Scientific answers to silly questions

Last weekend, Chris Mooney and Genie Scott squared off against PZ Myers and Vic Stenger at the Council for Secular Humanism’s 30th anniversary bash. The question was something to do with whether accommodationism is teh awsum or teh lamez0rs. You know my opinion, and from what I saw of the discussion, I don’t think anyone emerged the undisputed victor, and thus the internet will never run out of flamewars.

Anyway, in reading the L.A. Times report on the event, Jerry Coyne wonders:

How can Mooney, The Great Communicator, think that if atheist accommodationists and atheist non-accommodationists both emphasize their common spirituality, everything will magically improve and the faithful will suddenly come to Darwinism?

Now I’m not Chris, and I won’t pretend to be speaking for him. Maybe he’d answer Coyne differently. But the answer I’d give to Coyne’s question is: because SCIENCE!

Which is to say, the science to date indicates that you’re more likely to sway people to your point of view if you present your argument in a context that breaks through the conceptual narrative they’ve built up around their opposition, and that’s what Chris has been advocating for a long time now.

Don’t believe me? Here’s the concluding section of a recent paper that examined the forces preventing people from recognizing and accepting scientific consensus:

It is not enough to assure that scientifically sound information – including evidence of what scientists themselves believe – is widely disseminated: cultural cognition strongly motivates individuals – of all worldviews – to recognize such information as sound in a selective pattern that reinforces their cultural predispositions. To overcome this effect, communicators must attend to the cultural meaning as well as the scientific content of information.

Research informed by cultural cognition and related theories is making progress in identifying communication strategies that possess this quality. One is identity affirmation. When shown risk information (e.g., global temperatures are increasing) that they associate with a conclusion threatening to their cultural values (commerce must be constrained), individuals tend to react dismissively toward that information; however, when shown that the information in fact supports or is consistent with a conclusion that affirms their cultural values (society should rely more on nuclear power), such individuals are more likely to consider the information open-mindedly (Cohen, Aronson, and Steele 2000; Cohen et al. 2007; Kahan 2010).

Another is pluralistic advocacy. Individuals reflexively reject information inconsistent with their predispositions when they perceive that it is being advocated by experts whose values they reject and opposed by ones whose values they share. In contrast, they attend more open-mindedly to such information, and are much more likely to accept it, if they perceive that there are experts of diverse values on both sides of the debate (Earle and Cvetkovich 1995; Kahan et al. forthcoming).

Finally, there is narrative framing. Individuals tend to assimilate information by fitting it to pre-existing narrative templates or schemes that invest the information with meaning. The elements of these narrative templates – the identity of the stock heroes and villains, the nature of their dramatic struggles, and the moral stakes of their engagement with one another – vary in identifiable and recurring ways across cultural groups. By crafting messages to evoke narrative templates that are culturally congenial to target audiences, risk communicators can help to assure that the content of the information they are imparting receives considered attention across diverse cultural groups (Earle and Cvetkovich 1995; Jones and McBeth 2010).

Research on these and related strategies for dispelling the tendency of cultural cognition to generate conflict in public deliberations about risk are at an early stage. Further development of this aspect of science communication, we believe, is critical to enlightened democratic policy-making.

Dan Kahan, Hank Jenkins-Smith, and Donald Braman (2010) “Cultural Cognition of scientific consensus,” Journal of Risk Research doi: 10.1080/13669877.2010.511246

Talking about spirituality ticks all of these boxes. Talking about the widespread spirituality and even religiosity that scientists report in surveys certainly counts as “information [which] in fact supports or is consistent with a conclusion that affirms ? cultural values” of people ambivalent about evolution. Talking up the widespread spirituality and religiosity of a significant chunk of scientists will also diffuse a perception that evolution is “advocated by experts whose values [the evolution-ambivalent] reject.” And by taking evolution out of a narrative of conflict with religion and into one of several other viable narrative frames, talking about the spirituality that many scientists feel can “evoke narrative templates that are culturally congenial to target audiences, ? assur[ing] that the content of the information they are imparting receives considered attention across diverse cultural groups.” (Emphasis in original.)

