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 danley
    November 30, 2007

    Yes, but the fun begins tonight when D’Souza debates Dannett. Wilson might change his opinion if he ever encounters D’Douche.

  3. #3 Christianjb
    November 30, 2007

    Dungeon entrant 19/20 was perhaps not far off in his view that we’re all (i.e. humanity) idiots. Of course, opinions differ regarding D19/20’s self assessment of his exclusion from said set.

    Anyway- it’s weird that some members of our species invented quantum electrodynamics whereas other members still believe the Earth was created 6000 years ago. I guess that evolution spent a lot of time in giving us big brains but didn’t spend so much in telling us what to do with them.

  4. #4 CJO
    November 30, 2007

    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.

    I think we will find such a something, but it’s nature is not likely to give comfort to the religious. What I mean is, if you unpack the assumption you’re talking about, it’s not just “because [religion] exists, it must have value [to someone or something],” it’s “because religion exists, it must have value to religious people.” A different thing, and much less likely to be true. Religions may well have value –to themselves, and be perfectly horrible brain-parasites where infected individuals are concerned. That would rationalize their existence somewhat, but, one suspects, not in the way Wilson et al would prefer.

  5. #5 CJO
    November 30, 2007

    apologies for horrible its/it’s thing. Apostrophe abuse!
    (and I even previewed) >:(

  6. #6 Stuart Coleman
    November 30, 2007

    You’d think that people of reason would all understand how big of a problem religion is, it boggles my mind that some just can’t grasp this basic truth.

  7. #7 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.

  8. #8 Sven DiMilo
    November 30, 2007

    There’s also the evolutionary psychologist’s argument that much of human behavior, if adaptive, is adapted to an archaic environment. In other words, even if one buys that religious belief (or the tendency to buy into religious belief) has an ultimate explanation involving natural selection, that does NOT mean it is still adaptive in our current environment, which has resulted from blindingly rapid (in an evolutionary context) change.

  9. #9 Martin
    November 30, 2007

    #1: That’s a salient and witty point. When I hosted the Atheist Experience TV show in Austin, I couldn’t tell you the number of live callers who would defend sleazy televangelists or crank psychics on the grounds they were “making people happy.” My response was always that heroin dealers make people happy; that doesn’t mean what they’re selling is good for you.

  10. #10 raven
    November 30, 2007

    Speaking of accepting reality. The thesis that religion has an evolutionary adaptionist value is speculative and without definitive data is just a hypothesis.

    My view is that the Tendency to believe in some sort of religion is hard wired into us. Whether or not it is adaptive. I do not mean that there is a god module somewhere next to the hypothalamus, some more general property. The data:

    1. Virtually all societies, primitive and modern have some sort of religion.

    2. The Soviety Union and Red China spent a lot of time and blood trying to suppress religion. Without much to show for it. As soon as the Soviets fell, religion sprang up like mushrooms after a rain. These days they have their own fundie problems and a lot of oddball cults. The same thing is happening in China. One site of questionable veracity claims that since the commies gave up politics for making money, 45 million Chinese have converted to Xianity, a new fad over there.

    3. Many atheists fall into the trap of pseudo-religious thinking. They get dogmatic, schism to form sects, issue fatwas, excommunicate each other, repeat the same logical fallacies. It is amusing for a while but gets old watching fundies without Jesus and Yahweh.

    When I hear people talk about stamping out religion, it sounds a lot like getting out in the water and stopping the tide. Good luck.

    Note I said the Tendency. While 82% of the US population believes in a god(s), 18% do not. Biology is not always destiny.

    Bash away, but forget the fatwas, accusations of heresy, and threats of excommunication. After dealing with wingnut Xian fundies, they just go into a mental trash can.

  11. #11 DSK Samways
    November 30, 2007

    I’m skeptical of these polls. I think there are a large number of ambivalent theist-by-default folk out there who are simply cagey about answering questions in a way that might lead them to be labelled with that terrible term,’atheist’. I’m sure there are those who, as Dennett suggested, believe more in the belief of theism rather than its concrete reality.

    Plus, I recall that poll numbers for people who even know what natural selection is is less than 50%. It would be more enlightening to know what proportion of those who understand the basic premise of the theory support it or disagree with it.

    I think education is the major issue here. Evolution has only relatively recently made it into the class room unmolested, which I think is a major reason for its poor showing in the polls. The drive now should be to ensure that it stays in the classroom, and is not allowed to be challenged by pseudoscience.

  12. #12 Stan Jones
    November 30, 2007

    Well all that good science education enabled the US to finish “statistically significantly below average” in the OECD international science assessment:

    http://www.pisa.oecd.org/dataoecd/42/8/39700724.pdf

  13. #13 Uber
    November 30, 2007

    That really is somewhat disconcerting however remember that a recent poll showed the non religious at nearly 40% in the under 40 crowd and even this poll has it at 20%.

    This is something that will occur gradually. It’s 40% in the younger generations now, 45% after that, and so on and so forth. The injection of religion into our politics while currently disgusting and very dangerous seems to be having the effect of turning folks away and making them question dogma.

    Although it is still a sad state of affairs when good science is so poorly thought of in the USA.

  14. #14 Scrofulum
    November 30, 2007

    I was just thinking about how I agreed with Pat Condell’s optimism that religion is just too daft to carry on forever, and that he believes it will eventually be seen for what it is and blight civilisation no more.

    Reading this sort of thing makes me rethink my position 🙁

  15. #15 caynazzo
    November 30, 2007

    So “Candid” should be required reading for “Intro to Evolutionary Psychology.”

  16. #16 BobC
    November 30, 2007

    “Only 42 percent of those surveyed said they believed in Darwin’s theory” Actually it’s much worse than that. Every poll I have ever seen has only at most 15% of Americans accepting evolution without invoking god to help it and/or invent it. Compare that to the 100% of biologists who accept evolution without invoking magic. Part of the reason for this stupidity is evolution is still not being taught in many biology classes. There’s still a large number of science teachers who throw out evolution to avoid harassment and threats from christian thugs.

  17. #17 Uber
    November 30, 2007

    Without much to show for it. As soon as the Soviets fell, religion sprang up like mushrooms after a rain. These days they have their own fundie problems and a lot of oddball cults.

    While I think your fundie atheist comment is out to lunch and silly the above to me illustrates a very common primate behaviour. When a group becomes large the population breaks into smaller groups. I think that is what happens with most of these religious groups and it is at the root biology.

  18. #18 Lana
    November 30, 2007

    This is really depressing. I agree with DSK that these polls may be a bit inflated but it’s still sad that there are so many people willing to sign on to this nonsense. I’ve hated this gullibility for years but it’s only the last few years that I’ve realized how truly evil religion is.

  19. #19 Nan
    November 30, 2007

    I’m not inclined to put much faith in Harris Poll data. Their SOP is to poll a random sample using land-line telephones. The resulting sample is going to exclude people who have cell phones only, as well as people who have caller ID. How much of a skewing effect that might have is questionable, of course, but it is an issue.

    Then again, some of the stuff I used to hear while riding public transit did nothing to encourage belief in the intelligence (or educational achievements) of the average American. Not only do the gullible masses believe in angels and benevolent sky fathers, quite a few were (and probably still are) convinced The X-Files were documentaries.

  20. #20 Shaggy Manaic
    November 30, 2007

    Polls such as those cited always raise questions for me. I wonder how many people who respond “yes” to belief in god, hell, etc. really do believe. What I’m suggesting is maybe that religious doubt is more widespread than the polls might lead us to conclude. It raises the question of what it really means (to the respondent) to say that one “believes”. Without any evidence to cite, I have a hunch that the majority of “believers” may just be answering out of social convention.

  21. #21 J-Dog
    November 30, 2007

    Although I am not an expert in poll taking, this seems like a very small sampling. Plus, I want to know more about where they were sampling too. In front of a WalMart is going to give you diffrent results than an exit poll of people in Silicone Valley.

    The poll looks like it was done in Dallas – which explains the skewed results to me, and this may even be the 2nd shot (Chris Combs being the first) in the TX War On Darwin.

  22. #22 Shaggy Maniac
    November 30, 2007

    DSK (#11):

    Sorry, I had a delay between posting and refreshing the comments; I didn’t mean to discount what you had already posted.

  23. #23 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.

  24. #24 idlemind
    November 30, 2007

    Meanwhile, thousands call for the execution of a teacher for her “crime” of giving a teddy bear the same name as their dead leader. We’re not quite up to that level of religious zealotry here, but we’re getting closer, day by day.

  25. #25 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!

  26. #26 Azkyroth
    November 30, 2007

    There’s also the evolutionary psychologist’s argument that much of human behavior, if adaptive, is adapted to an archaic environment. In other words, even if one buys that religious belief (or the tendency to buy into religious belief) has an ultimate explanation involving natural selection, that does NOT mean it is still adaptive in our current environment, which has resulted from blindingly rapid (in an evolutionary context) change.

    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)?

    First I’ve heard of it, but that’s good to know.

  27. #27 The Naturalist
    November 30, 2007

    The key issue that Watson is missing is that sure religion may be beneficial, but to who (or what)? Just because religion is popular, does not mean it is necessarily beneficial to humans. Dennett makes it clear in his books (especially DDD and breaking the spell) that religions may be successful in human cultures because they have worked out how to efficiently propagate through human minds. Religions may be simply the weeds of culture.

  28. #28 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.

  29. #29 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.

  30. #30 Jon
    November 30, 2007

    The poll of 2,455 U.S. adults from Nov 7 to 13 found that 82 percent of those surveyed believed in God.

    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.

    Speaking strictly from my personal experience, a vast majority of the younger (30 something and below) and educated US citizens I know do NOT have land line phones, at all. They have a cell phone and they’re not listed in any directories.

    This leads me to hypothesize that these polls are often skewed heavily towards older, poorer, and less educated Americans, and is not remotely a good scientific sample of our fellow Americans.

  31. #31 Rey Fox
    November 30, 2007

    “Silicone Valley”

    Hollywood?

  32. #32 Brett McCoy
    November 30, 2007

    Curious… I wonder what is meant by believing in ‘witches’? Do they mean fairy tales witches? I know several witches (neo-pagans) who, I am sure, will be all up in arms with that statement.

  33. #33 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.

  34. #34 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!

  35. #35 MikeM
    November 30, 2007

    I’m sure PZ will hate me for saying it this way, but it all comes down to framing. 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.

