Scientists and Spirituality

Reviewing Elaine Howard Ecklund’s Science vs. Religion for the Washington Post last May, I noted:

Rice University sociologist Elaine Ecklund offers a fresh perspective on this debate in “Science vs. Religion.” Rather than offering another polemic, she builds on a detailed survey of almost 1,700 scientists at elite American research universities — the most comprehensive such study to date. These surveys and 275 lengthy follow-up interviews reveal that scientists often practice a closeted faith….

Fully half of these top scientists are religious. Only five of the 275 interviewees actively oppose religion. Even among the third who are atheists, many consider themselves “spiritual.” One describes this spiritual atheism as being rooted in “wonder about the complexity and the majesty of existence,” a sentiment many nonscientists — religious or not — would recognize.

In the book, Ecklund places substantial emphasis on the finding about scientists who identify as atheists and who also say they are spiritual. She refers to them as “spiritual entrepeneurs,” carving out a new sort of religious/spiritual experience, and urges the reader to consider this population’s implication at greater length.

Her recently published “Scientists and Spirituality” (with Elizabeth Long, 2011, Sociology of Religion) digs deeper into that group, especially into her interviews with these spiritual atheists, to try to understand that group, and the broader phenomenon of spirituality in American religious life.

Polls often ask about spirituality by asking respondents to choose which is closest to their own views: a personal God, a spirit or life force, agnosticism (I don’t know/it’s impossible to know), or atheism (there’s no God, guiding spirit, or life force). Ecklund’s study comes at it slightly differently, asking respondents how spiritual they find themselves (“very,” “moderately,” “slightly,” or “not at all”) and separately what they believe about God (“I do not believe in God,” “I do not know if there is a God and there is no way to find out,” “I believe in a higher power but it is not God,” “I believe in God sometimes,” “I have some doubts but I believe in God,” “I have no doubts about God’s existence”). Spiritual atheists are those who said “I do not believe in God,” but who also said that they were “very” or “moderately” spiritual, and whose spirituality was “thick,” in that they spoke out in their interviews about ways their spirituality motivated their actions. The spiritually “thin” were those who only mentioned spirituality after the interviewer raised the topic.

Ecklund’s new paper locates these results in the context of two strains of research on American religious culture. In one of those branches, scholars have argued that spirituality serves as a crutch in the secularization process. As people drift towards a less religious society, people seek a way to express the good things they see in religion – usually a personal sense of awe and connectedness - without the negative baggage associated with organized religion. In contrast to this individual, secularized, even watered down religion, some scholars have taken “spiritual” to be a category for people who are seeking a novel, syncretic, and community-oriented way of connecting to the ideas underlying traditional religion without the limitations imposed by that tradition. Where one school says spirituality is personal or even narcissistic, the other sees it as linked to (progressive) social movements. Where one school treats it as an attenuated and secularized sort of religion, the other sees it as a new and vibrant sort of religion that challenges organized religion without challenging the role of religion in participants’ lives.

Ecklund’s interest in spirituality among scientists is driven by a belief that scientists, especially scientists at the elite universities she surveyed, could serve as standard-bearers for novel approaches to religion. Certainly, academia has a unique culture, one cut off in many ways from the religious culture that predominates nationwide, and that isolation creates opportunities for novel approaches. But it also creates the possibility that scientists are re-inventing the wheel, and using different terms to cover concepts that are already developed among other religious communities.

For instance, Ecklund notes a perception among these scientists that religion is “organized, communal, unified, and collective,” and as such dogmatic and “inherently against individual inquiry,” which they contrast with spirituality’s “individual, personal, and personally constructed” nature, which “allows the type of individual inquiry that is most compatible with science.”

American religion has always been characterized by an inventiveness and an openness to people pursuing their own religious paths. In recent decades, it has become more common for people to shop around before choosing a church, and for churches to adapt and make themselves more suitable for this increasingly individualistic style of religious practice. The churches most open to personal exploration and most opposed to dogma in general are often also the ones most friendly to science in general and to topics like evolution, stem cell research, abortion rights, and other topics that scientists might see as creating conflict with science. Whether these scientists are aware of such trends and find them insufficient, or are responding to cultural stereotypes of religion within academia would be an interesting followup study.

The spirituality these scientists express is often directed outward, and is explicitly contrasted with inwardly directed New Age practices. One biologist told the interviewer that spirituality is part of what motivates the emphasis of classroom teaching: “I’m always trying to remind my students that what they’re trying to understand is how everything fits together. And it’s useful to keep that in mind, in sort of the broader sense of the wonder of things… that’s included for me [in my definition of spirituality] but it’s not included in everybody’s definition.” Another scientist explains how spirituality drives an emphasis on students: “I spend a lot of time on course preparations. I could spend less time and invest more time in my own writing and publications. But I feel an obligation to be responsive to students who are struggling… I feel a certain kind of spiritual obligation to help in the best way I that I can, which in that sense is teaching them.” (Emphasis from original quotation.) All of this tends to suggest that spiritual scientists are operating less as a vanguard for secularism than as pioneers of a new approach to religiosity. In an academic culture dominated by nontheism, the mantle of spirituality may be a way to protect this holdout for religiosity, rather than a way to move away from religious ideas.

This trend even holds, to some extent, among the spiritual atheists. Compared to interviews with the general public regarding spirituality, these scientists were more likely to contrast their spiritual beliefs with any belief in a deity. For the roughly quarter of atheist and agnostic scientists who regard themselves as spiritual: “These spiritual atheist scientists see the very act of deciding not to believe in God – in the face of an American public seemingly pre-occupied with theism – as an act of strength, which for them makes spirituality more congruent with science than religion.” Even among that group, it’s hard to see evidence of this spirituality representing a vitiated religiosity, but rather an attempt to construct a new way to articulate religious beliefs (construed broadly).

Ecklund notes that her interviews with spiritual atheists are unique in American sociology of religion because “there are so few atheists among those captured in surveys of the general population that we could not even do a meaningful comparison between these elite scientists and those in the general population, although it is important for other researchers to determine if this categorization of spiritual atheist is found among other population groups where atheists are likely to be concentrated.

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I’m not a researcher in this field, and won’t claim to have deep insights to draw from cross-cultural comparisons, but the World Values Survey does ask a series of related questions about spirituality and theistic belief. This is hardly an ideal comparison, since people’s responses to these questions are rooted in their countries’ particular history and culture, but it at least gives us a sense of the relevant comparisons.

For instance, in the graph above, I plotted out responses to a question about people’s theological stance, where respondents could choose between belief in a personal God, belief in a spirit or life force, agnosticism, or atheism. Not surprisingly, Indian respondents tended not to believe in a personal god, but when you combine the number for theism and spirituality, you get nearly equal numbers of believers as we have in the United States. You’ll also note that current and former Communist nations – where religion is or was suppressed – are less theistic than neighboring nations.

Even so, combining theistic belief and spiritual belief, there’s a remarkable consistency, with spirituality seeming to compensate for declining theistic belief in many European nations. In famously nontheistic Denmark, spiritual belief is more common than atheism, agnosticism, or theism. Combined theistic/spiritual belief represents over 3/4 of the publics in the US, Canada, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Northern Ireland and Ireland, Italy, Austria, Finland, Iceland, Spain, Romania, and Switzerland.

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And there are significant blocs of spiritual atheists as well. In the graph above, I combined the data above with data from a question asking people, “Independently of whether you go to church or not, would you say you are?”: “a religious person,” “not a religious person,” “a convinced atheist,” or “don’t know” (“don’t know” had to be volunteered).

Above, I plot the fraction of people who answer “a convinced atheist,” and also say a “spirit or life force” is “closest to your beliefs” (spiritual atheists in Ecklund’s sense, I hope) against the fraction of people who say they are religious and who assert a belief in a personal God. The colors of the names corresponds to the proportion of people who come up as atheists in response to the first question (about theistic beliefs, rather than religious identity), with red being a higher proportion of atheists, blue being a low proportion of atheists, and purples being in the middle.