It’s worth noting that the paper’s experimental research does not focus on evolution, looking instead at perceptions of scientific consensus around global warming, nuclear waste storage, and effects of concealed weapons on crime rates. But the results are undeniably relevant to evolution: the researchers find that people tend to discount the expertise of scientists whose views they disagree with, thus creating a perception of expert consensus that tends to support their presuppositions.

We see that dynamic all the time in evolution. At the accommodationism debate at CSH’s 30th, a questioner asked how to deal with students who refuse to listen to Ken Miller because they think he can’t be a Christian and accept evolution. They’ve created a hard dichotomy between evolution and religion, and doing so lets them simply ignore any contrary evidence. Anyone who supports evolution is anti-Christian, and therefore not credible, and thus the only sources they find credible about religion are those who are anti-evolution. The only way to get those kids to hear any evidence for evolution, to read Coyne’s book or Miller’s book or any of the other similar works, is to break past their assumption that evolution-acceptance is inherently discrediting on cultural grounds.

The questioner ultimately revealed that the kids in question are Catholic, meaning their position is more Catholic than the Pope. They may not listen to Ken Miller, but they might listen to the Pope, and if their resistance can be broken down there, it’ll let them hear the evidence for evolution from sources like Ken Miller, and hopefully start questioning whoever lied to them about how Catholics view evolution.

Coyne and others are free to disagree with this body of research, but if they truly see themselves as defenders of Truth and of Science as a path to Truth, I don’t see how they can ignore it or simply dismiss it without seriously engaging it. There’s a body of relevant research out there that addresses questions like the one Coyne posed above, and if they want to argue about communications strategy, they would do well to address that literature.

Comments

  1. #1 Nick Matzke
    October 11, 2010

    Devastating. Now we’ll see who values science more and who values religion-bashing-at-all-costs more…

  2. #2 reboho
    October 11, 2010

    At the end of the day, aren’t we still talking about rationality vs. belief? Science vs faith?
    Science at it’s core is skeptical. Even if a scientist is intuitive they must present their hypothesis with a basis in fact that leads to accepted theory. Belief systems start with “truths” that must be mangled and contorted by apologists so that they can attempt to explain observation. Isn’t there always going to be a conflict when one side starts with a book that contains all the answers from a divine author?

  3. #3 J.J.E.
    October 11, 2010

    Ugh. This always leaves a bad taste in my mouth because it is so Rovian.

    One is identity affirmation. When shown risk information (there is a budget deficit) that they associate with a conclusion threatening to their cultural values (benefit programs they like must be cut), individuals tend to react dismissively toward that information; however, when shown that the information in fact supports or is consistent with a conclusion that affirms their cultural values (big government is bad, individualism is good, progressive taxes are unfair), such individuals are more likely to consider the information open-mindedly.

    […]

    Finally, there is narrative framing. Individuals tend to assimilate information by fitting it to pre-existing narrative templates or schemes that invest the information with meaning. The elements of these narrative templates – the identity of the stock heroes and villains (godless liberals and sinful homosexuals), the nature of their dramatic struggles (the poor beleaguered business man), and the moral stakes of their engagement with one another (this is not the America we grew up in) – vary in identifiable and recurring ways across cultural groups. By crafting messages to evoke narrative templates that are culturally congenial to target audiences, risk communicators can help to assure that the content of the information they are imparting receives considered attention across diverse cultural groups.

    So, we should craft our message to manipulate those that hear it. What if we can’t craft such a message without disguising our true intent (we want them to accept modern science and don’t give a damn about their religion)? What would then separate us from Karl Rove?

