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Reject the Scientific Consensus? How Do You Justify THAT?

What reason goes in that blank? What could possibly go in that blank? If you’re a layperson in a particular scientific field, how could you reject that field’s scientific consensus, where it exists, as the best provisional explanation of that aspect of nature?

People do reject the consensus—mostly Creationists, in my experience—but I can’t begin to understand the thought process that justifies this conclusion. People reject radioisotope dating who aren’t geologists, reject the Big Bang who aren’t cosmologists, and reject evolution who aren’t biologists.

You might think that evolution is a remarkable claim. Perhaps even that the evidence isn’t there (though the fact that you’ve only dipped your toe into the water would scream out as the obvious explanation). What I can’t imagine is concluding, based in that “research,” that the theory of evolution is flawed. On what grounds could someone reject the consensus of the people who actually understand this stuff, the people who actually have the doctorate degrees and who actually do the work on a daily basis?

I often hear people handwaving justifications. I recently mentioned a debate in which the Creationist speaker demanded that we follow the evidence. That sounds strange until you translate that into what he meant: give yourself license to weigh scientific conclusions yourself and discard the ones you dislike.

When science and scripture conflict, Ken Ham of the Institute for Creation Research tells Christians that they shouldn’t go with the discipline with the remarkable track record for telling us about reality. Instead, discard that and go with faith.

We should be very wary of any idea about life that has a consensus among non-Christians. Sadly, many Christians listen to the ideas of secular scientists and try to add these to the Bible. This shows that they have the same problem as the non-Christian—they don’t want to submit to God’s Word.

These same people wouldn’t dream of telling a surgeon how best to approach a particular operation or a pilot how to fly a plane. But they seem quite happy to read a Creationist book and reject any consensus in biology, geology, or cosmology that steps on their theological toes. Can these science deniers possibly be so self-important as to pretend to be the Judge of All Science®, anointing the correct science and rooting out the false?

Creationists’ arguments often defeat themselves. Ask them how they make their conclusion and few will say that they’ve evaluated the scientific papers themselves. Rather, they will point to Creationist “scientists” from the Discovery Institute, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), Answers in Genesis (AIG), or similar organization. Apparently, they think that the conclusions of competent scientists is important. Fine, then be objective and look at the consensus of experts on that subject.

You’d think that organizations that constrained their “researchers” with statements of faith, as both the ICR and AIG have, would be disqualified from scientific discourse for being biased. Similarly, it’s baffling that many Christian scholars like William Lane Craig feel comfortable pontificating on science

  • when they have no scientific credentials to do so,
  • when they celebrate the consensus and use it to support their argument when it suits them (Big Bang) and then reject the consensus when it doesn’t (evolution), and
  • because they, too, are bound by statements of faith.

When they say that evolution is nonsense, I always ask: is that the facts or your statement of faith talking? (More in my post “Can Christian Scholars be Objective?”)

Science deniers often raise three objections.

  • The scientific consensus is wrong sometimes. Yes, it is. The consensus is not immutable truth but a provisional approximation to the truth. This doesn’t change the fact that the consensus is the best guess at the truth that we laypeople have.
  • Demanding that laypeople accept the scientific consensus in all cases is the Bandwagon fallacy. No, it isn’t. The bandwagon fallacy (argumentum ad populum) says that “a million Chevy owners can’t be wrong”—if the majority believes it, it must be true. Note the differences: I argue that the consensus is our best bet, not that it is invariably true. Also, the scientific community is a group of experts of which laypeople are not members.
  • Okay, then it’s the Argument from Authority fallacy. Wrong again. The scientific community is quite different from a single authority. (I’ve written more about this fallacy fallacy and the role of consensus here.)

Sorry, folks—science is not a democracy. When it comes to the scientific consensus, no one cares what we laypeople think. Creationists have done an impressive job in deluding Americans so that, 150 years after Darwin’s Origin of Species, 40% still think that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”

This deluded thinking becomes a bigger problem when policy makers are able to adopt it. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) called evolution, Big Bang theory, and other disagreeable aspects of science “lies straight from the pit of hell.” Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) said about climate change, “I don’t think we can control what God controls.” Todd Akin (R-Missouri) has famously odd views on conception and evolution. Each has training wheels on their understanding of science, but all three are members of the House Science and Technology Committee.

Science deniers get high marks in Machiavellianism 101, but the American public’s childish relationship with reality puts us in a poor position to handle the challenges of the 21st century.

Evolution is one of the most robust and widely accepted
principles of modern science.

— American Association for the Advancement of Science

About Bob Seidensticker
  • MM

    A while back, I posted an article on my Facebook page about the review of scholarly articles and global warming, that showed something like 99.9% of the articles supported warming and only like .03% did not. My father-in-law responded with the “well, scientists once thought the earth was flat” trope. Nevermind that that’s basically a myth, I get the logic behind the sentiment, to a certain degree. Science, particularly in antiquity, has been spectacularly wrong on a lot of things, but it generally gets stuff right over time. “Not science”, on the other hand, has pretty much never been right about anything, ever. So I think we should trust the scientific consensus, but with the realization that science is a process of never-ending discovery, so while we may be able to point out very specific, narrowly-defined examples of where it has been wrong, it has never failed us when viewed in the proper context over the course of history.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      MM:

      Nevermind that that’s basically a myth

      That’s what Skeptoid said a few weeks ago.

      Science, particularly in antiquity, has been spectacularly wrong on a lot of things

      I think modern science (say, the last 200 years) is a different kind of thing than what preceded it. Yes, we had great science before and have flawed science since, but we probably should just focus on the good and bad of modern science.

      • Ray

        The Skeptoid article seems to suffer from Eurocentric bias. True, Columbus’s educated contemporaries in Europe were aware of the Earth’s roundness, but near as I can tell, before Pythagoras, there is no evidence that anyone anywhere thought the Earth was round. Even then, it wasn’t until Aristotle that round earth was anything like a consensus view, and that consensus only held in the Greek speaking world.
        In other parts of the world, most notably China, the belief in a flat earth seems to have persisted far longer.

        see e.g these references:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth
        http://www.eastm.org/index.php/journal/article/download/311/245

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I didn’t study the issue much in response to that episode, but the concern that came to mind for me was whether this spherical earth view was widespread among everyone or only among the literate few. I don’t remember him discussing this.

  • smrnda

    I don’t think that the Ken Ham’s of the world realize that all they’re capable of advocating is an appeal to authority. They can’t seem to distinguish between “I believe this because a scientist says so” from “I believe this because scientists have been actively testing and researching this hypothesis and subjecting their findings to high levels of scrutiny.” They seem to be unable to grasp the idea that knowledge is something you can acquire, rather than something you get from a source.

    If I feel sick, I go to a doctor, and depending on the condition I might trust certain doctors over others based on their area of expertise. Am I being a gullible fool in this and simply going with an appeal to authority? No, because we make sure that doctors actually know things that are useful for treating illness, and the track record for medicine is constantly improving.

    Perhaps a reason why guys like Ken Ham hate scientists – and I tend to find that a lot of Fundamentalist Christians hate experts of all types, be they economists, psychologists or sociologists, is that they believe knowledge is necessarily revealed rather than discovered. If you can find out reliable information without consulting the Holy Book, what good is the Holy Book?

