Atheists in America – Part 2

Atheists in America – Part 2 April 20, 2013

This is a continuation of my series on atheists which is based on a book I have coming out, co-written with David Williamson, titled There is no God: Atheists in America (Rowman and Littlefield). In the first blog I discussed how I collected data on atheists. Now I can dive into the findings. The first finding I want to explore is how atheists perceive science.

In the first blog, I noted that atheists tend to use science to legitimate their beliefs. I am not just talking about their beliefs about the possible existence of the supernatural, but also their beliefs about themselves and what is important in life. This is reasonable given that atheists, for obvious reasons, cannot use religion to justify their concerns. Atheists tend to see science as the way to create a better world and religion as the barrier to that better world.
In contemporary society there is a tension between science and religion. While there may have always been a tension between science and religion, it is not clear that science and religion have to be seen in conflict with each other. In fact, there is solid philosophical work arguing that science and religion do not contradict. Perhaps most famous is the argument of “non-overlapping magisterial” by Gould which suggests that there are areas where science reigns supreme and areas where religion reigns supreme but that those two areas are distinct from each other. Regardless of arguments such as this one, it is clear that science-religion conflict is seen as normative today. In that conflict atheists envision themselves on the side of science. The image of science as a rational methodology for understanding reality appeals to the average atheist’s own sense that he/she bases his/her actions on rationality instead of on emotionalism.
It is not surprising that atheists see religion as incompatible with science. For example, one of the atheists we interviewed, let’s call him Ralph, is especially confused at the idea that scientists can be religious. For Ralph science and religion do not mix as he sees science as “based on the idea of experimentation involving knowledge and change of knowledge” while religion is “fundamentally based on faith and I don’t see particularly how they (science and religion) can coexist.” Accordingly, Ralph contends that for individuals to have religious beliefs they must be ignorant of science. When the topic of religious scientists came up he made it clear that he had a hard time understanding how a highly educated scientist is able to retain religious faith. In fact, one of the last statements he made at the end of the interview was “ …it would be an interesting conversation to have somebody highly intelligent, you know well educated person that has a religious belief that might be a conversation I will undertake, it is going to be really curious to see how they can reconcile that.”
In Ralph we see the belief of the incompatibility of religion and science. His interpretation of this conflict is religion being conflated with ignorance and irrationality while science is connected to a rational approach to life. Another one of our interviewees reinforces this perspective:
Science is about finding the best way of doing things, the best knowledge that we can acquire. Religion has nothing to do with either of those, absolutely nothing. They’re not compatible ‘cause they’re going to ignore the facts. You can’t be a scientist. If you wanna be a scientist you can’t be religious. They don’t fit together. Oil and water.

This was a common theme in both the interviews and online responses. This perception establishes the relationship of religion to science in the eyes of the atheists. It also plays an important role in the social identity atheists have developed. Atheists clearly define themselves as not religious and since they do not see themselves as religious, they perceive themselves as not having the problems they associate with religion, such as the inability of the religious to understand scientific truth. For many respondents, being an atheist is akin to being a lover of science and a lover of truth.
For many atheists, science is the way to discover truth. Our atheist respondents were rarely nihilists who state that there is no truth. Perhaps the belief that truth cannot be discovered is more common among agnostics or those who are spiritual but not religious. But atheists contend that truth can be discovered with the proper application of science. They see people of faith as afraid to seek out truth since finding that truth may mean the end of their faith. In the example below, note how this respondent is sympathetic to her friend but envisions her friend as hiding from the truth through religion:
For some people, they may not be willing to question things or are happy where they’re at. I know someone who’s very, very strongly a Christian, mostly because she has found happiness in religion, so to her, why upset that? Because she doesn’t feel that truth has its own intrinsic value. She feels that the search for happiness has its own intrinsic value, and so it has a lot to do with your values, your personality, of course your upbringing and how you’re been taught to question things and think about things.

Atheists see themselves as clear thinkers in comparison to their religious peers. They do not limit this perception to their ideas about social and political activism, but also envision their decisions in their everyday lives as the products of clear thinking.
Humans have a need to create a social identity that supports their self-esteem and one which they believe leads to the right values. This is true across different cultures and sub-cultures so it is not a surprise that atheists create a social identity that meets such social needs. In light of their need for a social identity that builds esteem, we can make more sense of the atheist claims of understanding reality in a superior manner to religious individuals. This confidence leads to the development of an atheist social identity based on the perception that their personal and social decisions are centered in “rational” science as opposed to “irrational” religion. For some atheists it is not just that religion is illogical. Religion is also problematic to society. This is particularity the case when religion threatens to interfere with government. Because atheists tend to have a dichotomous vision of science being logical and religion illogical, they tend to see the intrusion of “illogical” religion into government as troublesome. In a future blog I will look more at the sort of solutions atheists suggest for our society, but obviously those solutions will include less religious influence in the government and our general society.
Atheists envision the priority of science as a key component of their social identity. Science is not merely a social tool to many atheists, but it is also an important way they conceptualize a vision of their place in our society. Understanding an atheist social identity is important for comprehending why certain individuals become atheists. Given the centrality of science in the creation of the atheist social identity, there is little wonder that atheists are overrepresented in elite positions in scientific fields. But it is not the only element of an atheist social identity. In my next blog I will look closely at another important element of that social identity.

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  • Psy

    “I noted that atheists tend to use science to legitimate their beliefs.”

    What beliefs?

    Reading this propaganda is like stepping into an alternate universe.

    I never joined a religion, big deal.

    • George Yancey

      When you can prove atheism then I will stop saying that it is a belief. Until then I understand that you consider atheism best explains evidence as you understand it. But there is still a belief aspect to it nonetheless.

      • Psy

        Prove what? Oh I see you are using a narrow definition of the term ‘atheism’ and a broad definition of belief.

        Why don’t you explain your definition of ‘belief so we can all agree or disagree on your premises.

        Personally I don’t label myself as atheist or anything else, its a label people seem to have put on me after 9/11.
        I suppose doubter, pessimist, or skeptic might fit for me. I think the big bang theory is wrong while its one of the best models at the moment, I have an ongoing debate against the Higgs boson with some university math professor. He starting to agree with me after the last peer revue he read on it, but that will change for both of us as more information comes available. As much as the theory of quantum fluctuations supports one of my favorite theories I’m not convinced that’s what the Casimir Effect has proven. I’m acquainted with the physicists who took did the measurements back around 1998 and still have unanswered questions.
        When or if science comes around to agreeing with me, I start looking for week arguments against it.

        I’m not saying there is no ‘God’ , I’m saying without some testable hypothesis its not an issue of interest to explore.

        • Psy

          “I start looking for week arguments against it.”
          That should read ‘ I start looking for weak points and arguments against it. ‘

        • George Yancey

          I simply define beliefs as something that has not been proven. People who beleive their is a God have a belief. People who do not belief in God have a belief. I acknowledge that some beleifs are more likley than others (i.e. belief in the Rangers winning the World Series is more likely to be true than the beleif that the Padres are going to win the World Series) but that does not mean that they are not beliefs. I am not saying that athiesm, or you put yourself a skeptic, are religions. I would argue that people without traditioanl religious beliefs meet many of the needs of religion in other ways but it may not be thorugh atheism. Nonetheless until atheist can prove, and I define prove as showing that the alternatives are not possible, atheism then I will represent it as a belief.

