fading away. Hence no one seems to have a clear strategy of what to do about it. One gets a sense of helpless incomprehension from the sane voices, and the overall effect is to further fuel anti-Americanism around the world because the place looks, well, sick. And while the Republicans losing control of Congress offers a tiny filament of hope, it is hardly reassuring to read in the NYT that this partly as a result of the Dems peddling their own evangelical credentials.

  32. #32 MikeM
    October 31, 2006

    It just seems to me that as long as a significant portion of the population accepts Genesis as the word of God, this will never go away. But I do see some encouraging signs. Look at what’s happening to the churches in Europe; attendance is way, way down.

    I remember my grandparents taking me to the Catholic church in Manchester, England, and that thing was packed every weekend. That was in the 1960s and 1970s. Now you go, and the churches are nearly empty. Most encouraging is that there are hardly any young people in attendance.

    People are becoming more rational. I am really, really trying to teach my kids, and I tell you, it can be hard. Many of their friends talk about grandma dying, and how she’s in heaven now… But I’m trying my best to teach them that when you die, you simply decompose. That’s it; the light goes out, and there is no more you.

    And that will be no comfort to them when one of their grandparents dies. That’s the hardest part. But I want them to know that I don’t think I’m going anywhere once I die. I’ll just be ash sprinkled over, hopefully, Point Reyes.

    Rationalism beats superstition in the end. Just keep thinking that. Once chip at a time; we’ll carve this sculpture.

  33. #33 Salvador T. Cordova
    October 31, 2006

    I have to at least once partially agree with PZ. Pat Hayes assessment about the future of ID is off the mark.

    Even with the recent elections and court cases, very little in terms of curriculum content has changed nationwide from Dover, to Ohio, to Kansas. Which means (assuming reasonable correlation with curriculum content) the status quo has changed little, which means at this rate, it is reasonable to expect about the same level of non-acceptance of Darwinian evolution will continue.

    Pat Hayes has it wrong and PZ is right, the support base for ID is strong and growing. The only thing IDers lost in Dover, Kansas, and Ohio was the opportunity to INCREASE the rejection of Darwinism. At worst for the creationists and IDers would be the status quo being maintained (that is, a 50% rejection rate of Darwinism by the young). The only thing they lost was the ground they hoped to gain. They had little risk of losing the ground they already held…

    IDers have little to lose in a school board or court room case since ID is not officially taught in any public school anyway. However they have every thing to gain if they ever win.

    What makes Pat Hayes think the way he does? The creationists lost Edward vs. Aguillard there is still about as much rejection of Darwinism among the young as there was when that court case was settled.

    Look at Iowa State where 1/3 of bio freshman accept special creation, or how about UCSD where 40% of the sixth college accept special creation. In the case of UCSD, many of these kids came from a state that gets an “A” rating from the Fordham foundation for teaching evolution. Assuming reasonable correlation that even states that give “A” ratings for teaching evolution manage to still have large numbers of creationists getting accepted to secular colleges, what does that say about the effectiveness of getting an “A” rating for teaching Darwinism?

    In light of that, what in the world would happen if anti-Darwinian curriculum changes succeeded? Why, by golly the flood gates would open….

    I estimate, if criticisms of Darwinian evolution are ever admitted in public schools from peer-reviewed literature (like Stephen Meyer’s paper), a 75-80% rejection rate would occur. Some polling esitmates show 90% rejection rate could be achievable if sufficient exposure to ID materials is allowed (such as simplified editions of Michael Denton’s book or Unlocking the Mystery of Life).

    Hayes is wrong to declare victory. PZ is right to say of the Darwinists: “I do see signs that some of us are trying to reassure ourselves that the worst has passed.” Indeed, for the Darwinists, perhaps the worst hasn’t even arrived. PZ is right, and I salute his insights.

  34. #34 Swintah
    October 31, 2006

    As an aside, I think it’s hilarious that you called any ID institution a “think-tank”. They’re more like a “Duh-quarium”.

    He he he! ;D

    Swintah

  35. #35 DragonScholar
    October 31, 2006

    You make an excellent point about building institutions – which isn’t being done for rational, secular, groups.

    I never thought of it that way, but the fact is that these people are building an entire alternate nation right inside our own.

  36. #36 George
    October 31, 2006

    “I’ll just be ash sprinkled over, hopefully, Point Reyes.”