    I want to know a lot more about this survey’s methodologies.

    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.

  36. #36 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.

  37. #37 JohnnieCanuck, FCD
    November 30, 2007

    I struggle to understand how the US got this way, let alone how best to fix it. The difference between rich and poor Americans seems to be huge, and getting worse. Perhaps moderation in all things, including Capitalism would have been best.

    The education system is a failure for a very large number of students, according to the evolution poll and the OECD figures and it is going to get worse, if people like those at the Texas Education Authority aren’t stopped.

    If only you weren’t wasting trillions of dollars to no net benefit in Iraq. Just what kind of lever have you given the Chinese, with all those loans they are holding?

    The temptation to be smug about this is well controlled by the realisation that, if America implodes so do her economic partners. Every empire that’s ever been has come to an end. The only question is, when?

  38. #38 MAJeff
    November 30, 2007

    And almost 2500 people is a pretty good sample size.

  39. #39 Lycosid
    November 30, 2007

    Our science education isn’t as awful as most make it out to be. There is only so much a teacher can do when kids go home to an intellectual septic tank.

  40. #40 Jon
    November 30, 2007

    Yes, only land lines, but that’s not as significant as you might think.

    Maybe. All I’m sure of is that neither myself or any of my friends (few of whom I would consider religious) have land line phones, and were therefore excluded en mass from this and similar polls simply because they’re smart, successful, and technologically savvy.

    You’re picking more holes than are likely there (yes, I do teach Social Research Methods, thank you).

    You’re probably right. But as long as there’s even the appearance of something unscientific being passed of as science, somebody should raise their hand, ask questions, and try to poke holes.

  41. #41 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

  42. #42 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?

  43. #43 Dennis Hamon
    November 30, 2007

    “I have — maybe ill-placed — a foreboding of an America in my children’s generation, or my grandchildren’s generation, when all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when we’re a service and information-processing economy; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest even grasps the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas, or even to knowledgeably question those who do set the agendas; when there is no practice in questioning those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and religiously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in steep decline, unable to distinguish between what’s true and what feels good, we slide, almost without noticing, into superstition and darkness.” – Carl Sagan 1994

  44. #44 MemeGene
    November 30, 2007

    It is when religion becomes an excuse to shut off your brain and end discussion that it becomes a problem. Unfortunately, too many welcome such an excuse.

  45. #45 Jon
    November 30, 2007

    Here’s a link to a very similar poll from the same polling company (Harris) only a month ago. The questions appear to be “framed” differently, and the results also appear very different.

    Nearly half of Americans are not sure God exists.

    I found that searching around for the hard data to the poll PZ linked to. In the process I also found this site, where you can sign up to be one of the people Harris polls “for rewards that include a variety of merchandise and gift certificates”. If all of their respondents are people who are doing it for “merchandise and gift certificates”, then I’m even more suspicious of the results than I was when I thought they were calling landlines.

  46. #46 SteveM
    November 30, 2007

    All I’m sure of is that neither myself or any of my friends (few of whom I would consider religious) have land line phones, and were therefore excluded en mass from this and similar polls simply because they’re smart, successful, and technologically savvy.

    And of course no smart, successfull, technologically savvy person has a land line. I think there is a name for this particular logical fallacy.

  47. #47 Norman Doering
    November 30, 2007

    I’ll repeat what I said in another thread: Everyone who bothered to watch the recent Republican debate already knows how bad it is. They had questions from average Americans and one guy waved around a Bible saying, I paraphrase from memory: “…how you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? … This book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?”

    Every Repug candidate said they believed the Bible (which Bible?) was the word of God. They know nothing of the books real history.

    Meet Rove’s Frankenstein

  48. #48 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.

  49. #49 Christianjb
    November 30, 2007

    This poll DOES exclude at least some geniuses. I don’t have a landline phone- and I’m smart as a whip.

    Also- any telecommunication based poll would have to get past my tinfoil hat.

  50. #50 Colugo
    November 30, 2007

    DS Wilson’s group selectionism (actually mutlilevel adaptationism) is the most Panglossian approach around because it revives social organicism, with its ‘good of the group,’ hyper-functionalist reasoning.

    An individual-level approach is more congruent with a conflict view of religion – that a few individuals are full-time parasitic manipulators of others via religious indoctrination in order to justify unfair hierarchies. In this latter formulation, religion is maladaptive for most but adaptive for an elite. The funny thing is that Lewontin himself endorsed DS Wilson’s group selectionism, even though the implications of this new version of social organicism for adaptation and social behaviors fly in the face of Gould and Lewontin’s famous spandrels paper as well as much of the anti-sociobiology genre.

    Side note: The environment of evolutionary adaptiveness (EEA) and the non-adaptiveness of post-EEA behavior is one of the central tenets of evolutionary psychology (in the strict sense – Tooby, Cosmides, Buss…). The notion that evolutionary psychology is Panglossian / hyperadaptationist is derived from the Gouldian characterization of adaptationism, which was attributed to sociobiology and generic evolutionary psychology.

    All of these various approaches (evolutionary psychology, multilevel adaptation, dual inheritance…) have their strengths and problems.

  51. #51 Jon
    November 30, 2007

    Ok, here’s the raw results of the poll in question. The “methodology” section at the bottom rules out any land line debates (poll was only conducted online). There’s some curious numbers in there. Apparently, 1% of respondents who identify themselves as “Born-Again Christians” also claim to be “not religious at all”.

  52. #52 Interrobang
    November 30, 2007

    My view is that the Tendency to believe in some sort of religion is hard wired into us.

    If you want to express that as “the tendency to believe in religion because religion exploits several other more basic human/primate traits,” I’d be inclined to agree with you. I think you’re seeing “religion” where there’s actually a lot more going on.

    Religion feeds on some basic human/primate tendencies. The big one, the one that all primates seem to share, is tribalism. There are all kinds of social behaviours that one sees perfectly replicated in religion that you can see in any social grouping from a colony of monkeys on up. Within tribalism, you get the expression of “in-groups” and “out-groups,” and a set of socially sanctioned and forbidden behaviours that cause or allow actors in the system to cross from one set to another. Once you have in-groups and out-groups, you also have things like shunning, which is why these sorts of behaviours crop up as frequently among atheists as they do among funnymentalist nutcases.

    Another tendency that religion exploits, and is IMO the key psychological motivator behind religion, is humans’ hard-wired desire to view things around us as narratives (stories). This is a net positive, in that it allows us to understand things like time, cause and effect, and even science (which relies on our being able to interpret and remember sequences of events and make observations about repeated phenomena). For more information about this, you could read Mark Turner’s book The Literary Mind. All religion is, at its base, is a series of “just-so stories” aimed at explaining Life, The Universe, and Everything. A big, big narrative that happens to be a side effect of being human.

    A third tendency that religion exploits in a big way is the human capacity for analogy (metaphor). Human beings think of a lot of basic concepts in terms of metaphor. For example, a lot of cultures express time as a journey (which “direction” in time equals “back” or “forward” is a matter of some contention between cultures, however). Besides being a narrative, religion is also an elaborate system of metaphor (we usually call it symbology, but a symbol is also a metaphor of sorts, based on an assumed shared trait).

    The deal that I can see is to get people to use their natural capacity for social bonding, narrative construction, and analogy in ways that are positive and beneficial, instead of wasting them on religion. If you don’t like the idea of “eliminating religion,” why not say we’re trying to redirect people’s innate talents to more productive uses?

  53. #53 Moses
    November 30, 2007

    Panglossian adaptationist rationalization that if it exists, it must have a productive and adaptive function.

    I’ve never understood that thinking. Many things of no positive merit, at least to humanity, exist, such as bigotry, racism, homophobia, HIV, cancer and malaria. Existence of a thing, or concept, is not proof of a “productive or adaptive” function in human society.

  54. #54 jdb
    November 30, 2007

    One thing that seems fishy about the numbers: 82% believe in God, and 72% believe that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Do (religious) Jews, Muslims, and deists only make up 10% of the population?

  55. #55 CalGeorge
    November 30, 2007

    We live in a crazy-ass place.

    You Tube debate:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJr0V1m0SzM

    (starts at 2:40)

    “Do you believe this book?”

    Giuliani: “the greatest book ever written.”

    Romney: “I believe the Bible is the word of God.”

    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.”

    Lay it on thick, you assholes, you wouldn’t want to upset your fundie base!

  56. #56 Wes
    November 30, 2007

    All I’m sure of is that neither myself or any of my friends (few of whom I would consider religious) have land line phones, and were therefore excluded en mass from this and similar polls simply because they’re smart, successful, and technologically savvy.

    And of course no smart, successfull, technologically savvy person has a land line. I think there is a name for this particular logical fallacy.

    Posted by: SteveM | November 30, 2007 4:16 PM

    You are correct. It’s called a Hasty Generalization fallacy.

  57. #57 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?

  58. #58 raven
    November 30, 2007

    If you don’t like the idea of “eliminating religion,” why not say we’re trying to redirect people’s innate talents to more productive uses?

    Why I said general properties of technological primate brains, not a god module.

    Whether I like the idea of “eliminating religion” or not is irrelevant. It’s never been done before despite some serious efforts and a lot of blood.

    Left out of the discussion is that not all of religion is bad or this meme would not have survived. People are getting something out of it. My guess. Fear of death amelioration. Sense of community. Social support networks. Tribalism. A socially approved outlet to discriminate against others. Really, it would be nice to channel the energy into benign directions. During the Vietnam war, a lot of the antiwar leadership was from what are considered liberal Xian organizations. The Friends, some Catholic priests, and so on. A lot of the opposition to slavery was religiously based.

    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. And the inevitable backlash is here as people focus on the most destructive properties.

  59. #59 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.

  60. #60 Wes
    November 30, 2007

    To Blake #58:

    You’re right, but his comments function as a little more than mere grandiose words. Those statements like Huckabee’s are insincere. They’re usually just a useful club used for knocking down other people’s interpretation of [insert overly-revered mythology book here]. Whenever someone interprets the Bible in a way he doesn’t like he can just brush the argument aside by claiming that the arguer is “arrogant” for thinking he knows everything about the Bible. But don’t expect him (or any other religionist or religion apologist) to apply the same sweeping dismissals to convenient interpretations.

