Pharyngula

Let’s ruin a perfectly pleasant Friday with a poll full of ugly reality.

The poll of 2,455 U.S. adults from Nov 7 to 13 found that 82 percent of those surveyed believed in God, a figure unchanged since the question was asked in 2005.

It further found that 79 percent believed in miracles, 75 percent in heaven, while 72 percent believed that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Belief in hell and the devil was expressed by 62 percent.

Darwin’s theory of evolution met a far more skeptical audience which might surprise some outsiders as the United States is renowned for its excellence in scientific research.

Only 42 percent of those surveyed said they believed in Darwin’s theory which largely informs how biology and related sciences are approached. While often referred to as evolution it is in fact the 19th century British intellectual’s theory of “natural selection.”

I keep hearing from people that criticizing religion is over-generalizing, that we shouldn’t judge it by the minority of fundamentalist loons who get all the attention in the media, or by those few, rare exploiters who represent religious beliefs poorly. I am sick of it. Ask people directly whether they believe literally in a damnable stupid doctrine like hell, and they don’t waffle, they don’t pose like pedants and maunder on about metaphysics and socioeconomic influences and tradition, the majority simply say “yes”. This is the reality. The majority of Americans do not think, they just accept this nonsense at face value, and we have to deal with stupidity on a national scale.

This is what it means:

More Americans believe in a literal hell and the devil than Darwin’s theory of evolution, according to a new Harris poll released on Thursday.

It is the latest survey to highlight America’s deep level of religiosity, a cultural trait that sets it apart from much of the developed world.

We are screwed up.

Can we please acknowledge this is a problem, rather than making excuses for it?

It seems that too many scholars of religion are in the business of either apologetics or denial. I found this debate between Natalie Angier and David Sloan Wilson infuriating for that reason; Wilson is a smart guy, but he has his eyes closed to the awful inanity of religious belief, waving it away with the Panglossian adaptationist rationalization that if it exists, it must have a productive and adaptive function. Here’s a beautiful example of the attitude I find intensely frustrating.

With apologies to Natalie, I think there’s a kind of a silliness to banging away at religious beliefs for their obvious falsehood, when in fact, if you’re an evolutionist, the only way you would want to evaluate these beliefs is to examine what they cause people to do. Do they help people function in their communities? Then this might be an explanation for why they exist. It also makes it unnecessary to criticize these ideas, again and again, because they depart from factual reality. We should be more sophisticated in the way we evaluate beliefs.

In other words, never mind the obvious falsehoods, there has to be a good reason Americans are so dedicated to dismantling the whole field of biology. I could not believe Wilson actually said something so blind; it’s just not the way I can think, where we should be willing to overlook “obvious falsehoods”. Natalie’s reply is very good.

This reminds me of the White Queen who says, “I can believe six impossible things before breakfast.” First of all, this is the kind of thinking that can be easily manipulated. Second, this seems to be the antithesis of what science is about. Believing in something that isn’t true, because it motivates you to act, is not the kind of fundamental understanding that motivates science. If you believe you’re going to be resurrected after you die, which I think is a fairy tale, this is ultimately a dissatisfying way to promote life, and I don’t think that it’s going to get us anywhere as a culture. I think it’s a barrier that cultural evolution has to take us past. We need to move in the direction of accepting the universe as it truly is, rather than as we wish it to be.

If scientists won’t stand up for accuracy, empiricism, and an honest evaluation of reality, who will? The priests? Wilson is plainly in denial. Here he goes on about the causes of religion, and I think he’s partly right, but is intentionally overlooking a huge part of the story.

Other parts of the world, such as Europe, are becoming more secular, because the environment is favoring that. But the world as a whole is becoming more religious, more fundamentalist. Why is this? It’s because it’s becoming more dangerous and chaotic. Governments aren’t providing the services that people need, and religions are. Again and again you hear about these so-called terrorist organizations providing services for their people. When I hear my respected colleagues, such as Dan Dennett and Richard Dawkins, talk about religion, I think they are smart people doing something which is not so smart. They ask, “How can people believe such dumb stuff?” But they are not looking at the ecological bases for these beliefs. If you think of these systems as successful in some environments, but not others, then you can isolate the environmental factors. If you want liberalism to thrive, religious or non-religious, then provide the proper environment, and it will grow spontaneously.