    That’s a wonderful place to be sprinkled.

    Windy, but wonderful.

  37. #37 Bufo bufo
    October 31, 2006

    I’ll echo the sentiments of Steve Reuland and others – the megachurch phenomenon PZ is describing isn’t necessarily as bad as he and many commenters paint it.

    In the few (central european) countries I can comment on, religion and its institutions haven’t really gone away as such, but have largely become diluted with all these social club aspects, to the great relief of us unbelievers. People who go to church to socialize (and enjoy their iced mocha latte!) aren’t the ones you need to worry about. They are, for the most part, unlikely to be passionate opponents of rationality or science education. It’s the extreme elements that are the real problem, and this sounds like religion-lite to me.

    Of course, I could be completely mistaken about what ideas can be shared by 25,000 believers over a big mac and latte over there…

  38. #38 oldhippie
    October 31, 2006

    “I haven’t seen any reliable sign that the idiotification of America is receding, or even slowing down.”

    I saw “Supersize Me” the other day (the movie of the hero who actually ate at MCDonalds for a whole month and nearly shot his liver and blood sugar as a result). I feel there is a link between the dumbing-down and the fattening-up process. (Maybe the energy that sould be going to the brain is going to the stomach) I suspect both are probably related to TV viewing hours.

  39. #39 Kevin Bryant
    October 31, 2006

    Holy crap, 25,000 people?

    That reflects well on that ‘personal relationship with god’ all those protestants are always on about.

  40. #40 Scott Hatfield
    October 31, 2006

    PZ: You are 100 percent correct here. I oughta know. Anyone who thinks the creationists are going away is kidding themselves. Ken Ham is beside himself with happiness that the Disco Institute has lost a public relations war, because they were stealing the thunder from his cottage industry. Indeed, the megachurches are pure religion for its own sake, burgeoning bureaucracies that, virus-like, are only really concerned with parasitizing the resources of others in order to further their replication.

    Kevin Bryant: The ‘personal Savior’ thing is a deeply-misunderstood notion. Obviously, even those of us who believe God exists are unlikely to know Him/Her/It as a person. That’s not the deal, though; the idea is that God meets us where we’re at, not vice-versa.

    Even that modest level of sophistication is unlikely to be found in the megachurches, though; as far as thinking for yourself goes, they’re less Wittenberg and more Nuremburg…SH

  41. #41 Julie Stahlhut
    October 31, 2006

    Selling coffee in church? Sheesh, most congregations give it away. Or maybe at most they ask coffee drinkers to donate a quarter or two to the church coffee fund. But Starbucks? My Halloween-night sleep will be disturbed by visions of Jesus tossing baristas out of the Temple. And I don’t even go to church any more.

  42. #42 Doc Bill
    October 31, 2006

    The court decisions in the 80’s knocked creationism and scientific creationism flat for 20 years.

    Kitzmiller has done the same for ID.

    “Something new” may come out of the creationist camp in the next 5-10 years, but it’s still based on creationism and the trail of footprints is very distinct.

    It may be tedious and it may involve more court cases, but the creationists don’t have an evolved flipper, claw or leg to stand on. Never will.

  43. #43 André Esteves
    October 31, 2006

    PZ is right. First, they conquer your territory, then you get used to them, them you become one of them…

    All religious arms of all the historical empires used that stratedgy. It works… You will be assimilated, unless you fight back for a humanist, indivdual-rights based society.

    When you create a so-called «multi-cultural» society you are giving the power to the «leaders to speak for you, and next, they will punish you for speaking…

    Only the individual takes moral decisions, take the dogma-group out of it!

  44. #44 Buffalo Gal
    October 31, 2006

    A danger I see in the megachurches providing so much socialization in having Starbucks, McD’s, etc., is that it increases the isolation of the believers to their own community. They no longer have to mingle with unbelievers to get their coffee and fatburgers. In a secular community, we have to learn to get along with others we encounter in ordinary daily interactions at work, school, on the bus, whatever. Isolation enables the demonization of the other, and contributes to the closing of the mind toward people who don’t share your beliefs.

  45. #45 Andy Groves
    October 31, 2006

    Imagine living in a town where, if you want to buy a cup of coffee or get a hamburger, you have to go to a church.

    It’s been that way in the US for decades. Whether the church of Mammon is more or less offensive to you than the church of Jeebus is your call.