    Kinda like how it’s “arrogant” to say there is no God and religion is a form of delusion, but “humble” to say there is a God and atheists are immoral, militant and rude. The argument has nomeaning and proves nothing, but it serves a (fallacious) function for the arguer nonetheless.

  61. #61 Sven DiMilo
    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)?
    Thanks Colugo (#49) for your spot-on comments in response to this. For everybody that fundamentally misunderstands the approach and claims of serious evolutionary psychology, read and learn:

    Principle 2. Our neural circuits were designed by natural selection to solve problems that our ancestors faced during our species’ evolutionary history.
    Principle 5. Our modern skulls house a stone age mind.

    Shit, we’re not rid of structural functionalists? I thought we got rid of those fools.
    I had to look it up (not real current on my cultural anthro/sociology jargon), but when I did, guess whose name popped up? D.S. Wilson’s! (down at the end)

    Many things of no positive merit, at least to humanity, exist, such as bigotry, racism, homophobia, HIV, cancer and malaria.
    But nothing–nothing!–exists because it’s of positive merit to “humanity.” These things exist because they are, or were, of positive merit (or are, or were, perceived to be of merit) either to individual members of humanity (or, if you believe DS Wilson, small groups thereof), or to individual viruses, plasmodia, or cells.

  62. #62 CJO
    November 30, 2007

    Left out of the discussion is that not all of religion is bad or this meme would not have survived. People are getting something out of it.
    It’s not left out of the discussion, it’s been challenged in this discussion. I commented on it in #4, and so did The Naturalist in #27. And we both agreed that your conclusion doesn’t follow. The meme may be “getting something out of it,” at people’s expense. All we can say with any degree of confidence is that there are reasons why religion continues to thrive. Religious individuals themselves don’t have to benefit for religions to persist.

  63. #63 poke
    November 30, 2007

    It really bugs me when people say religion may be in decline in the Western world but is on the rise worldwide. The rise of Christian Fundamentalism in the third world is a product of missionary work. Missionaries are highly methodical groups dedicated to converting people to their religion. The funding of todays Christian missionary groups comes primarily from the US. Christian groups in the US are fat and wealthy due to the permissive legal environment; they don’t pay taxes, they’re immune to zoning and planning laws, and they get away with defrauding people of their money. The spread of Radical Islam is primarily due to oil rich countries. It’s pure economics that’s driving the rise of religion.

    Implying that the spread of fundamentalism is due to some evolutionary need for religion is like implying that an innate need for Coca Cola explains the worldwide rise of that particular beverage. It’s true that people like sugar and caffeine, but if people didn’t like sugar and caffeine Coca Cola would have different ingredients, because the point of Coca Cola is simply to sell. Christianity and Islam have similar motivations. If that means providing medicine and the semblance of education then that’s what they’ll do. They have a lot of money, they’re very methodical in their marketing, they’ve been at it a long time, and they have the entire international legal system of “religious rights” organizations shilling for them so they can establish anywhere and everywhere at low-cost and with benefits not available to any other charitable organization.

    We’re losing Africa, much of the Middle East, and even some Muslim communities in Europe to these people. While we’re squabbling about metaphysics and possible evolutionary explanations for religion, their eye is focused on the bottom line, where it has been for centuries.

  64. #64 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”?

  65. #65 Sven DiMilo
    November 30, 2007

    oops.
    Here’s the bad link in #60:

    http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html

  66. #66 A
    November 30, 2007

    One difference between the U.S. and the other developed countries is that the latter have all a better social safety net, like health insurance, welfare… whereas in the U.S. your life is more insecure; here in the U.S., too many people are just one paycheck away or one dread disease away from ruin. In light of this, many might think that belonging to some (religious) community might offer some form of protection, both supernatural (pray for good health), and by the assistance of the community (after all charity is much advertised by religious institutions). (Snark: That’s why social conservatives are against public health insurance and SCHIP).–
    Then, if you live in the countryside, churches are powerful social institutions (and there is nowhere else to go, for entertainment, or business contacts [if you sell anything]). Rural areas are of course overrepresented in the U.S. political system. Also in Europe, rural areas are more religious (but bigger cities are closer by).–
    Some churches in the U.S. might be declining, if it were not for immigrants (and immigrant labor priests); e.g. many older Catholic priests are of Irish origin, and the younger ones immigrants from Vietnam, Philippines, even India. (Sorry, I do not mean to slight immigrants, or the Irish,.. this is just an example). It indicates that the younger Irish seem to be less inclined to follow a religious vocation, as they have better job opportunities. The priesthood may be more attractive if you have less other opportunities, and you get a scholarship to study in the U.S.–
    But still the rise of protestant fundamentalism in the U.S. is still a surprising development requiring better explanations. Perhaps it is part of a process of social differentiation. And I am still surprised when I -too often – find a high-tech worker being religious.
    (And I still remember, when I was a graduate student with a broken leg needing a ride on a Sunday, a nice, religious couple whom I asked, answered that they could not help me, as they’d have to go to church service, but they’d pray for me. That answer was at variance with even my own protestant upbringing.)

  67. #67 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.

  68. #68 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’.

  69. #69 SEF
    November 30, 2007

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

    Doesn’t that make them Died-Again Christians? 😉

  70. #70 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”?

  71. #71 poke
    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?

    I was referring to fundamentalist missionaries. “These people” is polite.

    And since when has secularism failed to “make much of a headway”?

  72. #72 Matt Heath
    November 30, 2007

    56% of American godless NEVER go to religious ceremonies? Maybe not going to friends weddings is way atheism has such a bad reputation over there.

  73. #73 raven
    November 30, 2007

    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).

    Another point not being made much. There is no such thing as a Xian. Or a Moslem. These groups vary drastically among themselves. The Unitarian Universalists argue whether you can believe in god and belong while the fundies claim (theologically incorrectly) that you have to believe the earth is 6K years old. Anyone who looks at Xian history sees intersect violence flaring periodically. One of the worst periods was during the establishment after the start of the first millennium.

    The sects also don’t like each other much. The fundies claim the Catholic church is Satanicly controlled. The Catholics claim to be the one true church. In the absence of adult supervision and secular state control they have a habit of killing each other over differences that most rational people can’t understand. Iraq, Northern Ireland, the Reformation, the Mormons, and on and on.

    If the US ever became a theocracy, the aim of the theocratic party controlled by the fundies and a real possibility, after they get done persecuting the secularists, the Xian sects would start killing each other over who gets to rule and loot the treasury. It always happens that way.

  74. #74 Charon
    November 30, 2007

    #12

    Well all that good science education enabled the US to finish “statistically significantly below average” in the OECD international science assessment

    Quote from OP: “the United States is renowned for its excellence in scientific research.” OP does not mention science education.

    Clearly the US is not renowned for its reading comprehension.

  75. #75 raven
    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?

    It is the other way around. The extremism, drive to dictatorship, and body counts of the fundie cults are producing a backlash. Data:

    1. In a recent poll, 49% of the US population said they were sick and tired of the fundies trying to ram their wingnut beliefs down everyone else’s throats.

    2. They lost the congress in 2006. Fundie politician is becoming synonymous with hypocrite, corrupt, and stupid.

    3. The rise of militant atheism.

    Whether the backlash continues and whether it succeeds before or after they wreck the USA is an open question.

  76. #76 Graculus
    November 30, 2007

    Of course, it’s quite probale that religion is not an evolutionary adaption, but a side effect of an evolutionary adaption.

    Pascal Boyer correlates it with seeing patterns, something our species is very good at, even if there is no pattern there. As he points out, the worst thing that can happen to the guy that “sees” a non-existant leopard is that he gets laughed at, whereas the guy that fails to see the leopard is lunch.

    What all religions have in comon is *not* answers about death or other mysteries, but a belief in unseen entities… and the rituals developed to control those entities. It’s highly refined woo. But not much different from seeing non-existant leopards.

  77. #77 Azkyroth
    November 30, 2007

    The environment of evolutionary adaptiveness (EEA) and the non-adaptiveness of post-EEA behavior is one of the central tenets of evolutionary psychology (in the strict sense – Tooby, Cosmides, Buss…). The notion that evolutionary psychology is Panglossian / hyperadaptationist is derived from the Gouldian characterization of adaptationism, which was attributed to sociobiology and generic evolutionary psychology.

    Actually, it’s a direct response to the fact that the main occasions on which most people hear anything about evolutionary psychology is when it’s claimed to have “proved” that gender roles and gender discrimination are “hard-wired” or otherwise immutable, and the fact that people who are more knowledgeable about the actual state of the field (much like those “reasonable” Christians/Muslims/whatever we keep hearing about) fail to unequivocally smack down the self-serving bigots.

  78. #78 Sven DiMilo
    November 30, 2007

    Azkyroth: you’re right.
    I’d guess, however, that such debunkings, necessarily couched in appropriate terms of complexity and qualification, are far less attractive to the popular media than crap they can put under a headline like “Why Girls Like Pink.”

  79. #79 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.

  80. #80 coathangrrr
    November 30, 2007

    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”.

    Um, I highly highly doubt that there was a choice of metaphysical waffling or pedantry on the poll. Neither was there an option other than “belief” in evolution, but that doesn’t mean any of the people that answered that they “believe” in evolution would put it in such a way if they were asked to describe what they thought of evolution. I would say that I believed in evolution if they asked me on a poll, but I wouldn’t put it that way if I was asked my opinion.

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

  81. #81 Ashutosh
    November 30, 2007

    I have to say this is a great post. Thanks.

  82. #82 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.

  83. #83 Jackalopemonger
    November 30, 2007

    I second coathangrrr’s comment above on metaphysical waffling. That doesn’t change the fact that, when forced to choose between the two, most people still chose “yes”.

  84. #84 RamblinDude
    November 30, 2007

    IMO, religion is the natural tendency toward lethargy. It is both a cause of lethargy and a symptom of lethargy in a vicious cycle. It is the epitome of apathy, of “giving up”, of rejecting further investigation and exploration. That’s why it always disturbs me to hear someone say it may be a good thing because it has positive attributes.

    Sugar cubes and soda-pop will keep you alive longer than no food or water at all. Does that mean we should aspire to eat junk food? We are bombarded every day with endless commercials for junk food, and our kids are becoming obese and unhealthy at an alarming rate. Is this a good thing because it’s the natural order of things in our society?

    For me, all I have to know is religion is not truthful. Our intelligence can’t function correctly if our perception is distorted. I don’t believe that anything that is based on a lie, on distorted perception, can be anything but counterproductive in the end.

