Sinners in the hands of an angry phantasm

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Hank Fox just dropped me a line mentioning an older article he'd found, as something I might want to blog about. Yes, it was—I wrote about it sometime ago, and here it is again. The article Hank found is also worth reading, with a strong conclusion:

Despite all its fine words, religion has brought in its wake little more than violence, prejudice and sexual disease. True morality is found elsewhere. As UK Guardian columnist George Monbiot concluded in his review of Gregory Paul's study, "if you want people to behave as Christians advocate, you should tell them that God does not exist."

It's a very cool article—it had the religious up in arms, because it flat out demonstrates that belief in God does not confer any social advantages, and is actually a net detriment to a culture.


I knew it all along.

Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

“The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

Now, to be fair, I don't think this necessarily says that being religious is bad for the individual; it's just not good for a culture. I also think it's a bit sweeping in associating these ills with religious belief in general, because the US is afflicted with particularly malignant forms of religion (and at the root, the problem may not be religion itself, but irrationality and anti-intellectualism and ignorance, something our country has in volume). On the other hand, countries with more traditional religions also seem to have some serious problems (who knew Portugal was such a mess?).

But heck yeah, it seems obvious to me that if you base national policy on pious ignorance and the low-rent tribal power fantasies of a bronze-age gang of thugs, you're not going to cope well with the real issues of a modern pluralist society.

Here's some of the data, correlating god-belief with homicide rates and mean life expectancy. That little "U" that's typically floating off by itself as an outlier (and not on the good side) is us.

A = Australia
C = Canada
D = Denmark
E = Great Britain
F = France
G = Germany
H = Holland
I = Ireland
J = Japan
L = Switzerland
N = Norway
P = Portugal
R = Austria
S = Spain
T = Italy
U = United States
W = Sweden
Z = New Zealand
i-33ffae64690bb2da465caed08a35b8e1-god_belief_homicides.gif
i-3f358e815d5f8062e5f1252fd84b3793-god_belief_longevity.gif

(via Omniorthogonal)


I've noticed that a few people are freaking out over this study, and are in denial. Mostly it is because they are misinterpreting it; it does not say that if you believe in God, you will get an abortion and start murdering strangers. It says that prevalent god-belief in a culture does not discourage that sort of behavior, and that more secular societies are clearly not hotbeds of sin and corruption.

If the data showed that the U.S. enjoyed higher rates of societal health than the more secular, pro-evolution democracies, then the opinion that popular belief in a creator is strongly beneficial to national cultures would be supported. Although they are by no means utopias, the populations of secular democracies are clearly able to govern themselves and maintain societal cohesion. Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developing democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data - a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends.

Why this should be triggering such knee-jerk antipathy is a mystery to me; is denying the efficacy of religion and the perfection of American society, and providing evidence for same, such a horrifying idea to people? Apparently, it is.

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But but but... that's BLASPHEMY!!!

I think that the proper interpretation of the study is that religious belief is neither necessary nor sufficient for cultural well-being. The big problem with social studies like these are controls; who knows how bad (or good) the US would be without religion. It does certainly does demolish the notion of religion being a panacea for cultural ills, or in atheism leading to widespread cultural degradation.

"Why this should be triggering such knee-jerk antipathy is a mystery to me"

Aren't you being a bit disingenuous here, PZ? I'm sure you could hazard the same guess I would: by undercutting religionists' claims to superior ethics, this study suggests that societies are better off without religion: therefore, being a good American is in conflict with being a Christian and supporting the growth of Christian churches.

What is with Denmark, low belief and early death....?
Also putting out murder rate on its own is a rather deceiving figure. You really need to include or compare with suicides, (not the legal ones done in old-age or with a terminal illness), as this is another form agression takes. Some societies tend to internalize their agression and commit suicide, other tend towards acting out and knock of a neighbour.

By oldhippie (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

But suicide isn't immoral. Murder is.

That comment was in response to oldhippie.

"But suicide isn't immoral. Murder is."
That depends if you are relious or not!
Niether is living to an old age a moral issue. But suicide is a way agression in some societies shows, murder is another. They both involve taking life prematurely and are an indication of some kind of societal disfunction. Using one figure without the other is misleading. It was used a lot many years ago to paint socialist Sweden as a very undesirable place compared with America. If they had added in the murder rate it would have shown a different picture.

By oldhippie (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Oh, I thought the murder rate was shown in order to reflect that religiosity does not necessarily correlate with moral behavior. I agree with you that suicide is an internally directed aggression; I'm not sure whether I agree that it is indicative of societal dysfunction. But yes, it would be useful to know those statistics.

Suicide is often related to geography isn't it?
Countries with long winters have higher suicide rates.
I read that somewhere a long time ago. Don't quote me.

O'Brien means leave the statistics to christian statisticians. That's who did the "debunking".

So sorry, but as I already informed Fox that "study" has been debunked. Leave statistics to statisticians, not a "freelance paleontologist, author and illustrator."

PAY ATTENTION, PZ. O'Brien is correct. This study is a statistical nightmare.

Even the Gallup organization can't tolerate it.

First. Paul claims that regressions and multivariate analyses were not used because 'causal factors for rates of societal function are complex', and because he finds enough uniformity across the cases of 18 of the world's most powerful societies to consider them basically consistent and not in need of control variables. Can he identify a single other study published in a major social scientific journal that compared results across countries that did not employ multivariate analysis to control for differences among nations? No, because multivariate analysis is required for cross-national comparisons of this sort.

Secondly. In order for the author's bold claims against religious commitment contributing to society to hold true, he would have to refute the hundreds of volumes that have proven otherwise. From discussions on parenting and fatherhood, to mental and physical health, the weight of empirical evidence is against Paul's assertions: religious commitment has notably positive effects on the individual and collective levels of human society. (http://magicstatistics.blogspot.com/2005/10/george-gallup-vindicates-st…)

As for why the Danes are dying despite their low level of belief; Can you say "Euthanasia"? I KNEW you could!!!

O'Brien means leave the statistics to christian statisticians. That's who did the "debunking".

Ad hominem argument, Mr.Steve C. Refute the argument, not the arguer. Last I heard, the Gallup organization was not Christian.

Here is the Gallup criticism:
Gallup says that to draw conclusions about the effect of religion on a society, it is vital to look beneath the surface manifestations of religion, (such as, broad belief in God and attachment to religious traditions) and examine religious and spiritual belief and practice in depth. Deep spiritual commitment (as measured by a battery of carefully-tested and penetrating questions) contributes to a far healthier nation that would likely otherwise be the case.

"A mountain of survey data (from Gallup and other survey organizations) supports this statement. Controlling for education and other variables, persons who fit the category of "highly spiritually committed" are far less likely to engage in antisocial and irresponsible behavior than those less committed, and there are lower rates of crime, drinking and using drugs among this group. They are more hopeful about the future and experience greater joy in life. They contribute more time in helping people who are burdened with physical and emotional needs. They are less likely to be prejudiced against people of other races, and are more giving and forgiving. They have bucked the trend of many in society toward narcissism and hedonism."

"Teens with deep spiritual commitment are far more likely than their counterparts to be happy, goal-oriented, hopeful about the future, to see a reason for their existence, to do better in school work, to be less likely to get into trouble, and more likely to serve others," wrote Gallup.

"The percentage of persons who are deeply spiritually committed is small according to certain measurements...perhaps only a sixth of the population, or less...but their impact on life around them is profound. Clearly, then, the challenge to churches and other faith communities is to encourage deeper spiritual and religious commitment among the US populace."