I think he’s right that danger and chaos do foster environments that religious belief can readily exploit, and that instability in the world can encourage a kind of nucleation around certainties, even false certainties, that give people something to which they can cling. We can reduce the opportunities for religion to infest a culture by encouraging economic prosperity.

However, he explicitly, consciously excludes America from this analysis, for obvious reasons — we are filthy rich compared to much of the rest of the world, and we’re also pathologically religious. He doesn’t address this fact at all, except to later call the US “an anomaly”. I think a scientist ought not to disregard the facts in the poll mentioned at the top of this article.

Wilson needs to shake off an assumption. There is this attitude that because something exists, it must have value; because people are religious, it must be good for them in some way, and all we have to do is look hard enough, and we will find something to rationalize its existence. This is not necessarily true. What we are is collections of accidents, and evolution has worked to remove the most debilitatingly destructive of them, but it has not honed us to a state of perfection. We are loaded with features and shortcuts and quirks that work “good enough” to let us get by, and that, under most conditions, don’t hamper the truly advantageous adaptations that allow us to thrive.

Religion is a bad thing. It encourages people to believe in things that are not true. It really is as simple as that; we’d be better off if people valued truth over comfortable delusions. You can find instances where religious organizations step in to provide support, but these are not optimal situations by any means — secular organizations can and do provide the same support, without the baggage of expecting people to accept utter nonsense. It may be an interesting scientific question to consider how people come to think that such nonsense is valuable, and I think Wilson’s work is useful in that way, but it’s a gross error to then conclude that understanding the how of it makes the phenomenon itself a desirable end. We’re fortunate that medical research doesn’t usually go in the direction of mistaking the etiology of disease for a justification for its perpetuation, but those who study religion often fall into that trap.

I depart strongly from David Sloan Wilson’s position. It is necessary to criticize these ideas, again and again, because they depart from factual reality. This is the scientist’s job, to strive for closer and closer approximations to factual reality, and when three quarters of the population are embracing counterfactual idiocy, we are failing.

I am not interested in resigning ourselves to accepting lies that a culture regards as virtues. I’d rather we aspired to understand the universe as it is.

Comments

  1. #1 G
    November 30, 2007

    I still think Dawkins’s example of a shot of morphine being comforting is the best rebuttal to all this “but religion is comforting” nonsense.

  2. #2 Brownian, OM
    November 30, 2007

    I wonder if D’Souza will recover from the ass-kicking he’ll undoubtedly get from Dennett in time for his debate with Shermer next week.

    We can only pray he does.

  3. #3 Joel Klebanoff
    November 30, 2007

    I don’t know if it’s true of all editions of the book, but on the back cover of my copy of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion there’s a quote from “Penn and Teller” (don’t ask me how you get one quote from a duo, but so be it). The quote is, “The God Delusion is smart, compassionate, and true like ice, like fire. If this book doesn’t change the world, we’re all screwed.”

    I think we’re all screwed.

  4. #4 MAJeff
    November 30, 2007

    All the questioning of the polling (good skepticism) keeps pointing to the failure to admit one galling point–we are a nation that believes in very stupid shit.

    Look at that. Nearly 80% of us don’t think we really die. Nearly 70% believe in an actual place called hell (my mother being one of them) where folks like me get tortured once we die/aren’t dead.

    Yes, folks, Americans are that demented as a group. No need to stop trying to say, “It can’t be that bad.” IT IS!

  5. #5 MAJeff
    November 30, 2007

    I teach at Tufts. Skipping Dennet/D’Souza tonight. I have better things to do with my Friday night than spend any time listening to Dinesh D’Souza. After all, I try to avoid spending time with stupid people.

  6. #6 MAJeff
    November 30, 2007

    Err, are there evolutionary psychologists who are making that argument, rather than unapologetically approaching modern-day social dynamics from a myopic Panglossian perspective (or viewing modern-day social dynamics as an anomalous and probably pathological departure from the “normal” 1950s dynamics)?

    Shit, we’re not rid of structural functionalists? I thought we got rid of those fools.

  7. #7 Blake Stacey
    November 30, 2007

    Yeah, I work in Harvard Square and live in Somerville. . . and I’m skipping the Dennett/D’Souza event. It managed to sell out before I found out about it, anyway, and I don’t think I’d be able to ask a blistering question from whatever side room they’re using to project video for the overflow crowd.