  • Eric D Red

    Science does move forward with somebody saying the consensus is wrong. Sometimes it really is wrong. But then you’d better fill that second line in with some serious proof that encompasses or supercedes all the existing knowledge. Newton refuted the consensus with theories supported by tests. Einstein then showed the consensus around Newton’s theories wasn’t quite all there was, again with solid theories later backed up with data. Ken Ham rejects the consensus despite the data, and has nothing to back it up.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Eric:

      Science does move forward with somebody saying the consensus is wrong.

      You mean somebody competent? Yes, I agree. That leaves out us laymen.

      • Eric D Red

        Certainly.
        I’d say I 99% agree with you. In almost every case, the consensus of those with knowledge of the science is far more likely to be correct. The opinion of the true laymen is irrelevant. The other one percent (actually far less, I’m sure) is those cases where somebody who doesn’t agree with the consensus really changes things. But most importantly, ya gotta bring the proof! If you have that, you may actually be more competent than the current scientists. Simply rejecting the consensus without some serious proof is idiotic denial.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          The successful outsider that I think you’re imagining is someone who’s outside the scientific establishment but not unfamiliar with the material.

  • Drewl

    These same people wouldn’t dream of telling a surgeon how best to approach a particular operation or a pilot how to fly a plane. But they seem quite happy to read a Creationist book and reject any consensus in biology, geology, or cosmology that steps on their theological toes.

    At some point you may need to deal with the irony of making this statement immediately after two posts where an MIT grad in computer science (my best guess) pretends to be a Biblical scholar and Ancient Middle-East historian. How many Koine Greek courses did you take in college again?

    That sounds strange until you translate that into what he meant: give yourself license to weigh scientific conclusions yourself and discard the ones you dislike.

    Hmmm….and your citations of Price and Ehrman differ from this how?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      How many Koine Greek courses did you take in college again?

      When did Bible studies fit into science again?

      You do understand that I’m talking about the scientific consensus, right?

      Hmmm….and your citations of Price and Ehrman differ from this how?

      Huh? Price and Ehrman are pontificating about science? You’ll have to point that out to me.

      • Drewl

        Ah so if I follow you: a layperson, while incapable of speaking authoritatively in any “science” fields, will have no difficulty holding their own among scholars with PhDs in ancient languages, geography, history, scriptural interpretation, archaeology, ancient literary studies, world religions, etc. It’s all just “Bible studies,” right? In fact why do Yale and Harvard even have divinity schools when any Tom Dick or Harry with a bachelors degree in computer science could think through that stuff?

        I believe that’s what you’re getting at with your it’s-not-science response. Please correct me if I’ve misunderstood you here.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Ah so if I follow you …

          No, I don’t think you did.

          We understand the scientific consensus. The mistake you’re making is citing the religious consensus. There is no such consensus! Example: how many gods are there and what are their properties?

          Within any silo (Catholic, Hindu, etc.) there is often agreement, but this is like saying, “OK, let’s just look at just those scientists who accept cold fusion–they have a strong consensus!”

          We could pull back so that religious differences are blurred and we see instead the language or historical issues that you mentioned. Sure, there is consensus there. But I don’t think that’s the interesting bit.

        • Drewl

          This is an extremely illuminating response from you; I’m now seeing where we differ here, and no, I didn’t follow you earlier, but I think I do now.

          What I see now is that you may not realize the significant institutional separation that lies between academic biblical scholarship–as carried out by Yale/Harvard Divinity Schools and the many types of PhDs listed above–and what we could call pastoral or church-focused biblical studies. The former resembles any other academic field with conferences, books published by university presses (in other words, works of the highest academic prestige), and peer-reviewed journals such as: Journal of Biblical Literature, Journal of Semitic Studies, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, etc. It’s doubtful you could name any scholar at this level; it’s a field incredibly cut off from the general public, although these people are generally the ones whose names you’ll find on the front page of any Bible translation.

          What’s most relevant to our discussion is this: this field operates almost completely independent from any theological interest, agenda, or authority. I know far more atheists in this field than I know practicing religious people. The peer-review process here operates largely as any other in trying to produce the most “scholarly” knowledge possible; it’d be comparable scholarly study of Shakespeare. No religious leader or organization has any power here.

          So when I asked why you were suggesting a layperson could hold their own among Biblical scholars, I had that type setting in mind. I believe you either collapsed the scholarly into the pastoral/church arena, or perhaps you simply weren’t aware this scholarly arena existed? The plurality of religious beliefs that you’re concerned about plays no role in academic Biblical studies; there is just as much consensus and plurality in this field as any other, but it’s all based on appeals to facts and careful scholarship.

          So I’ll ask again: isn’t there a tension between your disapproval of non-scientists wading their way into scientific debates to sift through experts’ opinions to find the ones they agree with…and your own work as an amateur Biblical scholar with no language skills or training in the field? If you get to be a google-taught expert of Biblical history, why not allow others that same right?

        • Kodie

          Thank you for finally admitting that you can’t tell the difference between an apple and an orange.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          So when I asked why you were suggesting a layperson could hold their own among Biblical scholars, I had that type setting in mind.

          We’re imagining the layperson blundering into different areas.

          Is the layperson entitled to contradict the scientific consensus? No. Is the layperson entitled to contradict the consensus of Catholic scholars that Jesus is a god or Hindu scholars that Shiva is a god? Yes indeedy.

          perhaps you simply weren’t aware this scholarly arena existed?

          Obviously I’m aware of it; no, that’s not what I’m talking about.

        • Drewl

          We’re closer to the same page, but just to be clear: you are or aren’t okay with the layperson blundering through the academic field of Biblical scholarship?

        • Kodie

          Do you know the difference between science and biblical scholarship yet? Denial of science is denial of reality. Denial of biblical scholarship is of no utter consequence.

        • Drewl

          Alright, Kodie is on the record for being openly dismissive of the scholarly work of Oxford/Harvard/Yale-trained PhD academics and their peer-reviewed, critically-vetted findings. Any other takers for anti-intellectualism?

          I have to say, I did not see this coming, For one thing, academic Biblical scholarship should be the atheists’ greatest ally as most of its conclusions posit a very minimalist view of historical accuracies in the Bible. Most of Bob’s arguments as a pretend Bible scholar are older than he is; this field has been deconstructing, debunking, and demythologizing for over a century. Notice I didn’t argue new atheists reject scholarly consensus for biblical scholarship: new atheists pick lousy popular writers as their revered bible scholar heroes, but those writers are largely speaking the language of the field.

          But apparently it’s also a joke of a field that any layperson can wade into and hold their own among career scholars reading the original ancient languages. What a disgrace for all these universities to waste resources on these scholars.

        • Kodie

          It starts from being made up, and the rest of it is obsessive analysis of fiction. It’s not like science at all. You’re also being really stubborn – of course people can deny biblical scholarship all the time. It’s called having a different religion with its own scholarship, of which you don’t seem to be concerned at all. Religionists aren’t just laypersons as to science, they are inventing a different version of it and calling it controversy. For that, I have no respect for biblical scholarship whatsoever. I don’t need to know it to know it’s not factual. If biblical literacy is very important to someone that would motivate them to invent a story that is disguised as science, they are using it for marketing and not for educational purposes. Why would they need to do that if any of it were true or apparent? What does one need scholarship to believe in god? It is not made for intellectuals. It should be apparent to grasp for anyone but they need to study it like a subject in school to layer upon layer of mental masturbation that amounts to zero. It’s not important to know for any reason, not to believe, not to unbelieve, and not to disbelieve. It’s not important to know to be a good person or a bad person or a generous person or a thief. It has nothing to do with anything that actually exists, it has no interaction with our world or our life except in fantasy. The biblical scholars are fantasist nerds. They are like your basic Star Trek guy that knows every line and every episode. But even they know it’s a hobby and not real.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          Run out of stuff to say? Just making small talk?