However, one get the feeling he is religious, and he does not give links to the studies he quotes (a fatal flaw in any scientific argument - I have no doubt it exists, but the methododolgy could have been questionable). I read also the statistical criticisms of the study, and this was mainly that no correlation coefficents were generated. Whether the study is statistically significant is therefore in doubt.

However, one thing it CLEARLY shows is that there is no obvious positive correlation betweeen religion, low murder rate and long life, among others.

Despite all the silly denials of the Christian apologists and Robert "so dumb he has a stupidity award named after him" O'Brien, no, this study hasn't been invalidated. It makes only valid conclusions from quantifiable data. It says merely that more secular/less religious societies suffer no hardship for their relative lack of godliness, and countries with high levels of piety also seem to have remarkably high levels of amoral/criminal behavior. This contradicts the hypothesis that religion has a distinct benefit to a culture.

If you want to invalidate it, you'd have to either show that the US, for instance, actually isn't steeped in public displays of religion, or that we don't have an immense prison population and high rates of such things as teen pregnancy and homicide.

Whining that the author wasn't a professional statistician or that there are other analyses that could be done to try and salvage religion's reputation don't cut it. The major valid complaint I've seen is that the US is such a freaky outlier in all measures that it tends to skew the results...but that observation is a kick in the groin to the pious patriots of America, too.

His link is to a devout Christian statistician. He's used to twisting reality to fit his belief system. Haven't read the Gallup link yet.

"the fact remains that the "study" is bogus" No! if you read the orginal and all the criticism nowhere is the study accused of being bogus.
By the way another study was done in the USA alone comparing religious states agains less religious ones and the results were stringinly similar. Anyone got a link to that?

PZ:

It makes only valid conclusions from quantifiable data.

Whatever. Correlation does not prove causation. You know this. Not to mention the refusal of Paul to run basic, fundamental multi-variate analyses, so that his basic premise can be upheld.

And so you can then uphold your faith in the horrors of religion.

OldHippie is correct in saying: one thing it CLEARLY shows is that there is no obvious positive correlation betweeen religion, low murder rate and long life, among others.

Now from my viewpoint, this is no surprise. Religion ought not to making claims that it CAN result in these idyllic states. Sadly, there are evangelical types that will claim the City of God can be built on earth.

They're wrong, of course. And moreso, in that they give PZ his ammunition to fulfill his faithful belief that religion is evil.

How dare you discard the arguments of others as being ad hominems when you say things like "Yes, an award that was granted by a college drop out/failed comedian/usurer?

That's not an exclamation of outrage -- I really want to know. How do you dare?

By Caledonian (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=3094

If you go here and read the actual story they quote (and not even the full letter to the times by Gallup)... Gallup didn't even do the analysis he left it to a Professor at Princton.
Also, he's comparing people with a "deep spiritual commitment" only 6% of the population to the overall population and claiming their own religious studies refute Paul's assertions. He even goes as far to say that the religious should seek deeper religious commitment.

Seems like Gallup has a stake in backing up his own studies and quite possibly his own faith.

As for why the Danes are dying despite their low level of belief; Can you say "Euthanasia"? I KNEW you could!!!

Yet another American confuses danish and dutch. Euthanasia is not (yet) legal in Denmark. Anyway, it is insane to believe that euthanasia could cause such a difference. Obviously, it does not affect the dutch numbers.

The reason danes die early is mostly tobacco and alcohol.

Dr. Dino is anti-religion?

As for why the Danes are dying despite their low level of belief; Can you say "Euthanasia"? I KNEW you could!!!

Right, they are euthanizing their population at such a rate to show up on these charts and no one notices. Support for this statement please?

A textbook example of ad hominem pseudo-argumentation

If one considers being a Christian a negative perhaps.

Yes, an award that was granted by a college drop out/failed comedian/usurer. In any event, the fact remains that the "study" is bogus and so is PZ's defense of it.

How is the study bogus? It simply shows that nations with less religiosity have fewer social ills. It doesn't necessarily mean religion is the cause but it is quite clear that it certainly isn't necessary for a moral society.

And wasn't it just you who said the following:

A textbook example of ad hominem pseudo-argumentation.

and then said:

by a college drop out/failed comedian/usurer

Hypocrite? It doesn't change the fact he smelled out your weak 'arguments' and dismantled them for the world to see. Of course if he was a professional comedian you'd probably insult him for that as well. Whats wrong with being a usurer?

Gallup didn't even do the analysis he left it to a Professor at Princton. . .Seems like Gallup has a stake in backing up his own studies and quite possibly his own faith.

First of all, so what if he left his analysis to a Princeton professor? Do you really think George Gallup does all of his own analyses?

I'd like to see some real proof that Gallup is simply backing himself up. Otherwise, it looks like you're simply grabbing the first rock you can find and throwing it as far as you can.

It was a joke.

You're not the brightest bulb on Broadway are you?

Actually hoody you posted claims to a contrary study. Do you have links to these studies.

I'm not sure a deep spiritual committment makes any difference at all and it is likely that these same individuals would behave in the same reserved manner with or without it. Like I said previously religion in an individual isn't likely responsible in and of itself but the study does show it's not relotely necessary to have a moral society.

Which is enough in and of itself.

oldhippie wrote: What is with Denmark, low belief and early death....?

Reputedly it's the higher consumption of fat and alcohol and more smokers compared to other Nordic countries. Incidentally, they also have the happiest people according to surveys.

a delusional person wrote: As for why the Danes are dying despite their low level of belief; Can you say "Euthanasia"? I KNEW you could!!!

OR MAYBE THEY ARE CHOKING ON THE LEGOS!!!11!!

Actually hoody you posted claims to a contrary study. Do you have links to these studies.. . .I did? I don't believe so.

Like I said previously religion in an individual isn't likely responsible in and of itself but the study does show it's not relotely necessary to have a moral society.

Let us assume that the above is, functionally true. (A stretch, but we'll go with it).

Where do those moral urges originate from? Follow that answer all the way out.

Now, if one wants to make the claim; "Religion -as practiced in much of late 20th and 21st Century America does little to add to the formation of a moral society", I might be able to get behind that, once we got a thorough definition of what "Religion -as practiced in much of late 20th and 21st Century America" actually looks like.

a delusional person wrote: As for why the Danes are dying despite their low level of belief; Can you say "Euthanasia"? I KNEW you could!!!

Bugger off, Windy. I admitted my error.

"Teens with deep spiritual commitment are far more likely than their counterparts to be happy, goal-oriented, hopeful about the future, to see a reason for their existence, to do better in school work, to be less likely to get into trouble, and more likely to serve others," wrote Gallup.

"The percentage of persons who are deeply spiritually committed is small according to certain measurements...perhaps only a sixth of the population, or less...but their impact on life around them is profound. Clearly, then, the challenge to churches and other faith communities is to encourage deeper spiritual and religious commitment among the US populace."

That's from Gallup. That's what he believes. Doesn't mean he's right.

Where do those moral urges originate from?

The same place they as in all animal species where 'moral' behaviour has been observed. They are a byproduct of our evolutionary development.

The same place they as in all animal species where 'moral' behaviour has been observed. They are a byproduct of our evolutionary development.

Nah. Doesn't wash. And I think you know this.

The percentage of persons who are deeply spiritually committed is small according to certain measurements...perhaps only a sixth of the population, or less...but their impact on life around them is profound.

How does he know this?