  4. #4 J. J. Ramsey
    October 11, 2010

    First off, J.J.E., no one is hiding that “we want them to accept modern science.” Also, no one is hiding that various accommodationists are nonbelievers and so obvious don’t care for religion the way that actual theists would. The true intent is hardly hidden, so we’re pretty far from Karl Rove already.

    Another thing that separates us from Karl Rove is that accommodationists like Eugenie Scott are actually trying to get people’s beliefs to be closer than the truth than they already are. It’s harm reduction. Yes, it would be nice if a theist would give up religious beliefs altogether, but if that option is not on the table, then I’d sooner have them be religious and accept evolution than religious creationists.

  5. #5 Lotharloo
    October 11, 2010

    This is the best post so far that I have read during this whole accommodationist/confrontationist argument.

  6. #6 Josh Rosenau
    October 11, 2010

    JJE: “we should craft our message to manipulate those that hear it.”

    Yes, though I think “manipulate” is the wrong word (a manipulative choice, if you will). It’s what any successful communicator always does. This does not mean we say anything that isn’t true, but it is fairly obvious that a children’s book about evolution will be written differently than a high school textbook, which will be written differently than a college textbook, which in turn is written differently than a review paper, even if all three are covering the same basic ground. Crafting your message to your audience is not only well-grounded in common sense, empirical studies, and communications theory (cf. reception theory), it is also the way to show respect for your audience. A presentation that doesn’t connect with its audience is just boring and a waste of time.

    “What if we can’t craft such a message…?” Then we think about whether that message is the right one in that setting, we think about whether that audience is the right one to be reaching out to, etc. But in this case, we can craft that message, and a lot of people do. If you aren’t comfortable presenting that particular message to those particular audiences, then don’t. If you feel compelled to present a different message to those audiences, it’s fair to ask why, and it is not censoring or silencing anyone to note that doing so will not advance the widely-shared goal of increasing acceptance of evolution.

    No doubt Rove did this (and many other things). But so does every effective politician, from the Founding Fathers, to Lincoln, to Roosevelt, to Obama. Rove’s fatal flaw is that he stood for nothing, and crafted messages with no interest at all in their truth. He was a bullshitter, and one can be an effective communicator without bullshitting (e.g. Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth).

  7. #7 Deepak Shetty
    October 11, 2010

    a) So why has Mooney not made any converts by talking about spirituality? Why not prove that look here’s how you communicate to fence sitters on evolution such that they accept it?

    b) Assume you could convince Christians about evolution by simply crafting your message to indicate that humans *might* have a soul. Would you do it?.
    Similarly even if studies do find that having experts who shares with values with you causes you to trust him in other matter, do you actually want to promote this argument from authority? Is this really how you want society to progress? Whats preventing an opponent from doing the same?
    If threatening people with violence is the most effective form of communication would you do it? What about compulsory science education for children? Would you do it?

    c) Its not clear, atleast from the post what crafting a message actually means[I dont have access to the referred papers) – perhaps you can demonstrate with an example of how one would craft a message to a creationist.
    Somehow saying Im spiritual and I believe in evolution doesn’t look like it would work.

    The key is to get your message across without compromising on your principles.

  8. #8 J.J.E.
    October 11, 2010

    But in this case, we can craft that message, and a lot of people do

    Where does the rubber meet the road? When a religious person says “The Bible is incompatible with evolution.” How do you respond? When a person says “Genesis talks of 6 days not billions of years. That makes me doubt the big bang”, what do you say? Do you start talking about theology or about the data? Or do you do both?

    For an atheist to quote 2 Peter 3:8 to a Christian skeptical of the timeframe of evolution or to argue the theological point that the Genesis account is “metaphorical” to a teetering creationist strikes me as an ends justifying the means argument. To claim that “I too am spiritual.” when you actually believe “While I frequently am humbled and amazed by nature and the love of my family, dualism is no more reasonable than Santa Claus” is tantamount to lying. It is certainly misleading. Why not say that the natural world is awe-inspiring? Why interject a lie about “spirituality” when you know good and damned well that the religious person will interpret it as an acceptance of some form of dualism?