          No one (oh–except you!) is talking about Oxford academics. I guess the main argument is so solid that you’re left flat-footed, so you’ll just try to scare up something else to tar atheists with?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Kodie:

          Denial of science is denial of reality. Denial of biblical scholarship is of no utter consequence.

          Nicely said. This touches on Lessing’s Ditch. Biblical studies can be a fun hobby (I’m into it), but it’s a lot closer to being a baseball fan than a researcher in–oh, I dunno–how about cancer research?

        • Drewl

          You guys simply have no idea what you’re talking about.

          I’ll leave you with these listings of “hobbyist” baseball fan-esque, “fantasist nerds” who have somehow made a career out of “mental masturbation” equivalent to Star Trek fandom. Indeed.

          http://www.theology.ox.ac.uk/people/faculty-members/by-subject/old-testament.html
          http://www.theology.ox.ac.uk/people/faculty-members/by-subject/new-testament.html
          http://divinity.yale.edu/faculty-listing?tid=All&field_expertise_value_many_to_one=Old+Testament
          http://divinity.yale.edu/faculty-listing?tid=All&field_expertise_value_many_to_one=New+Testament
          http://www.divinity.cam.ac.uk/index.php?option=com_mipeople&view=search&Itemid=60&a=new+testament&type=0

          And here’s a slightly less prestigious department with one of your heroes in it:
          http://religion.unc.edu/people/current-faculty/faculty-by-specialty#ancient-med

          Again, I’m not accusing you of denying scholarly consensus for Biblical studies, but you seem to be excusing your layperson meddling by delegitimizing an entire field of scholars–a play straight out of the creationist handbook. I’d encourage you to rethink your approach here, particularly when this field could be of great service in providing scholarly backing for your arguments–provided you stop trying to delegitimize them as “fantasist nerds.”

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          Again, I’m not accusing you of denying scholarly consensus for Biblical studies, but you seem to be excusing your layperson meddling by delegitimizing an entire field of scholars

          Biblical scholars are fabulous. The point (as you seem eager to ignore) is that no one is talking about partying in this space.

        • Drewl

          So I guess we divide on: you don’t see your own layperson meddling in a scholarly field as relevant to a discussion on why laypeople shouldn’t be meddling in scholarly fields.

          I would disagree and still seek an explanation.

        • Kodie

          I am not impressed where they go to school. I am somewhat disturbed by the idea that this endows a certain amount of respect for the field of study. I am not surprised that this is the foundation of your argument that it’s as legitimate a subject as science is, that you weigh them with the same amount and expertise of knowledge, but you can’t seem to grasp the utility of science and the stupidity of denying science. Your only intention here is to commit the fallacy of tu quoque.

  • Drewl

    You know this would be a great prompt for a series of posts from you, Bob:

    I, ______NAME OF NEW ATHEIST______, reject the scholarly consensus for:

    ___Dismissal of the Religion-Science Conflict Thesis
    ___Dismissal of logical positivism as a viable epistemological stance
    ___Empirical evidence that religiosity correlates with higher charitable giving (even for secular organizations), higher volunteer rates (even for secular organizations), higher levels of trust, more involvement in civic groups, higher rates of blood donation, and lower rates of crime, all of which collectively disprove the “religion poisons everything” thesis

    because________________________________.

    • Kodie

      #3 doesn’t disprove anything of the sort since it’s not mutually exclusive.

      Reject what scholarly consensus – it’s loads of bull dressed up.

      • Drewl

        #3 doesn’t disprove anything of the sort since it’s not mutually exclusive.

        Ooo…say more. Are you saying “everything” doesn’t mean….well…everything?

        • Kodie

          I don’t see why you think that, or anything else you say, is relevant.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Yeah, what Kodie said.

      I’m not feeling hoist by my own petard, despite your best efforts.

      • Drewl

        Ah, so no need to be bothered by one’s own dissent from scholarly consensus; let’s keep the focus on the stupidity of the people we don’t agree with.

        I didn’t know the rules of the game, my bad. Carry on.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I didn’t know the rules of the game, my bad. Carry on.

          I thought that the subject was clear enough, given that “scientific consensus” was in the title.

          No problem–easy mistake to make.

        • Drewl

          You could have made it a bit more clear by entitling it:

          “Reject the Scholarly Consensus? New Atheists Do That Frequently, But When You Do It, You’re an Idiot.”

          That would have helped me understand your point more effectively.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          … and yet no one else was confused. But thanks for the suggestion.

    • smrnda

      I reject the third because propaganda and indoctrination is not charity. I also reject the idea that charity is a good method of taking care of human needs – the belief in the goodness of private charity is just a way of justifying an unjust social order where the poor and needy can beg for help and maybe get it instead of are entitled to it by law. Also, volunteers are no substitute for professionals. I tend to find ‘religous charity’ is inflated because it counts things that are not really charity.

      • smrnda

        Also DrewL, could you please link me to what study says religiosity is correlated with positive social outcomes, since it’s saying the opposite of about every study I’ve ever seen on the fact.

        • Drewl

          Sure. Multiple hyperlinks so hopefully Bob approves it.
          Note: I only draw upon academic peer-reviewed stuff, no agenda-driven apologists here.

          A useful summary paragraph from the article “More Religion, Less Crime? Science, Felonies, and the Three Faith Factors” by John J. Dilulio Jr. in the Annual Review of Law and Social Science. Dilulio worked in both the Bush and the Obama administration.

          Within the social sciences in the United States over the past two decades, this ongoing resurgence of intellectual interest in religion has yielded a large and growing body of empirical evidence suggesting that (a) religion in America is the single most significant wellspring of civic health and “social capital” (Saguaro Semin. 2001, p. 65; Natl. Conf. Citizsh. Saguaro Semin. 2006, p. 16); (b) religion is an especially persistent and prolific force for many prosocial behaviors including volunteering and charitable giving (Smidt et al. 2008, Brooks 2008); (c) religiously founded or religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations by the tens of thousands, including not only religious denominations or large national bodies like Catholic Charities USA or the Salvation Army, but also local houses of worship (churches, synagogues, mosques, and others) and grassroots ministries, all together supply huge amounts of health and human services (daycare, afterschool programs, job training and placement) to low-income children, youth, and families (Cnaan et al. 1999, 2002; Monsma 2004; Cnaan 2006); and (d) many faith-based organizations, both large and small, both national and local, have especially robust programs for the society’s most highly distressed populations, including ex-prisoners, severely at-risk or adjudicated urban youth, and the low-income inner-city children of prisoners (Bauldry et al. 2009; Blank & Davie 2004; Bauldry & Hartmann 2004, 2003; Jucovy 2003; Branch 2002).