Clearly, then, the challenge to churches and other faith communities is to encourage deeper spiritual and religious commitment among the US populace."

How does he get to this point objectively?

Wow. You can deny science and logic and read someone's mind.

Amazing.

Nah. Doesn't wash. And I think you know this.

Doesn't wash? Why wouldn't it wash? It is essentially the only logical choice as well as the only one backed by any evidence whatsoever.

If not from our evolutionary origins where then did it come from hoody?

Oh wait a minute Robert 'I'm so stupid I have an award named after me' O'brien and hoody apparently think it's leg pulling to think our morality is tied in with our evolutionary development and instead think an invisible being created a variety of contradictory religions to help people be moral.

And of course that seems much better and consistent to them.

Good grief.

This study does not say religion is a horror. It says that religiosity does not prevent horror.

There is a difference, you know. Or maybe you don't.

It's also an observation that does not require elaborate statistics. I could, for instance, look out my window once, see that the sky is blue, and report that; telling me that I need to do some multivariate statistics with samples from Mombasa, Antarctica, and Vladivostok would not change the facts. Similarly, this study refutes the religious claim that religion confers moral behavior on a population. It clearly does not, unless, of course, you try to define moral behavior as religious behavior.

Can anyone list a society in past history, outside of the supposed example of the USA, as an outstanding example of one that has benefited positively by being predominately Christian or religious in relation to any other secular or other type of religious society?

By naturalist (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

A quote from Gallup:

"I was drawn to the church and thought about being an Episcopal priest," said Mr. Gallup, whose deep bass voice would have rung appealingly from any pulpit. "But I decided Dad's field offered an opportunity to find truth, to see how people respond to God and to explore their religious lives. When I started surveying in the early 1950s, this was virgin territory."

Nah. He has no agenda.

PZ I think they'll keep holding their ears and saying "lalalalala I can't hear you lalalalala".

Nah. Doesn't wash. And I think you know this.

Pull the other leg.

This is seriously the best they can do? How hilarious.

Though it's probably unfair to use O'Brien and hoody as examples of the typical American religious mindset. But it's still hilarious.

By junk science (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Mr. O'Brien,

Where does this objective morality originate from?

By natuarlist (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Plato and Socrates?

Yeah, we haven't learned anything more about human behavior since then.

I agree with Socrates and Plato (among others) concerning the existence of objective morality.

So you prefer the logical fallacy of the argument from authority. That's fine. Of course I would venture a guess had those two gentlemen known what we now know they wouldn't even agree with themselves.

But since everything for you was solved hundreds of years ago why bother?

Oh, that was painful, O'Brien. I might get a stitch in my side.

By junk science (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

"Nah. Doesn't wash. And I think you know this."
I think you would have to back that up much better if you want anyone to think you are talking sense. I think gibbons may show family values that would put most Christians to shame for example, but I have not read enough about it to be sure. But what is clear if you study animal behaviour is that animals, just like us (after all we are related) have societies, enjoy friendships, compete and do many of the same things we do. There is even a rather touching story in Sapolsky's "a primates memoir", where a baboon puts himself in danger and faces off a lion to save two unrelated youngsters. Interestingly, in human society he would have got much accolade and status from that act, he did not in baboonville.

I have observed that the truth value of your posts starts out at half (i.e., "junk") and rapidly declines from there

Well at least he gets to half. Answer the question Robert' award winner for stupidity' O'Brien. Where does this objective morality originate from?

And where does this 'realm of ideas' come from?

The Blue Fairy told him so.

By junk science (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

And what organism or organ generates these ideas?

By naturalist (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

PZ is not alone in maintaining that religion is evil.

And there is plenty of evidence to back it up - usually in thform of piled corpses.

Lets faceit, and I'll say it again:
All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.
To verify this, one need only read a very little history, or contemporary newspaper reports.
At this point, an excuse is always presented by the 'believers':
"They are ( or were ) not PROPER Christians / Muslims / Marxists / etc. .... We're different!"
Oh, yeah?
O.S.D. is still part of the Roman Catholic church, isn't it? Is Ian Paisley a Christian minister, or not? Are the Persian and Taliban ayatollahs clerics, or not? Were Stalin, Mao Zhedong and Pol Pot Marxists, or not?
Besides which, if these, and similar cases, are, or were not "proper believers", why do those proper believers never, ever do anything about it, except whinge?

Furthermore...
All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.

Religion offers a supposed comfort-blanket, or carrot to the believers, and waves a stick at the unbelievers.
"Do as we say, and you'll go to heaven, don't do as we say, and you'll go to hell." What they conveniently leave out here is the unspoken threat, which is only made manifest in those societies which are theocracies: "If you don't do as we say, we can make sure you go to hell really painfully, and quickly."
Thus all "priests" are liars and/or blackmailers. They may not be deliberate liars, but nonetheless, they are telling untrue fairy-stories.

Fear of exclusion from the community, in one form or another, is a standard part of the power-structure of any religion or cult. Excommunication, anathema, banishment, exile, fatwah, etc, ... Fear of entry being refused in "the next world", or "the community of saints", or "the party". Fear of real physical punishment by the "secular arm", the NKVD, the Saudi religious police, or whomsoever the current set of spiritual thought police happen to be.

By G. Tingey (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

How do you know that they exist outside of any organic source? Do you have experimental proof and evidence that cann be duplicated?

By naturalist (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Ahh I see. So even though organisms are making use of them they are kinda like floating around out there in a variety of forms.

So how do they make there way into an organism?

R. O'Brien is aying that ideas exist independantly of any organic source ???

What is he using for a brain?
And where can he produce evidence for this lunacy?

By G. Tingey (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

All ideas have an organic source.

They exist independently of any organic source.

May we ask what you think the source *is*?

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

The Realm of Ideas.

Is that anywhere near Candyland?

"May we ask what you think the source *is*?"

Well of course! When you think "wow that person looks like a great mate" it is clearly cupid and his arrow,
when you think "oh my gosh I could do a drug run and get rich" it comes from satan and and when you think "let me help that little old lady" it comes from a passing angel. Doesn't everyone know that?

Mr. O'Brien, I am a curious also what language these non-organic ideas are written or recorded in? Are they universally translatable to every human that has lived or just for a chosen portion of humanity at a certain time?

By natuarlist (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Mathematics are symbols and equations that humans have developed to understand nature. How could they exist outside of the minds that formulated them and also again how would we know with certainity that mathematics exist beyond empircal evidence?

By natuarlist (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

"A good example is Mathematics. Mathematical concepts would still exist even if there were no humans or other life forms to appreciate them."

If they are so seperate from humans, how come we are so hung up on a decimal system. For example a system based on 12 units would give a lot more flexibility (divisible in more ways) mathematically, but there again we don't have twelve fingers.

How do you know that they exist outside of any organic source?

A good example is Mathematics. Mathematical concepts would still exist even if there were no humans or other life forms to appreciate them.

That's changing the subject, since no one was *asking* about Mathematics. I hope you're not trying to imply that your system of moral values would still exist if there were no humans or life forms to appreciate them.

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Knowledge must be provisional since how can we know we have arrived at the whole truth since we are privy to only a minute fraction of the universe we live in? Ideas(as far as we know) are not some amorphous energy that floats in the 'ether" waiting for a willing receipent to appear but are concepts that have originated in the organs, our brains, that have developed them.

By naturalist (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

anybody else notice that this is the same Greg Paul whose ideas on paleophysiology featured prominently in the comments on the post called "Dinosaur Lungs," below?
...and I thought the Candyland thing was funny.