  46. #46 Ebonmuse
    October 31, 2006

    I second Steve Reuland’s comment. Intimidating as it may appear, the rise of the megachurches does not indicate that fundamentalist religion is gaining strength in our society. In fact, it’s weakening. Non-believers are the fastest-growing minority in America, while Protestants continue to lose membership and are expected to drop below 50% of the population for the first time ever by the end of this decade. (I wrote about this myself earlier this fall.)

    As others have said, the megachurches are mostly drawing their members from other churches. Their growth is not an indicator of increasing societal religiosity, but of increasing polarization and isolation among those who are already religious.

  47. #47 truth machine
    October 31, 2006

    Sal is such an ass.

  48. #48 dr. dave
    October 31, 2006

    Nah… I think that Intelligent Design is in its “last throes”.

    Oh, yeah… and also, the school boards will greet us as liberators.

  49. #49 Molly, NYC
    October 31, 2006

    Selling coffee in church? Sheesh, most congregations give it away.

    About that coffee: Coffee hour (when the clergy and the more involved congregants get together after the service) is when most week-to-week church business is conducted–whether they should resurface the parking lot, who’s bringing next week’s altar flowers, do they want a cemetery, do they want a day care center during the week, stuff like that (plus an endless stream of gossip).

    Most members just show up like sheep, listen to the sermon and leave, but this higher degree of involvement is usually available to any member who chooses to stay for it. There’s a lot of BS in religion, but that part is usually pretty democratic–if you want to do it. And it even matters on the ideological level; the Southern Baptist Convention or the Missouri Synod can make any fool pronouncements they like, but in the end, it’s the coffee hour crowd who usually hires thei pastor.

    But when you’ve got a congregation with >10,000 members, that’s not going to happen. So, as big and politically powerful as these churches are, the members–mostly middle class–have ‘way less say in how they’re run than the financially desperate members of some little storefront church downtown.

    No one’s forcing them to go to these churchzillas, so presumably they like it like that. They like not having any say in their religion. They like being dictated to.

    It also means the ones making the decisions can’t be diffident, and they aren’t. They love dictating.

    In a real theocracy, these SOBs would be at each others’ throats. Not as in angry statements to the press; more like firebombing rivals’ churches during Sunday services.

    Now, how we could get them to go after each other before the rest of us are saddled with a theocracy?

  50. #50 lockean
    October 31, 2006

    PZ is spot on.

    Megachurches, by the way, are usually pentacostalist. ‘Holy Rollers’ back when the movement was socially unacceptable. The terms charistmatic and neopentacostalist are, for our purposes, versions of the same thing. They trace their origin to the Holiness Movement in the late 19th century, believe in shit so crazy you wouldn’t believe me if I told you, and have increased they’re membership drastically in recent decades, largely by taking parishioners away from existing churches (called ‘sheep stealing’), or by literally taking over existing churches, particularly fundamentalist churches. In the nineties they took over the entire Southern Baptist denomination. (And you thought Southern Baptists were bad before!) Some of these takeovers are funded and orchestrated by political organizations like the Institute for Religion and Democracy.

    Megachurches are not just large churches; a new parishoner is usually assigned to a ‘prayer group’ (called various things) that meets regularly to monitor one other’s behavior. Like AA but the temptation isn’t alcohol but any secularism of any kind. Many of these churches practice a type of abusive public confession where the victim/parishioner stands in front of the whole congregation to confess ‘sins.’ The churchmembers are separated not just from secular society but even from other groups of conservative Christians.

    The old mainline churches–even the fundamentalist ones–are actually governed by vestries, or some equivalent. These are elected councils that hire and fire the minister, manage church property and oversee the church’s finances. In the megachurches and their ideological kin, however, the minister–who may have little more credentials than you or I–has absolute dictatorial power. No one sees where the money goes, no one can fire him no matter what he does, and his minions–called ‘deacons’ or some equivalent–are appointed soley by him and can be fired by him at will. There isn’t even any mechanism to address allegations of abuse or malfeasance.

    Megachurches are basically totalitarian fiefdoms, tho’ some of the dictators govern with iron fists and some with velvet gloves. In either case, in big churches and small churches the pentacostal movement in thirty years has gone from the fringe church of the poor, the desperate and the uneducated–the usual targets of chicanery–to perhaps one quarter of the U.S. population. And they have a high birthrate. These churches now includes businessmen, rich people, middle class people of all description, and politicians, alongside the traditional pentacostalist victims.