          (Subscription Service Required to read article: http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.lawsocsci.093008.131603 )

          The definitive sources for religion and civic/political behaviors is a book called American Grace by a well-known Harvard professor, Robert Putnam. It’s like $4 used on Amazon, check it out. Here’s an exert from chapter 11.

          Regular churchgoers are more likely to give to secular causes than nonchurchgoers, and highly religious people give a larger fraction of their income to secular causes than do most secular people…if anything, religious Americans are slightly poorer on average than secular Americans. Given those characteristics, it is even more striking that religious Americans give more generously than secular Americans, both to religious and to secular causes. (page 448).

          In 2004 and 2006 the General Social Survey asked Americans about fifteen possible good dees they might have performed in the previous twelve months, ranging from helping someone find a job to donating blood to looking after a neighbor’s plants to letting a stranger cut in line. Not all of these good deeds are associated with greater religiosity, but most are, even when we hold age, gender, race, and education constant. Frequent churchgoers are more likely to: Give money to charity, do volunteer work for charity, give money to a homeless person, give excess change back to a shop clerk, donate blood, help someone outside their own household with housework, spend time with someone who is “a bit down,” Allow a stranger to cut in front of them, offer a seat to a stranger, help someone find a job. (page 451)

          The link is essentially the same regardless of the particular religion or denomination within which one worships, so that the relevant factor is how much one is engaged with religion, not which religion. And the pattern is so robust that evidence of it can be found in virtually every major national survey of American religious and social behavior. Any way you slice it, religious people are simply more generous. (page 454)

          With all our standard statistical controls, religious Americans are more likely than nonreligious Americans to: belong to a community organization, energize community problem solving, take part in local civic and political life, press for local social or political reform, (page 455-456).

          Seriously, buy the book, it’s a great read. There’s a long discussion on how they argue this is most likely not just correlation but causation that I can try to summarize, but you really just need to read it. http://amzn.com/1416566732

          Religiosity is also shown to predict more positive outcomes for teenagers (less drug use, more likely to complete high school, less likely to get pregnant, less likely to commit a crime, etc) and decrease likelihood of divorce among adults, which in keeping the marriage structure stable in turn increases the prosocial outcomes of children. I don’t have those books with me but I can locate them if needed.

        • smrnda

          A few questions – how is whether or not a person is ‘religious’ being determined? I mean, are they asking people about their actual religious beliefs, going by church attendance?

          Also, this is only a study on the US. You’ve probably heard of the book “Society Without God : What the least religious nations can tell us about contentment?” For all the soup kitchens, food pantries and volunteerism, the US does horribly on any measure of social welfare compared many secular nations, so I’m not so impressed.

          I also think there’s a problem with confusing attempts at solving a problem with solving a problem. I have done lots of volunteer work, and my take after doing this for years is that it’s an inefficient way to fix problems. It’s a simplistic solution that treats symptoms, not causes. Plus, you don’t judge say, success at the gym by who spends the most time working out but by who gets results. Secular nation which are more socialistic or collective do better than the more libertarian US where it’s ‘individuals helping individuals.’

          I also took a sociology class within the last few years where studies were cited that religion played no meaningful role in predicting divorce rates (that affluence and education were, understandably, the best predictors of marital stability.) I’ll have to drag out the book, but if there’s empirical evidence that religion has any influence, I’d be pretty surprised.

          So I’ll give the book a read, but I’ve already seem lots of empirical data to the contrary.

        • Drewl

          Thanks for the thoughtful response.

          The Putnam book generally defines religiosity by church attendance, though occasionally they draw upon an index of measures that also incorporate measures of prayers said outside of religious services and self-perceived importance of religion to one’s identity. They work very hard to use a measure of religiosity that is neutral to all religions rather than favoring a certain form.

          Society Without God is an interesting book; I don’t believe it pitches the causation you’re hinting at, which is secular attitudes lend to a more “generous” welfare states, but I could be wrong. I think scholarship in the past suffered from trying to make too many generalizations from secular Europe-religious America and their corresponding cultures. We can now see the rapid rapid growth of religion in places like China, parts of Africa, South Korea, and Latin America that have not been accompanied with pushes to abolish the welfare state, which allows us to avoid making simplistic causal claims.

          And yes, charitable efforts can patching bandaids on larger structural injustices. However, I don’t think dissatisfaction with the current political institutions would either valorize withdrawal, disengagement, and selfishness as virtuous and good citizenship, or nullify acts of generosity and compassion as foolish and unworthy of recognition. This can quickly become a game of moving the goalposts, though I am very sympathetic to your and Bob’s points, and personally also critical of most volunteer efforts. However, I’d say that even in a country with a strong welfare state, statistically you’d probably still prefer having neighbors with the positive pro-social attributes that religion seems to predict; the welfare state won’t be coming over to help with housework, cheer you up when you’re down, or look after your kids in a pinch.

          Divorce rates inversely correlate with education level, but controlling for education you still see the positive effects of religiosity–again, measured by religious attendance. Religious beliefs alone are far less predictive–that may be the research you’ve seen.

          Yes, read the book, get Bob to read it too.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I’d say that even in a country with a strong welfare state, statistically you’d probably still prefer having neighbors with the positive pro-social attributes that religion seems to predict; the welfare state won’t be coming over to help with housework, cheer you up when you’re down, or look after your kids in a pinch.

          Nice traits, but Christian communities are typically inwardly focused. If you’re in the club, great! Otherwise, many Christians see you as little more than a potential convert.

          One thing to also note. I don’t know how to find the stats on this, but my guess is that atheists prefer to see us (that is, the government) helping out rather than individuals or organizations. As someone has already noted, a generous church is working on a symptom. Far better than a generous church supporting a soup kitchen is a community that doesn’t need a soup kitchen.

          That is, atheists are generous in their own way (they’d advocate for a more generous government for the down-on-their-luck), but that way might be invisible to the ordinary polls about charity.

        • Drewl

          Nice traits, but Christian communities are typically inwardly focused. If you’re in the club, great! Otherwise, many Christians see you as little more than a potential convert.

          Citation needed. But I can sympathize with that perception.

          That is, atheists are generous in their own way (they’d advocate for a more generous government for the down-on-their-luck), but that way might be invisible to the ordinary polls about charity.

          The IRS website has an address to mail payments intended as “gifts” above and beyond required taxes. Assuming atheists aren’t doing that, I’d be curious where this “generous in their own way” thing actually plays out empirically. I’d dare say what you’re describing–an internal disposition toward faith in a future redemption–is EXACTLY the type of narcotizing beliefs Marx was angry at, as it underwrites passivity and apathy to the social order NOW. But perhaps I’m just not seeing this generous-in-their-own-way thing: is it merely checking the box next to all the D’s on the ballot every two years, or something more? Please, provide insight. I would be sympathetic to it not showing up on surveys cited above if you can provide some ideas of how it would show up.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          I’d be curious where this “generous in their own way” thing actually plays out empirically.

          ?? In a demand for a stronger social safety net and, if need be, higher taxes. Surely you’ve heard people call for this. Some of them are atheists.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          In a demand for a stronger social safety net and, if need be, higher taxes. Surely you’ve heard people call for this. Some of them are atheists.