As you can see, the 22% of atheist scientists who say they are spiritual is a bit higher than what we find among the general publics of various European nations, but not by much. The sample sizes here aren’t overwhelming (from a high of 116 spiritual atheists in China to a whopping 1 in Malta; the median is 14, the mean is 22.4), limiting the detail we can derive from any individual nation. But it’s enough data to compare nations.

It’s worth noting that there’s no correlation between the number of spiritual atheists and theistic religious folks, which I would have expected to find if spiritual atheists were a vanguard for secularism. And it’s especially interesting how wide a range we see on the y-axis, from barely over 11% of religious people who believe in a personal God in some countries all the way to almost 85% in Poland and Portugal.

This tends to support the idea that spirituality should be understood as an experimental sort of religiosity, rather than a stepping stone away from religion. This is further supported by the fact that even in nations like Denmark with high rates of atheism, many atheists describe themselves as religious. Religion isn’t simple. Religion is about practices, it’s about community, it’s about belief, it’s about theology, it’s about politics, it’s about identity, it’s about family, it’s about culture, and it’s about more.

Comments

  1. #1 Ben
    May 24, 2011

    Could you explain your graphs, particularly the top one please.

  2. #2 David Marjanović
    May 24, 2011

    Ecklund’s study comes at it slightly differently, asking respondents how spiritual they find themselves (“very,” “moderately,” “slightly,” or “not at all”)

    *headdesk*

    Different people define “spiritual” in very different ways; I don’t think there’s even such a thing as a “majority” or “mainstream” definition. Different people take mutually incompatible things and call them “spirituality”.

    How did this blithely ignorant way of posing the question pass peer review?!?

    One biologist told the interviewer that spirituality is part of what motivates the emphasis of classroom teaching: “I’m always trying to remind my students that what they’re trying to understand is how everything fits together. And it’s useful to keep that in mind, in sort of the broader sense of the wonder of things… that’s included for me [in my definition of spirituality] but it’s not included in everybody’s definition.”

    Indeed not. For instance, there’s no trace of a spirit in this spirituality, as far as I can see.

    Obviously I don’t know, but, judging from this statement alone, this biologist could be an atheist just like Sagan, who was fascinated beyond words by the cosmos, or Dawkins, who is fascinated beyond words by the unwoven rainbow and the barcodes in the stars and in the genes. If this is included in “spirituality”, then to talk about “spirituality” as a “novel approach[…] to religion” is very strongly misleading; it’s not novel anymore since Diagoras the Godless. To lump such people into “a category for people who are seeking a novel, syncretic, and community-oriented way of connecting to the ideas underlying traditional religion without the limitations imposed by that tradition” is not a defensible approach.

    Another scientist explains how spirituality drives an emphasis on students: “I spend a lot of time on course preparations. I could spend less time and invest more time in my own writing and publications. But I feel an obligation to be responsive to students who are struggling… I feel a certain kind of spiritual obligation to help in the best way I that I can, which in that sense is teaching them.” (Emphasis from original quotation.) All of this tends to suggest that spiritual scientists are operating less as a vanguard for secularism than as pioneers of a new approach to religiosity.

    Again, I don’t see how. That quote merely shows an instance of the joy of altruism:

    “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.”
    — ascribed to Abraham Lincoln

    This scientist, too, could be as much of an atheist as Sagan and Dawkins — just not one who has read a lot of Dawkins and uses his terminology. The “pioneers of” that “new approach to religiosity” were these people.

    I think the main reason why some people call themselves “spiritual” just because they, well, have emotions is that the general culture sees it as desirable to be “spiritual” and sees people who are not “spiritual” as somehow defective. In such a culture, people consciously or (more likely) unconsciously look for ways that let them get away with calling themselves “spiritual”, even if that involves expanding the meaning of that word further and further.

    Above, I plot the fraction of people who answer “a convinced atheist,” and also say a “spirit or life force” is “closest to your beliefs” (spiritual atheists in Ecklund’s sense, I hope)

    They clearly are spiritual atheists in Ecklund’s sense. But so are Sagan and Dawkins…

    …except that Dawkins wouldn’t show up as such had he taken part in the survey, because he hates the word “spiritual”.

  3. #3 Anthony McCarthy
    May 24, 2011

    I’ve got no complaint about people being interested in the religious beliefs of scientists but it’s extremely odd to think their entirely materialistic professional lives would give even the most able of them insights into spirituality unavailable to blue collar workers or the uneducated destitute. I am curious as to how that illogical faith in spiritual insights gained from a profession that ignores those came about.

    If a scientist is unusually uninterested in material acquisition, isn’t a self-centered and arrogant snob who consistently practices and works for equality and justice they might have something worth listening to on that account but you can say the same thing about professional clergy.

    I think the attempt to try to find something closer to how people actually think, than to give them a choice between believing in a fundamentalist “God” or to be a new atheist. But I don’t think it’s possible to get a view of how people really think in order to publish an analysis. Self-reporting of belief as a static position can’t take into account the changes of that with time and it depends on people giving you an accurate position when what they say is certainly going to be incomplete or, perhaps, deceptive.

    I’m pretty skeptical about the value of surveying as a reliable indication of something real, though this one looks far better than most. I’d have to find out more about the sample size as a fraction of the population of scientists, too. But it’s a lot better attempt than most of the surveys I’ve seen and is far better than the garbage polling that pollutes the alleged news media now a days.

  4. #4 Cuttlefish
    May 24, 2011

    I never describe myself as “spiritual”, but many people who know me very well insist that I very clearly am. Where would I fit? How would I answer? I will need to see the specific questions that were asked, and the structure of the asking. David Marjanović is right, there is far too much variability in people’s definitions of “spirituality” for it to be a useful term in such a context

  5. #5 Sigmund
    May 24, 2011

    Josh, this data doesn’t agree with the original survey results on which Ecklund has based her past few papers and book.
    That particular data was published in the paper:
    Religion among academic scientists: Distinctions disciplines and demographics. Ecklund and Scheitle. Social Problems (2007)
    In particular look at the results shown in table 3 from that study. According to Ecklund only 7.2% of ALL scientists (not just atheists) agreed with the statement “I believe in a higher power but it is not God” – which is probably the closest thing on the list to your interpretation of the word spiritual (since you seem to link it to the “Spirit/Life Force” category in the World Values Survey.)
    The statement “Fully half of these top scientists are religious” also doesn’t fit with the survey data.
    According to table 3 of the survey 62.2% of scientists who answered her survey said they did not believe in God or were agnostic (‘don’t know if there is a God and think there is no way to find out’).
    Why the need for such extreme twisting of the original data which is very clear in Ecklunds original paper, referenced above?

  6. #6 Anthony McCarthy
    May 24, 2011

    Sigmund, I guess which of the surveys you cite depends on which one you like more, huh? Which is pretty much the problem with these kinds of things. Your reservation doesn’t reliably debunk the numbers you don’t like, it debunks all of them as of unknowable reliability.

    According to table 3 of the survey 62.2% of scientists who answered her survey said they did not believe in God or were agnostic (‘don’t know if there is a God and think there is no way to find out’).

    For example that 62.2% number is meaningless because, if as you give it, it doesn’t tell you how many of those people who believe there couldn’t possibly be a God and they know that, that there might be a God but that it isn’t knowable, that there likely was a God but that it wasn’t knowable or any number of other positions. And it tells you nothing about what they thought a month after they were polled or, perhaps, even what they believed the month before they were polled.

    What is known is that what even as august a group as the members of The National Academy of Science believe on those questions can’t tell you anything about the real answer to that question. I’d be less inclined to believe what they thought given their personal investment in materialism and the personal status they’ve gotten through it. But that’s my way of looking at it, I wouldn’t pass that off as a dispositive conclusion.