  8. #8 MAJeff
    November 30, 2007

    One critical point (IMO) left out of the article is how they contacted these 2,455 people. I highly suspect every person polled was called via a land line phone, probably listed in the phone book. The pollsters also probably talked only to the head of household.

    No, probably not. It was probably done utilizing random phone number generators. Yes, only land lines, but that’s not as significant as you might think. Additionally, they’ll probably talk to the first adult they get, not head of household. You’re picking more holes than are likely there (yes, I do teach Social Research Methods, thank you).

    People just don’t want to accept that their fellow citizens are this crazy. Guess what folks: they are!

  9. #9 MAJeff
    November 30, 2007

    In my workplace (in California), I really don’t think 80% of us think the theory of evolution is wrong. But I work in a professional environment, with scientists and computer professionals. If you asked these survey questions of my co-workers, you probably would not get an accurate reflection of how people in Northern California would respond.

    This is the sample I’d guess is more likely to be biased, the readers of this blog. I’d bet more of the people here identify as atheist, have more densely atheist social networks, are more highly educated, etc. than the general population–I’m still guessing the survey sample is closer to representative of the population than this group of readers–and I’m guessing that’s why people are so reluctant to accept these results.

  10. #10 MAJeff
    November 30, 2007

    And almost 2500 people is a pretty good sample size.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    November 30, 2007

    Does the phrasing of a poll question actually have anything to do with “framing”, as espoused by Lakoff? Back in 2005, when “framing” was only tossed around in political circles, the linguist Mark Liberman said,

    Why does (almost) everyone now seem to take it for granted that “framing” an issue is how you tell people about it, rather than how you decide to think about it? Is everyone caught instead in the idea of framing as wrapping a (purely decorative and presentational) frame around a picture? This was my first reaction to the MSM discussion of framing, and nothing much seems to have changed, in this respect, since July of 2004.

    Poking through the Language Log archives for Lakoff-related material has more or less convinced me that all the science blogosphere’s bafflegab about “framing” is an echo of that which occurred in political discussions two years ago, with some bile against the “New Atheists” added for seasoning. The central piece of terminology, the word framing itself, is horribly chosen: people talk about how poll questions should be worded, instead of considering how we react to information coming from outside our social-psychological mindset.

    Bah humbug.

    And since my thesis is that all these confusions are basically the same as those which arose when “framing” became a hot topic among armchair politicians, I should offer my opinion on that; the extension to science education should be trivially obvious.

    Many liberal activists foresee just such a “memic” victory — or a triumph in the battle of ideas — “if only we refine our message.” Such people appear to be willfully ignorant of countless other requirements needed, for this to be achieved. The neoconservative movement spent decades and close to a billion dollars reinventing itself during its long exile from power, after defeats in 1964 and 1974. Democrats may need to be just as inventive.

    — David Brin

  12. #12 MAJeff
    November 30, 2007

    and were therefore excluded en mass from this and similar polls simply because they’re smart, successful, and technologically savvy.

    NO, because they are part of a social group in which certain practices and devices are favored over others. You weren’t not polled because you’re smart. You weren’t polled because of certain structural conditions.

    Can you and your friends find hats to fit on your inflated skulls?

  13. #13 MAJeff
    November 30, 2007

    I’ve got a YouTube of that debate moment on my site.

    I also spent last week in the land of the Iowa Calvinists. Even prepped with sedatives, these folks fucked me up for days.

    We live in a crazy-ass place.

  14. #14 Ichthyic
    November 30, 2007

    If we ask, “Do you believe humans evolved from a different species, due to gene mutations and survival of the fittest?”, I think 90% would say no.

    And be wrong.

    But if you ask, “Do you believe that the genes in bacteria mutate, and we must adjust antibiotics to counteract these mutations?”, I think 90% would say yes.

    And be right.

    So it’s all in how you frame the question. There’s that word again.

    Hmm, I wonder if you missed the implication that the different ways you framed the question STILL means that 90% of the people polled don’t have the slightest understanding of what the ToE entails, or how it actually works.

    Such is the REAL problem. Who cares if someone can parrot an answer they think is “acceptable” (positive or negative), if they don’t really even understand their answer?

    Seriously, asking whether someone “accepts” evolution in this country or not is rather silly.

    The question that should be asked is:

    Do you UNDERSTAND the ToE?

    Could you answer even the most basic questions about it?