          So… you’re arguing that atheism leads to socialism??? My experience is that atheism is as spread across the board as libertarian economic thinking. I actually found this, which seems to reinforce that perception (notice how the majority of Populists and the majority of Conservatives are church-goers? the ratios are within the margin of error).

          To be more to the point: DrewL is arguing that persons who attend religious services regularly are more likely to make active, individual support of organizations which directly work to support others. Your counter is that some (not majority of) atheists will support a stronger safety net. That’s far from a telling statistic as it is:
          1. not distinguishable from the norm (atheists are awesome because they are people! YAY!)
          2. not individual action (which actually involves more psychological sacrifice, economic involvement, and personal effort than “let’s make everyone pay”)
          3. not in addition to the collective action

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          So… you’re arguing that atheism leads to socialism???

          Whatever Scandinavia has–that. I wouldn’t call it socialism (for that, I think of the Soviet Union), but of course Republicans delight in doing so.

          My experience is that atheism is as spread across the board as libertarian economic thinking.

          I haven’t thought about this much, but I find that the set of atheists are distinct on some points (very liberal, very pro-gay rights, very pro-choice, etc.). As for atheists and eagerness for taxes, I confess that I don’t have more guesses than stats.

          Your counter is that some (not majority of) atheists will support a stronger safety net.

          Is atheist support for a stronger social safety net higher or lower than the national average? How does it compare against other groups? I dunno. I’m saying that any effort to paint atheists as on average unconcerned about their fellow man doesn’t ring true for me. But I can’t put my hands on information to support my counter (tax friendliness).

      • Bob Seidensticker

        I can see the problems of government bureaucracy, but this idea that the government is “them” is bizarre. The government is (or certainly should be) us. I agree that charity done by churches, which is laudable, is a sign of an imperfect society.

        This is what Marx meant by “religion is the opium of the masses”–this was a positive statement about religion. Opium is good stuff–it removes pain–but it addresses a symptom; the underlying problem is still there.

        • Drewl

          Totally agree. Strangely, if Marx was alive today, he would be more pleased with the people who are more likely to be politically engaged, more likely to have relationships with those in lower classes, more likely to problem-solve and organize around local issues–all of which correlate with religiosity. Disengagement from social issues–the opium-like withdrawal he feared–is statistically more common among atheists.

          Overall though, Marx, if alive today, would be pissed his revolution never happened and mad at everyone across the board.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          Weird. I’m all set to agree with you, and then you go off the rails.

          The point of agreement: yes, it’s interesting that Marx was paying religion a compliment, but people don’t usually see it that way.

          And the disagreement: this grass-roots activism, engagement with lower classes, and empathy with the poor that you imagine surprises me. I think that if you gave a list of traits like these to the person on the street, primed as they’d be with our recent election, and asked them to categorize this person, they’d say “Democrat” a lot quicker than they’d say “Christian.”

          Has the election has muddied the water, painting the big-hearted Christian, eager for a generous safety net, in a bad light? Could be, but the studies that I’ve seen show a remarkable correlation between lack of religion and positive social metrics (go to this post and search for “Gregory Paul”).

          Northern Europe is spanking the US, I’m afraid to say. Our embrace of Christianity isn’t helping.

        • Drewl

          …this grass-roots activism, engagement with lower classes, and empathy with the poor that you imagine surprises me.

          Woah woah woah, who is imagining anything? I cite statistics, not my imagination. Religious people are, on average, more likely to be engaged in collectively problem-solving community and social problems, have more economically diverse personal networks (interact with people on welfare more, for instance), and be more personally engaged–whether financially supporting or giving time–in efforts to address poverty. Let’s not get all lawyer-logic-y and anti-intellectual on what the stats are telling us.

          I think that if you gave a list of traits like these to the person on the street, primed as they’d be with our recent election, and asked them to categorize this person, they’d say “Democrat” a lot quicker than they’d say “Christian.”

          Perhaps. And that’s why we have scientifically-rigorous surveys to measure these things rather than do opinion polls on who the most generous populations are perceived to be. Plus I notice you don’t have this imaginary person yelling out “Sounds like an Atheist to me!” Perhaps we don’t want public opinion deciding who the best citizens or most generous are, eh?

          I am still reading Paul’s research article…let me get back to you on that. He’s citing some very solid research.

          (Let it be noted that Drewl has accepted a Bob “homework assignment” without complaint…)

        • Drewl

          Here are my thoughts on the Paul piece:

          1) He is drawing on the World Value Survey data with his citations of Norris and Inglehart. This is an extremely sound statistical argument: as societies gain wealth and better standards of living, they tend to see lower levels of traditional beliefs, whether gender roles, religion, understandings of evil, etc. Norris and Inglehart, however, are seen as anti-modernization theorists, meaning that they reject earlier notions that are as simplistic as modernity=atheism. Their challenge of this simplistic reading of history, based on empirical cases is that a) societies still maintain the particularities of their religious heritage b) the progression is not uni-directional as modernization theorists proposed and c) there are now multiple societies that witnessed a rise in wealth and health standards at the same time as widespread growth in Christianity or Islam, which suggests modernization takes mulitple paths with great variation in what happens with secularism-religion. In general, modernization theory in its simplistic form only exists among uninformed new atheists, as no social scientist adheres to it. Here’s the best overview of Inglehart’s work, who here is tracing the persistence of traditional values in developed countries.
          http://my.fit.edu/~gabrenya/cultural/readings/Inglehart-Baker-2000.pdf

          Paul’s work, however, is not as empirically strong as the Inglehart/Norris work for four reasons:
          1) He has no longitudinal element, he is merely studying correlations in a cross-sample snapshot of religious-secular views as reported in a single 1998 poll, and then evaluating correlations with various datasets from the following 10-12 years. That’s a shame because a) if you buy into the narrative of “religious nones” being on the rise in American culture, you are implicitly recognizing significant religious change can happen in a 10-year time period, and b) this one-time snapshot of correlations does not allow us to make statements about causation or causal direction. There was significantly more data available for Paul: why did he only use 1998 data?

          2) As I said earlier, scholarship that takes a rather narrow Europe vs. US view of religion and secularism made many many poor conclusions in the 1960s (this was when many sociologists were predicting the death of religion by the year 2000 because modernization theory seemed to obvious. Nearly all have recanted that view.) Paul is mainly still telling this Europe-US story (with the addition of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Canada, but these are relatively secular countries, which may suggest he was intentionally selective in who is being compared). He ignores the trends in Latin America, parts of Africa, parts of India, South Korea, and China where religion has exploded but does not seem to be bringing along these negative American attributes: measures of health and individual well-being are largely still on the rise in those places.

          3) Even Paul recognizes the limits of his ability to prove causal factors in his conclusion: Of these factors the US is exceptional only in the high level of religiosity, which strongly statistically correlates with adverse and insecure societal and economic conditions in in the developed democracy. So he’s found statistically-significant correlations within the US and outside the US, but this relationship could still be spurious. A careful scholar will immediately raise the question of whether this is a spurious relationship or perhaps happening “downstream” from a real relationship. The US has several conditions that make it unique to these other countries–geographical size, for one, a unique revolution that was not inherently anti-religion, the history of Great Awakenings, more reliance upon immigration in constituting its population (which typically increases religiosity), relatively religious original colonies that settled here first, earlier industrialization/urbanization than many countries–and unfortunately none of these can be ruled out; none of them were even discussed! Lawyer-logic looms large here.