    The idea that scientists have more insight into matters outside of their professional work by virtue of that is absurd. I wouldn’t call a scientist for advice about fixing my plumbing unless I knew they had some knowledge of it and I certainly wouldn’t consult them on matters of morality and religion, even farther removed from anything I’d have a reason to expect them to know.

  7. #7 Sigmund
    May 24, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy said:
    “I guess which of the surveys you cite depends on which one you like more, ”
    There was only one survey. That’s the whole point.
    It’s not a question of looking at different data sets taken from surveys of different individuals.
    As for the figure of 62.2% that is simply the addition of two results in table 3 of her paper.
    “I do not believe in God” = 31.2%
    and
    “I do not know if there is a God and there is no way to find out” = 31%
    Taken together this can reasonably be seen as representing the atheist and agnostic result – or to put it another way the non religious. The rest of the data gives the result for those who :
    “Believe in a higher power but it is not God” = 7.2%
    “I believe in God sometimes” = 5.4%
    “I have some doubts but I believe in God” = 15.5%
    and finally,
    “I have no doubts about God’s existence” = 9.7%
    These final 4 results are what could commonly be described as religious or spiritual and still only add up to about 38%.

  8. #8 Anthony McCarthy
    May 24, 2011

    These final 4 results are what could commonly be described as religious or spiritual and still only add up to about 38%.

    Which tells you nothing much. I doubt it tells you much about the actual thoughts that go through peoples’ heads.

    On another blog I’m following this morning, someone just pointed out that after John Kennedy was assassinated a far larger percentage of people polled, said they’d voted for him than had. I seem to remember reading something like that before, though I’d have to look it up. I don’t have a lot of faith in polling people about a discrete, intentional, fully knowable act like a vote that they’ve cast, certainly not months or years afterwards. Asking them about some of their far less obvious thoughts doesn’t seem more likely to produce accurate results.

    The result of a poll doesn’t tell you anything about much, it produces an abstract, imaginary “position” that shouldn’t be mistaken for a person.

    At any rate, I’d like someone to tell me why I should care what most scientists think of something completely outside of their professional competence. Belief in God isn’t the same kind of thing as believing in the literal accuracy of Genesis, it has nothing to do with the subject of science, at all.

  9. #9 SimonC
    May 24, 2011

    “Religion is about practices, it’s about community, it’s about belief, it’s about theology, it’s about politics, it’s about identity, it’s about family, it’s about culture”

    I don’t see God or miracles or non-scientific thinking included in there (except theology, which is a red herring as most religious practitioners wouldn’t know what ‘theology’ meant). We rational thinkers have all of the other stuff. Why are you trying to bridge an unbridgeable gap between the two?

    And your example of good religion is citing politics as something they should be involved in? LOL!

    Get back to basics, Josh. Join a normal Baptist church for a year and shut up and listen to what they believe. Subscribe to their mailing lists. Watch their TV.Socialize with them as if you belonged.

    All your waffle will melt away once you realize what they think of you as a scientist. They hate that part of you. Trust me, I was one of them once and I loved everyone, but people like you were being manipulated by the devil to say every word from your mouth, so I hated your actions and words. Nothing personal, you just hadn’t found Jesus and were therefore blind. And ignorant. And a little stupid.

    There is nothing you can say to a religious person that will change their mind until you have a situation where fact outranks God. All you’re doing is addressing them in stories that almost permit God but fully permit belief, and therefore you enable the fairy tales, the bigotry, the sexism, the violence – just because someone wants it to be true.

  10. #10 Anthony McCarthy
    May 24, 2011

    If you’re going to join a church, I’d think many congregations in the United Church of Christ would give you a far different experience from attending a Southern Baptist church. Though there are liberal Baptists who would also be far different, as well.

    Why single out religion that way, though? I’d think going to meetings of different atheist groups could give you a pretty good exposure to irrationality and bigotry. Just looking at James Randi’s blog, it’s not exactly the home of broadminded rationality. I wouldn’t think too many people outside of its user base would want it mistaken as the face of science.

  11. #11 Ender
    May 24, 2011

    Simon your comment is a logical fail on two points. 1) Even if Baptists hated scientists Josh’s position is not based in any way on ‘They like us’ so would not be altered in the slightest 2) Your old fundie religion does not describe all religious people and your belief that you understand what ‘they’ think because you used to be one type of religious is ridiculous.

  12. #12 Josh Rosenau
    May 24, 2011

    David Marjanovic, Cuttlefish: There’s no doubt that the term “spirituality” is overloaded, but that doesn’t inherently make it useless (terms like “religion” and “God” are also overloaded). The fact that many of the scientists Ecklund and her team interviewed spontaneously volunteered that term to describe themselves suggests that people find something useful about the term, and Ecklund’s paper focuses largely on her interview results as a way to find out what these scientists mean by “spirituality,” and how that result compares to other interview-based studies of spirituality in the US.

    And no, Sagan and Dawkins wouldn’t show up as spiritual atheists because they wouldn’t describe themselves as spiritual. Not spontaneously in an interview, and not if prompted on a survey. And since I opened by saying this spiritual sense among some scientists is “a sentiment many nonscientists — religious or not — would recognize,” I would certainly agree that the ideas expressed by these spiritual scientists are also found commonly in other categories, but these scientists find some meaning in the term anyway.

    As to the idea that “spiritual” is a term adopted to let people navigate a religious society, that’s why I made the first graph. If that were true, you’d expect the number of people describing themselves as spiritual to decline as theism declines. It doesn’t, which suggests it isn’t just a crutch, but is a genuine and meaningful category for its members.

    Sigmund: As I said in the OP, religion isn’t just about belief in god. Heck, 10% of Danish atheists call themselves religious, as do about 15%-20 of the “Don’t know what to think” category in many European countries. More than half of the scientists Ecklund surveyed attend religious services, believe in god or some higher power, or affiliate themselves with a religious group. Those are all legitimate bases for being called religious.

    I agree that the WVS and Ecklund surveys get at spirituality differently, and I acknowledged that difference in the OP. But looking only at the “higher power but not god” question is under-informative, since that is an option offered in parallel with theism, agnosticism, atheism, etc. Since some atheists, agnostics, and theists regard themselves as spiritual, that question us an underestimate (as, then, the WVS survey’s question is).

    SimonC: I was taking theology to include whether one believes in God and what one believes about God, so I think I covered those issues. And yes, I’m quite aware of fundamentalists and their ways. Are you familiar with the ways of Congregationalists, Unitarians, etc.?

  13. #13 Sigmund
    May 24, 2011

    Sam Harris has described himself as “spiritual” during an interview with conservative radio host Dennis Prager. Prager responded by criticising Harris for using the term “spiritual” in a way completely alien to the way the majority of the US population understand the term – meaning essentially a belief in spirits or the supernatural.
    You can listen to the conversation here.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_ijvAuq3_Q
    In other words it is seen as misleading to use the term in a way that the majority of the population will misinterpret.
    Ecklund’s own paper makes it clear that the “spiritual” atheists are using the term in the way Harris did (as a wonder of nature rather than a belief in a spirit force).

  14. #14 Anthony McCarthy
    May 24, 2011

    I think any materialist who claimed to be spiritual should be considered as someone who either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or as someone who is telling a real stretcher. Harris claiming to be spiritual seems downright Orwellian, though.

  15. #15 Josh Rosenau
    May 24, 2011

    Sigmund: Are you siding with Dennis Prager? When Prager and Harris talk to each other, I’d be open to the likelihood that both are wrong. I mean it’s not really “it is misleading to use the term in a way that the majority of the population will misinterpret,” but “it is misleading to use the term in a way that Dennis Prager will misinterpret.

    Furthermore, we do, and should, use terms in ways that the majority of the population will misinterpret. Most the public has no idea what quantum mechanics is. Or evolution, frankly. We should use those terms to mean what they mean, not what a majority of people might think they mean. Heck, a majority of the public probably thinks “religion” refers to Christianity, or perhaps only to monotheism. That’s wrong, and we should resist it.