    When given two equally valid forks in the pedagogical road, all else being equal, take the one that pisses your audience the least and/or flatters them the most (and use dinosaurs and other charismatic megafauna, they’re real crowd pleasers). Sure, everyone should do that. I don’t think we need “framing theory” to tell us that. But, as I take it, you are making a fundamentally (sound) political argument at the expense of being genuine. And my beef is that sound politics is frequently disingenuous.

    When there are tradeoffs between a) unnecessary and unscientific digressions to flatter the religious or avoid sensitive topics; and b) simple and accurate description that may offend a religious person, I much prefer b. And I argue that you should too if you aren’t religious and respect your audience not to misrepresent your own beliefs.

    Of course, if there is no accommodation (Miller, Gibberson, and Collins really believe the pablum they push) then it isn’t lying. Leave the faith pandering to the faithful. And hopefully they’ll keep it to their churches and won’t pollute scientific venues with theology and disingenuous appeals to shared dualism.

  9. #9 Dave W.
    October 11, 2010

    Nick Matzke wrote:

    “Devastating. Now we’ll see who values science more and who values religion-bashing-at-all-costs more…”

    That’s a really odd thing to say in light of the “pluralistic advocacy” finding, which suggests that to be more successful, “our side” cannot be manned only by Chris Mooney clones.

    Clearly, anyone who agrees with this study’s findings should be arguing against people who are telling the “New Atheists” to shut up, and instead should be pointing out to the general public that the anti-evolutionists aren’t a monolithic bunch of thinkers, either. The fact that diverse opinions exist on both sides needs to be more widely publicized, rather than trying to limit the public exposure to the diversity of opinion of the pro-science side.

    That will show who values science more.

  10. #10 hibob
    October 11, 2010

    The problem with depending on the spirituality common to the people on both sides of the debate as a way to bridge the gap was well elucidated by Emo Philips:

    Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

    He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

    He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

    Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

    If the articles of their personal faith are compatible with your point, they probably already believe your point. If an article of their personal faith isn’t compatible with your point, it doesn’t matter how much else you have in common with them: you’re still a heretic.

  11. #11 Idlethought
    October 12, 2010

    How do you suggest exploiting common ground if there isn’t any?

    Do you think it would be best in that case to say nothing at all or to lie about it?

    After all, I suspect the problem might be that there are people who simply don’t believe in spirituality, so would find it tricky to appeal to their common sense of it.

  12. #12 Bethistopheles
    October 12, 2010

    So…we’re supposed to “win” them over to our side be being disingenuous?

    To take another individual’s culture into consideration when debating, etc. is one thing, but to provide the slightest reinforcement of their delusions is foolish.

    Sometimes the truth hurts. All we can do is to try and mitigate the sting by not being a prick about it. Be nice, but don’t be an accommodationist. There’s a difference.

  13. #13 Barry
    October 12, 2010

    “if you present your argument in a context that breaks through the conceptual narrative they’ve built up around their opposition, and that’s what Chris has been advocating for a long time now”

    Josh, this isn’t what the accommodationist debate is about. You and I will both agree that we have to “break through the conceptual narrative”, the dispute is how we do this. So it is wrong for you to take research in science that you believe claims support for your position when it doesn’t.

    I do have a copy of this paper, and I’ve also read it. It’s actually pretty good, but it doesn’t enable you to make those claims. The paper is researching, “the forces preventing people from recognizing and accepting scientific consensus” as correctly stated. But here’s the problem. You don’t learn about successful marriage by studying divorce. You don’t learn why some kids don’t take drugs by stidying those who do. The research premise of this paper does not permit you to make the claim, ” the science to date indicates that you’re more likely to sway people to your point of view if you present your argument in a context that breaks through the conceptual narrative they’ve built up around their opposition…”

    In order to make that claim you would need to conduct double blind study and control, samples of individuals who had undergone conceptual change that repositioned their beliefs in line with the form of influence being tested. This paper didn’t conduct that research.