    Frankly, I doubt even 10% of the US population can answer either one of those questions affirmatively, and be honest.

    I don’t blame this on a complete failure to teach the theory in secondary school (such as it is, I still think the majority of secondary students in the US are at least exposed to the basics of the theory), as much as I blame the “septic tank” homelife referred to by another poster above.

    so, one has to ask what it is about american homelife that dumbs down our students to the point they forget, or don’t bother to even take in, basic lessons in biological theory.

    One obvious answer is religion, but I also doubt this is the ONLY answer.

    Hell, 17% of the people in the US (as of 1990, last I checked), still think the sun goes around the earth. A slightly larger proportion didn’t even know that 1 year represented the time it takes the earth to go around the sun.

    I rather doubt those numbers are in any large part due to the influence of any specific religious dogma, aside from the general dumbing down that some religious ideologies seem to encourage.

    so yes, we definetly should be encouraging a migration away from idiotic fairy story ideologies, but I also think there is something more to the story, something underlying the appeal to the overly simplified.

    Is religion in america just a way to allow one to justify being lazy and ignorant? It would also explain the tremendous appeal of general “woo” in this country as well (think Depak Chopra). The attacks on science are just psychological defense reactions to what threatens the comfort of being ignorant and lazy, rationalized via invented religious dogma?

    Is it all just one way to celebrate and embrace stupidity?

    an appeal to the lowest common denominator?

  15. #15 Blake Stacey
    November 30, 2007

    Huckabee: “It’s the word of revelation to us from God himself. [...] The Bible is a revelation of an infinite God and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it.”

    Oh, if only people acted as if that were the case, instead of merely saying so to sound grandiose. I mean, if you can’t trust your ability to understand the Bible, how can you use it as a moral guide or a history book? What if that business about “a man should not lie with a person who is a guy” turns out to be one of those parts you don’t understand? An infinite God could have an infinite number of reasons to tell a story about a snake and an apple, none of which you would comprehend.

  16. #16 Chris Wren
    November 30, 2007

    I couldn’t sympathize more with everyone’s frustration, but do you think that maybe the use of terms like “these people” might account for secularism’s failure to make much of a headway? Or should we just continue with the Dawkinsian “You’re either with us or you’re a delusional superstitious fool” strategy of winning hearts and minds? I mean, do you actually not see how you’re driving people right into the arms of “these people”?

  17. #17 Blake Stacey
    November 30, 2007

    CJO (#61):

    The meme may be “getting something out of it,” at people’s expense.

    I wonder if one could apply the idea of inter-lineage competition to the memes, rather than the people. After all, if you’re willing to treat ideas as transmissible parasites, you might as well go all the way and hijack wholesale all the dynamics of host/pathogen systems. Heck, perhaps general propensities to the sorts of behaviors which combine to make religion arise as by-products of adaptations, while the memes responsible for specific religious beliefs are established via multi-level memic selection.

    Wes (#59):

    Good point.

  18. #18 MAJeff
    November 30, 2007

    We’ve seen a twisting of the Xian religion by the fundie cults into something that would be a pathetic perversion except that they controlled the country for 6 years and have almost wrecked it.

    What makes it a perversion? Religion is what it is. Christianity is what christianity is in practice, not some ideal type. The fundies are Christians. The selfless folks who do volunteer work are Christians. You don’t get to just exclude the ones you don’t like. They’re all Christian (maybe we should start invoking christianities instead).

    Now, even whether or not they’ve distorted some teachings (a debateable point), the “moderate” christian’s belief in heaven and hell, in life after death, in the virgin birth, in all of that stuff is just as batshit insane as the fundies’.

  19. #19 Brownian, OM
    November 30, 2007

    Chris Wren, while I agree with you that ‘othering’ is problematic, I doubt very much that we are “driving people right into the arms of ‘these people'”.

    Do you really think that there’s a substantial population of moderates or agnostics who actually say to themselves, “Oh, those athiests are too rude and militant. I think I’ll go join a group that’s more tolerant. Let’s see here: W…We…West…Aha! Westboro Baptist Church. These people sound like an open-minded bunch”?

  20. #20 Sastra, OM
    November 30, 2007

    Ichythic #56 wrote:

    so, one has to ask what it is about american homelife that dumbs down our students to the point they forget, or don’t bother to even take in, basic lessons in biological theory.