    What does the future hold when one quarter of young Americans are growing up in minature, separatist, abusive, totalitarian regimes?

  51. #51 Great White Wonder
    October 31, 2006

    I go to church when I have to piss.

  52. #52 Rich
    October 31, 2006

    Hi Sal. Strange to see you out of the closed, over rated circles.

    Here’s where you switched a bunch of people off of ID.

    http://thesciphishow.com/forums/index.php/topic,38.0.html

    Good work.

  53. #53 Great White Wonder
    October 31, 2006

    Sal is such an ass.

    No kidding. I have one question, which is: when Sal is unexpectedly slapped really hard across the lips, will a tiny tear drip down his cheek?

    God, I fucking hope so, cuz I want a coffee mug with a picture of that on it.

    Either that, or a shot of Sal going down on one of his little recruits.

  54. #54 Molly, NYC
    October 31, 2006

    Great White – Stay away from the baptismal font.

  55. #55 CCP
    October 31, 2006

    Matt Dowling:
    I know what you mean…only moreso.
    Norman? Norman is like Amsterdam compared to, say, Stillwater…to say nothing of places like Enid or Altus or (shudder) Tahlequah.
    Folks who live in such places are the salt of the earth…wonderful, friendly people (except for the violent simian sociopaths) who would not trade their utter ignorance for anything. Reminds me of the line in Crimes & Misdemeanors in which the paterfamilias, arguing with his atheist sister, sez something like “Given the choice, I will always take God over truth.” How in hell do you “win” against that mindset? Education?
    I dunno.

  56. #56 Caledonian
    November 1, 2006

    Reminds me of the line in Crimes & Misdemeanors in which the paterfamilias, arguing with his atheist sister, sez something like “Given the choice, I will always take God over truth.” How in hell do you “win” against that mindset? Education?

    Easy: present a scenario where the believer must choose between God and a truth that will save their lives.

    It’s not enough to nourish the wheat. You must be willing to rip out the thorns. If you’re not, the thorns will prosper and choke out the wheat.

  57. #57 Saint Gasoline
    November 1, 2006

    It’s a good thing that, ultimately, historical progress seems to follow the lead of the intellectuals rather than the mass of the ignorant.

  58. #58 G. Tingey
    November 1, 2006

    “building institutions” huh?

    How long before a really charismatic leader appears, and gets them to work together?
    Preferably all wearing, if not a uniform, then some obvious common articles of apparel?
    Say, a red (for “jesus'” blood) shirt?
    And they call temsleves, oh …
    The National Alliance for Salvation Gilead Party ???

    And they contest and “win” the 2016 election …..

    Be very, very scared, and get yourselves exit-tickets to Europe.

  59. #59 JM
    November 1, 2006

    From what little I’ve seen and heard about them here in the UK, the US megachurches seem to me to have communist (in the sense that Soviet society was so – i.e. totalitarian socialist) tendencies. All their members’ needs will be supplied by the `state’. The `state’ is ruled as an oligarchy by the `elders’ or by an unelected charistmatic preacher as `great leader’. How do their members reconcile this with the American dream of democracy and individualism?

    MikeM – while it is probably correct to say that organised religion is generally in decline in the UK, from what I see and hear evangelical churches seem to be growing in popularity, particularly amongst young people. There are also many people who have other irrational beliefs – spiritualism, mysticism of all kinds. And still, of course, most people adhere, while not attending any church except for weddings and funerals, to a fuzzy deism or Christian theism, perhaps a remainder from the church-going religion of their parents.

  60. #60 Toivo
    November 1, 2006

    Just one wild-ass crazy idea: How about the secular people agree with the religious people that they live in different places (like different zones, in a futuristic setting) and mind their own business, so that neither group bothers the other one?

  61. #61 j.t.delaney
    November 1, 2006

    Perhaps the reason for the flourishing evangelical movement is a more material one. In case anybody hasn’t noticed, these are not good times for working-class America. People aren’t doing as well as they did six years ago, and the middle class is shrinking. The job market is tough, and unless you got a good education, things are grim. As a result, there’s a big market for better-world-a-commin’ messages.

    Modern American politics is about style and personality, and nobody campaigns anymore on bread-and-butter issues. While I feel strongly about teaching evolution, I think this is the larger battle: not just for hearts and minds (no matter what, the average IQ will always be 100), but for equitable social policies. If people feel safe and secure in their own country, and see a visibly bright future ahead for their families, I think the appeal of this extremist stuff will wane.