          4) Finally, Paul makes a fatal error in cutting off the branch he’s sitting on when he wants to attack Rodney Stark and argue theism as decreased in the US. Wait a sec, shouldn’t you be telling us the US is the most super-God-worshipping country EVER so that you can then tie that to its relatively poor social outcomes for a developed democracy? Why try to tell us conservative churches and theism as a whole are inevitably dying in the US? Then you need to tell us an America-is-getting-better story to accompany that! Gotta make up your mind, Paul.

          In the end, all his stats show that the US is an outlier for particular social and economic outcomes, among a limited set of other developed democracies, at a certain point in history; the correlations with religion are really just a sort of best-guess guilty-by-association argument. He could overcome this limitation by either a) adding a longitudinal element b) showing us variation within the US in religiosity that correlates with variation in social outcomes, making the causal explanation much more statistically supported or c) actually giving attention to the recent rise in religion in many place around the world and tell us whether religious growth seems to be packaged with America-like social ills or not. (spoiler alert: it’s not)

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          Norris and Inglehart, however, are seen as anti-modernization theorists

          That’s interesting information about Norris & Inglehart, but this goes to a particular conclusion. I’m not going there; I’m simply citing Gregory Paul’s data. Clearly, the argument that better social metrics correlate with higher religiosity goes out the window.

          with the addition of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Canada, but these are relatively secular countries, which may suggest he was intentionally selective in who is being compared

          Then let’s go with other countries. You earlier mentioned modernization in Muslim countries; we could throw them into the pot. But that simply strengthens Paul’s argument.

          the trends in Latin America, parts of Africa, parts of India, South Korea, and China where religion has exploded but does not seem to be bringing along these negative American attributes

          The argument that religion brings a decrease in social metrics is harder to show, which is why I don’t make it. Seems like a much more complicated matter than this simple claim imagines.

        • Drewl

          Clearly, the argument that better social metrics correlate with higher religiosity goes out the window.
          Actually, no, it doesn’t: see China where both are on the rise. Or Kerala, which has the highest social metrics of any place in India but is still highly religious. Again, we now know there are many paths to modernization and its resulting positive social and health metrics; religion may or may not diminish during that process.

          I’ll admit: I have a guilty pleasure here in seeing if a thread on the foolishness of rejecting scholarly consensus lands on you rejecting scholarly consensus.

          Seems like a much more complicated matter than this simple claim imagines.
          This is the bottom line: it is far too complicated to conclude the simplistic argument Paul or many new atheists try to make.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          I’ll admit: I have a guilty pleasure here in seeing if a thread on the foolishness of rejecting scholarly consensus lands on you rejecting scholarly consensus.

          Huh? I’ve stated that I never reject the scientific consensus (and had bad thoughts about those outsiders who do).

          You sense some hypocrisy on this point? Great–point it out.

        • Drewl

          I’ve been glad to see people moving away from the “religion poisons everything” belief, as that’s on par with young-earth creationism as far as believing something scholars universally reject. But your knee-jerk rejection of the possibility of better social metrics correlating with religion would also land you on the wrong side of scholarly consensus because of careful study of cases mentioned above. So yes, if you choose dogma over facts on that question, you’ve got a hypocrisy problem.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          But your knee-jerk rejection of the possibility of better social metrics correlating with religion would also land you on the wrong side of scholarly consensus because of careful study of cases mentioned above.

          (1) What knee-jerk rejection?

          (2) What consensus? You’ve made a case for one side of the issue. OK, thanks for the input. How the opposition has been tried, convicted, and executed is lost on me.

          So yes, if you choose dogma over facts on that question, you’ve got a hypocrisy problem.

          Is there or is there not hypocrisy? If your point is only that it’s possible in the future, that’s true for any of us. If you’ve seen me praise the scientific consensus and then reject it, I want to see this.

          I admit to a guilty pleasure in seeing if, after waving about a charge of hypocrisy, you might not actually have any evidence.

        • Drewl

          Drewl:But your knee-jerk rejection of the possibility of better social metrics correlating with religion would also land you on the wrong side of scholarly consensus…

          Bob: (1) What knee-jerk rejection?

          Here it is from 12/22/2012 at 10:20am:

          Bob: Clearly, the argument that better social metrics correlate with higher religiosity goes out the window.

          You want to clarify?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          You want to clarify?

          I referenced Gregory Paul’s stats. They show that this correlation doesn’t exist. What’s to clarify?

        • Drewl

          You’ve made a case for one side of the issue. OK, thanks for the input. How the opposition has been tried, convicted, and executed is lost on me.

          Actually I just cited the scholarly consensus on the issues at hand. That’s merely “one side of the issue,” eh? So now you’re a “teach the controversy” guy.

          The facts are on the table, all I see coming from you now is personal attacks. Not sure where your “oppositional” side is, but it’s certainly not being spelled out here.

        • Drewl

          Ah I see. If you’re admitting the possibility that religion and social metrics can improve side-by-side, as we’ve seen in some cases, then congratulations, you’re not an anti-intellectual scholary-consensus-defier on this point, and I did misunderstand you. My bad.

          You’re also going to get kicked out of the religion-poisions-everything club. Tough choice here. And right after the Hitchens sacralization post…awkward timing.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          Actually I just cited the scholarly consensus on the issues at hand

          Then show us that it’s the consensus.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          then congratulations, you’re not an anti-intellectual scholary-consensus-defier on this point

          Uh, thanks. Or something. I guess.

          You’re also going to get kicked out of the religion-poisions-everything club.

          And since I was never in this club, this affects me how … ? This will sound bizarre to you, but I want to find the truth. I follow the evidence. I have no use for dogma. No, not awkward timing, and I don’t have Hitchens as my pope (it’s Dawkins–duh).

          In the future, if you could just save your ad hominems and character assassinations and snark, that’d be swell. Maybe you could instead, oh I dunno, focus on the actual arguments in the post?

    • J-Rex

      I seem to have missed the part where we all signed an atheism contract stating that we all must believe that religion poisons literally everything.

  • jose

    You demolish a scientific consensus by doing the work, not just by proclaiming impending revolutions.

    How are creationists doing in that regard? Not well!

    I don’t know about climate change but I suspect the picture is about as desolate as the creationist one.

  • Beth

    Interesting conversation. Thanks.

    I think Drewl has a valid point regarding atheist’s dismissal of the consensus of religious scholars and creationist’s dismissal of biologists consensus on evolution.

    I’ve seen show a remarkable correlation between lack of religion and positive social metrics

    I’ve seen such statistics. However, my understanding is that the direction of causality is that the positive social metrics lead to less religion. That is, when society is not functioning well and those who are struggling turn to religion, not that turning away from religion leads to a better society. I think Marx may have gotten that part right.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Beth:

      I think Drewl has a valid point regarding atheist’s dismissal of the consensus of religious scholars and creationist’s dismissal of biologists consensus on evolution.

      But you do see that a religious consensus on the interesting issues (How many god(s) are there? What are their name(s)? What are their properties?) doesn’t exist.

      Straining to salvage something for his side, drewl points to consensus on scholarly minutia. Sure, like other historians, religious scholars can reach a consensus on some particular of a document. Interesting stuff, of course, but I call this minutia simply to contrast it with the big issues (which it’s not).