    The answer is probably “homelife” itself. When you get right down to it, direct personal issues matter to people far more than indirect general issues like science, math, and even politics. It’s not so much laziness and ignorance as such; it’s that for most people the focus for their energy and intelligence is usually on those areas which are up close and personal. Evolution matters less than that fight with your best friend. What happens in Africa doesn’t have as much impact on you as whether you have a baby or not. Your own life is your biggest issue.

    Religion brings the genuine Big Issues down to the level of your life. The movements of the stars are important because they’re warning you to be extra cautious with money this month. The universe was created and formed as a place for you to show how much you love your Father Creator. The most important quality in a leader is whether or not he agrees that everything you really need to know was learned back in Sunday school. Religion doesn’t just dumb down — it makes small. Intimate. Personal.

    1% of respondents who identify themselves as “Born-Again Christians” also claim to be “not religious at all”.

    I’m surprised the number isn’t higher. The Born Again love to say they are not religious — in fact, they hate religion. Religion is man’s way of making up stuff about God. They don’t have a religion. They have a personal relationship. The Creator of the Universe is their friend and guide, and is seriously interested in helping them get that job, lose some weight, and find their lost puppy.

    The Big Questions made small.

  21. #21 MAJeff
    November 30, 2007

    But polls are notoriously useless for actually figuring out what people think.

    Overused? Sure.
    Misunderstood? Sure.
    Reified? Sure
    Used to make overstated claims? Sure
    Amenable to change with slight variations in language? Sure.
    Constitutive of the publics they claim to represent, and theoretically problematic? Sure.
    Useless? Not on your life.

  22. #22 Ichthyic
    November 30, 2007

    Religion doesn’t just dumb down — it makes small. Intimate. Personal.

    hmm, yes, that does seem a bit more precise.

  23. #23 Chris Wren
    November 30, 2007

    Brownian OM, I think the adversarial climate is making people more entrenched in their ideological religious camps, and much more inclined to think that they need to “protect” their right to believe and practice from what they percieve rightly or wrongly as a militant athiest movement.

    For me, Carl Sagan is a personal hero. He was an atheist and a passionate secular liberal. I think he did much more to combat mysticism than some of today’s more famous outspoken atheists, because he saw science as a beacon to light the world, not as a fortress to be defended against the mob. He treated his audience with compassion and respect. He did a great deal to popularize science. He sold his love of science, not his hatred of mysticism. The attitude DOES make a difference. I think it makes all the differnce.

    Beyond that, I don’t really know what to say or what to suggest. Let’s face it: “Jesus loves you” has more brand power than “Your life is meaningless and finite and your beliefs are sentimenal delusions”. I’m not sure it’s realistic to think that’s ever going to change.

  24. #24 Ichthyic
    November 30, 2007

    Or, to put it more simply, substituting a dead rabbit for the dead parrot doesn’t fundamentally alter the condition of the animal

    It’s not dead, it’s just pinin’ for the fjords!

    If I hadn’t nailed that bird down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent ‘em apart with its beak, and…
    VOOM!

    how ’bout a slug?

  25. #25 Ichthyic
    December 1, 2007

    Just awful turn of the century “self-help” nonsense.

    uh, turn of the century previous to this one, just to be clear.

    However, didn’t some of Jung’s work influence some of the ideas used in the AA handbook?

    something vague I seem to recall about that; also something about it growing out of the “Oxford Group” after the 1930’s?

    *shrug*

    In any case, from personal experience with friends, relatives, and acquaintances that have utilized AA, it seems more like a social club to pick up partners for mutual enabling; even if it does on occasion keep those with addictive behaviors from “imbibing” on any given day.

    anyone who thinks they need AA, really needs proper therapy to dig out the root causes of the addictive behavior and treat those instead.

    IMO, it’s no coincidence that religious ideology plays a big role in AA, as religion itself appears to be an enabler.

    In fact, there are a great many “pastoral counseling guides” written for religious counselors to deal with substance abuse.
    it all plays on the “conversion experience” issue, and basically is nothing more than a device that cults use to take advantage of people who are desperate to curb their addictive behavior.

    what’s even more amazing is that utilizers of this technique almost always view it as a “positive” thing.

    ugh.

    wished you lived in So Cal, Phat. Beer is on me if you ever make it to these parts.

  26. #26 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 1, 2007

    As so often these threads becomes an excellent crash course in social and biological models.