    That’s a standard that doesn’t work well for subjective concepts like spirituality, of course. A scientist who finds that word useful but also feels a need to distinguish it from New Age-y woo might do well to find a new term, but then again, why should the wooish sense of the term be allowed to take it over.

  16. #16 Greg Fish
    May 24, 2011

    Pardon me while I facepalm a little at the following statement…

    In contrast to this individual, secularized, even watered down religion, some scholars have taken “spiritual” to be a category for people who are seeking a novel, syncretic, and community-oriented way of connecting to the ideas underlying traditional religion without the limitations imposed by that tradition.

    Sounds like an opinion delivered as fact. Spirituality is such a vague and loose-fitting term that you could apply it to both Deepak Chopra and Richard Dawkins and still be right. As close to an accurate of a definition as I could gather for the definition of spirituality is a belief in something immaterial. So you could say that Chopra’s quantum meanderings and Dawkins’ gushing about the beauty of nature emerging from a messy and arbitrary process are just different sides of the same coin.

    There’s absolutely nothing here about having to follow any part of traditional religion or its tenets. We can say that yes, being nice to each other, sharing, and caring are great and they’re taught by all religions, but they’re also developments of social mammals which found that cooperation meant survival. If animals can share food and care for other members of the group because this behavior just so happens to boost their chances of surviving to a reproductive age and mating, perpetuating the species, why must we immediately rush with a rubber stamp screaming “ooh! ooh! religion! underlying religious tenets!” whenever these behaviors are mentioned in humans?

    I’ve seen a lot of science to suggest that humans are basically born ready to share and cooperate, and the underlying behaviors that make it easy to understand ideas such as ethics and morals are already there before any religious indoctrination takes place. I’ve also seen science that shows a natural revulsion to murder, even during warfare, when killing is rationalized and pardoned. So call me a dreamer, but I think that humans are born good and don’t need to be hammered by any kind of dogma as not to go astray.

  17. #17 kermit
    May 24, 2011

    As an atheist, I see much in common between some religious hermits and the lives of some scientists. One searches for something inexplicable and sublime, the other seeks to explain the sublime. A Zen Buddhist might see spiritual behavior when I garden or practice my katas. I doubt many Southern Baptists would. I don’t talk much about being spiritual, because of all the baggage attached to the word. But I have no trouble with any fellow atheists who do.

  18. #18 Sigmund
    May 24, 2011

    Josh asked:
    “Sigmund: Are you siding with Dennis Prager?”
    On this point I think Prager has a case. He is arguing that ‘spirituality’ is synonymous with classic dualism or a belief in a supernatural soul. “Spirituality” is simply too loaded a term to use without qualifying it and when you qualify it to mean something different to the commonly accepted meaning it is reasonable to ask, as Prager did, why not choose an alternative term with a clearer meaning.

  19. #19 cheglabratjoe
    May 24, 2011

    Josh, you say:

    “As to the idea that “spiritual” is a term adopted to let people navigate a religious society, that’s why I made the first graph. If that were true, you’d expect the number of people describing themselves as spiritual to decline as theism declines. It doesn’t, which suggests it isn’t just a crutch, but is a genuine and meaningful category for its members.”

    I don’t understand your argument here at all. If I’m interpreting your graph correctly, even your most non-theistic country is only 20% explicitly atheistic. Thus, all these people are living in an overwhelmingly religious society, no?

    More importantly, how exactly does it “follow” that less religion would imply less spirituality? I would actually posit the exact opposite: if David and Cuttlefish are correct in asserting that “spirituality” is a term people use to sound/seem religious to other people, I would think it would go up as theism declines. (Since former theists would become spiritualists.) Could you explain your logic?

  20. #20 Riman Butterbur
    May 24, 2011

    This pollster is writing for a religion-oriented publication, has a vested interest in increasing importance of religion, and has produced a push poll with a lot of incoherently worded, leading questions.

    OK, so some of the respondents “volunteered” that they were “spiritual”. Did any of them volunteer that they were trying to develop a new kind of religion?

  21. #21 Josh Rosenau
    May 24, 2011

    Riman: Sociology of Religion would be a sociology-oriented publication, not a religion-oriented publication. The researcher has no vested interest, at least none that you’ve even attempted to demonstrate. Nor have you shown how the questions are incoherent or leading, and indeed my sense from other sociologists and survey workers is that the poll’s methodology is not problematic. I don’t know why you put the scare quotes around “volunteered.”

    Many of the interviewees contrast their self-described spirituality with conventional religion, so the answer to your last question is: yes.

  22. #22 Anthony McCarthy
    May 24, 2011

    writing for a religion-oriented publication, has a vested interest in increasing importance of religion Riman

    If that’s the rule you just wiped out any credibility in the catalog of Prometheus, not to mention pulping the entire new atheist book shelf.

  23. #23 Egbert
    May 24, 2011

    Replace the word ‘spirituality’ with ‘mythology’ and we can perhaps crack open a door into the religious mindset, a mindset that Josh apparently seems to revel within.

  24. #24 cheglabratjoe
    May 24, 2011

    “The researcher has no vested interest, at least none that you’ve even attempted to demonstrate.”

    Did you couch your statement because you noticed the acknowledgement section of the paper, Josh? In case anyone else missed it, or doesn’t have access to the full article:

    “This research was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Grant #11299, Elaine Howard Ecklund, PI.”

    Also, a trivial amount of googling reveals that the organization behind this journal was originally called the American Catholic Sociological Society, and changed its name only in response to Vatican II (Sociological Analysis 1989, 50:4351-361). So, I doubt the following assertion, as well:

    “Sociology of Religion would be a sociology-oriented publication, not a religion-oriented publication.”

    Are you even trying anymore?

  25. #25 Riman Butterbur
    May 24, 2011

    Thank you, cheglabratjoe, for giving some of my answers for me.

    “Nor have you shown how the questions are incoherent or leading”

    Your own post shows that. One of the questions: “what they believe about God (“I do not believe in God,” “I do not know if there is a God and there is no way to find out,” “I believe in a higher power but it is not God,” “I believe in God sometimes,” “I have some doubts but I believe in God,” “I have no doubts about God’s existence”)”. Does the questioner ever define this “God”? What does a person do if none of these choices fits their opinion?

    Really, if a scientist is asked to answer questions about God, religion, awe, wonder, etc., what do you expect them to talk about but God, religion, awe, wonder, etc.? Remember Richard Dawkins telling Ben Stein that aliens might have seeded Earth with life?

    “Many of the interviewees contrast their self-described spirituality with conventional religion, so the answer to your last question is: yes.”

    “Contrast” means “equate”? You need a better dictionary.

    To be fair to Ecklund, most of the talk about spirituality-as-religiosity is in your own comments about the surveys. Maybe you’re the one with thoughts of a new godless religion sweeping the land?

  26. #26 julian
    May 24, 2011

    ‘This tends to support the idea that spirituality should be understood as an experimental sort of religiosity, rather than a stepping stone away from religion.’

    I think this one sentence illustrates perfectly why it’s impossible to take you seriously.

    @Riman

    I think you asked me who Eric MacDonald was on another thread. In case you’re interedted his a former Anglican priest who now blogs at Choice in Dying and spends most of his time advocating for the right for terminally ill patients to end their life on their terms.

  27. #27 Riman Butterbur
    May 24, 2011

    Julian, you asked me what I thought of Eric MacDonald. I’m completely in favor of everybody’s right to control their own lives.

  28. #28 Anthony McCarthy
    May 24, 2011

    cheglabratjoe, do you have any evidence that the journal has been criticized for professional misconduct or lapses in the past or is this just the typical new atheist McCarthyism at work? If you can’t produce any evidence of misconduct you have nothing.