  85. #85 Ichthyic
    November 30, 2007

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

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

  86. #86 McDuff
    November 30, 2007

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

    That’s a shibboleth amongst evangelical and charismatic Christians. “We don’t have a religion, we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” It’s so common I’m surprised it only picked up 1%.

  87. #87 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.

  88. #88 Marcus Ranum
    November 30, 2007

    I struggle to understand how the US got this way

    It was founded by a bunch of religious nutbags who were so religious and so nutbaggy that they annoyed the English. So they came over here to be religious nutbags where nobody could bother them. Later, the English bothered them again (it was mutual, apparently) and a bunch of brilliant philosophers and free-thinkers managed to inspire and lead a successful rebellion. The leaders of the rebellion did a bunch of very cool things to try to keep the nutbags from banging on eachother like they did back home in Europe, and folded a lot of enlightenment thinking into the formation of the new country. That didn’t stop the religious nutbags from being religious nutbags. And they still are.

    I think that about sums it up.

  89. #89 Proteus454
    November 30, 2007

    Yes. YES, YES, YES. I cannot add this enough to PZ’s post – YES, YES, YEEEEESSSSS!!1!plancksconstant

  90. #90 Chris
    November 30, 2007

    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.

    If you haven’t read The Meme Machine, you should. I don’t think there’s necessarily solid research to back up the whole book – yet, anyway – but it’s definitely interesting.

    Short answer: Apply it to the memes *as well as* to the genes. Simultaneously, because that’s how the population is actually living, reproducing and dying, with each individual influenced both by the genes it was born with, and the memes it adopted.

    P.S. If religion is a pathogen, does that mean people will eventually evolve resistance to it? At least the kinds that convince you to commit suicide?

  91. #91 Great White Wonder
    November 30, 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.

    I thought Allen MacNeil had already solved this problem.

    LOL!!!!!!

  92. #92 Great White Wonder
    November 30, 2007

    Of course, it’s quite probale that religion is not an evolutionary adaption, but a side effect of an evolutionary adaption.

    It’s not “quite probable”, friend. It’s sure as fucking shit.

    It’s a side effect of a big brain that allows us to communicate with language and a human desire to control other people. That’s it.

    The only reason people in America are so religious is that the American public is relatively stupid (but not as stupid as third world countries — yet) and our government panders to religion so the stupid public never wakes up.

    If three Presidents in a row made it clear that creationists were full of shit and they should shut the fuck up and the media echoed those sentiments the way they presently echo the current religious-promoting horseshit, these polls were change drastically and suddenly.

    There is nothing “hard wired” about religious lunacy. Anyone claims otherwise is a fucking idiot trying to milk grant money out of even stupider people.

  93. #93 Kagehi
    November 30, 2007

    Lana, despite Raven’s attempts to suggest otherwise, you can’t suppress something like religion at all, you have to let it die on its own. And that is where Raven gets the actions of China and the Soviets wrong. They didn’t try to suppress it, they tried to “replace” it. None of these people understood half what we do now, their theories about reality where based on the unproven philosophical positions of people like Lennon, who where naive and tunnel visioned on concepts of justice and equality that don’t fit ***any*** species in existence, never mind humans. What they did was come up with their own absurd, unfounded, dogma, then tell everyone, “This isn’t a church, but we are going to use all the same claims of it solving all the worlds problems, making the world a better place, making people more moral, etc., and like all religions, which this isn’t, ***only*** our dogma is allowed.” Facts, evidence, human psychology, realistic understanding of economic models, believable projections, even common sense about what was *possible*, where all ignored in favor of the new order, and how things *must* be, according the their great prophets. The fact that Mao got at least one thing right, when he suggested that religion is an opiate for the masses, and the fact that in “some” narrow conditions Lennon was right about the efficiency that can happen with communism, is about as irrelevant as the fact that the Eugenics movement wasn’t 100% wrong about the idea of trying to permanently cure some physical problems or diseases. Its the other 95% of the time, when they where making delusion based assertions, arbitrary distinctions, and confusing philosophical concepts about the effect of their ideas in imaginary **optimal** conditions, that makes their attempt to replace religion with an anti-religion a complete failure.

    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. Unless you just happen to get damn lucky, and they lacked (and to some extent we still lack) a complete enough understanding of *anything* about economics, resource management, human psychology, or numerous other interlinked factors, it is still dead Jim, whether you call it a religion, or insist it isn’t.

    The one things communist systems and religions have in common, after all, is their fundamental denial that their system **can** be wrong about anything. And that is precisely the view point scientists **hate** when religions get involved.

  94. #94 Great White Wonder
    November 30, 2007

    None of these people understood half what we do now, their theories about reality where based on the unproven philosophical positions of people like Lennon

    All you need is love, baby.

  95. #95 386sx
    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?

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

    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?

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

    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.

    Wrong. Huckabee didn’t specify whether or not that was one of the parts he “don’t fully comprehend and understand”.

    Huckabee: “As the only person here on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don’t fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite God, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small.”

    It is impossble for an infinite God to make a finite revelation. Otherwise God would not be infinite enough. God can’t make a rock too big, nor a Bible too small. Have a nice day.

  96. #96 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?

  97. #97 jdb
    November 30, 2007

    Chris Wren #86: “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.”

    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.

    Geez, it’s like saying the Democrats can’t win in 2008 because “We’ll fight the terrorists” has more “brand power” than “we’ll be soft on terror because we think terrorists just need a warm hug.”

  98. #98 Mike L.
    November 30, 2007

    “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.”

    I personally value truth over falsehood in just about every possible scenario I can think of, and I think religion is B.S. But there are many counter-examples to the sweeping generalization above. For example, when someone is standing/walking on something high above the ground, you often hear the phrase “don’t look down.” Why? Possible vertigo is one reason. But also, there’s the possibility that if you KNEW just how high up you were, and actually SAW how far you could fall, it would rattle your nerves and you would either be paralyzed with fear or you would lose control and calm and increase the likelihood of falling.

    Also, we generally keep our children ensconced in a bit of a delusional bubble for the first so many years of their lives because we think their health and happiness are better promoted by doing so, and we value such things MORE than truth for truth’s sake. We keep truths from them (e.g. about their parents, sex, etc.) that would be disturbing or that might encourage bad behavior, and many parents obviously foster silly beliefs like Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, etc. We also give them an inflated sense of value about themselves and the things they accomplish (for example, praising them for some crappy Crayola scribblings) in order to develop a healthy self-esteem in them.

    The belief in god probably DOES keep many people’s potential bad behavior in check. This is not the case for most of us, probably, but for a considerable minority it likely is.

    There is also the example of the placebo effect. Often, a worthless or near-worthless supplement, drug, or quack medical treatment can improve a person’s mental outlook and actually end up improving their health somewhat. (Obviously the “cons” outweigh the “pros” in this case.)

    Also, for many (probably most) people, there is a sense of futility, meaninglessness, and despair that comes with the thought of a godless universe and no afterlife. And religion can help people maintain a more positive outlook through rough times, in their dying moments, etc.

    All of the “Anonymous” programs (like Alcoholics Anonymous) promote the belief in a higher power. It would be interesting to see statistics comparing the effectiveness of such an approach with a wholly secular one.

    There are situations where if you were aware of some fact, it might make you less able to follow through with something or perform optimally (it might make you more nervous or fearful or excited).

    In the case of reason vs. religion, it’s probably the case that if everyone saw how utterly baseless and absurd religious beliefs are the world would be a better place. But then, you never can know about such things without it actually occurring, allowing empirical observation. I’m sure humanity would find some other rationale, besides religious beliefs, to be monstrous to itself and other sentient creatures.

    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.”

  99. #99 Mike L.
    November 30, 2007

    Speaking of Nietzsche, some of his aphorisms in “The Portable Nietzsche” are so spot on and provocative even today, I thought I’d “share with the group”:

    When we hear the ancient bells growling on Sunday morning we ask ourselves: Is it really possible! this, for a Jew, crucified two thousand years ago, who said he was God’s son? The proof of such a claim is lacking. Certainly the Christian religion is an antiquity projected into our times from remote prehistory; and the fact that the claim is believed — whereas one is otherwise so strict in examining pretensions — is perhaps the most ancient piece of this heritage. A god who begets children with a mortal woman; a sage who bids men work no more, have no more court, but look for the signs of the impending end of the world; a justice that accepts the innocent as a vicarious sacrifice; someone who orders his disciples to drink his blood; prayers for miraculous interventions; sins perpetrated against a god, atoned for by a god; fear of a beyond to which death is the portal; the form of the cross as a symbol in a time that no longer know the function and the ignominy of the cross — how ghoulishly all this touches us, as if from the tomb of a primeval past! Can one believe that such things are still believed?

    ****

    Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.

    ****

    At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid.

    ****

    On the whole, scientific methods are at least as important as any other result of research: for it is upon the insight into method that the scientific spirit depends; and if these methods were lost, then all the results of science could not prevent a renewed triumph of superstition and nonsense. …For that reason everyone should now study at least one science from the bottom up: then he will know what method means and how important is the utmost circumspection.

    ****

    If all goes well, the time will come when, to develop oneself morally-rationally, one will take up the memorabilia of Socrates rather than the Bible…. …Above the founder of Christianity, Socrates is distinguished by the [high-spirited] kind of seriousness and that “wisdom full of pranks” which constitutes the best state of the soul of man. Moreover, he had the greater intelligence.

    ****

    Christianity has succeeded in turning Eros and Aphrodite — great powers, capable of idealization — into hellish goblins. …In themselves the sexual feelings, like those of pity and adoration, are such that one human being thereby gives pleasure to another human being through his delight; one does not encounter such beneficent arrangements too frequently in nature. And to slander just such a one and to corrupt it through bad conscience!… …In the end this transformation of Eros into a devil wound up as a comedy: gradually the “devil” Eros became more interesting to men than all the angels and saints, thanks to the whispering and the secret-mongering of the Church in all erotic matters. This has had the effect, right into our own time, of making the “love story” the only real interest shared by ALL circles — in an exaggeration which would have been incomprehensible in antiquity and which will yet be laughed at someday.