    Other parts of the world, such as Europe, are becoming more secular, because the environment is favoring that. But the world as a whole is becoming more religious, more fundamentalist. Why is this? It’s because it’s becoming more dangerous and chaotic.

    If religion is an old social behavior it still remains to explain why some can claim that it is successful today. I’m not sure that it is correct that the world is becoming more religious for one thing. For another, an uncertain environment may be part of explaining such a trend, but surely not all of it.

    I would speculate that among factors that enable its spread in the modern world would be the largely international character of some major religions. But the integration of modern society is also a problem for religions, as people become more aware.

    Btw, on the secularization of Europe I have some fresh numbers from this week.

    First, the objective numbers. The Church of Sweden released its member statistics. The former state church was separated 2001-01-01 and has been loosing its artificially high membership ever since, especially in the large cities.

    Today 6.8 millions remains, or ~ 75 % of Sweden’s population of ~ 9 million. The drop rate is about 60 – 80 000 members, i.e. ~ 1 %, each year. The number of actively recruited (over 12 years of age) is 5 000 – 6 000 each year, i.e. it will take a while before the church membership equilibrates at its true level. (Still 65 % of newborns are traditionally baptized, down from 78 % 1997, but those members are again artifacts of the state church concept, and many will later leave.)

    Second, the subjective numbers. Can we predict the future membership from displayed interest instead of modeling rather varying initial drop rates? The major newspaper web version where I took these numbers from had a poll. We can assume that the replies (9080 persons) are mainly from the part of the population that intend to leave the church:

    39 % are members that intend to stay, and 17 % are members that intend to leave. I.e. ~ 30 % of current membership intends to leave. If the numbers bear out they are self consistent, ~ 50 % of the population will remain members.

    That means we may have to look forward to a full generation (25 years) or more of continuing membership drop in the church from todays ~ 75 % of the population to ~ 50 %. As far as I’m concerned, they can have that depressing period, as the former membership numbers were bogus.

    Alas, how many of those members that are actually religious believers can’t be predicted here.

  27. #27 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 1, 2007

    The church “was separated 2001-01-01″ – that was one “1” too many: it was separated 2000-01-01, IIRC.

  28. #28 Blake Stacey
    December 1, 2007

    386sx (#95):

    You can trust your ability to understand the parts you understand. Otherwise, how could you say that you understand them?

    What?

    No, seriously — what?

    You can say you understand something, and be wrong. In seventh grade, I thought I understood how to prove the distributive law from Conway’s postulates of surreal number theory, and I was wrong. I’ve met many men who said they understood how to win a woman’s love, and judging the matter empirically, they were wrong too.

    Then you would ask a theologian. If the theologian could not understand it, then you pray. Or you would ask the theologian to pray.

    Theologians are finite, too. (All finite numbers are just as far from infinity as the number 1.) If they think they understand every word in their Bible, by Huckabee’s Axiom, their God must also be too small. Furthermore, since we assume that both the Bible and all revelations by prayer are products of the same infinite God, then we can trivially prove the Infidel’s Lemma: if you think you understand everything God told to you in prayer, your God is too small.

  29. #29 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 1, 2007

    their theories about reality where based on the unproven philosophical positions of people like Lennon

    the fact that in “some” narrow conditions Lennon was right about the efficiency that can happen with communism

    WINNAR of TEH INTARTOOBZ: an unknown spellchecker in combination with American one-unstressed-vowel English.

    (LAY-neen is more like it.)

    The fact that Mao got at least one thing right, when he suggested that religion is an opiate for the masses

    Marx, no?

    Or, to put it more simply, substituting a dead rabbit for the dead parrot doesn’t fundamentally alter the condition of the animal, or its usefulness as a pet, any more than replacing one set of unfounded non-evidence based, presumptions about the world for religion will give you *better* success than the religion did.

    That is well said, however!

    —————————-

    Then I guess it’s a good thing most atheists don’t believe that life is meaningless, much less go around using that as a selling point.