    More importantly, can you produce any evidence that Elaine Howard Ecklund has been guilty of professional misconduct? You really should put up evidence since you’ve slimed her by implication. You want people to start looking at funding sources of anti-religious writers?

    As I pointed out to Riman, your standard of guilt would immediately wipe out anything funded by CFI or the myriad of other atheist institutions. Every book published by Prometheus would be trashed as would every blog post appearing on Dawkins’ blog and through whatever you call James Randi’s, so called “educational foundation”.

  29. #29 Laurence
    May 24, 2011

    It seems silly to use a term that can mean two diametrically opposed ideas depending on who you ask. Spiritual just seems like an absolutely meaningless term these days.

  30. #30 cheglabratjoe
    May 24, 2011

    You truly are a piece of work, McCarthy. I’m going to do what I can to not get sucked down your rabbit hole of BS, and merely point out that I called out Josh’s statements that EHE has “no vested interest” and that the SoR journal was not “not a religion-oriented publication.” I said nothing about “professional misconduct” on either her, the journal’s, or the associated society’s part. You are goalpost-moving to the point that it’s pretty much outright lying and distortion.

    As for your asinine comments about analogous arguments applied to the “other side,” I hope you do indeed consider the source of everything you read. I also hope that supporters of that “side” would be more forthright about their funding and history, and not slyly hide the funding and organization behind a study they’re discussing, as Josh clearly and clumsily tried to do here. In my experience, that “side” values honesty more than your “side” does, so I think my hope is appropriate.

  31. #31 Riman Butterbur
    May 24, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy’s MO, which he’s used before here and here.

    If you try to point out to him that you haven’t accused anybody of professional misconduct or called for any censorship, his next step will be something like this:

    constantly slipping and sliding around to try to avoid the consequences of what you’ve said and positions you’ve taken, claiming that you’re the one who held a position after I’ve pointed out that your original position had problems. In other words, you are dishonest.

  32. #32 cheglabratjoe
    May 24, 2011

    Thanks, Riman. I’ve observed him in action before, but never interacted with him personally (that I can remember, at least). I’m not looking forward to it.

    I would like to see Josh respond to all this, though. His comment at 21 is a doozy. I didn’t even catch the deep confusion in the second paragraph, which you addressed in 25.

  33. #33 Anthony McCarthy
    May 24, 2011

    I said nothing about “professional misconduct” on either her, the journal’s, or the associated society’s part. cheglabratjoe

    If you’re admitting that you have no evidence that by the normal standards of the field the neither Elaine Howard Ecklund nor the Sociology of Religion has done anything but produced and published standard scholarship, you haven’t shown either a vested interest or that the journal has anything but a scholarly orientation. Do you have any record of either her publication or the publications list of the journal that shows any kind of bias, such as you more than imply?

    Do you want the same standards you apply to both to be applied to those with a professional association or a financial one to the organs of organized atheism? All those who have an association or financial ties or interests to the many, many alphabet soup of groups started by Paul Kurtz? All of those things associated with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, James Randi, etc?

    I’m more interested in what people say and if they can back it up with legitimate citations and research. But if you’re going to impose guilt by association and accusation of unreliability due to anything other than misconduct, I’m not going to allow you guys an exemption to the standard you apply to your opponents. How about if we go back in time and junk genetics since Mendel was thoroughly unreliable due to his profession and where he got his entire base of support.

    Clearly, you’ve got nothing or you’d produce it.

    I’ll have to let Josh speak for himself but I don’t think you’ve got anything there, either.

    Riman, it is flattering to find out that my humble self takes up so much of the new atheist attention, such as it is. But that’s really not very interesting.

    Your second link goes to one of Diane Owens’ comments, which is a good example of her MO but not of mine. As for the one that did go to something I said, do you really want me to make my point yet again? Really?

    I don’t see how you hope to make the case for the effectiveness of pseudo-scientific divination from the very remote past by bringing up the difficulties of determining what actually happened in an unwitnessed occurrence today. If it’s hard to interpret a fresh scene, aging it for 35,000 years or far more isn’t going to make figuring out what actually happened easier.

    I guess my MO must be to draw logical conclusions. Why not come out and say what you want me to have said so I can point out what I did.

    I stand by my comment that you quoted. I haven’t said that to cheglabratjoe, yet, but he’s getting closer.

  34. #34 cheglabratjoe
    May 24, 2011

    It’s charitable that you dragged those goalposts a little closer to their starting position, Anthony, but of course you know that they are still shifted.

    Josh balked at the mere mention that the journal this paper was in had a pro-religion bent, and I demonstrated that its publisher was explicitly Catholic until 1970, and only [nominally] changed it’s tune per marching orders from the Vatican. Thus, Josh should not snidely shoot down questions about the journal as he did. That is *all* that has transpired, despite your fanciful extrapolations. It seems like Josh is arguing from the title of the journal … if anything at all, since he might just be pulling stuff out of thin air.

    As for Ecklund, very analogously, Josh coyly stated that “[she] has no vested interest, at least none that [Riman has] attempted to demonstrate.” He notably left out that this research was funded by Templeton, which of course has a vested interest in promotion religion. Hell, they have a vested *highly specific* interest in this scientist spirituality stuff, as they’ve funded Ecklund’s research and Chris Mooney’s fellowship on the topic. This bias is so glaring obvious that it seems like Josh couldn’t keep himself from referencing it as soon as he acknowledged it. So, again, your and Josh’s pearl-clutching and claims of “new atheist McCarthyism” are nothing short of a total freaking farce.

    You are of course free to respond if you choose, but I can’t imagine your response will be worth the time replying to. You notably ignored my comments about how every “side” ought to consider the source, choosing instead to needlessly repeat your “zomg Dick Dawkins is biased too” comments and laughably try to claim the high ground in this discussion. I’ve wasted too much time already engaging you.

  35. #35 Josh Rosenau
    May 24, 2011

    Cheglabratjoe: I didn’t “reference” anything. I just said you made charges and didn’t substantiate them. Nor have you since.

    Simply noting that it was funded by Templeton does not demonstrate any agenda or vested interest. Nor, of course, did I say anything about “new atheist McCarthyism.” Perhaps you could try to be a little more accurate.

    You claim that Sociology of Religion is a religious outlet because it was a Catholic journal 41 years ago. I think it’s unfair to judge them by a name they abandoned before I was born.

    “Does the questioner ever define this ‘God’?”

    Nor, nor does anyone in public opinion surveys on religion.

    “What does a person do if none of these choices fits their opinion?”

    They say “I don’t know,” or leave the question blank. This, again, is standard survey methodology.

    “‘Contrast’ means ‘equate”?’You need a better dictionary.”

    No, which is why I didn’t talk about equating them.

    You need to learn to read. You’ve consistently misrepresented me and the sources you cite, and you can’t seem to handle basic vocabulary, let alone the basics of survey methodology. Riman, are you seriously impressed by this nonsense?

  36. #36 Anthony McCarthy
    May 24, 2011

    Cheg, could you come up with a different meaningless cliche? That one’s falling apart from overuse.

    I demonstrated that its publisher was explicitly Catholic until 1970,

    You know how long ago 1970 was? Were you even born then, I’ll bet lots of the fan base of the new atheism weren’t?

    First, being “explicitly Catholic” wouldn’t stop an institution from being a perfectly legitimate scholarly institution or publisher, certainly not in 1970. Are you saying that nothing that comes out of a Catholic university or college should be considered to be scholastically valid? That no research produced by them should be allowed to enter science? I’d love to hear some scholars who work at Catholic universities or who have published works with journals associated with those universities speak to that.

    How recently was Prometheus or “Skeptical Inquirer” or “Free Inquiry” or any of the other organs of new atheism affiliated with atheism? Something like right now?

    And how about other religions? Or is it just Catholic institutions and publications – and those which had a Catholic affiliation decades ago – that are on your Index? By the way, if what I’m reading is right, Sociology of Religion would appear to be housed at Wake Forrest University, by the way. I’m not aware of that being a Catholic institution.