    ****

    How little Christianity educates the sense of honesty and justice can be seen pretty well from the writings of its scholars: they advance their conjectures as blandly as dogmas and are hardly ever honestly perplexed by the exegesis of a Biblical verse. Again and again they say, “I am right, for it is written,” and the interpretation that follows is of such impudent arbitrariness that a philologist is stopped in his tracks, torn between anger and laughter, and keeps asking himself: Is it possible? Is this honest? Is it even decent?

    ****

    And lastly, here’s one that is a perfect complement to raven’s comment above (#10) about how, “Many atheists fall into the trap of pseudo-religious thinking. They get dogmatic, schism to form sects, issue fatwas, excommunicate each other, repeat the same logical fallacies. It is amusing for a while but gets old watching fundies without Jesus and Yahweh. When I hear people talk about stamping out religion, it sounds a lot like getting out in the water and stopping the tide. Good luck…. …Bash away, but forget the fatwas, accusations of heresy, and threats of excommunication. After dealing with wingnut Xian fundies, they just go into a mental trash can.” Here’s Nietzsche: “The Most Dangerous Party Member: In every party there is one member who, by his all-too-devout pronouncement of the party principles, provokes the others to apostasy.”

  100. #100 Azkyroth
    November 30, 2007

    At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid.

    Heh. The 2004 election in a nutshell.

    As for your post at #98….

    I don’t have the energy. Suffice to say this line of argument is neither compelling nor new.

  101. #101 Goffer
    November 30, 2007

    PZ, I’d have to disagree with you here:

    “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 does state a reason:

    “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.”

    Change “so-called terrorist organization” to church and you’ve pretty much got America.

    Most progressive secular countries are a lot more socialist than the US, they are generally seen as offering a base standard of help to the poor and lower classes. See health care, welfare comparatively with US and other more secular countries.

  102. #102 Marcus Ranum
    November 30, 2007

    “Jesus loves you” has more brand power than “Your life is meaningless and finite and your beliefs are sentimenal delusions”

    That does explain a lot I think. Hmmmm… Maybe that’s why I don’t get standing ovations when I try to convince people that they are just meat robots dancing to the tune of macro causality and subatomic randomness. That’s even tougher a sell, emotionally, than delusions. At least you get to “pick” your delusions whereas we poor meat robots just download whatever delusions we’re force-fed by the inevitable whirl that surrounds and controls us.

  103. #103 Myql
    November 30, 2007

    I often find myself feeling like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes. Mass delusion and mental illness run rampant in America. How one can accept at face value the illogical drivel that passes for religion never ceases to astonish and perturb me.

  104. #104 RamblinDude
    December 1, 2007

    Mike L,

    I guess I’m feeling energetic tonight, this is the longest comment I’ve ever done.

    In your first post you give examples of “lying” that have, it could be argued, practical benefits. I disagree with the conclusions you have drawn from them.

    The person on the high wire doesn’t disbelieve in the existence of the ground far below. That, of course, would be stupid. Not focusing one’s attention on it is not the same as lying.

    You also give examples of “Lying” to children that are accepted as beneficial. Just because they are agreed upon as being beneficial doesn’t mean that they actually are.
    And it’s possible to comment on a child’s drawings truthfully without being condescending or insensitive.

    And saying that religion probably keeps some persons’ bad behavior in check is ignoring the possibility that religion quite possibly messed up the individual in the first place, and that those who really want to behave badly do it anyways. Often with religion as an excuse! I would contend that societal pressure keeps people in line far more readily than religious beliefs ever have. I would also say that the guilt and fear and inhibitions instilled by religion has messed up people far more than it has helped them.

    And as for—- “Also, for many (probably most) people, there is a sense of futility, meaninglessness, and despair that comes with the thought of a godless universe and no afterlife.” —-this is to ignore the fact that the dullness and dissatisfaction of our lives has been actively fostered by all the arbitrary inhibitions, rules and regulations, fear inducing creeds, constraints and mental shacklings imposed upon us by religious dogma through the centuries. Religion/lying keeps us from living full lives, it does not enhance us.

    As for the Nietzsche quote in your first post, I’m a complete layman at all this but I’m going to try anyways. Either something got lost in the translation on this one:

    “…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.”

    or Nietzsche was full of shit. We don’t need to rest our convictions about science on faith, metaphysical or otherwise; we have several hundred years of empirical observations and grand successes upon which to draw our conclusions about its efficacy. Honesty works, dishonesty doesn’t. The scientific method works, non-investigation doesn’t. If people who prize faith wanted the truth they would investigate rigorously. They would examine everything from all angles all the time–they don’t. The reason they don’t is because faith is the opposite of science, in spite of what Nietzsche implies.

    I get it that he is comparing the scientists’ passion for the facts to the religious person’s zeal for the sacred, but so what?

    In any case, science isn’t a fanaticism about “truth”; it is a method of investigation into reality–again, the opposite of religion.

    And now I’m going to bed.

  105. #105 Colugo
    December 1, 2007

    Terms and concepts that are often conflated:

    Panglossianism: Best of all possible worlds. A common accusation made against Anthropic Principle-derived cosmological arguments and the adaptationist school of evolutionary theory (note: no relationship between the two). But modern adaptationism-based predictions differ markedly from Panglossianism. (Sometimes Intelligent Design has Panglossian aspects – i.e. The Discovery Institute’s insistence that there is no such thing as DNA that is nonfunctional for the organism. But Abrahamic IDists have an out explaining apparent maladaptation – The Fall from Eden.)

    Functionalism: View of an entity (ecosystem, social group, institution) as being composed of parts that operate for good of whole, subsume individual interests for collective. See functionalist sociology, structural functionalism, social organicism. (Not to be confused with Tinbergen’s concept of function.)

    Adaptationism: Modern adaptation research program incorporates trade-offs, conflicts between and at various levels, the other three Tinbergian questions. Not synonymous with Panglossianism nor traditional functionalism. Modern adaptationism is informed by post-Lack/Hamilton evolutionary ecology, which rejected holistic-functionalist assumptions.

    Optimization: Analytical strategy (based on microeconomics) of deriving predictions about behaviors, structures, and other aspects of phenotypes. See optimal foraging, life history theory, symmorphosis. Optimization-informed analysts do not naively expect to see optimality everywhere, rather they view deviations from optimization-based predictions as interesting phenomena to be explained and opportunities to improves specific models.

    Level (of selection, fitness, adaptation): Prions, cancers, heritable bacteria, segregation distorters have behaviors explicable from “adaptationist” perspective – but not at level of the metazoan organism. (As Sven DiMilo alluded to above.) Even individuals have internal conflicts of interests (see genomic imprinting). The higher order the entity (group, ecosystem) to which adaptation is attributed, the more adaptation converges with older-style functionalism. (See DS Wilson.)

    Biological determinism: Usually synonymous with genetic determinism; also often implies adaptation (or more specifically, functionalism) and prescription follows from description (Naturalistic Fallacy).

  106. #106 Michael Glenn
    December 1, 2007

    Actually, Goffer (#100), Wilson gives a second reason for America’s religiosity.

    PZ says

    . . . 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”.

    In fact, Wilson says

    The United States is an anomaly for people who study religion because it’s an affluent society, and yet, it’s highly religious. The idea that it’s a free religious economy doesn’t work out very well, because if this were the case, then Australia and New Zealand should be like the United States, and they’re not. Another possibility is that the income inequality and inequality in general are so great in the United States that we combine an affluent nation like Europe, with a third world nation. There are many people who are not getting the fundamental ingredients of life, financial, psychological, or sociological, and who then turn to religion.

    Emphasis mine, of course. JohnnieCanuck (#37) and A (#65), above, made similar points to Wilson’s.

    In the end it always seems to come down to politics, doesn’t it?

    For myself, I found Angier and Wilson both infuriating in their own ways, Wilson for the reasons given by PZ, Angier because, like so many opponents of irrationality, her model for religion is purely Judeo-Christian-Islamic.

    It’s sort of like seeing life as being quintessentially vertebrate. Aren’t we leaving out the cephalopods?

    That’s where Wilson made some good points. If the phenomenon of religion is to be understood, it can’t be in terms of pat explanations like “fear of death” or “tribalism.”

    It would be helpful if people like Angier could see religion less simplistically, and if people like Wilson could be less sanguine about irrational beliefs that have no place in the public square.

    Then perhaps opponents of irrationality could start talking to each other instead of past each other.

  107. #107 Mike L.
    December 1, 2007

    Ramblin Dude: There are obvious situations where lying, concealing truth, or misleading in some way is preferable — including with kids. If your honest opinion about, say, your little girl’s dance performance is that it was just awful and embarrassing, are you going to tell her that when she asks what you thought? Are you suggesting that it’s always, everywhere, in every situation better to know and reveal the full truth? That conviction is what Nietzsche was questioning. He wasn’t questioning science’s effectiveness to get at the truth; he was questioning its blind, unconditional commitment to and zeal for finding out and revealing to others the truth no matter what. Why unconditionally value truth above all other possible values that it might come into conflict with?

  108. #108 Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth
    December 1, 2007

    It takes the emotions to effect a change in religiosity as science and philosophy alone cannot do so. What would one suggest?
    It is a mere feeling that there is a supreme mind behind and beyond the Universe that cares for us . That mere feeling uses pareidolia to see that mind at work. That mere feeling is a replaceable placebo.
    The mere feeling gives people the feeling that they have divine purpose and love and a future state.That is as Albert Ellis would have noted a”mustabatory” want, not a real need.That is the universal neurosis.
    Our own purposes, human love and this one life suffice. We do not need forever to find purpose and meaning now!
    We ignostics find the mere feeling has no substance.God is a mystery,surrounded by others, purportedly the supreme explanation but”hides our ignorance behind a theological fig leaf,” to quote Keith Parsons. It is the unimformative tautology that God wills what He wills.How could a mystery explain anything? God did it is no real explanation.
    Then Ockham’s Razor makes Him redundant.
    We need Him as an explanation no more than we need Thor as one in additon to natural causes for the weather, my psychiatrist needs no demons in additon to natural causes for my personality disorder and depression and mechanics need no gremlins in addition to natural causes to explain mechanical failure.
    This leads to the presumption of naturalism[ which Antony Garrard Newton Flew developed long before his entering dementia] that natural causes are efficient, necessary, primary and sufficient.This neither begs the question nor sandbags theists as it is only the demand for evidence. Eienstein overcame Newton with evidence.
    And the problem of Heaven asks why if there is free will in Heaven and no wrong doing ,then why not here in the first place?Theists special plead.
    John Hick guesses that there might be heavenly analogues to virtues, bu then again why not here in the first place?And his soul-making begs the question of the soul!
    Theistic evolution is an oxymoron as science is dysteological- no pre-determining the results as the method is sequential, one step leading to others whereas teleology of theists is pre-determining the outcome, thus a contradiction.Thereby arises the new Omphalos argument that God makes us think that natural selection is independent of any external agency as He is that agency.No, selection is indeed independent!
    Theists try to obviate the contradiction with a two category classification of origins[ science] or contingency and creation[teleology] or necessary being but that begs the question of the second part.
    Again, the mere feeling expresses itself: theists see no conflict as the feelilng shows God behind all.