    Huh? Of course it’s meaningless (or at least no evidence for a meaning has been published so far). I just don’t see why that’s supposed to be a problem or to somehow make life worthless. :-|

    —————

    Nietzsche had some interesting things to say related to all of this:

    “…whence might science…take its…conviction, on which it rests, that truth is more important than anything else, even than any other conviction? Just this conviction could not have come into being if both truth AND untruth showed themselves to be continually useful, as is the case. Thus, though there undeniably exists a faith in science, it cannot owe its origin to such a utilitarian calculus but it must rather have originated IN SPITE of the fact that the inutility and dangerousness of the “will to truth,” of “truth at any price,” are proved to it continually…. …it always remains a metaphysical faith upon which our [conviction about] science rests — that even we devotees of knowledge today, we godless ones and anti-metaphysicians, still take OUR fire too from the flame which a faith thousands of years old has kindled: that Christian faith, which was also Plato’s faith, that God is truth, that truth is divine.”

    Nonsense. That’s not why scientists are after reality. Instead, insert an argumentum ad lapidem here.

    —————

    Let’s see if we can apply scientific thinking (i.e., inductive reasoning) to religious premises to see where the logic takes us.

    Two misunderstandings. Firstly, you applied simple logic (…with questionable premises), neither the scientific method nor inductive reasoning. Secondly, induction is not scientific. In science, we come up with a hypothesis by any means — aesthetic considerations, induction, dreaming, whatever –, deduct testable predictions from it, and then test them. Hypothetico-deductive, not inductive.

    —————-

    He was also tied to Christian Identity so his bombing might be motivated more by a christian heritical movement than more mainstream one.

    You can make that argument about every single Muslim suicide bomber, too. Suicide is widely considered blasphemy in Islam (like in Christianity): God, and God alone, is the Lord over Life and Death.

  30. #30 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 1, 2007

    their theories about reality where based on the unproven philosophical positions of people like Lennon

    the fact that in “some” narrow conditions Lennon was right about the efficiency that can happen with communism

    WINNAR of TEH INTARTOOBZ: an unknown spellchecker in combination with American one-unstressed-vowel English.

    (LAY-neen is more like it.)

    The fact that Mao got at least one thing right, when he suggested that religion is an opiate for the masses

    Marx, no?

    Or, to put it more simply, substituting a dead rabbit for the dead parrot doesn’t fundamentally alter the condition of the animal, or its usefulness as a pet, any more than replacing one set of unfounded non-evidence based, presumptions about the world for religion will give you *better* success than the religion did.

    That is well said, however!

    —————————-

    Then I guess it’s a good thing most atheists don’t believe that life is meaningless, much less go around using that as a selling point.

    Huh? Of course it’s meaningless (or at least no evidence for a meaning has been published so far). I just don’t see why that’s supposed to be a problem or to somehow make life worthless. :-|

    —————

    Nietzsche had some interesting things to say related to all of this:

    “…whence might science…take its…conviction, on which it rests, that truth is more important than anything else, even than any other conviction? Just this conviction could not have come into being if both truth AND untruth showed themselves to be continually useful, as is the case. Thus, though there undeniably exists a faith in science, it cannot owe its origin to such a utilitarian calculus but it must rather have originated IN SPITE of the fact that the inutility and dangerousness of the “will to truth,” of “truth at any price,” are proved to it continually…. …it always remains a metaphysical faith upon which our [conviction about] science rests — that even we devotees of knowledge today, we godless ones and anti-metaphysicians, still take OUR fire too from the flame which a faith thousands of years old has kindled: that Christian faith, which was also Plato’s faith, that God is truth, that truth is divine.”

    Nonsense. That’s not why scientists are after reality. Instead, insert an argumentum ad lapidem here.

    —————

    Let’s see if we can apply scientific thinking (i.e., inductive reasoning) to religious premises to see where the logic takes us.

    Two misunderstandings. Firstly, you applied simple logic (…with questionable premises), neither the scientific method nor inductive reasoning. Secondly, induction is not scientific. In science, we come up with a hypothesis by any means — aesthetic considerations, induction, dreaming, whatever –, deduct testable predictions from it, and then test them. Hypothetico-deductive, not inductive.

    —————-

    He was also tied to Christian Identity so his bombing might be motivated more by a christian heritical movement than more mainstream one.

    You can make that argument about every single Muslim suicide bomber, too. Suicide is widely considered blasphemy in Islam (like in Christianity): God, and God alone, is the Lord over Life and Death.

  31. #31 MAJeff
    December 1, 2007

    …human sacrifice (how else would you describe the Inquisition, or the Crusades, or genocide of the Canaanites?).

    The crucifixion itself? Christianity’s central “miracle” involves human sacrifice.