    So, Josh, this is just another failed cheapshot that misses the target. However, let’s just accept your eagerness for your interpretations of the comclusion of this paper to be true – the primary negotiating principle being played out here is ideas convergence and compromise. So let’s take an area that is pretty much “settled” in the minds of moderate Christians, that morality is God-given. Science has no definitive evidence on this yet. So do we say there is absolutely zero evidence for god-given morality, even though we have no general scientific theory to counter, or…what’s the accommodation we make to breakthrough their cultural framing? And these will be the religious moderates Josh – the ones you seem to like more than atheists on Biologis.

  14. #14 Charlie
    October 13, 2010

    I’ve broken two people (at least) out of a decades-long pattern of color-line racism. Was it wrong of me to “manipulate” them?

    I didn’t do it by belittling them, or scoffing at their beliefs, or by logically demolishing the foundations of their world-view. Most people respond to attack with defense, not with co-operation.

    I did it by emphasizing our common beliefs, and using those as a springboard for careful, concrete reasoning, and then backing up my claims with an object example (my own beautiful, clever, and moral child, whose skin color happens to be different from mine).

  15. #15 Barry
    October 13, 2010

    Charlie

    “I’ve broken two people (at least) out of a decades-long pattern of color-line racism.”

    How do you know?

  16. #16 abb3w
    October 13, 2010

    J.J.E.: Ugh. This always leaves a bad taste in my mouth because it is so Rovian.

    Attempts to change society for some purpose are sociological engineering. Sociological engineering is politics. Politics, like making sausage, is not pretty.

    Bethistopheles: So…we’re supposed to “win” them over to our side be being disingenuous?

    Well, yes.

    Unfortunately, there’s a practical problem with the “identity affirmation” approach being suggested. First, while there are “several other viable narrative frames”, for the hard core of evolutionary opponents, religion is the frame most central and important to the opponent’s identity. Second, at that hard core, it is not merely “religion” that is central, but “Biblical Inerrancy” as central to their conception of their religion. Furthermore, that there is a conflict between Evolution and an Inerrant interpretation is something that they are well aware of.

    This means any attempt to shift to an alternative narrative frame means not merely being disingenuous, but means appearing disingenuous, and thus being ineffective at persuasion.

    Of course, not all opponents are inerrant. For Christians who take an inspired approach instead, the use of an alternative narrative frame may be a better approach. However, for the Inerrants, the first step would seem to be finding a way to persuade them to shift their core theology. This is something where evolution is best left completely out of the picture, and where more mundane conflicts between scripture and evidence are presented.

    Additionally, the young tend to be less set in their beliefs than the old. Of course, specifically targeting children in their formative years (or at least, before adult ossification sets in) is also a problematic tactic, for different reasons.

    The steps on the slope (deliberately oversimplifying) seem to be from Inerrancy/Creation to Inspiration/Creation, from Inspiration/Creation to Inspiration/Evolution, and from Inspiration/Evolution to Fables/Evolution. It is probably necessary to face that most of the 20% of the US at the I/C extreme will not make the journey all the way to the other. However, it is not necessary they do so; a (hah) evolutionary process may suffice. Try to persuade adults to make a single, simpler step; try and persuade the children to take at least one step further from where their parents are. Once in a blue moon you may get an “amazing conversion” from one extreme to another, but they’re not going to be where the main shift comes from.

    Of course, here’s where accomodationism can come in: the F/E atheists may be able to persuade the Insp/E crowd (by their common frame) that the Inerr/C crowd make all Christians look “bad” by association, and that the Insp/E should use their common Christianity to appeal (by their common frame) to the Insp/C to shift to Insp/E, or if not for the Insp/C to work with the Insp/E to persuade (by their common frame) the Inerr/C to shift at least to Insp/C.