          • Coffey3C

            Unfortunately, Professor, your use of the term belief is still very narrow, and self serving. There is only one unproven belief that is germane to understanding atheism. Your explanation struggles to demonstrate some understanding via what I see as secondary comparisons. (Though I certainly recognize many of your findings as accurate, it is the absence of more fundamental comparisons t that render the conclusions incomplete. Atheists are merely people who reject what theists represent not only as fact, but also as a unifying truth for the whole nature and existence of the universe, and as such it is still the rejection of one specific belief. You can call it a belief, and I’m okay with that as a limit of the language, but equating the two is simply being conflicting beliefs is wrong. Worse to suggest that atheists would have to prove a negative, is an error in logic, and in that instance you are demonstrably wrong.

            I’d also like to point out where you made a similar omission. I agree that being an atheist and a scientist are part of a social identity, and that many of my friends and colleagues would be happy to admit that they nurture and reinforce that image deliberately. However, complete understanding demands another simple comparison, which is in reality. The realistic , extant, provable kind of reality.

            Both science and religion seek to explain the nature of reality, with really is their most profound commonality. Science does so through the scientific method, which guides us to accept the reality of our observations even over our fondest preconceptions; and religion, by demands that all facts be interpreted, and subverted, to a unifying preconception – or as we atheist/natural philosophers see it – by making stuff up. To focus on the fact that I see my credibility as linked with my understanding of what is real, while ignoring this fundamental difference in perception, is an equally unjustifiable oversight. I don’t reject fallacies, psychoses, dogmatism, and prejudice, merely because they impact my self-image, I do so because my understanding of reality dictates they do actual harm.

            I can also tell you, that thought it becomes obvious the first time you watch the news, that the average IQ of 100 does in fact mean that we have otherwise valued members of the human race who fall well below that mark; most scientists, and most Atheists with whom I’ve discussed this, are very careful not to call even the most zealous theist stupid or ignorant. That kind of prejudicial thinking is unacceptable, from no matter whom. Ignorance, stupidity, and dishonesty, we have aplenty within the ranks of theological apologists and scientists as well; but, there are also many smart and well informed people in there too. We look upon them not as ignorant, but rather that there is a deeper and more insidious nature to their inability to accept what reality presents: Fear, indoctrination, and skewed reasoning

            Lastly, for my friends, many of whom were theists themselves, you need to talk a little more about compartmentalization when you talk about theistic scientists. Any good scientist need only follow the facts he is presented, and reason objectively. Other than that, he may ride a plastic pony to work wearing a snorkel and swim fins, yet still function, as indeed, even theists may do. However, given that religion and science look at reality in two completely different, and in fact conflicting ways, all he need to is to consider that the nature of the universe is to be accepted for what it is, and his attribution to whatever reality he finds to some deity is in no way a conflict with the basic precepts of Science. In my experience the people who believe that Science and religion cannot coexist, either don’t understand the Science, or they don’t understand the nature of their religion, or in my experience, they fall into the majority who understand neither.

            That having been said, this coexistence is neither commensalism, nor communalism, nor is it even in any way static. Wherever they meet, science and understanding, are continually forcing theism back. I claim no all encompassing knowledge, indeed far from it, but I can’t think of a single insistence where some theistic polemic or exegesis overturned some direct measurement or finding of science.

            Yes, my identity as a former scientist and a natural philosopher, is as important to my sense of self as my atheism… however, let us not forget that this is a diametric not just in how we measure ourselves, but rather in how we circumscribe the nature of reality – a reality that does not conform itself to even our fondest preconceptions.


          • George Yancey

            I fail to see how my defintion is self-serving. Simply put if it cannot be proven then it is a belief. Nothing in your comments prove atheism so it is a beleif. It seems to me to be self-serving to imply otherwise. We all like to think that we have the right beleifs which are facts while everyone is wrong. Sometimes we are right but until we are proven right it is philosophically honest to admit that we have a beleif, a beleif we feel the evidence matches best, but a beleif nonetheless.
            I get that you do not see your scientific values as part of reality more than as part of your social identity. As I mentioned, part of our social identity is to meet important needs such as esteem. Generally we do not see our identity as anything other than reality. But that does not dismiss the work indicating how we use our social identity to meet improtant needs and then legitmate that identity with a view of reality that we see as objective and true.
            There is also a concept known as confirmation bias that I think is at work as well. We tend to develop our presuppostions and then selectively look for evidence that supprots those presuppositions. As such it is reasonable to think that reality is as we beleive our understanding of science has taught us to believe it. Individuals can rely on the legitmation of science to think that their understanding of reality is objectively true. But theories of confirmaiton bias illustrates that it is at those times that we ignore conflicting evidence to hold on to our beliefs.
            I make no claims that I am free of that bias. I will state that I have read the arguments of atheists and non-theists. That does not free me from the bias but it helps me to understand alternatives to my beleif system better. If you are going to claim that the theists are objectively wrong, as well as merely driven by fear and indoctrination, then I would ask if you have read apologists such as Willaim Lane Craig, Lee Stobel or even Josh McDowell? If not then how can you be sure that you are not a victim of confirmation bias? I think we all have to guard against that if we want to be more critcially thinking.