  32. #32 Ichthyic
    December 1, 2007

    The crucifixion itself? Christianity’s central “miracle” involves human sacrifice.

    and torture! don’t forget the torture.

    Mel certainly thought the torture images worthy of cinema.

    I’ve often wondered if creationist obsession with the bacterial flagellum has something to do with Roman flagella.

  33. #33 bernarda
    December 2, 2007

    A poster gave me this link to answer my question of young men being involved in suicide bombings and others. From the Richard Dawkins site. This is from the AAI 2007 conference.

    http://richarddawkins.net/article,1710,We-Few-We-Happy-Few-We-Band-of-Brothers,Andy-Thomson-Richard-Dawkins-Foundation

    The speaker also tries to explain the difference male and female bombers.

  34. #34 Arnosium Upinarum
    December 3, 2007

    “There is this attitude that because something exists, it must have value; because people are religious, it must be good for them in some way, and all we have to do is look hard enough, and we will find something to rationalize its existence. This is not necessarily true.”

    Not only is this “not necessarily true”, it’s a completely wrong interpretation of evolution via natural selection (if this concept is expanded to include the selection of organisms). Just because physical laws allow some system configuration (organism or culture) to exist doesn’t mean that that configuration is in any way optimized or perfected. (This has of course been recognized by many evolutionary biologists and thouroughly explained in many magnificent popular writings too, most notably, for example, by Gould and Dawkins, right?)

    Especially when things get as complex as they invariably get in the biological realm, a huge range of potentially and SUFFICIENTLY successful configurations can exist in the real world for a time: mutations that produce conjoined twins or two-headed snakes can and do make configurations that survive; most can’t reproduce, and most won’t pass on those mutations. But they do manage to exist for a short while…like other configurations, such as “religion”.

    “Monsters” CAN exist. Any deviation from some supposed perfection may be placed on some “monster index”. By this accounting we’re all “hopeful monsters”. Much more subtle differences abound within any genetic population. Relatively lousy configurations coexist with better ones all the time. It’s just a matter of which monsters can better hack the prevailing environmental challenges.

    NONE are “perfect”…and NONE exist “because” the environment has somehow sanctioned their existence on the basis of some preconceived target of optimization. There isn’t any such thing, and it is almost a certainty that if a super-advanced technology ever tried to tailor a biological ecosystem that precisely answered the demands of our current environment from scratch, the result would not match a single one out of the zillions of organisms we have on our planet now. We would not recognize that world. In fact, given as many “super-advanced technology” experiments as one pleases, one would see a very different result on the complex side every time. There are MANY “tree solutions” to any given environmental challenge, and NONE of them are “perfect”. The existence of a given configuration has nothing to do with perfection. It has everything to do with sufficiency.

    Environments DON’T guide forms toward some goal. The forms that already exist are the only available means to the next potential “solution”. All those predessor forms were in their time all invariably “experimental solutions” that happened to work out and survive in their particular environmental niches as well. That means every organism alive today carries with it a burden of genetic information that isn’t strictly applicable to the demands that the present environment requires. Natural selection is a cumulative process on the predessessory equipment: it CAN’T do better than what is available for random mutation to work on. It CAN’T go back in time and re-tailor an organism in anticipation of a future environment that hasn’t emerged yet.

    “Wilson is a smart guy, but he has his eyes closed to the awful inanity of religious belief…” How “smart” can that possibly be? Or is he called “smart” only because he makes sounds as if he’s educated?

    Forgive me, but with the recent circus atmosphere (which was, I must admit, extremely entertaining if not quite so impressive) I’ve simply decided to restrict my comments on the post itself (if I find it necessary) rather than commenting on any comments on comments, ad nauseam. (I HATE trolls as much as the next reasonable person, for instance, but I don’t think it’s worth my time to look for comments I do not agree with just to have a reason to post yet another). So, if someone else in a thread has already pointed out much the same? Fine. It can’t add a significant extra reading burden on anybody who thinks they have to comb through every response.

    It’s difficult and I’m truly sorry for having to say so: I just happen to think that the precious time of lots of brilliant talent is being squandered on maintaining a “show” here and elsewhere without ever making a difference where it might actually count. All towards a good cause, of course. Yes, folks get to be heard. Good. The problem is that all the effort towards getting heard in such fora doesn’t much tip the balance: the opposition is engaged in the same game. It’s time to start talking about how to change things, not just lamenting endlessly about how lame things are..

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