I hope you're not trying to imply that your system of moral values would still exist if there were no humans or life forms to appreciate them.
I am.

I assume the moral values of others who disagree with you also qualify for this unique status?

If not, why not?

The concept of 10, say, is independent of a particular representation such as decimal or binary.

This was a completely irrelevant answer, BTW.

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

"The concept of 10, say, is independent of a particular representation such as decimal or binary."
This idea you have that concepts such as mathematics or morals have existance outside those that use and practice them is bizarre. If you want us to follow your logic you will have to explain on what evidence you base this conclusion and how it can be tested.

I think this is O'Brien's logic:

1) concepts can exist independently of any people to think of them

2) my set of religious/moral beliefs is an idea

3) therefore, my set of religious/moral beliefs exists independently of any people to think of them

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

I can see that natural selection through trial and error must have selected for optimal "numbers" of things to ensure survival and reproduction but that is not the same as a mathematical concept at least as we understand it. It has made me think about this question a little harder! I do not require some supernatural explanation to satisfy me though. It is something that we just don't understand yet about the depths of natural processes.

By naturalist (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

But why should he have to explain anything, oldhippie, when you could just read The Republic yourself and learn everything there is to know about philosophy?

By junk science (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Were these moral precepts/ideas just "floating" around for billions of years waitnig for the "right" organism to find them?

By naturalist (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Poster "J" talks about "immoral" and "moral behavior", both terms which have no meaninge except to godophiles.

There are many interesting sites about violence and crime statistics. One is

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/homicide/overview.htm

"The southern regions historically have had higher homicide rates than other regions". In other words, The Bible Belt.

Secular European countries like France have about seven times fewer homicides than the U.S. and about 7 times fewer people in jail or prison.

Let's not jump to any conclusions. I am just saying.

One could ask the question though about how America manages to create so many "criminals".

And what organism or organ generates these ideas?

They exist independently of any organic source.

To take a classic example, when did the idea of a horse come to existence? What about the idea of a whale?

Mathematical concepts are comprehensible because we have formulated ideas to make them so. Can not this idea that there is a design behind what we see also be a subjective assertion? We see design and symmetry because our minds have come to appreciate it as "designed" by what was revealed and understood to us as our minds evolved?

We have no way to prove that anything we see in the natural world had a designer no matter how much we choose to believe this. There are no manufacturers labels that we have found which suggests a designer and builder.

By naturalist (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

So which ideas did or did not exist bobbing around out in the ether 10 billion years ago? Communism? The Dewey Decimal System? Hinduism? Scientology?

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Why would a God who wishes us to worship and obey "him" make it so hard to recognize that he exists? Wouldn't such a creator want himself to be easily acknowledged? Why all the obtuse and convoluted mechanisms to find this "truth"?

By naturalist (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

I hesitate to get involved here, but I skimmed Scott Gilbreath's criticism of the actual paper to see what all the kerfuffle was about, and it seems to me that the criticism is somewhat valid.

Gilbreath makes some very interesting points regarding the style of the paper and how it was presented in the Times article. While important to consider, this is relatively trivial. Sadly, no newspaper article seems to be able to present ideas like this in any reasonable way. Reports on social or cultural studies are often the worse for logical fallacies and misdirection introduced (on purpose or not) by reporters.

This, however, is not his main arguments, which he delivers in much the same way Gould would when presented with statistical evidence. That is, he looked at the statistical methodology (or methodologies) and determined if they were correct applications for the dataset.

Gilbreath makes some very good points about how the data was chosen (there is no explanation why the countries chosen were chosen). Were countries deliberately cherry-picked for some reason? We don't know, and the paper does not make this obvious. Also, as many of us have had a (rather macabre!) laugh over, there are obvious differences when plotting otherwise "similar" country data (i.e., Denmark vs. Sweden). Paul assumes that all theses countries can be considered "equivalent" for the purposes of his discussion, but never fully explains why this might be so.

There are many, many potential differences between countries as we all know. Something as simple as a different health care system, or liquor and smoking restrictions can have a dramatic affect on something like life expectancy. While this is the most obvious, the problem is that there may be other less obvious "externalities" that skew the data, and we would not be aware of the skew.

Similarly, one of the first questions I asked when I saw the resulting graphs was, "how are they determining a level of piety"? I mean, differences in churches, religious statutes, language, education can all effect the understanding and expression of an essentially philosophical matter.
At the very least, this makes comparing the US (or even Canada) with their long history of colonial christianity and a country like Japan, which has a completely different history and resulting approach to notions of godhead and belief very difficult.

Likewise, different nations collect statistics on violent crimes in very different ways. Both Canada and the US are famous for presenting numbers on violent crime in suspect ways, some say to diminish or exaggerate such crimes as the state sees fit. If we are not sure about the numbers we are comparing for the various axes are comparable, it throws the confidence of the whole presentation into question.

This is the main reason for the argument for multi-variant techniques, which is so common when comparing cross-cultural or international data that it is conspicuous by its absence here.

So, if indeed this study shows a strong correlation between something called belief and things determined to be social ills, we want to be sure that we know what the things called "belief" and "social ills" actually represent. Only then can we compare these things in a cross-cultural (and I argue that things like "social ills" and "belief" are cultural, and will exhibit cultural differences even among a larger group of otherwise similar "fundamentals") manner.

What, exactly, this correlation actually "means" is another question altogether.

As you can tell, I'm not a big fan of these sorts of cultural research projects. I've lived long enough to see all sorts of bogus ideas promulgated by some study or another (we all remember /The Bell Curve/, right?) that appears to point out some obvious social problem. Whether the idea is that white kids are naturally smarter than their more beige brethren, or that religion makes a society more likely to kill each other, we should rightly be suspicious of any such assumptions based on running numbers through a variety of statistical models.

In my experience, these things are often way more complex than this, and that when we are trying to describe the things people do (especially those "hot button" things we all have strong emotions about) we should be very careful about how we slice through that data. At the very least it can lead to misleading Times articles.

At worst, it can devolve into simply reinforcing the same weak prejudices we are all susceptible to.

Full disclosure: I consider myself a secular humanist, and need no gods or masters to allow me to be a moral person. However, I'm no fan of weak science (or math) and I think we all owe it to ourselves to be less credulous about studies like this. If the evidence and methodologies are sound, they will prevail.

I wouldn't be surprised if piety, as expressed in some cultures, *is* responsible for many social ills. Any high-minded philosophies are dangerous in the extreme or when ill-fitted to a particular society. I just want evidence of such to be sound and presented in a responsible way.

So which ideas did or did not exist bobbing around out in the ether 10 billion years ago?... The Dewey Decimal System?

*wiping lemonade from monitor... thanks, George

I think gibbons may show family values that would put most Christians to shame for example, but I have not read enough about it to be sure. But what is clear if you study animal behaviour is that animals, just like us (after all we are related) have societies, enjoy friendships, compete and do many of the same things we do. None of these things are false. But in none of these instances do they indicate the full establishment of a moral framework.

For further reading on the problems of generalizing animal behavior to human activities, read Walker Percy's "Signposts in a Strange Land", particularly the essay entitled "Is a Theory of Man Possible?"

Tingey, you need help.
All religions kill, or enslave, or torture. So, your thesis is that religions kill. What about atheists, such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao and so on? If you want to discuss body counts (a very primitive means of measuring a culture's moral value), Christianity looks great when compared to atheism.