          • Coffey3C

            No one expects you to be free of bias, but when that bias seems obvious, it really needs to be pointed out. Suggesting self image is a motivation for an atheist to cleave to a scientific world view, is an interesting take, but it ignores the overwhelming reason that Science provides the best explanations of the reality in which we all live. That is the fundamental relationship between atheists who have a scientific bent, and Science. In the absence of making that fact unmistakably clear, I would say that your data set on atheists was far too small, and that your conclusions – even though I agree with them in the parts they represent – seem trivial in the absence of at least acknowledging the bigger picture.
            It seems as obvious to me as if you have carefully questioned a handful of post pubescent teenagers on reality and self perception, and tried to extend that to an argument that codifies the whole of the human condition. Your arguments, to this atheist at least, are serving more of the conclusion you wanted here. You may not realize this yourself, and as we all carry bias we cannot recognize within ourselves, I do not condemn you for having it. I do, on the other hand, question that you did not look further in your research, to be able to find the opinions I am giving to you now. They are quite common in the discussions we atheists all too often have. In the absence of that more fundamental and seminal truth, to discuss science as a fashion choice for atheists, is as nonsensical as a Christian fundamentalist suggesting that Atheists are that way because they are angry at god; or who question how a non-theist can be moral without some ultimate truth, promulgated by god. There are answers to those questions, but first you must address the point that this theistic view is held in the exclusion of the obvious, and with an obvious bias.
            I am very sorry.
            Also, you say professor that it is not within the scope of your research to draw conclusions regarding the truth of the god clam, but you make what struck me as a disingenuous claim that until atheists can prove a negative, or can support some ridiculous null hypothesis about some non-corporeal, non-evident, non-extant, but nevertheless omnipotent being who burns people forever because he loves them… Well I will bow to your extensive reading. If you will kindly take all that you have learned in your interviews of both theistic apologists, and these apparently self absorbed atheists, and you prove that the Greek God Zeus is not currently living on the top of Olympus Mons, on Mars… with cable; and, I will gratefully acknowledge any valid method you come up with, and use it to disprove the Christian God. I will even send notes to all the logicians, epistemologists, and philosophers that I can find, and explain to them you have accomplished what they have so long held to be infeasible. (Yes, that was a bit sarchastic, because I found the whole ‘until you prove me wrong’ approach inapt scientifically, and in terms of this subject. )
            As for Philosophy, I have spoken with Lane Craig, some many long years ago, and I have read Four or five(?) of his books. I think one must acknowledge that virtually any well recognized practitioner of Philosophy is quite likely to be one of the smartest of people. However, that only makes their bias more disturbing, and more specious as they grow more profound. In the case of Craig, his bias is a common one, in that he does not recognize that no matter how carefully crafted an argument, that no matter how internally consistent and aesthetically pleasing, it does not alter reality.
            This is why Science accomplished so little before we threw the “If there is an infinite god, the only thing worthy of his attention is consideration of himself,” crowd out.
            “Something can’t come from Nothing!” I don’t know what a nothing is, because in all the reading and all countless of sitting and giving of lectures, I can’t point to a single instance of such a nothing. “If the universe exists, it must have had a beginning (… and therefore god.) … but as I’ve said… no. Facts not in evidence. I can show you how a universe could begin via the various theories, and how something that could be considered a universe, can spring into existence. In every case, there is there no “nothing” involved, and these transitions seem to be the direct result of the nature of the universe and the nature of existence itself. Of course, this applies the same with other transcendental arguments, which rely on arguments of identity and excluded middle, which at their heart may be transcendental only in that they describe the nature of existence in this universe. Something is real or it is not real. It is conjectural or it is not conjectural. In a logical system they may seem axiomatic, but when you are looking for lost Neutrinos, or additional dimensions that explain nuclear forces, these assertions are hardly as profound, and may not even be truthful statements.
            Sometimes, the Bias is in not telling the rest of the story.
            On that same very hot evening in Atlanta, that Doctor Craig didn’t enjoy my very polite responses to his questions, another theist tried what he thought an amazing approach. He suggested that if ninety percent of the people in this nice little mid-western town are friends with this Awesome guy named Bob, that the atheist is nothing other than a fool for not believing he exists, based on the fact that he is one of the few who has not actually met him. (This argument actually got a fairly large chuckle of approval when it was given, if you can believe that.) To that man (who’s name I can never seem to dredge up), I suggested that it was such a great story, why didn’t he tell the rest of it?
            The fellow looked at me, and said that was the story.
            I suggested to him that I thought it was not, because it ignored the obvious and insidious atheist apologetic ploy that I would use, in suggesting: “Bob sounds great. Invite him over, to the barbeque, and we can talk.”
            “ Well he doesn’t talk really…” The friendly theist would say.
            “Well… we can find someone who knows sign language…”
            The theist would insist, “That wouldn’t work, because you can’t see him.”
            “What?” I would ask with a frown of concern.
            “He’s invisible… Oh he could show himself if he wanted to, but he stays invisible.”
            Leaning further from the pilgrim, “Well how do you know he is there? How do you know him?”
            “Well, see that bench. He made that –”
            “…Oh! So he’s a carpenter …”
            “Yes! And he also made that tree, and the birds in the tree…”
            “The tree?” I would ask, Backing away slowly.
            “… and all the Birds and all the trees! And if only you believe in him, when you get to that last stoplight at the end of town, you will go to a never-ending party with all your friends… But! if you don’t, remember, it’s right back through the junk yard, where you get put through the shredder. Not Once!, oh no; but over and over and over again!”
            “I have to go… I have laundry in the washer–”
            “Wait… It’s only because he loves you!”

            You haven’t reached the truth of the story, until you’ve read the rest of it, Professor. Sometimes a snarky atheist like myself, likes natural philosophy because we really cannot see any other valid alternative. We may like who we are, and even do so to an inordinate extent (I, though usually quiet with manners that have been described as courtly, suffer the insistence of my beloved wife that I suffer from a deplorable excess of personality… and that I’m not funny), but first you have to deal with what reality is, and how rational and educated people educe the nature of its existence through science. Only then can you really understand why we won’t give all of that up to worship something not in evidence, that conflicts with all that we can actually touch, smell and see.

            I think that my presupposition is that I have an abiding personal relationship with reality, even if my obvious biases are just as strong, but they don’t seem to negate the argument.

            I look forward to your next, and though I’ll probably reserve comment, and did enjoy thinking about your different viewpoint.


            [ Oh, and after a point, we have no “reply” button, so sorry for the weird posting in response, but your thoughtful response certainly merited one in turn.]

          • George Yancey

            I just glanced through the response. Don’t have time to go into all of that and point out the logical fallacies, such as assuming that you are giving me a common perspective among atheists. So I will just let your comment stand for what it is. The only thing I will state is that I never claimed I was without bias. I think it is clear what your biases are and it is also pretty clear that you do not see your biases yourself. So I will simply agree to disagree at this point.

          • Casey Glass

            C3C states
            “Unfortunately, Professor, your use of the term belief is still very narrow, and self serving. There is only one unproven belief that is germane to understanding atheism. ”

            I find this comment quite interesting. I have not encountered any use of the word “belief” in this or the previous blog post that uses it in any manner other than the conventional way. In other words, it has been used in the way that is consistent with how it is defined in both conventional common use and that of the social sciences. In your comments here and the earlier blog I cannot understand your objection other that contending that the premise is false, i.e. that there is no subject on which to have a belief. This is of course positing an a priori position that is only shared among your own belief community so you should not be surprised when others do not agree to your objection and do not understand the reasons for it.

            In other words, it is fine that you don’t think that you have a belief, but no one else agrees with that, and it is those other people this book and blog are also speaking to.

          • Coffey3C

            Casey Glass:

            One of the things that I truly do not understand, is why this point is so hard.

            My objection has nothing to do with the definition of “belief.” For the record, a belief can be anything that people hold as true. In clarification you should know that it has nothing to do with whether or not the premise is true, only that a person holds it as true.
            and… I don’t care. The author is using this term for atheism, and within the limit of the language, and looking at it from a sociological sense – I don’t see that as a big problem.

            My objections are in equating the two, “Beliefs.” My suggestions, although you can’t say that a researcher has missed something obvious and important, without rising the emotional level of the conversation immediately. That should be the case, and I hope that the author, if not right now, will in the near future give this article to some better rounded atheist, and ask if the questions I raised are valid. This is an article, and not a peer reviewed paper, but as a trained researcher, he knows how to do this. I have faith.

            My comment had nothing to do with an objection that he said I have a belief, because I have as many as anyone else, and probably more in that I read very widely on many subjects. My objections were:

            Belief in a complex and highly contrived set of theological principals, as in a religion, is not congruent to believing that this theology is unsupported by fact or observations. you don’t discard them as being equivalent. Misapplication in equating the two is a conscious or unconscious trick to dismiss the objection. The belief at hand, is only the proposition put forth by theist. These are not competing and equal beliefs.

            Insistance that evidence for the truthfulness of a proposition, must comprise more than just unsupported mythologies rife with irremediable internal conflicts, and that there must be some objective evidence, is not the same thing as a real presuppositonal error, in that faith is sufficient to prove some superntural claim in the absence of other evidence. This a twisting of reason, that is no better than saying that requireing that the petitionars claims actually be truth is merely an unfair prejudice on my part. It is absurd.

            My bias, is objectively based. I insist that 2+2=4 because i can see two rocks, I can see two more, and when I count them under our arithmatic nomenclature, the answer is four. What we call it is irrelevant, but there are four rocks.

            The fact that this form of… sniveling logical hucksterism, is so common among apologists is offensive, does not justify that the aurthor is doing this deliberately. I think that it is part of a deeply ingrained bias, that has been indoctrinated within christianity and other religions. It is why I used the term “bias’ in reference to his beliefs, and didn’t use more pejorative terms indicating that it was deliberate.