    Alas, it’s easier for the lazy in the Insp/E crowd to simply distance themselves by saying, “well, yes, but Christians are not ALL stupid/ignorant/bad that way; and everyone can see that, so it’s not really a problem.”

  17. #17 Egbert
    October 15, 2010

    I really don’t understand all this. The confrontationists (new atheists) have generated enormous interest and have sold millions of books and looked to have even swayed dramatically people from religion to non-religion.

    And yet, you’re complaining about the message? It seems the message is just fine.

    But what I find disturbing is, that accommodationists are not putting out any messages at all to believers. They’re too busy arguing with the confrontationists.

    And now, I’m seeing accommodationists begin to start questioning the truth claims of the confrontationists or whether they have the right even to voice their opinions!

    Isn’t it time to stop the contrariness for the sake of contrariness? The confrontationists are doing just great. And if you want to try a different approach, then go ahead, no one is stopping you.

  18. #18 Mike McRae
    October 16, 2010

    “The confrontationists (new atheists) have generated enormous interest and have sold millions of books…”

    There has been public interest, and yes, the appearance of a large amount of support. But how do you segregate this from the establishment of a community of existing atheists? Don’t get me wrong, atheists are people who in many communities find themselves ostracised, so engaging in a community with like-minded people can be a positive thing. But that is not the same thing as addressing the negative consequences religion presents.

    “…looked to have even swayed dramatically people from religion to non-religion.”

    Ah, see this is the assertion oft made but rarely supported. No doubt there are individuals who find themselves with an epistemology that encourages personal criticism of their faith, where a community of ‘new atheists’ might help sway their thinking. Enough ridicule and mockery can even make them feel embarrassed enough under the right circumstances to embrace atheism for emotional reasons (as opposed to arriving at the conclusions critically). But you present this as a generalisation, without any evidence it is the case at all.

    “And yet, you’re complaining about the message? It seems the message is just fine.”

    That people should be atheists because religion sounds ridiculous? Cool – next time somebody says they don’t believe in evolution because the idea sounds ridiculous to then, or think physics is bogus because the idea of relative time sounds silly, you have no ground to contradict them. After all, the reasoning is identical.

    “But what I find disturbing is, that accommodationists are not putting out any messages at all to believers. They’re too busy arguing with the confrontationists.”

    Bollocks. I’ve spent years teaching in religious schools as an openly atheist science teacher in Australia. I’m currently a science writer, and have been involved with science education programs for years. I guarantee you I’ve been putting more messages on science thinking out there than most, and know more about critical thinking and science education than the majority of ‘confrontationists’. And I can tell you what works in helping a person who is struggling with the concept of faith, and it ain’t confrontation.

    “And now, I’m seeing accommodationists begin to start questioning the truth claims of the confrontationists or whether they have the right even to voice their opinions!”

    Wow, you really do know how to bring on the strawmen. Nobody says you have no right. But what IS happening is a critical evaluation of your method.

    “Isn’t it time to stop the contrariness for the sake of contrariness? The confrontationists are doing just great. And if you want to try a different approach, then go ahead, no one is stopping you.”

    The problem is that it is an assertion than confrontation is ‘doing great’. It’s based on numbers of people, which is confusing the output (audience size) with effectiveness of outcome (promoting an atheist perspective). There is certainly a growing community, but that isn’t what is being questioned. It’s about how to reach beyond the limits of simply building walls and welcoming in people who are already sympathetic to atheist thinking, while risking the polarisation of the rest of the community and refusing to address the issue of communication from a rational perspective.

  19. #19 Egbert
    October 16, 2010

    Evidence?

    Pew Forum Report U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

    These are some of the key findings of the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which draws primarily on a new nationwide survey conducted from May 8 to Aug. 13, 2007, among a representative sample of more than 35,000 adults in the U.S., with additional over-samples of Eastern Orthodox Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.

    http://religions.pewforum.org/reports

    “The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.”