      Contrast that to science, where equivalent questions (What is an electron? How much does it weigh? How do you know?) are universally agreed to among relevant scientists.

      my understanding is that the direction of causality is that the positive social metrics lead to less religion.

      Yes, that hypothesis seems to explain things best for me. It’s tempting, of course, to imagine that more religion leads to worsening social conditions, but I think you’re right that religiosity is a symptom of a society with problems.

      • Drewl

        Two corrections:

        Beth: I actually wouldn’t make the charge that atheists are dismissing the consensus of religious scholars (notice it’s not in my fill-in-the-blank reject-the-consensus post). Religious scholars are all over the board on things: many of them are in fact atheist or studying religion from a very minimalist perspective–they’re operating from a “none of this happened, but we can understand something about culture or literate or history through studying it” perspective. I believe both you and Bob see religious scholars–and particularly Biblical scholars–as the sacred guardians of orthodox religious belief that atheists proudly defy as heretics; many religious scholars are just as likely to be “heretics” themselves (see: The Jesus Seminar)

        Bob: You’re still not grasping what “Biblical scholars” do. No one at Yale, Oxford, Cambridge doing Biblical studies does research on or makes arguments for “how many gods there are” or “what god’s name is,” and they really couldn’t care less how others answer those questions. You need to realize most of the religious world does not resemble the apologists that you read for fun. I provided those links so you could get a feel for what those scholars actually do, which is write papers like: The Strata of the Priestly Writings: Contemporary Debate and Future Directions or New Idioms within Old: Poetry and Parallelism in the Non-Masoretic Poems of 11Q5(= 11QPsa) (this is someone studying the dead sea scrolls). I never pointed to a “consensus on scholarly minutia” in this field, so you’re altering my argument significantly. I did suggest if you actually paid attention to this field, you would be pleased with its overall tone and conclusions–Bart Ehrman got his PhD at Princeton and, while now more of a popular than academic writer, is still very much in line with the field’s methods and critical views. But you’d first have to recognize this field existed AND is not some theological inquisition court pontificating on official theology–so far you haven’t gotten that far. Perhaps the confusion comes from me bringing up Biblical studies not as an example of scholarly consensus being violated by atheists, but as a scholarly field that you as a layperson seem to have no problem meddling in. I brought it up solely to get a better understanding of the double standard you seem to operate from: pastors should stop pretending to be biologists, but you can do Scripture scholarship with absolutely no training or language skills. Still waiting for an explanation; you did not provide one above.

        …my understanding is that the direction of causality is that the positive social metrics lead to less religion….(Bob) Yes, that hypothesis seems to explain things best for me.

        And that’d be an intellectually respectable hypothesis….50 years ago, but not today. Today, since we’ve seen multiple countries embrace both religion and modernized institutions as they’ve developed increased standards of living, scholars have recognized the existence of “multiple modernities” (google it) which see positive social metrics increasing hand-in-hand with an increased growth in religion. See China, for example: there are 70-80 million Christians there today that weren’t there 60 years ago, yet the country also saw improvement in nearly all social and health metrics over the same period of time.

        Since you like your beliefs to be empirically verified, I would imagine you’ll be abandoning your hypothesis and adopting a more scientifically-verifiable belief about religion’s interaction with social metrics. Let me know if you need any assistance with sources to draw upon.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          many religious scholars are just as likely to be “heretics” themselves (see: The Jesus Seminar)

          That may be going a bit far, but I agree that Bible scholars often do excellent, unbiased work.

          No one at Yale, Oxford, Cambridge doing Biblical studies does research on or makes arguments for “how many gods there are” or “what god’s name is,” and they really couldn’t care less how others answer those questions.

          Which is why your “Aha! You’re dissing competent scholars from the world’s best universities!” is off topic. I’m not talking about that category.

          I never pointed to a “consensus on scholarly minutia” in this field, so you’re altering my argument significantly.

          I think we’re talking about the same category; I’m simply (hyperbolically and unfairly) categorizing what they do as minutia. In an absolute sense it’s not, but obviously compared to the big questions (Where do you plan on roasting in eternity?), these issues don’t matter.

          I did suggest if you actually paid attention to this field, you would be pleased with its overall tone and conclusions

          You’re off on a tangent. No one’s there except you.

          But you’d first have to recognize this field existed AND is not some theological inquisition court pontificating on official theology–so far you haven’t gotten that far.

          ?? I don’t know who you’re hot under the collar about, but this description doesn’t fit me.

          pastors should stop pretending to be biologists, but you can do Scripture scholarship with absolutely no training or language skills. Still waiting for an explanation; you did not provide one above.

          I’ve made my position quite clear to everyone, I think, though you seem determined to not get it.

          There are three domains here. Biology (the domain of biologists), biblical scholarship (the domain of the relevant experts), and whatever you want to call the category that lay Christians and atheists inhabit (“religion,” perhaps?). The first two are for experts only; the latter is for laymen.

        • Drewl

          I’ve made my position quite clear to everyone, I think, though you seem determined to not get it.

          There are three domains here. Biology (the domain of biologists), biblical scholarship (the domain of the relevant experts), and whatever you want to call the category that lay Christians and atheists inhabit (“religion,” perhaps?). The first two are for experts only; the latter is for laymen.

          You’ve never made this point. In fact this is a significant development: earlier you were agreeing with Kodie that Biblical Studies is more of a hobby like being a baseball fan; she’s going to be disappointed you now acknowledge it’s a domain of relevant experts, for experts only, who can do “excellent” work.

          Now that you acknowledge you’re a layperson in “whatever you want to call the category that lay Christians and atheists inhabit,” I’d still like to know why an MIT grad without a faith affiliation or formal education in anything related to the Bible chooses to meddle around in that category. Why exactly do you think anyone would give you any credibility, if they know from the get-go you have an agenda and are lawyer-logic-ing your way through everything you read? You’ll always find plenty of circle-jerk head nodding from atheists, but that seems like a strange way for them to spend their time, praising astute takedowns of scripture by a completely unqualified layperson. Meanwhile any religious person with questions who wants a fair presentation of facts would probably leaves this “third category” altogether to go read the real scholars on the issue, leaving your sole audience to be the already-convinced atheists. It’s a strange little circus you have going here.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          You’ve never made this point.

          I doubt anyone but you is amazed. This is no new information from my standpoint. But if I can bring a smile to your cherubic little face, that makes it a day well spent in my book.

          In fact this is a significant development: earlier you were agreeing with Kodie that Biblical Studies is more of a hobby like being a baseball fan; she’s going to be disappointed you now acknowledge it’s a domain of relevant experts, for experts only, who can do “excellent” work.

          Again, not a retrenchment. If you want to imagine one, Merry Christmas.

          if they know from the get-go you have an agenda and are lawyer-logic-ing your way through everything you read?

          ??

          You’ll always find plenty of circle-jerk head nodding from atheists, but that seems like a strange way for them to spend their time, praising astute takedowns of scripture by a completely unqualified layperson.

          Tell me what qualifications you think someone needs before making a public statement of opinion on this subject.

          It’s a strange little circus you have going here.

          And what’s truly pathetic is that you, one of the very few who sees through this little charade, hangs around. For the rest of us who are stupid and confused, it’s understandable. But for you … ? Kinda sad.