    You and Riman are trying to make some research you don’t like go away by sliming it as unreliable due to ideological taint without producing anything that shows that. As I pointed out everything that the new atheism produces is at least as associated with an ideological position, much of it far more so than a legitimate scholarly journal. I’d love to get a good side by side comparison of the history of peer review among the Sociology of Religion and the various atheist journals I’ve named for the period during which they’ve all existed. Or a comparison between Templeton and, say, CSICOP for impartiality. I wonder if Templeton or Sociology of Religion has circulated anything like the infamous “Crybaby” by Phil Klass.

    Josh, it would appear that between Cheg and Riman, they’re sending their big guns out.

  37. #37 cheglabratjoe
    May 24, 2011

    Well, I certainly regret holding out hope that your comments would be more meaningful than McCarthy’s, Josh. It would be ironic that you’re being a dick and snidely telling me to “be a little more accurate,” if it weren’t so frustrating.

    I made no claims. Rather, YOU claimed that “[Ecklund] has no vested interest” after Riman said she did. I pointed out that the work was funded by Templeton, which of course means she does have a vested interest, despite your claims. (See comment 34; Templeton is highly invested in the notion of spiritual scientists.) As for my “reference” comment, I stated that *in my opinion* (see comment 24 and then 34, I acknowledged this was my speculation) that you couched your quote above with “at least none that [Riman has] even attempted to demonstrate” because you were aware of the Templeton funding but chose to not acknowledge it yourself.

    So, to recap, you’re wrong about me making claims, and you’re wrong about me not substantiating that your claim was wrong. The only thing you got kind of right was that you can technically read one of my sentences as attributing two things to both you and McCarthy, when in reality I should have been more specific attributing one thing to you and the other to McCarthy. I hope the audience will forgive me for lumping you two together so blithely.

    By the way, this is at least triply frustrating, so you know. You’re not responding to the substance of our criticisms, you’re focusing on minutia, and you’re being an ass about the minutia, despite the fact that you’re not being all that careful yourself. It’s a pleasure discussing these things with you, really. I enjoy having to quote the grammar of blog comments to demonstrate who is being more or less specific, and who is actually arguing the other’s claims rather than making crap up. It’s a joy.

    Your appeal for specificity was especially enjoyable when I read: “You claim that Sociology of Religion is a religious outlet because it was a Catholic journal 41 years ago. I think it’s unfair to judge them by a name they abandoned before I was born.” My turn to be a pedantic ass! Let’s see, it was a Catholic organization 41 years ago, not a Catholic journal. They only changed the name of the journal, yet I see no evidence that they necessarily changed their aims or goals. Indeed, the change was inspired by Vatican II; I don’t find your claim that they’re no longer religion evidenced by the fact that they changed their name *per the recommendation of a Catholic reform*. (“Their religion told them to be not so religious, thus they’re not religious.” Riiight.) I posit the opposite: if they were a sociological journal first, then the Vatican II wouldn’t have affected their work or name. Thus, they’re religious. That’s at least as “logical” as your strange hypothesis in comment 12, right? (Not so fun to argue with someone who ignores the meat of your point, focuses on stupid minutia, snd makes up fanciful claims to argue his points and/or disparage your points, is it? Now you know what it’s been like for me to respond to you and McCarthy. Again, I hope it’s clear why it was so natural to lump you two together.)

  38. #38 cheglabratjoe
    May 24, 2011

    For crying out loud, McCarthy! I’m just going to quote myself, since you are incapable of reading and Josh so loves specificity yet can’t be bothered to be specific himself:

    “Josh should not snidely shoot down questions about the journal as he did. That is *all* that has transpired, despite your fanciful extrapolations.”

    “[Templeton has] a vested *highly specific* interest in this scientist spirituality stuff, as they’ve funded Ecklund’s research and Chris Mooney’s fellowship on the topic.”

    That’s it. Those are my “claims,” if you can even call them that. Again, being specific, I started commenting because Josh blithely and rudely dismissed someone discussing potential bias in the research and in the journal. I think both are worth considering, and strongly. That’s all. McCarthy, your CONTINUING comments along the lines of “CFI is biased” are profoundly stupid, since I would freaking agree that they’re potentially biased! To clarify: I agree with you, you dolt. You’d be an idiot to not see Prometheus on the spine and not be cognizant that the book is likely coming from a non-theist perspective. You’re so pathetically anti-atheist that you can’t recognize that I’m agreeing with you!

    And, I don’t even know what this means: “Josh, it would appear that between Cheg and Riman, they’re sending their big guns out.” Are you honestly claiming that some “new atheist” conglomerate appointed Riman (who I don’t know) and I to come comment on Josh’s blog? Please tell me you’re kidding. If not, I worry that you might be legitimately paranoid. Part of me feels flattered that you consider me a “big gun,” but a larger part of me is just weirded out …

  39. #39 Josh Rosenau
    May 24, 2011

    Cheglabratjoe: I didn’t say Ecklund has no vested interest,” I said Riman hadn’t demonstrated such an interest (which is why I couched the comment the way I did: I’m open to evidence, but not to bald assertion). Nor does simply noting that Templeton funded this study “of course” mean she has a vested interest. Claiming that suggests that she’s skewing the results in some way, or censoring herself to match Templeton’s ideological biases. In all the Templeton-bashing that goes on, no one has ever offered anything to suggest that Templeton interferes in grantee’s research or publications, nor that grant decisions are premised on research producing particular results. In short, saying it was funded by Templeton is no more obvious a vested interest than being funded by anyone else. If you want to make an actual argument beyond “of course,” I’m all ears, but so far you just seem to be trolling.

    And this is not minutia. It’s the evidence you were offering for your claims. If your evidence is invalid, then the rest of your argument is built on sand, and thus irrelevant. I’m unable to convince myself that it matters whether the Association for the Sociology of Religion, an academic sociology society (not a religious society, as was claimed), called itself “the American Catholic Sociological Society” (if we’re being grammar mavens, then that’s a Sociological Society for Catholics) long before I was born. You’re free to make pedantic nonsense about this, but it doesn’t advance your case, so I don’t see the point.

    It’s frankly not clear why you do anything. It’s not clear what you find strange about my hypothesis, nor what you think that hypothesis was. It isn’t clear what your beef is, because all of your argument seems to consist of minutiae and nitpicks, like who funded what and what the journal’s publisher called itself 40 years ago. What do you think about these issues? Don’t just try to tear down Ecklund, don’t just smear people with guilt-by-association nonsense, try to actually engage the issues. If you think her methodology is flawed, make that case. If you think her data don’t support her conclusions (or my conclusions), make that case. But this ad hominem crap doesn’t cut it, you have to actually engage her research. And if you think her conclusions flow (or mine) from the data but other conclusions are also plausible and preferable, then provide an evidence-based argument for an alternative conclusion. Otherwise you’re just trolling.

  40. #40 Anthony McCarthy
    May 25, 2011

    As the Cheg goes longer, the stuff gets wronger.

    I posit the opposite: if they were a sociological journal first, then the Vatican II wouldn’t have affected their work or name. Thus, they’re religious…

    You can posit all you want but until you put up evidence that their published scholarship was bent towards a specific religious purpose, they were a scholarly journal 41 years ago . How far back do you want to push this because quite a number of major Universities in the Western world were Catholic institutions at one time and some still are today.

    You’re so pathetically anti-atheist that you can’t recognize that I’m agreeing with you!

    You’re so twisted up in an attempt to smear the author of the study and the results you don’t like that you can’t see I was rejecting your premise that her work and the journal was necessarily discredited by the nature of its ownership.

    I was saying that it’s the practices used and the contents of what they publish that determines whether or not it’s valid within the accustomed practices of sociology .