            I find the conclusion that Atheists cleave to their belief that the scientific method the provides best explanation of existance, because it bolsters their self-image, and thus their atheism, as being as meaningful as the statement that ‘some atheists wear shoes.’ Ministers have a self image including ministry. Doctors, Police, Sanitation workers, Farmers… Everyone does. To say that Atheists do so to bolster and support their atheism isn’t untrue, but it is trivial to the deeper and overriding reason, that we live in a real world, and science explains that world to us, and if you can’t believe the bronze and iron age myths made up in our first attempts to make sense of all the things we do not know about this universe, there is nothing else left but to look at this planet, Life, and the universe for what it is. (I admit, I exclude those who think it’s all illusion, or those who think its a dream, etc. that will be for another day.) When you dismiss an entire world view, especially since it is the only objective view in this diad, as being the result of some selfish internal motivation, that too is obfuscation.

            I don’t think it’s deliberate either. I’m disappointed, but I am still giving the benefit of the doubt. His philosophic heroes, the examples he uses to show that his fundamental reasoning is not subjective, are equally subjective in their conclusions. Their logic and premises have been refuted time and time again, to the point that only fully indoctrinated theists think that they make sense. Statements such as avoiding the trap of using reality as the standard for what is possible, or what is real… is an absurdity, and self deception created by that bias, and by that indoctrination. And… Yes, I think that the premise is objectively wrong, by definition, when the only evidence for it’s truth is purely subjective.

            [ In another article the author (yes, when I saw his points, I dug up his thesis and some of his other articles.) talks about islamaphobia. He points out links to information concluding that actual hate crimes against Muslims are actually lower than most other target groups. However, he still states that that although he has only proof to the contrary, he believes that muslims are still more likely to suffer violent attacks at the hands of non-muslims. He’s wrong, He’s provided the evidence he’s wrong, and he has tried to deal with this bias as openly and honestly as he could – and in fact he is probably just expressing a real concern for future retaliation – a real and just concern, that he explained arriving at via imprecise reasoning. I might have suggested that it would have been better to state a worry that if the violence of Jihadists against unbelievers continues to be un-addressed with honesty by authority, that there is a real worry that actual bigotry and anger will lead to retaliation against innocent muslims. ]

            Anyway, Casey, it is not about the nature and semantics in nomenclature pertaining to belief. Though, the discussion was based in actual ideologies about what people hold as beliefs, and what they hold as true, the vast majority of these discussions are semantic ribaldry, and intellectual masturbation. The seminal point is that my beliefs, the ones that form my self image, ate those that are demonstrably and objectively true, truth proven by actual evidence, examination, and a continuing skepticism that no belief is ever so well supported, that it is beyond the questioning. And! You can’t just dismiss someones objection to your assertions, because they are just based on another conflicting set of beliefs. That is a real logical fallacy, it is at least an unintentionally dishonest, and it is too common a ploy on the part of theists for a trained researcher to espouse.

          • George Yancey

            I had decided to check out of this conversation but now you are making claims that I argued that Muslims are more likely to suffer attacks at the hands of non-Muslims and conclude that hate crimes against Muslims is lower than other target groups. Do you have a link to this as I do not remember having written about hate crimes before, just attitudes of disaffection.

          • Casey

            The seminal point is that my beliefs, the ones that form my self image, ate those that are demonstrably and objectively true, truth proven by actual evidence, examination, and a continuing skepticism that no belief is ever so well supported, that it is beyond the questioning.

            So you do have beliefs then? It seems that from my interactions with atheists this would constitute a good summary of their belief otherwise stated: to be valid one’s beliefs myst be objectively true and proven by reproducible evidence and continued questioning. No atheist has ever been able to explain to me why it must be so.

            And! You can’t just dismiss someones objection to your assertions, because they are just based on another conflicting set of beliefs. That is a real logical fallacy, it is at least an unintentionally dishonest, and it is too common a ploy on the part of theists for a trained researcher to espouse.

            Is that not what atheists do to theists? They demand empiric evidence where there can be none (as by definition supernatural beliefs are supernatural). They reject the premise that there may be knowledge and truths that are not possible to test empirically. They point out the failure of the scientific method in a sphere where it has no role. Personally it is fine with me for them to do so, but don’t fool yourself into thinking this is an intellectually superior position. I have perhaps heard it best stated that an atheist doesn’t care about supernatural phenomena since nothing can be known about them whether or not they exist, but that does not reflect my experience with atheists who seem to have a goal of actively discrediting such beliefs.

          • Coffey3C


            ” Nonetheless, it can be argued that we should not be concerned about Christianophobia since it is not Christians that experience violence in the United States. Some contend that it is mosques, and not churches, that are physically attacked. (Although there is information here, and here that disputes this notion). They may argue that Christians do not experience violence. I tend to agree that Christians are less likely to be the victims of violence because of their religious beliefs than Muslims, although I do not have any research that supports that inclination. ”

            Note the author.

            In fact, my largest objection to this bit was factual. At this moment, as is widely reported daily by media on every Continent, save North America, Christians are being driven out of Muslim lands, and persecuted to the point of extinction as a freely stated goal, lands that were taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic insurgents, etc. In Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan it is horrifying , but in Mali and Syria, it is a genocide.

            Disaffection is important, Professor, but there are certain truths that also need to be addressed. With regard to islam, there is a core of canonized bigotry, and direct compulsion for Jihad as the mechanism for spreading the power and control of islam. It is ratified in all four schools of Sunni jurisprudence, and the single Shiite school.

            This is why Muslim apologists do what Muhammad himself told them to do, when confronted with people who feel themselves superior in manner to muslims. They attack the character of the person making the criticism, Even when they are reading directly form a holy text, or accepted Islamic history. They have no other choice, because 1400 years of history, every accepted Islamic authority, the Quran and Hadiths, and every recognized Islamic scholar and philosopher are in complete accord with the interpretations cited by these critics they are attacking.

            It is quite telling that not one single criticism has been acknowledge as correct, when made by a western critic, while the apologetics, religious zeal, and calls to violence, that are a daily fair on television and radio broadcasts throughout the Islamic controlled world, are far more damning.

            The truly moderate Muslims are really in an impossible position. To criticize or to attempt to reform this core of islam is apostasy, the cardinal sin, punishable in the way that most things are punishable in sharia. It is also why, concurrently, anyone here can go and read Sura five and Nine, which are two of the last books in the Quran, and which spell out in direct and specific language, that the acts of this fringe group of userpers of Islam, numbering some Five-hundred million to perhaps as many as a billion muslims who ascribe to Jihad, are given their marching orders, allegedly, by Allah through Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him.) You see, they can’t change the words. Piety is a…pain, sometimes.

            What would also be noteworthy here, is that I actually sort of love those guys out at the Westboro Baptist Church. You see, one of the most common refutations I hear from Christians when confronted by some unacceptable behavior that was motivated by a Christian ethic, or by some unpalatable opinion/world-view based on Christian theology, the common descent is that those people aren’t real Christians.

            Well I’ve read the book twice, which I would never have bothered to do until some of the fascinating discoveries by Historians, and Documentarians, and Archaeologists had come to light. Though I’m disappointed that it only seems to be our religious nuts who openly criticize the texts and tenets of Islam, I do have to give them credit for one simple thing – I think they are the “Real” Christians, including Gay Pastor Fred.

            The view causes problems of course, in discussions surrounding that this is a christian nation, for instance. When trying to explain that though we have a christian heritage, which I “Thank God” for (if you’ll forgive a little low humor.), the founding fathers were most careful in making sure we were not a Christian nation. History is quite clear that we owe our government as much to the secular philosophies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Juedo-Christian ethic, though far superior to the other abrahamic religion in terms of secular sanity, did not seem overly willing to apply it’s inherent egalitarianism and equality to anyone other than the males of those religions, until they were reformed by more secular elements of society, i.e., constitutions and courts.