And I find instructive your use of the term, "All." Not one to speak in absolutes, are you?

and clvrmnky, that was the most reasoned exegesis I have yet seen not only on this thread, but quite possibly the entire site. Very well done.

I would suggest that BOTH sides of the behavior question could be the result of religion. The Gallup data that the one-sixth of the population that is sufficiently religious and has low crime rates, longevity etc. is probably valid. That leaves 80-85% of the population of which slightly more than 20% are non-religious leaving about 60% of the population religious, but without the behaviors that cause the well-being of the minority of the religious. This may well be the group where the vast majority of the anti-social behaviors and poor personal behaviors are found.

This group, the majority of the population, is where religion is a failure. It could be that religion is very successful in providing the basis for a city on the hill for the minority of the population, but also a negative reaction to religion among the religious may be a strong factor in harmful behavior. The idea of "sin" and what one does about it could be the determining factor. For the hyper-religious, a reaction to a personal sin will be to sin no more. For some of the religious, the self-condemnation could result in a sort of "I give up" attitude that results in more "sinful" behavior. For the non-religious, perceived negative behaviors will not have nearly as much of a psychological burden on subsequent acts.

Thus, religion can account for both good social and personal outcomes in a minority of the population and negative outcomes in a majority of the population - giving a rational explanation of the apparent outlier status for the U.S. in so many of the graphs.

By natural cynic (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

So, your thesis is that religions kill. What about atheists, such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao and so on?

Hitler wasn't an atheist. He was a Roman Catholic. Pay attention in history class better.

Stalin went to seminary school. Shows you what it does to a person.

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

George, by your very simple definitions, Luther is also a Catholic. He joined the Augustinians. It is quite possible for people to repudiate their faith.

I paid attention in history. It appears you did not finish the book.

So, your thesis is that religions kill. What about atheists, such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao and so on?

So, your thesis is that automobiles kill. What about alternate forms of transportation, such as horse carriages, bicycles, airplanes, boats and so on?

By Caledonian (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Not really. Using the same datum, one could argue that is what happens when you become an unbeliever.

I was being facetious, genius.

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

hoody: All religions kill, or enslave, or torture. So, your thesis is that religions kill. What about atheists, such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao and so on?

Hitler was definately NOT an atheist. In Mein Kampf he writes about doing God's work in ridding society of Jewry. As to Stalin and Mao [not so sure about Pol Pot] Kim Jong Il & Kim Il Sung, they and their cronies promulgated a very strong faith-based system of cult-like worship called "Personality Cults" that were atheistic, but elevated these figures to demi-god status. So, in a very concrete way, they should be considered very analogous to religions.

By natural cynic (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Humans kill and destroy for many reasons. Religions though has used a large share of "misgided" justifications to do so. I agree that not being religious will not guarantee peace among our species. Even if Christainity today does not use overt force to dominate other cultures this religion has a history of promoting seperation and division among our species. Though not perfect of course, sciencitific understanding has the best chance, in my opnion of finding some unity among us through intelligent discourse and empirical knowledge. Look how polarized our nation has become over personal religious belief and secular reason. How is that accomplishing anything productive in the long term for our future?

By naturalist (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Caledonian, that was great.

bernanda said, "Poster "J" talks about "immoral" and "moral behavior", both terms which have no meaninge except to godophiles."

Well, I'm not a godophile, but "immoral" and "moral behavior" mean something to me. I simply acknowledge that I am talking about my own subjective morality, and obviously there are people who disagree with my subjective morals.

"I wouldn't be surprised if piety, as expressed in some cultures, *is* responsible for many social ills. Any high-minded philosophies are dangerous in the extreme or when ill-fitted to a particular society. I just want evidence of such to be sound and presented in a responsible way."

I don't think any of us were actually saying that religion was the cause of murder and untimely death. But even with poor methologly it pretty much shows that on a national scale there is no obvious positive link between religion and societal good on the indices looked at. Given that many religious people are telling us morality is impossible withot a belief in God (something some athiests fine quite insulting) this in itself is significant.

All religions kill, or enslave, or torture. So, your thesis is that religions kill. What about atheists, such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao and so on? If you want to discuss body counts (a very primitive means of measuring a culture's moral value), Christianity looks great when compared to atheism.

He said 'religions' not 'theisms'. Bhuddism is a religion and some forms are atheistic. That doesn't change the fact that it is a religion. I doubt that theism (or atheism) has to much of an effect in and of itself. It's when the leaders of the religion or state want you to do things like "stone dissobediant children" or "kill the inferior races" that is the problem.

One thought: as we all know, correlation does not equal causation. Religion is especially popular amongst the poorly-educated and poverty-stricken - opiate of the masses and all that - so perhaps the problem is the significant fraction of the US population that's ignorant and poor. Religion could just be a side-effect.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Try Rise and Fall of the Third Reich Shirer has any number of instances describing a Nazi, secular German religion founded in blood and soil (as in German soil).

Get over yourself. He was a functioning atheist. Why else was he sending so many Christians (inclduing Catholics) to the gas chamber?

As to Stalin and Mao [not so sure about Pol Pot] Kim Jong Il & Kim Il Sung, they and their cronies promulgated a very strong faith-based system of cult-like worship called "Personality Cults" that were atheistic, but elevated these figures to demi-god status. As did Hitler. But this is effectively a craetion of an atheistic following; the denial of God's existence and placing (a) man in His place.

Get over yourself. He was a functioning atheist. Why else was he sending so many Christians (inclduing Catholics) to the gas chamber?

Please demonstrate why this indicates he was an atheist.

The fact that he killed millions of people does not make him an Atheist.

In fact, (a) give me ANY evidence that he was an atheist, and (b) refute the source I linked to.

Here's another link, for good measure:

http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=murphy_19…

He also sent many homosexuals, Communists, and Jews to the gas chamber. Why wouldn't that indicate he was a conservative Christian, by your logic?

BTW, "get over yourself" is not a convincing debating tactic among grownups.

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Christianity looks great when compared to atheism.

Hitler was not an athiest. Stop being ridiculous. He never repudiated his faith. And who cares anyway it is not atheism/Christianity that led him to do what he did, although his thoughts on jews could have gained fertile ground in his religious upbringing.

The RCC's actions during that war are another issue altogether.

But in none of these instances do they indicate the full establishment of a moral framework

Of course not! They have less developed cognitive abilities than humans do but you can see the evidence trail going back to other primates and beyond.

I think many on the thread are still missing the point. It's not that religion causes the social ills, it's that it is obvious it is simply not necessary to have religion to have a 'moral' society.

Oh and I'd like to see this question answered:

I assume the moral values of others who disagree with you also qualify for this unique status?

If not, why not?

Wow, the CINOs are out in full force here...
Don't you have some other cheeks to smite or some neighbors to hate instead of posting here? Maybe if you start acting like Christians you won't need to keep yelling at people about your beliefs (we probably couldn't tell that you are Christians from the way you act so I guess we do need to be told) and the rest of us won't have to look at a conversation with you as being as joyous as talking to an insurance salesman or looking for a used car.

Hitler was not an athiest. Stop being ridiculous. He never repudiated his faith. And who cares anyway it is not atheism/Christianity that led him to do what he did, although his thoughts on jews could have gained fertile ground in his religious upbringing

Actually, Hitler's attitudes toward the Jews derived quite straightforwardly from German Christian traditions:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Jews_and_Their_Lies_%28Martin_Luthe…

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Why else was he sending so many Christians (inclduing Catholics) to the gas chamber?