    You and Riman were depending on an emotional rejection of anything with the remotest connection with religion, bigotry, to make a case you can’t make with the facts about what Ecklund published.

    Not everyone in the world is that dishonest on behalf of their ideology. For example, it’s possible to look at Jerry Coyne’s published science without finding it’s polluted by his intense bigotry. And you can say the same for some journals.

    There are some alleged scholars about whom that’s not true and some allegedly reality based journals and publishers about which it’s obviously not true. But you can’t know which ones are which until you make the case supported by what they’ve published on the basis of fact.

    I didn’t try to make the case against CFI or the other named entities in this argument. I was pointing out that your and Riman’s standard of judgement would allow me to make those assertions on the basis of ideological affiliation only, which would be unfortunate for Jerry Coyne’s work, which would likely be a loss to science. Which is why normal scholars don’t reject work based on whether or not the source of it is believed to have cooties. Which is the level at which you are arguing.

  41. #41 Anthony McCarthy
    May 25, 2011

    I had to look up the term “vested interest” because it didn’t make sense in the only way I was familiar with that term, the original, legal one. I didn’t know some psychologist had stolen it to come up with some distorted meaning for it. I’ll have to wait to look up his supposed evidence for doing that but I’m extremely skeptical that it’s going to lead to anything good.

    If you start making up “hedonic” motives for doing things, there isn’t much that any one does that can escape the charge of there being a “vested interest”.

  42. #42 cheglabratjoe
    May 25, 2011

    Ugh. JR: “Claiming that suggests that she’s skewing the results in some way, or censoring herself to match Templeton’s ideological biases.”

    No, it doesn’t. I have no idea why you and AM keep leaping from me citing potential bias to me accusing people of outright fraud. It’s strange, and I can’t imagine it’s an innocent mistake anymore since I keep pointing it out, yet it keeps happening. Perhaps you both ought to actually engage with your critics, rather than building up and burning down strawmen. It seems like you’re having fun, though, so I guess there’s that.

    “And this is not minutia. It’s the evidence you were offering for your claims.”

    Since it apparently needs to be laid out even more explicitly than I’ve tried thus far, here’s one last stab at my point. (1) Someone said that the study was done by pro-religious researchers and was published in a religious journal, which means the results might be biased; (2) you dismissed these concerns out-of-hand; (3) I argued that you shouldn’t dismiss these concerns out-of-hand. That’s all, folks!

    And, we’re coming around again, since you’re starting up a part (4) with the following: “In all the Templeton-bashing that goes on, no one has ever offered anything to suggest that Templeton interferes in grantee’s research or publications, nor that grant decisions are premised on research producing particular results.” No, I am not accusing Templeton of outright fraud. However, I think it is clear that they strongly favor this notion of spiritual scientists. They fund EHE’s research on it, and they gave Mooney a fellowship to study the phenomenon (read: publicize and promote, since he’s a popular journalist, and thus won’t likely be doing original research). Hence, potential bias. Is this really that tough to grasp?

    As for you, AM, you’ve now mentioned at least twice that I don’t like EHE’s results, and that I’m trying to rationalize them away to protect my worldview (or something). Yet more evidence that you’re not reading what I’m writing. It might help you to go over my little outline above, since I’ve yet to actually address her work yet. I’ve been addressing Josh’s “la la la la I see no potential bias la la” response to criticism. The closest I came was briefly mentioning that I can’t parse Josh’s attempt to explain the data in light of the idea that spirituality is a new special type of religion.

  43. #43 Anthony McCarthy
    May 25, 2011

    Cheg, it’s no matter to me if you are trying to do it by proxy or directly, that’s what you’re doing, the reason that Riman was so beholden to you.

    As to “spirituality” becoming a new religion, that’s not a statement of scientific research and its standards, it’s the kind of speculative statement that everyone makes some time or other. Though I think it’s far closer to what religion actually is, what’s contained in the minds of people, not what’s set out as a creed or dogma, so I think it’s probably true, my only quibble with the word “new”. Which is why it drives so many dogmatic atheists nuts when people don’t find their derisive debunkery has anything to do with what they believe and they go right on believing it. Including, most annoyingly of all to the devotees of the quasi-religion of scientism, when scientists believe.

  44. #44 cheglabratjoe
    May 25, 2011

    AM, what? You’ve got to be kidding. I point out that you’re wrongly putting words into my mouth, and your reply is “no, really, that is actually what you’re saying.” This is like arguing with a funhouse mirror; I’m expected to defend stuff you’re imagining that I’m thinking. Ridiculous, and not a little weird.

    I don’t think I have anything to say about your second paragraph, especially since I fail to see its relevance to the topic at hand. (Nice to see the phrase “quasi-religion of scientism,” though.) I wonder if JR agrees with it, though, since it seems like he’s arguing that the notion of “spirituality” as a new religion does indeed follow from this evidence.

  45. #45 Anthony McCarthy
    May 25, 2011

    Cheg, I think I’m supposed to be the one saying “moving goalposts” in this exchange with you. I think the problem is you want to do something but you don’t have what you need to do it. Unless you can get it, you’re wasting your time.

    I’d expect Josh has better things to do than write blog posts about what I’ve said. He’s never either objected to or approved of what I’ve said and I’ve disagreed with some of the things he said. It’s something adults do.

  46. #46 Josh Rosenau
    May 25, 2011

    Cheglabratjoe: I didn’t dismiss those concerns out of hand, I said that the evidence offered for the charge was insufficient. And your attempts to defend the claim has consistently been rooted in bad evidence and bad arguments. To wit: unless Templeton’s interest in spiritual scientists is influencing how Ecklund conducted her research or wrote up that research, it’s not evidence of bias. And you haven’t shown that link, or even made an attempt at showing that link. I’m not blithely dismissing the possibility of bias, which is why I couched my reply to Riman in careful and qualified terms (not, as you now claim, “dismissed …out of hand” let alone “la la la la I see no potential bias la la”). This disconnect between what actually happened and what you claim happened makes me think you have reading problems or honesty problems.

    “I’ve yet to actually address her work yet.” And that’s the problem. If you think there’s potential bias, you should be able to point to something in the research that’s problematic. But you don’t show any evidence of having looked at the research, let alone having engaged it, let alone my summary of it. All you say is that you “can parse Josh’s attempt to explain the data.” So ask questions to clarify things, rather than just trolling.

  47. #47 Anthony McCarthy
    May 25, 2011

    About potential bias, who doesn’t have a potential bias? The position you hold in your professional discipline, what school of it you subscribe to, your graduate and undergraduate faculty, your previous publications and public positions are all sources of potential bias. If anyone who has a potential bias is excluded from any kind of research you’d better be prepared to do without just about any kind of scholarship or research.

    If you want to charge bias it’s your responsibility to back it up with evidence and facts. If you can’t do that you’re just spreading malicious gossip.

  48. #48 Riman Butterbur
    May 25, 2011

    If you start making up “hedonic” motives for doing things, there isn’t much that any one does that can escape the charge of there being a “vested interest”….

    About potential bias, who doesn’t have a potential bias? The position you hold in your professional discipline, what school of it you subscribe to, your graduate and undergraduate faculty, your previous publications and public positions are all sources of potential bias….

    Josh, when Anthony McCarthy starts making more sense than you are, I think that should tell you something.

    And with that observation, I’m done with this nonsense.

  49. #49 Anthony McCarthy
    May 25, 2011

    Riman, as I recall it was your tag team partner, Cheg who started in with the “potential bias” stuff. And I didn’t recall it but my word check says it was one “Riman Butterbar” who started talking about “vested interest” above @20

  50. #50 J. J. Ramsey
    May 25, 2011

    If the Templeton Foundation had a clear tendency toward particular ideological positions, then there would be a much clearer argument that its backing casts serious doubt or ever “taints” Eclund’s research. As it stands, we’re dealing with an organization that, for example, had one of the biggest studies on the efficacy of prayer — and quite willingly published a negative result. Not exactly the Discovery Institute here.