            [One last note that I just have to add (even though I tend to be far more verbose than biased), when the Westboro Baptist Church announced that it would go to Norway to protest surrounding that horrifically infamous crime of infanticide and adolescent murder, I offered to pay a single one-way ticket. The video that followed, with Pastor Fred spitting enraged at the camera, that those godless Norwegians had better start following the US constitution, will long be one of my favorites. Still I wish they had gone, and would have driven them to the airport. It was like a “gift from God.”]

            The link to your other article appeared for alternate reading, directly under this one, professor.


          • George Yancey

            Read a little more carefully. My statement, which is likely backed by hate crime stats, is that Muslims are more likely to be physically attacked for being a Muslem in the U.S. than Christians are. That is different than whether a church is vandalized. Also it says nothing in comparsion of hate crimes against Muslims than target groups other than Christians. If you are going to quote me then please be more precise. I do not mind defending what I actually write but am not interested in defending what I have not said.

          • Coffey3C

            I did read it, and the statistics on hate crimes, even where they are inflated to include such horrifying personal assaults as leaving what may have been bacon in a public park, or throwing a book in a toilet. Likewise it is also true that assaults against Christians are far less likely to be reported as hate crimes, in part because atheists are so peaceful, and in part because the statistics are demonstrably expunged of such data, which are often shifted under alternate headings, such as ‘Work Place Violence.” Hence the furor regarding FBI and DOD Training materials having references to specific religions being removed, or in The DOD having Fundamentalist Christians and Catholics listed alongside the Taliban and Al Qaeda as hate groups.

            The fact that I substituted “Non-muslims” for Christians, does not materially alter the meaning of what either of us said professor.

            I will say that I am reviewing those statistics I can find, and that I am looking for some authoritatively derived statistics that address the question. I freely acknowledge, however, that the numbers on the FBI Site for 2011 are much higher than those that I last saw… about a year and a half ago. As I said once before, I share your concern that there is plenty of real bigotry out there to go around, and I do not like to see that directed at anyone, let alone anyone’s person.

            I’m out of here, Dr. Yancey. I’ll be busy from here on out, probably for some months, but I will try and check in to see if there have been any responses directed at me. I am reading the excerpt of your book that is available to me. Clearly, we do disagree on some fundamental things. I hope that will not always be the case.


          • George Yancey

            If you equate non-Muslim with Christian then that makes a big change in what I said. You talk about science but I am a scientist and know how important precise langauge is. Talking about science and doing science is not the same thing.

          • Coffey3C

            Casey Says:

            Of course I have beliefs. You can ask one of the guys here what they mean by belief, but I have as many as anyone else. The fact that I lack one that you may have doesn’t effect that math in the least. I’m sorry, but the question “So you have beliefs then?” indicates one of the silly notions that I’d hoped that a book Like Dr Yancey’s would clear up. It’s as well founded as the idea that Atheists lack morals.

            What you will find is, that as an atheist or a scientist, you are much more likely to get an answer as: “It’s not a belief as much as it is being the higher order of probability that no gods exist.” As a scientist, I don’t believe in Gravity, I have a model that satisfies the need for prediction for the phenomenon of attraction due to mass bending space… But that it just the habit of trying to be precise what we mean. In most conversations, such as in silly comments where you are hashing out someones assertions about atheism… they are beliefs, at least according to the philosophical and epistomological standards used colloquially. Atheists and Scientists simply have a much higher standard for applying that term, that transcends many more subjects. In regard to some subjects, you have that too..

            If you think that is not so, then why aren’t you a Budist, or a Hindu? Religion is most commonly an indoctrination by the people around you, and none of these religions can make a truth claim, that is defensible. You accept what you have been taught, even where you would reject an almost identical claim out of hand.

            If not, then give me ten percent of your earnings, so that I can buy candy for the mass-less, dielectric, invisible little elf who sits on my head whispering lottery numbers all day, only to me. The wrong numbers, but he answers every request.

            Also, it is not quite the same thing that atheists do to Theists, in largest part, because theists are the ones asserting that they have an invisible friend, or some higher Gnosticism. Thought it’s true that when most atheists ask them to prove it, they are being snarky, because we are utterly certain you can’t prove it. If there has been no proof in all of recorded history (other than subjective assertion by believers, and unpersuasive and completely discredited attempts by some philosophers/apologists.), then you truly are not expected to come up with one. Never the less, it is not unfair to ask anyone for proof or evidence of an assertion that they are making. This is not a subtle difference. At least in terms of logic, it is about as stark as you can contrive.

            I most strongly object to the term “Failure of the scientific method.” It is just that, a method, and using it as applied, and misapplied, you can see the knowledge we gain isn’t collected as smoothly as it seems to be presented in the text books. People make plenty of mistakes, stops and starts, and the final conclusions are always much more neatly summarized after the fact, than it would ever seem when you are in the middle of it.

            But to say that there is a failure of science is patently false, right up until the point that you prove that there is something transcendent to the natural world that exists, that is unbounded by reality. Conjectural constructs do not constitute a failure of a method to examine existent reality. They constitute your unbridled imagination.

            One interesting observation though, which got me called a closet theist once. On the instant that there is any phenomenon that seems to violate the existing understanding of the natural laws, as they have been educed through science, and which is both repeating and reproducible, there will be no end of scientists who will be prepared to study that phenomenon – Just as scientists always have. Remember, though, that since the advent of, and wider adoption of the scientific method, every single such claim has failed to be either demonstrable and reproducible, or it has been examined and found to be explicable via natural and mechanistic terms.

            Lastly, I’m an atheist, because I have been since I was seven. It was a shock to me that my parents really believed that there was some fundamental difference between the Easter bunny they hung at Easter, the Santa Clause they hung at Christmas… and the crucifix… that until that point it had not dawned on me that they never took down. I am not the product of some de-conversion, I never thought it was rational.

            From the back seat of his car, I asked my father, in shock, if he really believed what he was telling me, and he reacted about as well as poor Dr. Yancey. He said, badly feigning calmness, “Of course.” Even at the time, I recognized that my father was a highly intelligent man (and I was daemon child precocious.), so I blurted out, “Why?” (I was young mind you.) He said “Well look around. Where else could all of this have come from?” I was crushed, very upset. It was, complete non-sense to me, long before I recognized it as argumentum ad ignorantiam.

            I recognize that theists may be highly intelligent. This is why most Atheists will do all that they can to avoid calling one of them stupid… because of religion… because religion is all about indoctrination. It’s brain washing. It is not a function of intelligence, although the less intelligent you are, and the more emotional stress you are under, the greater the likelihood that it will work on you.

            However. Atheism is a superior intellectual position by any standard of measure, don’t fool yourself either. Completely subjective non-sense isn’t very likely to form a superior intellectual position, and to the outside observer, it isn’t even the appearance of one. We atheist may admire the effort it it entails, but wish it would be put to better use. A few, like me, think that faith is an amazing thing, one of the most amazing things a person can do actually, as long as you don’t used it as a substitute for reason, an excuse for ignorance, or as a tool to deny what is real. Then it becomes a problem for everyone.