  109. #109 craig
    December 1, 2007

    I’m technologically savvy and I have a land line and no cell phone.

    Being technologically savvy means you are able to evaluate and choose the best tech for the job. A land line, being cheaper, having better quality, not needing expensive batteries, not being required for my income, and my not needing (and indeed wanting to avoid) being constantly exposed to inane and pointless chatter whereever I go, made a land line the obvious choice.

    Cell phones make sense for many people. For many others they’re just a bullshit status symbol or evidence of compulsive consumerism.

  110. #110 Azkyroth
    December 1, 2007

    There are obvious situations where lying, concealing truth, or misleading in some way is preferable — including with kids. If your honest opinion about, say, your little girl’s dance performance is that it was just awful and embarrassing, are you going to tell her that when she asks what you thought?

    What’s wrong with telling her it’s a good start and giving her suggestions for how to improve it? And while it certainly makes sense to try and present the answers to their questions in terms they can understand, and tailor explanations to their level, I can’t imagine a situation in which actually lying to kids about sex helps matters.

    This strikes me as an argument from lack of imagination compounded by tradition.

  111. #111 Mike L.
    December 1, 2007

    Just wanted to let any potential responders know that whatever they post I will get around to reading, but I think I’m done commenting. Cheers.

  112. #112 phat
    December 1, 2007

    All of the “Anonymous” programs (like Alcoholics Anonymous) promote the belief in a higher power. It would be interesting to see statistics comparing the effectiveness of such an approach with a wholly secular one.

    If AA were ever allowed to be held up to serious scientific scrutiny it would be laughed at. Their success rate is just awful. And I suspect their “faith-based” focus has kept them from scrutiny and challenge. This, of course, keeps other avenues of treatment from gaining support.

    It certainly “works” for a very small percentage of addicts. But it’s not a serious avenue of therapy that’s been allowed to be tested and compared to other treatment ideas. It doesn’t even posit a cause of addiction, just some vague concept of “dependency.” It’s not medicine.

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

    phat

  113. #113 Dave Eaton
    December 1, 2007

    Every Repug candidate said they believed the Bible (which Bible?) was the word of God.

    I wonder how different the Democratic candidate answers would be. Not believing in ‘the Bible’ is likely suicidal for a presidential candidate. I would expect nuance, but something that ultimately boils down to the same opinion. The Republicans obviously lead off with godtalk, but a direct question like that posed by the biblewhacker the other night would have the Democrats quoting scripture and singing hymns, I bet.

  114. #114 Norman Doering
    December 1, 2007

    Dave Eaton wondered:

    I wonder how different the Democratic candidate answers would be.

    I was suggesting asking a different set of questions, not about whether they believed Bible, but whether they were aware of its history. Did they know there were other gospels? Were those also inspired?

    But you’re right — Democrats would pretty much say the same.

  115. #115 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.

  116. #116 RamblinDude
    December 1, 2007

    Mike L,

    I’ve never had kids, but if she was quite young then I’d probably lie and say, “Oh, that was just great sweetie pie!” I won’t know until I get there. But if she were older and it really was bad then it wouldn’t be fair to her to let her think she was wonderful and talented. That would cause problems for her down the line. We need proper feedback in life, otherwise things get all screwed up.

    Generally, I just don’t have a problem with being honest in a lot of taboo areas. Even if a dying relative wanted to be comforted with tales of heaven I wouldn’t do it. I’d probably just poke good natured fun at them and explain that everything on the planet dies and that it’s only human beings who turn it into something weird, so stop worrying about it. I just despise the idea that we need to be comforted with lies in any area of life.

    Are you suggesting that it’s always, everywhere, in every situation better to know and reveal the full truth? Yeah, pretty much. Let’s just make a habit of it. It doesn’t mean we can never apply the adage “Silence is Golden”

    When it comes to public protection, there may be times when it is best to conceal the truth to prevent mass panic, or mass retaliation or… whatever. Sure, you can use your imagination and come up with scenarios, but all too often I think we don’t give people credit for being able to handle the truth, when in fact they could handle it. And all too often its personal cowardice that prevents us from being honest and not altruism or practicality at all. And let’s not forget the ever popular manipulation of people for our own personal gain and then pretending that it’s for their own good.

    The thing is, the question, “Why unconditionally value truth above all other possible values that it might come into conflict with?” is just weird to me. Where does that come from? Maybe I’m missing something here, but the only other value that truth could come into conflict with is untruth–lying. Why is lying to people even considered for any but the most extreme circumstances? Why is living in a world of play pretend for oneself, or propagating such a mentality for others preferable to facing reality?

    We’ve seen the horrible results of people being lied to; it really screws things up. The world is in a very sorry state today because people have been misinformed, hoodwinked, cheated, lied to, manipulated.

    The world is in a sorry state because people spout out slogans like “The truth will set you free” and “God is truth” and then proceed to lie and be dishonest. Untruthfulness is de-energizing. Our willingness to lie is the bane of humanity, and it sucks the magic out of life. I can only reiterate: our intelligence can’t function properly when our perception is distorted, so why would I want to distort perceptions?

    I feel like I must be missing something here. Either that or that I can only say what I’ve said before–Philosophy is all too often just a bunch of mental doodling.

    And now I really am off to bed. Cheers.

  117. #117 bernarda
    December 1, 2007

    In # 24 idlemind mentioned the protests in Sudan against the teacher. Once again it is groups made up principally, maybe entirely of young men. Almost all of the “terrorist” bombings are carried out by young men. I think that all of those in Europe and the U.S. have been done by young men.

    The often violent protests against Salman Rushdie and the cartoons were the efforts of young men. Haven’t all the attacks on abortion clinics and personnel been the acts of young men?

    Has anyone studied why it appears to be young men in particular who are moved to carry out these violent protests and attacks? Is this gender differential simply social, or is there some biological reason?

    The results today seem to show that one should be particularly wary of young men who go to churches or mosques.

    As to “Six impossible things before breakfast”, that is the title of an interesting and not so optimistic book.

    http://www.amazon.com/Six-Impossible-Things-Before-Breakfast/dp/0393064492

  118. #118 negentropyeater
    December 1, 2007

    The most alarming part of this poll is the acceptance of evolution, and especially the fact that it is about 30% less accepted than in “old Europe”, and this is not improving. When I say acceptance, I really mean “understanding”.
    If one had done this poll at the end of WWII, I think the difference between the USA and Europe would have been much smaller.
    If it is that important to change this, one has first to look at the main causes for such a gap :
    – science education ? (and the role of public broadcasting): does anyone know of a detailed comparison between the USA and Britain, France or Germany on this ?
    – american exceptionalism ? “A nation protected by god”
    that’s one of the advantages of not being the one and only world superpower. Afterall, the US president keeps being refered to as the leader of the free world…
    – over reacting fear of comunism and anything “social” ?
    comunism and socialism was part of society for many years in Europe, not in the USA. We learned that systematic prioritization of individual liberties is not always good for group cohesion. In the USA, religion took over, in many areas, the group, reducing the role of government. Afterall, when people put their only hope in God, why do they need government ?
    There might be other reasons, but I think those are the most important, at least differentiating factors between the USA and “Old Europe”.

  119. #119 DiscoveredJoys
    December 1, 2007

    I’m with Interrobang (#52). Humans share a number of evolutionarily selected traits with other primates, such as group identification, obey the alpha male, behaving in a socially accepted manner, and understanding the world as narrative stories. These traits have been generally successful in evolutionary terms otherwise the various primate species would have already gone extinct. Past performance is no guarantee of future success of course.

    These traits are exploited by narrative ideas (memes). Memes are parasites, and have no ‘value’ outside themselves. These memes may add to the evolutionary success of the host, reduce it, or have a neutral effect. Any particular religion is a set of memes (parasites), but so is any other ‘memeish’ group identification. These include party politics, support for a particular sports team (often against all odds!) or musical group and even philosophical ideas such as scientific method or New Atheism (sorry, but the truth will out – or is that another meme?).

    Complaining about religions, in terms of utility or truth, is pointless. Memes either have to be replaced by a more attractive (narratively satisfying) memes or be balanced by another meme (such as secular laws). Does Atheism or Science satisfy the basic human traits more than Religion? Not at the moment, for many people.

  120. #120 bernarda
    December 1, 2007

    More on the muslim violent protests against the teacher in Sudan. Now they want her executed.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071130/ap_on_re_af/sudan_british_teacher;_ylt=Ap6xd7M1cCdqiE62liTnvVWs0NUE

    Now we have reached new depths of religious stupidity.

  121. #121 Peter Ashby
    December 1, 2007

    “Well all that good science education enabled the US to finish “statistically significantly below average” in the OECD international science assessment:
    http://www.pisa.oecd.org/dataoecd/42/8/39700724.pdf

    Woo! Hoo! NZ beat the Aussies! Way to go!

    Sorry, expression of infantile sibling rivalry there, and thanks for the link.

    Here in the UK they are agonising about the fall to 14th, despite new science curricula (much criticised by scientists) and much investment in education (but ineffective the studies show).

  122. #122 Fernando Magyar
    December 1, 2007

    Shit! Most Merikans are numerically illiterate they can’t grasp some of the most basic concepts of simple arithmetic.
    How in gods name can you expect them to understand science when they can’t even get simple math. This link may appear to be somewhat OT but it underscores some rather serious misconceptions about reality that are held by most of our intellectual leaders. I also think that the presentation’s conclusion and allusion to what our real religion is, is quite on target. This is a one hour lecture by Dr. Alber Bartlett.I think we could use a few more of him out there. However I’m not very optimistic anymore.