By your logic hoody when an atheist is kind and forgiving he must be a Christian. Or he someone pickets the funerals of gay people and bombs abortion clinics he must be a Christian also.

As to Stalin and Mao [not so sure about Pol Pot] Kim Jong Il & Kim Il Sung, they and their cronies promulgated a very strong faith-based system of cult-like worship called "Personality Cults" that were atheistic, but elevated these figures to demi-god status

Funny, that us exactly how members of other religions often describe Christianity. A personality cult elevating a man to godlike status with a faith based system. How do you even type that without seeing it.

To a Christian that post makes the analogy clear.

As to Stalin and Mao [not so sure about Pol Pot] Kim Jong Il & Kim Il Sung, they and their cronies promulgated a very strong faith-based system of cult-like worship called "Personality Cults" that were atheistic, but elevated these figures to demi-god status. So, in a very concrete way, they should be considered very analogous to religions.
Actually this has been one of my major complaints about the Bushbots for years. He can do no wrong, everything was Clinton's fault or the fault of the liberal media. Those of us who don't worship him, give him praise, and thank him for his glory are labeled as unpatriotic and told that we have an irrational hatred of him. Doesn't that sound like they are projecting their feelings about Clinton, pick on anything and everything he did to the point of the Congress not doing the job they were hired to do and not allowing him to do his either? The reich wing has done more damage to the office of the President of the United States than the New York times could ever hope to do.

O'Brien is clearly a hopeless Platonist; there's no point in attempting rational discussion with him.

Plato's ass-backwards ontology can't possibly be derived from anything remotely resembling a coherent epistemology (such as, say, empiricism). That's why it isn't - the ontology is assumed first and the epistemology jury-rigged to fit.

This was possibly a forgivable error when epistemology hadn't been invented yet. But to sweep it under the rug and make completely ungrounded pronouncements *now* is insane. "I'm right because Plato says so" is no more impressive than "I'm right because I say so".

"The" concept of 10 exists independently of minds? Which concept of 10 would that be? Yours? Mine? Pythagoras's? Euler's? A dog's?

This statement has the same problem as all other Platonism: *any* scrutiny immediately reveals that the "ideals" are vapor. They are an *imagined and assumed* center of a cloud of real instances which are placed together in a category *by the action of one or more minds*.

Objects exist. Categories are invented. Anyone who doubts the existence of objects isn't worth the electrons it takes to refute them.

As for the original study: I don't think that PZ is intentionally, or accidentally, conflating correlation with causation. The study doesn't prove that religion causes murder or abortion or anything else. You could equally well say that more murder and poverty and disease push people into the nearest church, or that both phenomena have an underlying common cause, or that (given the small sample size) the correlation is spurious.

Standing alone, it doesn't even refute the (often made but never substantiated) claim that religion is the cure for the social problem of the week. But it's certainly reason to examine such claims carefully, and demand some real evidence before accepting them. Or to conduct more detailed research and analysis of the question. Shining a weak light on the matter is better than no light at all.

Some of the methodological criticisms may be sound - I'm curious why Greece and Finland and Italy were left out, too. If the researchers couldn't find data on them, they could at least have mentioned it. (Of course, if the critics want to *claim* that including them would have changed the results, rather than merely smearing the researchers by implying so, then the onus is on them to provide some evidence and put those countries where they belong on the charts and see how it changes the picture.)

However, this merely highlights the need for better research into this question. It's not grounds for dismissing the evidence there is. Inconclusive evidence is better than no evidence.

Other criticisms seem spurious: the exclusion of Belgium and Luxembourg is hardly surprising, given their miniscule size and population. I can hardly believe that they could have gotten adequate data on them. And if you want to attack the author for not using your favorite method of analysis, why not do it yourself and see if it comes up with anything different than the original paper's analysis?

Is this too OT? Who is this Robert O'Brian guy and how long has he been running with this straight-faced comedy bit? It needs work, still, as it's way, way too pretentious.

I could, for instance, look out my window once, see that the sky is blue, and report that; telling me that I need to do some multivariate statistics with samples from Mombasa, Antarctica, and Vladivostok would not change the facts.

Late and off-topic, but not all blue skies are created equal

In my opinion, this study does nothing but add further support to the crystal clear demonstration of the lack of causation between religion and morality -- the revelation that generations of Catholic clergy were secret pedophiles.

But I suspect the only thing you'll hear about that from the knee-jerk critics of this study are sighs about "those Catholics".

The USA stands out from the other countries in two other ways I don't think have been mentioned. We have a much bigger population, perhaps that makes us less effective in improving on the numbers the study measures. (So it is time to let the red states leave the union.)

Nearly all the other countries have parlimentary forms of government. Maybe that fosters more cooperation between political groups and/or less control of politics by large coporations.

I hope you're not trying to imply that your system of moral values would still exist if there were no humans or life forms to appreciate them.
I am.
I assume the moral values of others who disagree with you also qualify for this unique status?
If not, why not?

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

hoody: [Hitler] was a functioning atheist. Why else was he sending so many Christians (inclduing Catholics) to the gas chamber?

I will stand on my assertions that Hitler believed he was doing God's work with evidence from his own words in Mein Kampf What you [and Shirer] were alluding to was a secondary secular personality cult for Hitler and the German fatherland from revived and twisted pre-Christian germanic mythology. The hatred for Jews was most obviously a legacy from Luther, as a vicious reaction to his lack of ability to convert Jews to his "new & improved Christianity". That Catholics were sent to the gas chambers is certain - but it is also certain that they were not sent there just by being Catholic, in contrast, Jews, Roma & homosexuals were sent there simply because of who they were.

By natural cynic (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Can we get some examples of the eternal, objective moral truths?

Most major religions seem to agree that gay butt-sex is bad, for example. Did this bit of morality exist before humans evolved or even before sexes and anuses evolved? I guess not, so what did?

I think O'Brien's take is that 10 billion years ago, before sex or butts existed, there was an idea hovering around there in outer space which said "if someone out there happens to invent sex, and if they have different genders, and if they develop anuses, sex between people of the same gender using those anuses is very very bad".

I would assume this means that if anuses, genders, and sex were also invented on, say, Rigel 7, that gay butt sex is bad there, too.

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

This study is so bad that I am suprised you put it here. The worst part is that these guys did not try to see if there was anything wrong with the outliers. You should stick to something that looks at least slightly peer-reviewd.

The only outliers are US and Portugal, and Portugal is the one giving the "correlation". Data are wrong. In Portugal the murder rate is about or below 1 per 100,000 (similar to France, Spain Germany or the UK). We know the number because it is used to show why death penalty (abolished here in 19th century) does not equate with less violent crime.

Well! Statistical evidence for American exceptionalism! Sure it points in the opposite direction to the one in which American patriots would like, but still...

By pastor maker (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

As human institutions, religion has always sought political ends, generally power and control. As an example, a Kansas Senator wants to end the death with dignity option in our great state of Oregon. I really don't care if Kansas wants to opt out of this, but we have made this an option. This man wants to impose his religion on us. This is sick, this immoral, this is a political end. Can we just de-unionize Kansas, just throw them out of the USA once and for all, jebbus it just doesn't seem worth having them around.

As bad as this is, this is one of the more mild impositions of religion on others.

Why would a God... Why all the obtuse and convoluted mechanisms to find this "truth"?

naturalist: You have it backwards. The case for god created man is profoundly weak, but the evidence for man created god is overwhelming. And testability is the last thing you want for a crowd control theory.