            I think of religion as the lowest energy state for most people who are religious. A primate brain is an amazing device for survival, best brains we know of; but, it works best when you have information in there prior to the time you need it. It’s expensive, and requires a lot of calories to keep it going, but when it has been used to notice that lions tend to hid in the bushes beside the path down to the watering hole, it pays for itself many fold. Same argument goes for remembering a pattern that brings you to a series of new foliage and ripe fruits, as evidenced by almost all primate species. But, this need to fill the thing, or curiosity, can be torturous, so much so that it can lead you down some bad paths. Fortunately, in most instances we act out of habit,without thinking, but for some of the questions, we wonder, and wonder… This is why religion is so useful. It answers all the questions at once. It is very efficient. Once you accept that Jebus did it, then you are free to see what Ug is up to, and if he has something better to eat. Thus for the non-theologian, who are spending all of their time working hard to trying to make some sense of it all, it really is a resting state, intellectually, with regard to the spirituality, supernaturally, and ‘why does my arm hurt when I do this,’ questions.

            I don’t agree with what your atheist told you about the supernatural. Atheists care about assertions about the supernatural for two reasons. The first is, that we are equally capable of wondering if there is something beyond our senses, but it just isn’t a productive enough line of reasoning to waste a lot of unsubstantiated and unrequited effort on. The second is that theists rub it all over you, every day that you are near a theist. They rub it on your back, they rub it in your nose. They are all over the TV, and Radio, and on every other block wherever you go. Worse, many theists, think that if you disagree about this irrational, unnatural, and unearned respect that is demanded for religion of any stripe, that you have breached some inviolable rule of etiquette and morality — and they act that way.

            To say that we don’t care whether or not the super natural exists, is completely wrong for the atheists I’ve known. If anyone could show that something “else” exists, it would be subjected to that study I mentioned. If it could be proven that god exists, most atheists would accept it our nature, but it would have to be pretty darned good proof. And, we would like to ask where you other guys got all of this lake of fire non-sense.

            Atheism is by far the superior intellectual position, Sir. I’d consider that anything based on empiricism had a very good chance of being superior to any related premise that was based purely on where you were born, and which particular stories your people happened to tell. Though, I’m sure some atheists don’t care about the supernatural, but that is either because they’ve had enough, or they aren’t thinking very clearly about the premise. That happens a lot. Professionally, we only have about fifty years to work, and won’t waste a minute of it arguing nonsense.

            And, before you ask, in our spare time, we are attracted to articles written about us, of course. Or, put another way, I am an evangelical Atheist, and if you have a few moments, I’d love to tell you about my abiding, and deeply personal relationship with reality. 😛

            Do those answers make, at least what some atheists think, a little more clear? I hope so.


            Also, I’ve found why there were so many missing words in some of my posts, beyond the normal typos. I was typing quite fast, and the site was actually pausing and missing words and parts of phrases. My deepest apologies for anyone I gave a headache. A really humble and abject apology, and I will compose in word if it happens again, even with the formatting problems.

          • Coffey3C

            Dr. Yancey, I’m retired now, but I was also for many years, primarily in Chemistry and Physics. I see only a difference as semantics, quite trivial when you consider the overall picture of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam, vs. that which is inflicted against muslims. Neither of those is a trivial issue, but looking at the bigger picture, the facts seem to lean in the other direction.

            Would you like me to suggest that with Two-hundred plus million Christians in this country, and only One and a half million Muslims, that it is far more likely – then okay, that is a reasonable expectation. If you look at the figures, though, some sixty percent of hate crimes are perpetrated against Jews, only about one and a half percent to nearly eleven percent in one set of data, of all hate crimes were committed against muslims (under the standard I’ve already described.), and they don’t even seem to collect data as such against the majority populations. Via most of the data sets I looked up quickly, they are on the lower end of the various hate crimes.

      • eqfan592

        “When you can prove atheism then I will stop saying that it is a belief. Until then I understand that you consider atheism best explains evidence as you understand it. But there is still a belief aspect to it nonetheless.”

        I’m sorry, but any and all credibility you may have had on this subject died with this post. The implication here is that all atheists claim some sort of special knowledge as to the existence (or lack there) of a god or gods, and that there is any sort of burden of proof on their part to effectively prove a negative. I’m an atheist because of the lack of compelling evidence for the existence of a god or gods. People can choose to put their faith in such beings without evidence, but that is not something I’m at all interested in. One cannot “prove” atheism, and such an expectation is simple-minded at best.

        • George Yancey

          The discussion was whether atheism was a belief or a fact. Certain individuals seem to be upset that I stated it as a belief. Quite simply if you want to state atheism as a fact then you do have the burden of proving it. If you accept it as a belief, and you are free to make the argument that it is the most reasonable belief, then you need not prove it. So if I have lost credibility with you because I do not accept atheism as a fact without having someone prove it to me then I am fine with that. The idea that I am making some special claim on atheists with my insistence that assertion of facts be proven is illogical.

          • Psy

            “Quite simply if you want to state atheism as a fact then you do have the burden of proving it.”

            As far as I can tell you are the only one here stating atheism is some kind of factual claim.
            ” There is no God: Atheists in America”

          • George Yancey

            You are the one who has a problem with me stating that atheism is a belief. I see that as a non-issue and in fact as a common sense to say that atheism is a belief. I have said nothing about whether atheism is a correct belief but just that it is a belief. I have not said that atheist state that they can prove this belief but only stated that it is a belief. I am not going to move from that position without proof that it is not a belief. Given how much atheists claim that we should have scientific based proof I would think that this would be clear. If you have no problem with me using the word belief then the debate is done.

  • Psy

    ” being an atheist is akin to being a lover of science and a lover of truth.
    For many atheists, science is the way to discover truth. ”

    If you are saying I like to understand how things work then OK. In general non-believers tend to have a larger anterior cingulate cortex, critical thinking, error detection, spacial awareness, mechanical abilities, for me personally my spacial IQ is excessively high and over all I’m in the supposedly top 2 or 3 percent. So I’m an extreme example, not necessarily the norm of around 106 IQ.
    The difference is the activation of the right amygdala, fear threat response. Atheist don’t seem to be affected fallacious arguments, threats of hell, the topic of death, appeal to emotion fallacies. Many Muslims put themselves in a state of fear when praying to activate the fear threat amygdala which is why they want to cut your head off foe blasphemy or justify terrorism, fear threat response. The same way ‘Jesus Camp’ tactics push the FEAR of GOD into little children during indoctrination, threats of hell. It doesn’t work on 5% of the population.

    • Casey Glass

      You offer a lot of unsupported data suggesting that atheists are “more intelligent” than those that hold positive beliefs towards the supernatural. I wonder if you would back that up with a reference?

  • Psy

    “It is not surprising that atheists see religion as incompatible with science.”
    They are just different topics, science, religion. philosophy. knitting. auto mechanics, literature. Science is simply a tool that can be applied to knitting or anything else. While as you say emotionalism practice religion I’m more interested in dissecting it to see how it works, the terminology, the psychological effects, comfort. I enjoy discovering how things work and why just like another form of entertainment.

  • Lilly

    I enjoyed reading this blog. It was quite insightful especially giving me additional information concerning the perspectives of atheists. Although your work isn’t about the religious, I have found though (personal not via research) that the religious (some) too feel that science and religion are contradictory to each other, however, there are those like me who see the two working together. I’ve had several discussions about this and in the end felt that those who hold this view are somewhat marginalized. These two perspectives among Christians are an area of contention (in my personal experience). Anyway, I look forward to reading your book. I can see it being useful in contributing to a better understanding of the world/social identity of the atheist.

    • George Yancey

      I agree with you in that many religious people also see science and religion as incompatiable. I have not done research on it but I have heard the same views from religious people that you have heard. Being a Christian sociolologist I naturally belief that science and religion can, and should, go together, so I would be an ally with you in the debate within the Christian community.