    Dr. Albert Bartlett: Arithmetic, Population and Energy
    http://globalpublicmedia.com/lectures/461

  123. #123 Caveat
    December 1, 2007

    Icthyic #57: “Is it all just one way to celebrate and embrace stupidity? an appeal to the lowest common denominator?”

    I think so. It’s everywhere – in the media, in legislatures, in schools and on the street. The lowest common denominator is now the majority. On its face.

    I suspect that serious overpopulation and declining resources globally have created a mass hysteria within our species. People know the jig is up unless some drastic changes are made.

    They are in survival mode and for most, that means living in a state of denial almost permanently. Just like the people who live in a dictatorship except in our case the dictator is paralyzing fear. Fear of being different. Fear of having ideas. Fear of learning some facts because if you do, the whole house of cards will collapse and you’ll have nothing left.

    How else do you explain the fascination with ‘celebrities’ today, most of whom have no evidence of talent or intellect? I include politicians in that category. News media have abandonded reportage and focus on fear-mongering, gossip and character assassination instead. The one who controls the press service controls the national psyche. The bombardment is relentless and unless you have character, it’s difficult to carry on. Cynicsim isn’t for everybody.

    Most people don’t want to know. Anything. Fewer people today than in the past seem willing to stand up for what’s right. I hate to mention Orwell but I’d say that he had it pegged – truth is a lie, war is peace, slavery is freedom, ignorance is knowledge, religion is science.

    They believe in these religions as the only way to have some hope and I really can’t blame them because most of all, they are afraid they’ll go mad. That fear makes them conform. If they live somewhere where everybody pretends to believe in gods, heavens, hells, whatever, they’ll pretend that they believe it too just to fit in, feel part of the group. Peer pressure is powerful.

    They keep lying to themselves and eventually they trick themselves into believing something that could not possibly be true. They turn on the computer and heat things up in the microwave before they go to the doctor for their ‘flu shot drive their car to the office and ride the elevator to their floor, yet they dismiss science and embrace magic. In their heads.

    The don’t know the names of plants, animals, rocks or other things that surround them. They have not been raised to question authority, like we were. They just ‘do what they’re told’. Some of them even brag about it. Easy meat for con artists, regardless of the arena.

    So they get a telephone call and foolishly respond to a survey and they know deep down the whole thing is a crock but they don’t want the surveyor to know that they know because she might be an agent of some sort and they aren’t sure who’s calling because they didn’t verify it before yapping, so they say yes, I believe in a god. Now shove off and leave me alone.

    Or not.

  124. #124 Torbjrn 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.

  125. #125 Torbjrn 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.

  126. #126 Torbjrn 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.

  127. #127 Torbjrn 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.

  128. #128 Caveat
    December 1, 2007

    Re: The Science Survey. I hope you noticed that Hoserville got the bronze!

    Science. Mysterious. Cloistered. Elite. Almost magical.

    If people really, really want to make science more mainstream they have to make it more available.

    For example, I’ve been researching dog behaviour and associated topics for a few years now through the scientific literature.

    I search through libraries like PubMed (don’t live near a Uni anymore) and check the abstracts, most of which are available online for free.

    To get the papers I’m interested in reading, I had to open an account with NRC Canada. I order my papers through Loansome Doc, they send the order to NRC/CISTI, they fax me the papers and they drop into my email as pdfs through my eFax account.

    Fine. Great system.

    Except that most of these papers cost $15 – 25 a pop, sometimes more if a publisher like Elsevier or Blackwell has the rights, and it adds up.

    I can afford it and I need the information. I have a good whack of articles in my little collection, probably 150 or so, haven’t counted. So, I’ve probably spent about $3K or more on articles alone in the past two years. Books are extra.

    How many people will do that? Can do that?

    It occurs to me that if journal articles were free (only some are now), more people might be inclined to read them.

    If it weren’t a copyright violation, I could share them, post them on my blog and comment, encourage others to do so too. Get the wheels turning, get other people to start tracking things down.

    If you want science to be popular then you have to make it available. Like ‘news’. Like religion. Like Paris bloody Hilton.

    It would also be cool to have a panel of scientists online somewhere who could comment on different disciplines, maybe clarify or summarize some of the more esoteric stuff in simple language. Teach people about critical appraisal, how to check for flaws, what the method means, etc. Maybe answer questions from ordinary people like me from time to time.

  129. #129 Brian Macker
    December 1, 2007

    kagehi #93 – Right on.

    Mike L. #98 – I agree that “untruth” is required sometimes like when your wife asks “Does this make me look fat?” or your example of “Don’t look down”. I don’t however see religion serving this purpose properly. I know from personal experience that believing death to be final does not cause one to freeze up or fall into depression.

    Those supposed consequences are actually more imagined than real. I think if you consider things more deeply with actual real world examples you will see it’s not true. For example, western armies abilities to heal battlefield wounds leads to braver behavior on our side than fanatical belief in an afterlife of orgies.

    Many real world examples of bravery on the part of peoples who live by atheistic religions/philosophies also show this idea to be false.

    Something can only give comfort if you actually believe it and most people who believe in religion haven’t such a firm grasp on that belief. This is why they get so upset over little things like naming teddy bears Mohammed. The slightist disturbance in the consensus ruins the delusion.

  130. #130 Tony Jeremiah
    December 1, 2007

    Re: Jesus is God or the Son of God

    Well,

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

    Premise (1): Jesus is the Son of God could be interpreted as Jesus is the sUn god

    Premise (2): Hitler believed in the sun god

    Premise (3): If you believe in the sun god, you’ll go to heaven and have everlasting life.

    Conclusion: Hitler is in the sun and having everlasting life. So that makes Hitler “brilliant”.

  131. #131 Phil Studge
    December 1, 2007

    …damnable stupid doctrine like hell

    Nice.

  132. #132 Brian Macker
    December 1, 2007

    Bernarda # 117

    “In # 24 idlemind mentioned the protests in Sudan against the teacher. Once again it is groups made up principally, maybe entirely of young [Muslim] men.

    You missed something that was obvious so I fixed that for you. Also don’t you think that the fact that women in these countries aren’t allowed out by themselves might have something to do with it. You think any woman in her right mind would want to get separated from her owner in such a crowd. Being female and alone is a sanction from Allah for rape, and these protesters are exactly the type to enforce Allah’s will.

    “Almost all of the “terrorist” bombings are carried out by young [Muslim] men. I think that all of those in Europe and the U.S. have been done by young [Muslim] men.”

    Fixed that for you also. Well if you think a married suicide bombing doctor of 27 is young then I guess so. Many of the suicide bombers have been professionals or doctors and you don’t get to be a doctor at the age of < 25, which would be my definition of young man. I think by age 25 you should be considered a full adult male. Hell 30 used to be considered middle aged and if you go back far enough the life expectancy was 35. Osama bin laden, who attacked the US is 50 year old, and most of those terror sheiks are old farts, but I'm guessing by "terrorist" you are being imprecise and instead mean "suicide bomber". If when you say terrorist you mean "suicide bomber" then is it really surprising that they don't live to be old men? People who have the kinds of beliefs and the personality to strap a bomb on themselves don't have long life expectancies. I think this my show up in their life insurance premiums if you want a empirical measure. 😉 "The results today seem to show that one should be particularly wary of young men who go to churches or mosques." Churches? What planet do you live on? I've confronted several young mormon and seventh day males and they are less than intimidating. These mormons on bikes are real threatening, what with believing in turning the other cheek and all. Now black muslims racists from the Nation of Islam, those are scary and they go out of their way to be.

    There are christian groups like the KKK, and Christian Identity that tend to be scary, but it certainly has more to do with their racism than christianity.

    I consider abortion clinic bombers to be truly motivated by their religious beliefs. However guys like Rudolph, are again not so “young”. He was thirty at the time of his first bombing. He was also tied to Christian Identity so his bombing might be motivated more by a christian heritical movement than more mainstream one. I certainly would be wary of a “young men who go to” Christian Identity or Nation of Islam “churches or mosques”.

    The few christian bombers not tied to racism that I’ve heard about haven’t been suicide bombers, and seem to be older. Michael Frederick Griffin was 31, Paul Jennings Hill was 40, James Charles Kopp was 44, at the times they terrorized abortion clinics. John Salvi was 22 which might count although he’s on one end and not the other end of the scale of young men.

    I suggest you add the adjective Muslim and perhaps drop young to come up with a better hypothesis. Don’t forget the female muslim suicide bombers and all the foaming at the mouth female muslim terrorist approving spokepersons either.

  133. #133 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.

  134. #134 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.

  135. #135 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.

  136. #136 windy
    December 1, 2007

    (LAY-neen is more like it.)

    Stop confusing the Americans! It’s Len-in, or more Russianly, Lyenin (y as in yes).

  137. #137 Sven DiMilo
    December 1, 2007

    Humans share a number of evolutionarily selected traits with other primates, such as group identification, obey the alpha male, behaving in a socially accepted manner, and understanding the world as narrative stories. These traits have been generally successful in evolutionary terms otherwise the various primate species would have already gone extinct.
    a. none of these is primate-specific (except the narrative stories thing, which is almost certainly human-specific; heard any good non-human primate stories lately?).
    b. many, many, many species, primate and otherwise, with these characteristics have, in fact, gone extinct.
    c. that said, these ancestral traits are no doubt part of the ultimate explanation for religious belief.
    ——-
    Jesus is the Son of God could be interpreted as Jesus is the sUn god
    It’s Xianity, Jim, but not as we know it
    ——–
    One of the best threads ever. Colugo for Molly by reason of clarity.

  138. #138 bernarda
    December 1, 2007

    brian macker, are you really as clueless as your post makes you sound? The people who carry out the attacks are almost all young men. People who plan them may or may not be older.

    So the jesus freak terrorists happen to be more middle-aged men. What a big difference.

    In case you didn’t notice, the guys who carried out the London and Madrid attacks were not suicide bombers.

    You should just stay in church.

  139. #139 Matt Penfold
    December 1, 2007

    “In case you didn’t notice, the guys who carried out the London and Madrid attacks were not suicide bombers.”

    The Madrid one were not suicide bombers. The first London attacks were, and the second would have been were in not for the fact the bombers failed to make their bombs properly and they failed to detonate.

  140. #140 Tony Jeremiah
    December 1, 2007

    @132 (David)

    Two misunderstandings. Firstly, you applied simple logic (…with questionable premises)

    **Indeed I did (see Sven @134)

    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.