        • Kodie

          You’ve never made this point. In fact this is a significant development: earlier you were agreeing with Kodie that Biblical Studies is more of a hobby like being a baseball fan; she’s going to be disappointed you now acknowledge it’s a domain of relevant experts, for experts only, who can do “excellent” work.

          I never said there was anything wrong with digging trivia.

          Meanwhile any religious person with questions who wants a fair presentation of facts would probably leaves this “third category” altogether to go read the real scholars on the issue, leaving your sole audience to be the already-convinced atheists. It’s a strange little circus you have going here.

          For a side show, we have the Persistent! the Irrelevant! Drewl, the Hobby-Horse-Riding Flea!

  • smrnda

    DrewL, Society without god (at least my read) tended to consciously avoid making comments about causation; I think the author was hesitant to do so because the book wasn’t intended to be a ‘bash religion’ book. I’ll try to get the other book on the queue. But on how people treat each other – I have known enough Europeans who say things like yes, the welfare state does take care of your kids in a pinch, and 30 hour workweeks and limits on people working unusual hours provide them with closer ties to neighbors. I don’t think lack of religious belief can be the be-all cause of this this (Ayn Rand anyone?) but much how advanced medicine takes healing away from the priest and gives it to the doctor, once you start fixing social problems using (basically) sound engineering principles, it’s one less thing to ask god for. As people deliver the goods, people see god as less relevant. Though as far as places that have become more Christian, standard of living in China has actually decreased for quite a few people as well as life expectancy, mostly in the interest of securing foreign investment because of low labor costs.

    Whenever people contrast ‘the religious’ from the ‘not religious’ I am always concerned about how they’re partitioning people. If I say ‘religious people get divorced less often’ and I’m only including regular church attenders, then I’m lumping both professed atheists and the nominally religious in the same category. I actually wonder sometimes if nominal belief or disbelief (or nominal membership) is correlated with negative outcomes as a person without firm convictions one way or another may just not be very thoughtful. I’m actually going to look if anyone’s done research.

    Also, you are right to contrast “Biblical studies” from say, theology or “Bible studies” as they’d be taught at a Christian college. . I mean, I can study a religion and not believe in it, but know a lot about its history and the history of major figures in the religion. Though I think when atheists critique religion it’s important to figure out if they’re critiques are based on things they lack the knowledge to attack. I mean, I reject the idea that homosexuality is wrong. The Catholics told me to read Humanae Vitae. Read it, then they told me to read Aquinus. Every time I read something and ask for the Catholic position, summed up nicely and neatly, I’m told to read another document full of dense, obfuscating language. So to me, I’m convinced that this is a goal-post shifting, and that if there were good, clear reasons they would just come out and make a case.

    However, there’s a lot of questions about whether certain figures existed, or whether certain events happened. The Fundamentalist with his degree from Bob Jones says Yes they did, and the Biblical scholar says no they didn’t or at least not the way they were depicted. However, the problem to me is whether or not the Biblical scholar’s findings help the ‘pro-religion’ case or are even relevant to it.

    • Drewl

      Glad to see someone else knows what Biblical studies are.

      …but much how advanced medicine takes healing away from the priest and gives it to the doctor, once you start fixing social problems using (basically) sound engineering principles, it’s one less thing to ask god for.

      There’s some merit to this on a global scale, but it gets complicated in the American context where the poorest people are not necessarily the most religious.

      If I say ‘religious people get divorced less often’ and I’m only including regular church attenders, then I’m lumping both professed atheists and the nominally religious in the same category.

      Actually at least one study specifically separated out the atheists. The results: atheists are highly unlikely to get divorce. Now mostly that’s because atheism exists predominately among people with higher educations and education is by far the best predictor of likely divorce. I can’t remember if the effect of atheism is still there when education is controlled for, but I know it’s still there for the religious.

      I actually wonder sometimes if nominal belief or disbelief (or nominal membership) is correlated with negative outcomes as a person without firm convictions one way or another may just not be very thoughtful.

      My guess is: doubtful, since most of America is in this “theist-but-only-moderately-religious”camp. This majority is so large that it spans most social outcomes, from prison populations to the 1%. It’d be difficult to make the empirical case that nominal beliefs are much of a predictor for anything.

      …I’m told to read another document full of dense, obfuscating language. So to me, I’m convinced that this is a goal-post shifting, and that if there were good, clear reasons they would just come out and make a case.
      I’m not sure I follow you here: I think the people you’re dealing with actually believe the best “good, clear” reasons come from church documents and Aquinas. You’re asking for “the Catholic position,” they tell you to go read Catholic documents; how is that goalpost shifting? I believe they are under the impression their best “good, clear reasons” are in those documents, so I don’t see why you’re demanding they “come out and make the case”–they did! And they wrote it down for you to read! But whether you find it persuasive is another matter….

      • Bob Seidensticker

        There’s some merit to this on a global scale, but it gets complicated in the American context where the poorest people are not necessarily the most religious.

        All the more reason to have society responsible for its citizens and not hope that churches and other nonprofits will pick up the pieces.

  • MNb

    “I call this minutia simply to contrast it with the big issues”
    Personally I don’t find the issues you mentioned big at all. A much bigger issue to me is the question if we can learn from say the Bible what thoughts and ideas people a long time ago had. For this issue we need Biblical scholarship, I think. If that’s the point Drewl makes I’m on his side.
    The questions you call big are only big because believers say they are big. I think them irrelevant. Any answer on them doesn’t affect my life at all. So why should I bother?

    • Kodie

      A much bigger issue to me is the question if we can learn from say the Bible what thoughts and ideas people a long time ago had. For this issue we need Biblical scholarship, I think. If that’s the point Drewl makes I’m on his side.

      It’s interesting, but non-essential. It’s not the worst thing in the world to be seriously interested in a subject, nor is the worst way to make a living doing something that you’re passionate about. Science – I would not say it’s essential to be an expert, but literacy is essential. At a minimum, know how the scientific process ideally works and why we know what we do know, and how experts know how they know what they’re telling you. People with no background in science are making things up that are not true because they deny reality, and they’re not scientists, nor using any scientific method to arrive at their conclusions – and what is their excuse – and selling those ideas to you, and if you’re uneducated enough that you can’t tell that apart from reality, then it’s going to affect your life, and my life, and everyone else’s lives. Are you saying global warming doesn’t affect you, so you believe any crap and do what you want to do? Are you saying, for example, you don’t trust medicine so you might try some herbal remedies because someone told you, or do you look it up and see if results you expect are scientifically supported? There is no comparison to biblical studies besides perhaps the amount of time studying. There are some things one is not entitled to their own opinion about.

      Drewl can’t tell the difference between what you need to know and what you don’t need to know.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      MNb:

      For this issue we need Biblical scholarship, I think. If that’s the point Drewl makes I’m on his side.

      In that case, I suspect that drewl is not on yours. The issues of textual criticism and the Big Questions® of Christianity (Why are we here? What is our Purpose? And so on) for most Christians are not at all of the same importance.

  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken, yet fabulous, atheist,

    I’ve just found an interesting site, which I hope you will enjoy as much as did:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dates_predicted_for_apocalyptic_events

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Nice! I’m looking forward to our next Christian-based end of the world prediction, 5/19/13.


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