O'Brien: here's a prominent example of modern knowledge which has to inform an understanding of Plato, from animal behavior: ethologist Konrad Lorenz's interpretation of Kantian a prioris in evolutionary context. I couldn't quickly find an online text, but a good derivative work is this essay (chapter) by Cziko, a prominent evolutionary epistemologist.
And just for context (not to appeal to 'great man' arguments) Lorenz was a co-recipient for the Nobel Prize in 1973 (along with Tinbergen & von Frisch) for their work establishing the field of ethology as a real science, not just 'natural history'.

I have observed that the truth value of your posts starts out at half (i.e., "junk") and rapidly declines from there. In light of that, I would suggest sticking your non-prehensile tail in between your legs and expeditiously retreating to the relative safety of Amanda-land.

Well, I must say that it's quite a relief to learn that you eschew any argumentum ad hominem.

By Millimeter Wave (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Was Richard at the rally in support of polygamy in SLC today? Polygamy, after all, is the key to 72 virgins - no wait, with polygamy comes your own planet? Or does it save you from thetans? Or does it have something to do with the flying spaghetti monster? Or save you from a god that hates the US because we love gays? Hard to keep all these cults straight... Wonder which one owns Richard? I could probably find out, but then I'd have to read more of the drivel he posts - not that the drivel isn't humorous at times. Why do people like that come here? For attention?

Hitler was a right-wing Christian. Calling him an athiest is like calling nazi Germany a left-wing dictatorship. It's laughable. Even if he was a closet athiest, he was telling the good Germans that god was behind the master race in their race war that was WWII. I love it when right wingers try to pin a Hitlerite or fascist label on lefties - marxist, stalinst, masoist, maybe, but hitlerite and fascist belong to the right.

Was Richard at the rally in support of polygamy in SLC today? Polygamy, after all, is the key to 72 virgins - no wait, with polygamy comes your own planet? Or does it save you from thetans? Or does it have something to do with the flying spaghetti monster? Or save you from a god that hates the US because we love gays? Hard to keep all these cults straight... Wonder which one owns Richard?

I'm not quite sure whether you were making an oblique reference to the fact, but, of course, polygamy is well supported as accepted practice in the Bible. I've never quite understood why modern-day Xtians, on the whole, have a problem with it.

By Millimeter Wave (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Hitler was a right-wing Christian. Calling him an athiest is like calling nazi Germany a left-wing dictatorship.

There's a wingnut at After the Bar Closes who has made precisely that claim.

He's also tried to argue that Hitler was a liberal, an Odinist and a Marxist.

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

The Platonic nature of Mathematics, the only deductive science, says otherwise.

Then tell me one thing mathematics says that applies in the real world, on its own. Things that require empirical assumptions don't count, because they're not truly deductive: for example, the use of calculus in physics is predicated on things like the inverse square law of gravity and Newton's three laws.

Quoth O'Brien...

The Platonic nature of Mathematics, the only deductive science, says otherwise.

Speaking as a professional mathematician, Mr. O'Brien, I've got to say you're very, very wrong.

You really think the number 10 is Platonically ideal? Which 10? The natural number 10? The integer? The rational number 20/2? 30/3? The real number which is the limit of the irrational sequence 10+pi/n as n approaches infinity? What about 10 modulo p, for a large, large prime p? The Church numeral 10 in the lambda calculus? The ordinal number 10? Which of these is the real honest 10 whose ethereal shade is fluttering up there in heaven, hallelujah? All of them? None of them?

The problem with the Realm of Ideas is that it is completely useless. It doesn't matter in the least if it exists or not; ultimately, all instantiations of ideas, like all implementations of mathematics, have to be implemented and demonstrated in the real (non-ideal) universe by non-ideal beings. The best that we can achieve is to at least attempt consistency with real-world reasoned knowledge.

Thus, the most parsimonious reasoning is to assume the non-existence of the Realm of Ideas.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

The critics of the study doesn't get much right:
"George Gallup, founding chairman of The George H. Gallup International Institute, has written a letter to The London Times."
( http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=3094 )

That is George Gallup Jr, since the founder of The Gallup Organisation, George Gallup died 1984. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Gallup )

They have confused the professional statistic organisation with his son charity.

"Currently there are two different organizations under the name of Gallup. Gallup Organization Inc., which was sold by the Gallup family in 1988 to the Selection Research Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska, has wholly or majority-owned subsidiaries in more than 20 countries. More than 3,000 research, consulting, and teaching professionals work together to provide clients with comparable practices, procedures, and standards across national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries. An employee-owned firm, Gallup's revenues have grown by an average of 25% annually over the past decade.

The other one, the George H. Gallup International Institute, is a public charity whose purpose is to discover, test and encourage the application of new approaches to social problems--in education, environment, health, religion and human values." ( http://www.ciadvertising.org/studies/student/99_spring/interactive/bkle… )

Of course it is no accident that a religiously motivated charity choose to be easily confused with a secular organisation.

The rest of us wait on a real, peerreviewed critique of the study.

By Torbjörn Larsson (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

"What is with Denmark, low belief and early death....?"

Probably all the beer and fat food - they are happy without religion. Too happy, it seems. :-) :-(

"As for why the Danes are dying despite their low level of belief; Can you say "Euthanasia"?"

No. "A total of 59,606 deaths were recorded in Denmark in 1997. Heart disease and cancer account for 2/3 of these deaths." ( http://www.um.dk/Publikationer/UM/English/Denmark/kap3/3-7-5.asp )

Euthanasia is commonly used to alleviate suffering for dying people, and includes choosing lifeshortening painkillers. "Led by Dr Agnes van der Heide at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the study found that one-third of the deaths occurred suddenly or without warning. Of the remainder, many involved so-called 'end-of-life decisions' by physicians, such as withholding life-prolonging treatments or prescribing drugs that ease pain but could hasten death.

More than half of the deaths in Switzerland - or 51% - resulted from such decisions, as opposed to only 23% in Italy. The other countries were closer to Switzerland in terms of the percentage of deaths in which end-of-life decisions were a factor were: 38% in Belgium; 41% in Denmark; 44% for the Netherlands and 36% in Sweden." ( http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/health/HealthRepublish_916856.htm )

By Torbjörn Larsson (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Speaking of parsimony, it should be noted that Ockham's Razor is a heuristic; it does not constitute proof of anything.

I think it proves that there is no reason to accept ideas that don't differ from the nil hypothesis.

For counter-example: Be sure to type "xyzzy" somewhere in your next post. It will repel hungry man-eating tigers, so they won't eat you.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

What else does your crystal ball tell you, Umlauts?

Hey, Apostrophe. Those aren't umlauts. Ãäliö.

What it goes to show me is that O'Brien's brain, such as it is, isn't worth its weight in elephant shit. Not that that hasn't already been amply demonstrated.

By junk science (not verified) on 19 Aug 2006 #permalink

Let me see if I understand Gallup's objection to this study....it's that No True Christian (as measured by their "deep spiritual commitment") would ever be unhappy or immoral?

Somebody keep these folks away from Scotsmen and their porridge!

What else does your crystal ball tell you, Umlauts?
A stupidity award named after a person as smart and mature as Robert O'Brien? Nah, can't be! That statement alone is worth a Nobel Prize in literature!

The Platonic nature of Mathematics, the only deductive science, says otherwise.