    ** I would contend that the entire process is scientific, and involves a cycling between inductive and deductive reasoning. For example, when Darwin set off on the Galapagos Islands from 1833-1835, the hypothetical lens by which he began his journey was that of catastrophism– the idea at that time that God had created the earth in separate stages; and with each stage (involving catastrophes), leading to newer and better life forms.

    Catastrophism would predict uniformity among particular species.

    However, when Darwin arrived on the Galapagos island and saw 13 different species of finches differing only in the size of their beaks,and, that this was associated to where they lived on the island; he must have first induced/entertained/dreamed/imagined the idea that God must have engaged in some rather meticulous catastrophes. However, he then decided through inductive reasoning, that this must have occurred through the principles of natural selection and random mutations (i.e., his theory of evolution).

    Evolutionary theory in the form of the modern synthesis, is now the lens by which scientists might engage in inductive thought about the origin of species; followed by any experiments that may follow from these thoughts.

  141. #141 John Knight
    December 1, 2007

    Criticizing “relgion” is rather stupid. After all, different religions have different impacts.

    It is still a little silly to talk about “religion’s role in human society” as if “religion” were one big lump. The religions of Ghengis Khan, the Aztecs, the Incas, the Thugee, Viking berserkers, Middle Eastern potentates, African chieftains, & Celtic Druids produced far different social results than the Puritans of New England, the scholarly monks of Europe, the abolitionist Quakers, & other Christians who gave us great art, music, & literature, as well as modern democracy, the abolition of slavery after countless millennia, modern science, modern medicine, the Industrial Revolution, & major philanthropic legacies.

    Yes, there are risks in practicing “religion.” If a society practices Aztec sun-worship or follows the cult of Kali, then there is more than a small danger of human sacrifice. If one follows a Judeo-Christian tradition, then one risks creating Kepler’s Three Laws of Motion, Michelangelo’s David, the Magna Carta, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, representative democracy, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, Newtonian mechanics, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and polio vaccines.

    Different religions, different risks.

  142. #142 Tulse
    December 1, 2007

    John Knight:

    If a society practices Aztec sun-worship or follows the cult of Kali, then there is more than a small danger of human sacrifice. If one follows a Judeo-Christian tradition, then one risks

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

    And it is laughable to assign most of your list of worthy accomplishments to Judeo-Christian beliefs:

    “Representative democracy”? Ever hear of Athens? Ever hear of the Christian notion of kings ruling by divine right? Is the Catholic Church a democracy?

    Kepler? Newton? Sure, the Church was so friendly to astronomy and celestial mechanics that it burned Giordano Bruno, and force Galileo to recant his beliefs.

    Tolkein? The Mona Lisa? In what possible sense can these be claimed for Judeo-Christianity?

    Polio vaccines? Jesus H. Cthulhu, why not claim chocolate and Natalie Portman while you’re at it?

  143. #143 Sven DiMilo
    December 1, 2007

    Polio vaccines? Jesus H. Cthulhu, why not claim chocolate and Natalie Portman while you’re at it?

    that cracked me up

    Michelangelo’s David

    so are we giving Xianity credit for this particular sculpture because the genius Michelangelo happened to be born into a Xian society? Or because it depicts a character in a particular Holy Book? Either way, I think the David (which I have seen) would be just as breathtakingly (literally, in my case) beautiful if it had been created by a Thor-worshipper from Reykjavik and titled My Plumber’s Kid Brother instead.

  144. #144 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.

  145. #145 Caveat
    December 1, 2007

    Imagine what Michaelangelo could have done had he not been forced to seek commissions from those determined to suppress knowledge? It is true that the Romans patronized the arts – in order to push their agenda.

    What if astronomy had been embraced? Other sciences. Democracy. Public education. The list is almost endless.

    How much farther ahead would we be if the Church had not run a mafia-style organization using propaganda, outright lies, extortion, theft, torture and murder to control and manipulate the masses?

    I guess we’ll never know.

  146. #146 John Farrell
    December 1, 2007

    How much farther ahead would we be if the Church had not run a mafia-style organization using propaganda, outright lies, extortion, theft, torture and murder to control and manipulate the masses?

    Farther ahead of what?

  147. #147 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.

  148. #148 William Harryman
    December 1, 2007

    This is the kind of answer to this issue that readers of this blog are sure to hate, but I wanted to offer an integral perspective.

    Human beings (and human cultures) evolve through a series of worldviews, none of which can be skipped.

    We all start (and some of us return) in an archaic stage where survival is the key to life. Food, water, sleep, shelter, and elimination are all that matters.

    As we grow, we enter a magical worldview with all kind of anthropomorphic traits overlaid on the world. Kinship needs and spirit belief are common at this stage.

    We then move into an egocentric stage when we begin to feel our own power as human beings. Historically, this stage saw the rise of power gods and kings/emperors. In kids, this is the three-five year old.

    Next comes a stage when we believe there is mythic order to the world, often with an external power (God) guiding things. This stage is also quite ethnocentric. Authoritarianism is the shadow side of this stage. Fear of punishment guides behavior.

    If we navigate this stage successfully, we enter a rational stage focused on self-interest, but not quite in the same way as when we were younger. This is the stage of “self-actualization” concerns, but also the beginning of the enlightenment in human history.

    Finally, if we move through this stage successfully, we become relativists and focus more on being as inclusive as possible. Some people call this post-modernism, but it is also the stage that brought us civil rights, the ecological movement, and multi-culturalism (good and bad).

    These stages are not arbitrary, they appear in various forms in the work of Piaget, Gilligan, Kohlberg, Gebser, Grof, Plotinus, Alexander, Erickson, Wade, Loevinger, Cook-Greuter, Kegan, and so many others. They may overlap, but none can be skipped. Although it is tempting to place value judgments on them, each is crucial, so therefore necessary and valuable.

    The real issue with these six stages is that those centered in each one can only see their worldview as valid. Each worldview works like a meme, with a built-in virus protection that keeps out other viewpoints. The only way to force change is to alter the life conditions of the people or culture in that stage, forcing them to adapt (by transcending) or stagnate and become marginalized.

    Religion evolved in response to human needs and as a response to environmental pressures — the power-hungry ego needed to be contained. We don’t see the egocentric stage too much in this country among adults, except among gangs and criminals — and some pro athletes/musicians. But if you look to Africa and South America, you see traditional religion, what we all dislike in this country, bringing tribal, egocentric people into a more civilized relationship with each other (and so many places like the Sudan and Somalia where this needs to happen). This is one instance where I hope Catholicism wins out over the fundamentalist Islam being brought into Africa.

    Right now, America is centered in three of these stages — the mythic (religion), the rational (scientific), and the relativist (post-modernist). The mythic stage is being transcended, and those who hold these views are fighting tooth and nail not to lose their belief systems. This will continue for many more years. But all people must pass through this stage, as do all cultures, so we will never be fully free of religion. In time, however, its power will lessen.

    Check out this brief Jean Gebser overview if you are interested.

  149. #149 Sven DiMilo
    December 1, 2007

    Human beings (and human cultures) evolve through a series of worldviews

    It’s a bad idea to use the term “evolve” for something that happens to an individual human…mental or cognitive development or growth would be preferable.

    That said, this is some kind of psychoHaeckelian/Hegelian concept of “cognitive ontogeny recapitulates social/cultural evolution” argument? Or, I guess, better the other way around: cultural evolution mirrors cognitive development?
    Any evidence that it’s more than a pleasingly symmetrical idea?

  150. #150 Sven DiMilo
    December 1, 2007

    Tartarsauce!!
    Please insert mental [/blockquote] after “worldviews” above.

    and remember, the Preview button is your friend…

  151. #151 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.

  152. #152 Norman Doering
    December 2, 2007

    …are we giving Xianity credit for this particular sculpture because the genius Michelangelo happened to be born into a Xian society?

    Andrew Sullivan used Michelangelo as an example in his debate with Sam Harris. I wrote about it here:

    http://normdoering.blogspot.com/2007/02/harris-versus-sullivan-battle-becomes.html

    Before you decide that Michelangelo is the hottest sculptor ever you need to look at ancient classic Greek marble sculpture. I’ve got a picture of the Trojan priest Laocoon being attacked by a sea serpent sent by the goddess Athena on my site. It’s not Christian, does that make it any less marvelous than Michelangelo’s work? Michelangelo would have grown up around such ancient imagery and so his influences were pagan, in part. If you can respond to the art of a religion not your own, then why would atheists like your art less than you like ancient Greek art?

    Remember: Not all Christian art is classic sculpture and classical music. Have you heard Christian rock? Have you seen those sappy pictures of clouds and sunsets that Andrew Sullivan heads his religion posts with?

  153. #153 Arnosium Upinarum
    December 3, 2007

    “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.”

    Precisely.

  154. #154 negentropyeater
    December 3, 2007

    “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.”

    I’d rather say :

    “When it comes to religion, the majority of Americans do not WANT TO think, they just WANT TO accept this nonsense at face value, and we have to deal with SELF INFLICTED BRAIN DAMAGE on a national scale.”

  155. #155 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..

  156. #156 Arch Stanton
    December 3, 2007

    This is a truly inspiring display of faith and spirituality. It really is. Perhaps “God” will return the favor and “win” the “war” in Iraq, keep the American economy from tanking and help all those obese cheeseburger worshipers get washboard abs by the time summer starts. Then again, maybe not.

  157. #157 virg
    December 4, 2007

    Totally agree with your column. But wanted to discuss the bit about religion (and by this I mean judeo-christian religion since as a Westerner, that’s what i’m most familiar with) being a collection of comfortable delusions. it seems to me that there’s not a lot of comfort in that bundle of falsehoods adherents like to call faith. judeo-christian religion, like any epistemology, has rules that are often at odds with the individuals who practise them. You can see this happen on the micro level with gay christians or feminist christians (surely an oxymoronic arrangement!) and on a macro level with the way religion is used to legitemise mass murder (AKA war) – perpetrated by christians who love thy neighbour until it becomes inconvenient.

    I am always astounded that because it encourages that ingroup-outgroup polarity thinking, individuals can return to it even after they have direct experience of it being false thinking. To me, as a New Zealander, Americans seem to have this duality inherent in their (certainly televised) cultural consciousness; they’ll always tell you they understand the world but they’re actually telling you their place in it – as the ingroup – necessarily positioning you as part of the outgroup. Religion, operationalised by me as an infection, thrives in those conditions.

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