  51. #51 supratall
    May 26, 2011

    OK, I’ll come clean: this reminds me of an embarrassingly recent conversation with my materials science-trained boyfriend.

  52. #52 Verbose Stoic
    May 26, 2011

    cheglabratjoe,

    “Since it apparently needs to be laid out even more explicitly than I’ve tried thus far, here’s one last stab at my point. (1) Someone said that the study was done by pro-religious researchers and was published in a religious journal, which means the results might be biased; (2) you dismissed these concerns out-of-hand; (3) I argued that you shouldn’t dismiss these concerns out-of-hand. That’s all, folks!”

    Who cares that it “might” be biased? You need to challenge the results, not just things that might make the results biased. You need to do the work as Josh says to show what’s wrong and what’s done improperly. Harping on the source of funding or the journal as if that actually says anything meaningful about the study, paper, or results is utterly pointless and is in fact quite the argument ad hominem, that we should be skeptical in some way about this paper only because of its associations and not because of its actual content.

    For the most part, to varying degrees, it seems to me that JR and AM have been arguing to get you to see and accept that, and move away from the ad hominem into real criticisms, either by demonstrating that there really was bias — intentional or not — or that the content is somehow flawed. You seem unwilling to do either, but unfortunately that leaves you without an argument.

  53. #53 Riman Butterbur
    May 26, 2011

    Verbose Stoic , I am not a sociologist, and AFAIK neither is cheglabratjoe. It’s not our job “to do the work as Josh says to show what’s wrong and what’s done improperly”. Josh is the one making the claims, it’s up to him to support them. All we have done is say we are not as impressed with these results as he is.

  54. #54 julian
    May 26, 2011

    Now Josh Rosenau is going off about ‘the issues’ and how ‘ we should be engaging the srguments.’ I find this amusing.

  55. #55 Anthony McCarthy
    May 27, 2011

    Riman, if you want to start subjecting the social sciences and their unfortunate extension into real sciences and the more credulous reaches of the humanities to more rigorous standards, good. In which case I wonder why we’ve had several of the arguments we have here. I’m usually the one pointing out problems with that in those exchanges.

    However, if you want to make a case that by the accepted standards of sociological research that this, clearly, more than usually nuanced study falls short of those standards, that is the charge that has to be defended and you’re the guys making it.

    I think I suggested that you read Lewontin’s essay “Sex, Lies and Social Science” in one of our recent arguments. If you had wanted to subject this study to that kind of critique, as I began with here, it would have been an entirely different matter. However, you can’t pick this one study you don’t like to subject it to a different standard than you do studies you do like.

  56. #56 Verbose Stoic
    May 27, 2011

    Riman,

    If you are unimpressed by the results only because of what you think the source is, my point still stands: that’s insufficient and not an argument that anyone should take seriously. If you want to argue that people should be skeptical of the results, read the paper and point out what you think should make someone skeptical of them, as some have done. And address that and address that specifically. Calling Josh out for not being properly impressed by comments about the source of the funding or “potential bias” seems to me to be irrelevant; one should not be impressed by such comments.

  57. #57 Josh Rosenau
    May 27, 2011

    Riman: “Josh is the one making the claims, it’s up to him to support them.”

    And I see no evidence of active bias, so see nothing in need of support regarding the issues you’ve tried to raise. If you want to claim that there’s a bias at work skewing the data or the interpretation (mine or Ecklund’s), then it falls to you to make that case (on your own or by citing someone else). I only care how “impressed” you are if you can substantiate that gut reaction with actual data, not just ad hominem and guilt by association (a form of ad hominem). You’ve yet to do that.

    If you object to some specific claim, I’m happy to address your concerns, but so far nothing you’ve brought up seems even to touch on the substance of the OP.

  58. That Anthony McCarthy is a staunch supporter of one’s opinions must be a source of eternal shame & wonderment at what one is getting horribly wrong.

  59. #59 Anthony McCarthy
    May 28, 2011

    Michael Kingsford Grey, having a new atheist not like me is about as important to me as having a creationist not like me. It’s not important to me at all.

  60. #60 Riman Butterbur
    May 28, 2011

    Josh, now you’ve made another unsupported claim: that I have used “ad hominem and guilt by association”.

    “You can’t prove I’m wrong so I’m right” doesn’t fly, either.

    “I only care how “impressed” you are if you can substantiate that gut reaction with actual data”

    I never asked anybody to care. I just expressed my own reaction. And if you cared to discuss whatever “substance” you think is in the OP, you could have done so at any time, instead of attacking me.

  61. #61 RickK
    May 28, 2011

    Coming back to the original topic – I couldn’t agree more with David @2 above.

    We need a new word.

    I feel wonder, amazement, awe and a deep sense of being lucky when I consider my existence. I think about these feelings, and consider big and deep issues more than most of my friends and family. I read extensively about science and religion. When contemplating our universe, I feel many of the same things that religious people feel when they contemplate their spirituality. And I find the same feelings expressed in the writings of Dawkins, Sagan and even PZ Myers when he gets rolling on some arcane bit of molecular biology.

    But the world “spiritual” is simply not useful for describing these thoughts or feelings. Based on the evidence, I’m quite sure I don’t have a “spirit” independent from the electrochemical workings of my nervous system. I’m quite confident that there is no guiding “spirit” in the universe for me to give thanks to. I’m a hardcore materialist, naturalist atheist, and I mentally deduct scores of IQ points when assessing the cognitive abilities of anyone who regularly voices thanks to God or Jesus.

    But if I told a religious acquaintance that I feel something akin to “spiritual” sensations when thinking these deep thoughts, they would nod sagely and say “see, deep down you’re one of us.”

    Because of its fuzzy meaning, “spiritual” is an utterly useless word. So what’s an equivalent word that connotes the wonder, the awe, the feeling of being made of star stuff and the feeling of being direct kin to all life on Earth? What word do we use that DOESN’T carry the baggage of actual “spirits”?

    When we find that word, we’ll see significant differences in surveys like this.

  62. #62 Anthony McCarthy
    May 28, 2011

    I’m a hardcore materialist, naturalist atheist, and I mentally deduct scores of IQ points when assessing the cognitive abilities of anyone who regularly voices thanks to God or Jesus. RickK

    You don’t know how tempted I am to comment on how quaint the retention of a belief in IQ is.

    You figure you’re more on the ball than Kurt Godel, A. S. Eddington, Michael Faraday, James Maxwell, Gregor Mendel, Theo. Dobzhansky, etc. were? Wow. I would love to see your C.V.

    And this is all by virtue of your ideological preference.

  63. #63 julian
    May 31, 2011

    Mr. McCarthy, you must remember, civil and enlightened persons do not need to constantly have the last word. Such pettiness should be left to horrible wretched people like me.

  64. #64 Anthony McCarthy
    June 1, 2011

    Julian, if you think I’m going to take etiquette lessons from you, you’re nuts.

  65. #65 James
    May 6, 2012

    The overwhelming majority of MD’s believe in God.

    and it case you dont know it they obviously possess degree’s in science soooo.
    I say this because even though most of us have experience with these people when we mushed apple sauce in their hair at lunch period and witnessed their social misfit behavior–we somehow have this illusionary vision that they are some type superior human.

    I also possess a degree in science as do many others and am perfectly capable of comprehending scientific conclusions and data. The problem with many in the public is they dont remember how myopic these people can be. The average person can comprehend the forest much better than these guys–as they look at the tree sometimes without seeing the big picture.
    Thats why they were dweebs in the first place.

    To not understand that atheists have flocked the fields of Origins is to know nothing about human nature. People who already can see, in all of 3 seconds, there is a creator are not gonna push pen to paper in a mad rush for answers they already have.
    So, maybe some perspective? Let get off this idea that these guys have some knowledge we dont. We’ve all met these people and know they have LESS answers about life then the average person–not more.

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