  • abb3w

    In fact, there is solid philosophical work arguing that science and religion do not contradict.

    I’d consider that solidity debatable. True, for certain senses of the word “science” and “religion”, there is not necessarily a contradiction; and there’s solid philosophy discussing that. Contrariwise, some of the current body of scientific knowledge (that the world is an oblate spheroid on a ballistic trajectory around the sun) does indeed contradict some religious beliefs (say, the Vedic belief the world is a disc carried on the back of the world turtle Kurma); and a lot of philosophy discussing the former has its solidity undermined by trying to ignore this, sweep it under the rug, or worse pretend the former means the latter doesn’t exist.

    Because atheists tend to have a dichotomous vision of science being logical and religion illogical, they tend to see the intrusion of “illogical” religion into government as troublesome.

    I expect there’s correlation here in the West, but I’m less certain that’s the direction of causation — if there even is one. My impression from anecdata is that one of the more common individual trajectories is from considering the results of religious meddling in politics as subjectively detrimental, and in turn discounting all religion as irrational and illogical from that association.

    Regarding social identity, (doi:10.1093/socrel/srt014) might be of interest.

  • John K

    I don’t have a “belief” that the Tooth Fairy exist, I “know” that the Tooth Fairy is a human construct. Your use of the word “belief ” would indicate that everything that I know is not knowledge but a belief instead. I “know” that gods and religions are human constructs. For you to not “know” this must mean that you have not studied the history of the religions and gods of all of the cultures of the world. So I will not hold it against you. I arrived at my atheistic position by studying the religions of the world and comparing and contrasting them. I did not use science per say, but now since I have arrived at this position I see how science helps to fortify and strengthen my position.

    • George Yancey

      I am not interested in engaging in the “whether there is a God” debate on this post. All I can tell you at this point is that I have read literature by atheists, or doubters and listerature of Christian apologitics. I have taught a course on religion and know the basic histories of the world religions. Many who argue for the existence of God also have knowledge of world histories as well as philosophical and scientific expertise. That suggests to me that belief in atheism is not overtly obvious to anyone who has studied the evidence and that reasonable individuals can look at that evidence and belief in a deity.

  • Zeke

    I think it’s true that many religious people (certainly those who we might describe as “very religious”) find science and religion incompatible. Likewise, most if not all atheists share the same opinion, so I guess there’s some common ground here :). But I suppose the important distinction here is that atheists observe areas where obvious contradictions occur between what certain religious doctrines assert and scientific consensus, notice that there is no way to believe in both ends of the spectrum, and conclude that the religious doctrine is incompatible with reality. On the other hand, the faithful are able to examine many of these same contradictions and come to the opposite conclusion, rejecting scientific consensus, while still claiming that both views are somehow compatible.

    But with regards to many of these issues where a major difference exists, are not those who claim compatibility essentially forced to take this position, or be given less serious consideration in any discussion of the relevant science? Without denying the science, it seems that they can only support the notion of compatibility by revising their interpretation of holy texts, which typically takes the form of declaring that what was once held to be the plain meaning of text must now be taken metaphorically. I’m interested in your thoughts on this. Full disclosure: I am an atheist.

    • George Yancey

      I agree that some religious interperations are in contradiction to what we know as scientific knowledge. But I also think that scientists overreach as well. Theories of evolution cannot tell us if there is a greater intelligence behind evolution. Yet some scientists proclaim that evolution proves that God or Gods do not exists. That quite simply is not true. There are questions that science cannot answer concerning meaning and identity. Yet some individuals have attempted to use science to answer those questions. The ideology of positivism is a perfect example of this. While fully acknowledgeing the limits of religion to undersand certain aspects of our world, I feel comfortable asserting that there is as much of a danger involved in science attempting to answer questions that the scientific method is merely unable to answer.
      By the way, I have been a Christian since being a teenager. I have read my share of scientific findings. I have found scientific findings have clarified my religious beliefs. But I do not think that I have made any major changes in my beliefs due to some scientific finding. I am guessing that I am not unusal among educated Christians who have maintian a faith by using science to shapen that faith but not being locked into a presupposition of naturalism and thus unable to maitain our faith.

      • Psy

        “There are questions that science cannot answer concerning meaning and identity. ”

        I think were in the same universe here. lol. Scientific methods are concerned with figuring out “how” while the search for meaning or ‘why’ is not an issue let all whether there is a ‘why’. Philosophical or religious argument are not proof or evidence though they can be a source of to build hypothesis on. Far Eastern philosophies or religion was helpful for, I think it was Plank, in his work on quantum theory.

        Now if I wanted to come up with a hypothesis supporting the existence of God I’d have to start with defining God. Creator of the universe, all knowing, everywhere, outside of space and time or whatever the major consensus is. One Jewish philosopher described God as nothing in the scene that he could not know or the knowledge is unacceptable to him, we can’t know what is on the other side of nothing. Some Far Eastern guy said nothingness glows. Now we have a property or something to build a hypothesis on as quantum fluctuations seems to fit the bill. But I thinks many believers would see this as a threat to their beliefs as God may not be what they think he is while I’d love to be able to prove the existence of God.

        I think you will agree that too many are using pseudo science or trying to make the facts fit to reinforce their beliefs while I think in your case and many others that isn’t an agenda. My personal agenda seems to be proving myself wrong while I don’t think there are too many religious believers interested in trying to prove their beliefs wrong.

      • Zeke

        “Theories of evolution cannot tell us if there is a greater intelligence behind evolution. Yet some scientists proclaim that evolution proves that God or Gods do not exists. That quite simply is not true.”

        Thanks for your answer. I agree with you here, mainly because it is impossible to prove that God does or does not exist. The scientific consensus on evolution is merely is that Gods are not required to explain the development of life, and ultimately, humans. Those who assert this as “proof” are indeed overreaching, despite a lack of evidence to the contrary position. That said, there should be no mystery about why there is a direct relationship between religious faith and evolution denial, present company excluded.

        Funny, I was born and raised a Christian, but scientific findings and education had the opposite effect on me, especially in regards to the existence of Adam. I’m amazed that Christians like Peter Enns are willing to defend the unpopular position that evolution is undisputed and cannot be reconciled with an historic Adam, yet he somehow manages to put enough credence in the rest of the Bible to maintain his faith. What is an example of scientific findings that strengthened your faith?

        • Psy

          “mainly because it is impossible to prove that God does or does not exist.”

          Other than special pleading fallacies and repeated the mantra that’ you can;t prove God exist’ I see no reason to accept that claim as fact unless there is no God. The whole ” you can;t prove God exist'” comes across as an acknowledgement that there is no God or that religion is just a role playing game and you know its false. If you think you have a testable hypothesis and it fails, it doesn’t prove there is no god.

        • George Yancey

          Interesting question. There are several sociological studies that strengthen my faith but I find that those in the natural and bioloigical sciences do not always respect such work. So in the natural science I found that the Big Bang theory is powerful. I have limited understanding in the hard sciences but the Big Bang theory suggests that the universie has a begining and if there is a begining then something had to happen to start that begining. It seems to me that the type of enitity that is most likley to start that begining would have the qualities I would expect in a deity. This is not why I am a Christian but it an example of how science has strengthen my faith.

          • Psy

            “but the Big Bang theory suggests that the universie has a begining and if there is a begining then something had to happen to start that begining. It seems to me that the type of enitity that is most likley to start that begining would have the qualities I would expect in a deity. This is not why I am a Christian but it an example of how science has strengthen my faith.”