All the mathematical empiricists, formalists, intuitionists, constructivists, fictionalists and cognitivists laugh.

it should be noted that Ockham's Razor is a heuristic; it does not constitute proof of anything.

It should be noted that mathematics is a heuristic; it does not constitute proof of anything without proof of its axioms, and the axioms used to in those proofs, etc.

It should be noted that mathematics is a heuristic

That word doesn't mean what you think it means.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 20 Aug 2006 #permalink

Does O'Brien agree with Plato that God is not the source of morality, though? If so, heretic!

Incidentally, science guys: don't use empiricism as a good example of a scientific epistemology, since any scientific theory is as rationalistic as is empiricist. (Which is to say about half way between each.) What is also true is that these are only two components to a good scientific epistemology. (See, e.g., Haack's Evidence and Inquiry, and Bunge's Treatise, vol. 5-6.)

George Cauldron: Wow. Someone claiming that Hitler was a Marxist? Yikes. Another monument to failed education. (I'd heard the "Hitler was a leftist" thing previously, which is almost as ridiculous, but ...)

Someone claiming that Hitler was a Marxist? Yikes. Another monument to failed education.

It wasn't that so much as one of those cases of 'start with a preordained conclusion and then assemble ideas to support that conclusion'.

(I'd heard the "Hitler was a leftist" thing previously, which is almost as ridiculous, but ...)

Indeed. He was asked several times, if Hitler was a Marxist, then why did Hitler have all the German Marxists imprisoned and killed once he came to power? He ignored this question several times and finally the best he could come up with was something like 'sometimes political groups have disputes with other groups that are a lot like them'. Bravo.

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 20 Aug 2006 #permalink

I agree with Socrates and Plato (among others) concerning the existence of objective morality.

Posted by: Robert O'Brien | August 19, 2006 03:15 PM

In the Republic, Plato recommends the elites of the "ideal city" should make use of didactic myths, or "noble lies", so the citizens will swallow their bullshit.

Gee, why does that sound familiar?

Because, if I am not mistaken, we shall have to say that about men poets and story-tellers are guilty of making the gravest misstatements when they tell us that wicked men are often happy, and the good miserable; and that injustice is profitable when undetected, but that justice is a man's own loss and another's gain --these things we shall forbid them to utter, and command them to sing and say the opposite.

-Plato, Republic, Book III, Jowett translation

By False Prophet (not verified) on 20 Aug 2006 #permalink

oldhippie said:

I don't think any of us were actually saying that religion was the cause of murder and untimely death.

Perhaps so, but this was the obvious lead-in for the Times article, and I suspect the reason for the hot tempers here.

It was also something I never said, nor did I suggest that anyone else was saying it (other than the Times article, which I consider within context). I mention it in conclusion only because it is obvious that implications of these research (if there are any) is a definite hot-button issue. It's why we are all here!

But even with poor methologly it pretty much shows that on a national scale there is no obvious positive link between religion and societal good on the indices looked at.

This is where I disagree. I think there is evidence this research says nothing of the kind.

An argument was made that a dispassionate look at the quality of the statistics collected and the way they were manipulated to give us a nice graph may not be useful at all. That is, if the numbers are suspect and the methods are unsound we can't trust the results at all, never mind what the results (such as they are) actually "mean".

Where those countries end up on these graphs may mean absolutely nothing at all. Where the US ended up as an outlier may, in fact, be completely at the mercy of skew and externalities, which are never accounted for in the research. The argument is that we may not have any sort of confidence in the results at all, and that any sort of assumption about the meaning is highly suspect and spurious.

If the results are suspect, the graph is suspect. If the graph is suspect then any conclusions or guesses about what trends it may be reflecting are unfounded.

Given that many religious people are telling us morality is impossible withot a belief in God (something some athiests fine quite insulting) this in itself is significant.

Of course this is insulting. This is precisely why I want us to be less credulous when we hear of studies that purport to demonstrate the truth or untruth of such statements. We should all be suspicious of studies that seem to confirm a deeply held belief, or seem to disprove a common belief we find disagreeable.

I think it is perfectly valid that a statistician should be allowed to criticize essentially statistical research on the basis of its misuse of statistical methodology and poor dataset. This throws into question the "meaning" of the entire results, whether that be the disproof of the assertion that religion makes us happy and safe, or the notion that religion makes us violent murderers.

Again, let it be said that I am not a statistician, but the arguments made by the statistician in question (Gilbreath) seem sound to me. They reflect many such arguments of similar research I've read in the past.

In short, what Gilbreath was saying is:

1. The source and quality of the actual dataset is troublesome, and is never fully axplained.
2. Crucial data was assumed to be "similar" enough for comparison, without explaining why this would be so.
3. Statistical methods used were quite naive, and were contrary to many other similar sorts of cross-national statistical studies. no reason was given for this choice.

Give this list to a statistician and you will generally not see a favourable review of the research. They will probably say you cannot trust _where_ any data point rests on a graph, nevermind what the graph might actually _mean_.

Such a blog calling out for more sound math on such hot issues is, in my opinion, highly responsible. I'd buy Gilbreath a beer! And I know first-hand how mean a drunk statistician can be. Nearly as bad as topologists, though you can usually distract topologists with four colours of pencil crayons and an irregular surface.

*ducks*

"I wonder that you will still be talking, [junk] nobody marks you."

A shame. I'd rather have them mocking every witless one-liner I spew.

By junk science (not verified) on 20 Aug 2006 #permalink

Please stop feeding the troll.

I find him amusing in a pathetic kind of way, but he's breached the boundaries of civility more than most trolls ever dream about (the ethnocentric stuff certainly rubbed me the wrong way and I'm not even German). Why don't you just lop off his head and apply a torch to his neck [continuing the troll metaphor, for the neutronium beings in the audience], if he's that troublesome?

Robert:

""Of course it is no accident that a religiously motivated charity choose [sic] to be easily confused with a secular organisation."

What else does your crystal ball tell you, Umlauts?"

Are you talking to me? I will perhaps answer when you have made an effort to learn spelling my name.

Keith:
"Incidentally, science guys: don't use empiricism as a good example of a scientific epistemology, since any scientific theory is as rationalistic as is empiricist."

Okay, I will believe that if you can prove it by observation. :-) Isn't it enough that all contingency is absorbed by the observations? Ie that we can repeat observations proves that we have all contingent components under control and doesn't need to explain every detail of our formal and unformal methods? I guess I'm saying that science seems to be methodologically empirical. Incidentally, doesn't your appeal to scientists view also mean that this is a sufficient epistemology in practice - by observation, if you will?

BTW, is there a cheat sheet on these philosophies? I'm interested to learn more, but: "Bunge set out his philosophical thinking systematically in his Treatise on Basic Philosophy, a monumental work in 8 volumes, comprising semantics, ontology, epistemology, philosophy of science, and ethics. There, and in more than 80 books and 400 papers, Bunge develops a comprehensive scientific outlook which he then applies to the various natural and social sciences." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mario_Bunge )

clvrmnky:
Now I have also read Gilbreath's critique. It isn't good that he answers as a "Christian statistician". I think he has some points though.

He is wrong about that the "sample frame appears arbitrary" since Paul has used the material available from an international survey program. The reason for the sample frame can be checked. Also, the primitive analysis is IMO motivated by the weak conclusions Paul makes as Paul himself notes.

He is probably correct on that Paul isn't a professional in sociology (any more than Gilbreath is), and perhaps correct on that the paper wasn't peerreviewed.

By Torbjörn Larsson (not verified) on 21 Aug 2006 #permalink