  62. #62 Flex
    November 1, 2006

    Salvador T. Cordova wrote, “The only thing IDers lost in Dover, Kansas, and Ohio was the opportunity to INCREASE the rejection of Darwinism.”

    Mr. Cordova correct. The two sides are not fighting the same war. This isn’t uncommon, but in this case the battlefields are (currently) not the same. Creationists are trying to get their beliefs taught as science in the classroom, they are being countered by the courts.

    It appears that everytime the creationists make it a requirement to get their beliefs taught in the classroom, they are being countered. But do we really know that? We know it when they are caught, but not when they get away with it.

    Further, battling in the courtrooms re-enforces the belief that the court system is ‘liberal’, ‘activist’, and abusing it’s power. Rather than, as we know, the court system may be somewhat capricious but generally considers all sides of an issue and publicly explains the judge’s reasoning which resulted in a verdict. We may not always agree with the verdict, but we can review the chain of thought which took the judge(s) there.

    But with the Discovery Institute falling back and re-grouping, this is the time to start advancing into their territory. The classroom. My experiance with high school educational practises is limited, but it seems to me that there are several approaches which could be tried.

    First, the teachers. I’m pretty sure that most science teachers really just want to teach science. There are likely some high school science teachers who started out teaching Phys. Ed., but it’s far more likely that a science teacher really wants to teach science and not religion. But a teacher works in a community of teachers. All the teachers in a school need to understand why creationism isn’t science and that it shouldn’t be taught in a science class.

    Second, the local (and in some cases the state) school boards. This seems to be being addressed, but there is likely lots of work left in this area to educate school board members as to why creationism isn’t science. There is another lever available here, and that is the Dover decision. Two things happened there which strikes fear in school board members; the school district lost a whole lot of money, and many of the school board members lost their jobs. Some school boards may not be frightened by this, but many will.

    Third, the parents. This may be the hardest population to reach, but it needs to be done. There are several avenues. It may be possible to develop simplified educational materials suitable to present at churches which clearly shows why evolution doesn’t banish god, although it does require a non-literal reading of genesis. (Materials of this nature may exist already.) The parents also have to be clearly shown what science is, and why creationism isn’t science.

    Finally, the students. It would be nice if the students were the only population which needs education, it would be a lot easier if that was the case.

    Now of course I’m being a little hypocritical because I’m not out there doing this myself. I admit it, I can see an outline of a broad strategy, but I have little time to work on tactics. My reasons are that I’m busy, I’m in the middle of a masters program while working full time while rebuilding a house while walking my neighborhood as a precinct captain. I have more free time at work than I do at any other portion of the day.

    I also admit that this being a broad strategy it’s missing a good level of the tactical requirements. Like how to approach a minister or priest to get permission to speak. Or how to get educational materials to non-science teachers and get them interested in reading them. Suggestions along that line would certainly be welcome.

    Cheers,

    -Flex

  63. #63 Dunc
    November 1, 2006

    Well, at least it looks like the backlash may be starting in the UK… The following editorial appeared in one of the major Sunday papers this weekend:

    Tired of all the religious garbage? It’s time to become an Enlightenist

    Lots of good stuff – including a nice little linguistic trick where she consistently refers to so-called “faith schools” as “superstition schools”. Lets see if we can make that one stick! 😉

    I guess it might not get noticed way down here, but I’d highly recommend giving it a read.

  64. #64 Dunc
    November 1, 2006

    Oh, and in a funny little co-incidence, the writer of that piece (Muriel Gray) once gave me a lift when I was hitch-hiking…

  65. #65 Daniel Morgan
    November 1, 2006

    The reams of data out there to analyze, regarding the growth or decline of religion X, all converge on one thing: how do you define X?

    If you define it is a literalist, creationist, etc., sort of Christianity, then I think we are safe to say that the younger generation is shedding that sort of Christianity at an unprecedented rate here, in Spain, in Australia, etc.

    The average giga/mega church is growing at the expense of smaller churches, which I documented evidence of above in my link. These churches are less likely to be dogmatic about creationism/evolution, or any issue, and more “soft” on issues like gay marriage and mixing politics and religion.

    They basically avoid many divisive issues, which makes them more attractive to the masses.

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