    That’s an encouraging sway. Where I live in Britain, there is also a similar sway. Is this directly related to new atheism and the massive popularity and volume of sales? I don’t know, it might be. It’s evidence that you may want to dismiss. But it is evidence nonetheless.

  20. #20 J. J. Ramsey
    October 16, 2010

    Egbert, there’s another survey saying a similar thing, but the catch is this: The percentage of people unaffiliated with a faith (called “Nones” in this survey) increased more sharply from 1990 to 2001 (from 8.2% to 14.1%) than from 2001 to 2008 (from 14.1% to 15.0%). That dates the larger increase before the New Atheist books came out.

  21. #21 Mike McRae
    October 16, 2010

    @Egbert

    I appreciate you responding to one of my points. And no, I don’t dismiss it. It is evidence that there are more people openly admitting they’re atheists in recent years. But it is a mere correlation, and as JJ pointed out, a poor one at that if you wish to use the books as a contributing cause.

    The simple truth is that the confrontationists aren’t willing to look any closer at how their method does or does not work. They see atheist numbers increase somewhat and feel justified to accept that it’s their hard work bearing fruit, as if the ‘confrontationist’ method is the only possible variable. Sadly, these people are also often promoting science.

  22. #22 Egbert
    October 16, 2010

    Well I will agree with you guys, there is no correlation. Good job there is no swing in the opposite direction!

    Interestingly, I checked out the British Social Attitudes Survey which goes from 1983 to 2008. And the swing goes from 30% Non-religious to 43% in 2008. The sample is only 3000 though, but still a good indicator. The Church of England loses up to 20% with most going to non-religion or non-denominational Christian.

    Adherents.com shows that the level of non-belief in Europe is far higher than the USA (I’m sure you guys know that).

    http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_atheist.html

    The most surprising state with 80 million non-religious adherents is Japan. So whatever is happening in Japan, it’s working.

  23. #23 abb3w
    October 19, 2010

    Egbert: “The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.”

    Note that these do not all self-identify as “Atheists”. The “Unaffiliated” category was about 16.1% in the Pew Forum Report; the breakdown (relative to the population as a whole) was 1.6% Atheist, 2.4% Agnostic, 6.3% “Secular Unaffiliated”, 5.8% “Religious Unaffiliated” – about 10/15/40/35.

    The GSS RELIG(4) “NONE”s roughly corresponds in size to the Pew’s “Unaffiliated”, and has a similar demographic shift in the younger generation.

    J. J. Ramsey: The percentage of people unaffiliated with a faith (called “Nones” in this survey) increased more sharply from 1990 to 2001 (from 8.2% to 14.1%) than from 2001 to 2008 (from 14.1% to 15.0%). That dates the larger increase before the New Atheist books came out.

    Playing with the GSS, while there’s at most a marginal tendency toward increase in the RELIG(4) “Nones” from YEAR to year if you control for birth year COHORT, there’s a much stronger tendency to increase with COHORT even controlling YEAR; and the shift seems to have been going on since the Greatest Generation. Plugging the percentages into a spreadsheet, ten year COHORT brackets give a relatively smooth logistic curve (midpoint about 2024, exponential constant 1.111 nanohertz).

    Or in other words, the “New Atheist” books look to be an epiphenomenon of the social change, not a causation.

  24. #24 brtkrbzhnv
    October 31, 2010

    I think belief in spirits is just as bad as belief in creator gods, and I don’t think an irrationally founded belief in evolution is all that much better than an irrationally founded belief in creation. I believe many of the so called New Atheists agree with me, and thus it would not make much sense for them to pretend spiritualism is OK (which would presumably lead to higher rates of belief therein) even if that would make evolutionary science a bit more palatable to some.

Current ye@r *