            That’s called conformation bias.

          • George Yancey

            Really. Coming to a conclusion is confirmation bias? Confirmation bias is looking only for evidence that supports one presuppostions and excluding all other evidence. Since I was asked how science has strengthened my faith I gave an example. You have no idea if I also looked at other evidence that challenged my faith and how I assessed it. Instead you decided to dismiss me with an unsubstciated claim of confimation bias. Drawing conclusions is not automatically confirmation bias. Assuming that someone you disagreed with could not have come to his conclusions in a ratioanal way is a better example of confirmation bias.

          • Psy

            Ok I retract that confirmation bias comment.

          • Niemand

            the Big Bang theory suggests that the universie has a begining and if there is a begining then something had to happen to start that begining.

            Not necessarily. There is such a thing as quantum fluctuation-in fact they happen all the time and your computer wouldn’t work without them. Everything might literally have started from nothing.

  • Psy

    Should be “inaccessible ” Sorry poor eyesight and lousy spell checker.

  • Sastra

    To atheists, the incompatibility between science and religion comes down to the status of the supernatural. If you remove supernatural claims from the category of “religion” then you’re left with philosophical, moral, cultural, psychological, or aesthetic views / values which may — or may not — continue to make sense on the secular level. You’re no longer dealing with what defined religion AS religion. You’ve gotten into another area and it may no longer exclude the atheist. Please keep this in mind.

    I think that any book which is trying to understand where atheists are ‘coming from’ has to be very clear on how categories are defined. Too many theists confuse the morals and meaning which they derive from their beliefs with the factual foundation their beliefs are supposed to rest on. Is there good reason to believe in supernatural claims? From this perspective, faith is not a virtue, but a vice. It’s placing oneself in the path of inquiry and abdicating the humble responsibility to try not to do that. Richard Feynman points out that science is what we have learned about not fooling ourselves; and we are the easiest people to fool.

    When you get right down to it, I think people believe in ‘God’ because that’s where they think the evidence — objective and subjective — leads. It’s not really a personal choice, a method of living, or an ethical commitment. It’s a proposed explanation, a conclusion — a hypothesis. I hope that your book examines not just the outer trappings of why atheists don’t believe in God (science), but the inherent ethics of the bottom-up approach of the scientific humanist. It takes honesty, courage, and consistency to approach the question of God’s existence from a rational and/or scientific perspective and evaluate it in terms of its truth … instead of its convenience.

    • Psy

      “To atheists, the incompatibility between science and religion comes down to the status of the supernatural.”

      What if we could explain the supernatural, as in dispel the old “You can’ get something from nothing” rhetoric.
      The claim that time and space was created during the alleged big bang is an assumption and we not need to justify an empty void or vacuum. Now we have to agree on the definition of nothing and whether it would apply to the vacuum. Is nonexistence inherently unstable, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to justify quantum fluctuations withing the vacuum and can we produce light or something from that vacuum with modern technology? It seems we have produced light from a vacuum.

      • Niemand

        Though it should be pointed out that a vacuum is not, in fact, nothing. A vacuum has measurable physical properties. It is time/space. Nothing is…difficult to define. I recommend the AMNH Asimov debate from a few months ago for a perspective on this problem that is accessible to the non-physicist (assuming you aren’t a physicist.) The video is on youtube, if you’re interested.

        • Psy

          “(assuming you aren’t a physicist.)”

          No, I’m just a dumb logger in the Pacific Northwest and thanks for ” AMNH Asimov debate” information, I haven’t seen it yet. I do have an acquaintance who teaches physics at Yale and a friend who is a Math professor who happens to be a Christian at another university and a few friends working as chemist.

          ” A vacuum has measurable physical properties.”
          I’m aware of this and I have on going arguments with the mathematician over this interpretation of what is taking place within a vacuum as to whether it is the vacuum or other potential causes. Its been enlightening and educational for both of us. Neither of us have drawn any conclusions, we just enjoy arguing over it.

  • John K

    Most of the atheist that I know and have read are in the camp of “the universe did not come from nothing but rather it came from energy.” It seems that energy is eternal and can not be created or destroyed, as far as science is aware at this time. And from the atheist and science camp the energy that they are talking about is the E=mc2 type of energy, not the Woo-Woo type of energy. And it goes without saying that the energy they are talking about doesn’t have any intelligence until it builds stars, then planets, and then, as far as we know, carbon based life forms like us.

  • Sastra

    I agree. I have heard the divide between naturalism and supernatural (atheism and theism) expressed as different answers to the question “In the ultimate sense — does mind come from matter … or does matter come from mind?”

    From what I can tell Theism answers that last question as a firm and unfalsifiable positive, whether it’s traditional or non-traditional, Western or Eastern, sophisticated or primitive. It’s not just the woo-wooey New Age types who see consciousness, intelligence, love, or other mental products as being a basic form of non-physical “energy,” force, substance, power, or essence beneath what we can sense with our senses.

    I think that option for making sense of the realm of ideas seems both intuitive and plausible to our human brains. Learning and thinking otherwise takes time and discipline. I would not say that atheists use science to legitimize their beliefs. That would be putting it backwards. They used science; they then became atheists. They used science on “God.” The rules against doing that were only invented to protect human error – not guard against it.

  • Jay Egenes

    Philosophers in the 1600s and 1700s struggled to understand the basis or foundation of knowledge. The quest for the foundation of knowledge was based on the idea that we could identify one thing that is true–and then “build” all other knowledge on top of it, like you can build a building only on top of a well-built foundation. With some apologies to those of you who may have studied these philosophers more recently or remember better than I do, here’s a brief history of philosophy that may shed some light on how we got here:

    While continental philosophers, at least until Kant, found the foundation in the self, or perhaps more accurately the mind (think of Descartes’ “I think therefore I am”), English and Scottish Empiricists (Locke, Berkeley, Hume) found the foundation in sense data.

    Hume took Locke’s and Berkeley’s arguments to their logical ends, arguing powerfully that if sense data is the foundation, there can be no proof of any religious or faith-based claim. Hume demonstrated that if the only reliable foundation is data, we can build nothing on top of it, because our very reasoning is not built on top of the foundation, but only an interpretation thereof.
    Hume’s arguments had equal force against religious, moral, and scientific knowledge, leaving us essentially unable to know anything at all. If Hume is correct we are stuck with skepticism about any knowledge. We can know nothing at all. Within western culture, Hume’s arguments largely stuck against religion and ethics, which were reduced to the personal sphere–they were okay as hobbies as long as we didn’t let them get in the way of how we act in public. Hume’s skepticism about scientific knowledge, however, didn’t stick.
    Christian fundamentalism as we know it today didn’t really develop until the 1800’s; it was a response to Hume’s skepticism. Fundamentalists made two huge errors. First, they assumed, rather than challenged, a foundational theory of knowledge. Second, they assumed a theory of language in which a word stands for or represents some particular thing–instead of having contextual meanings and a variety of uses. In this theory, the Bible had to be the “foundation” for all knowledge–and to be the foundation it had to all be literally true.

    Philosophers who wished to challenge Hume’s skeptical conclusions would have been better off to challenge his foundational assumption–his assumption that knowledge needs a foundation. Recent work (within the last 70 years or so) in philosophy of science has shown that knowledge not only doesn’t need a foundation, it doesn’t have a foundation. We can not get down to one thing we know to be true, except by reference to at least one other thing that confirms it. Instead, knowledge consists of a theory (the best theory we’ve got at any given time) that makes sense out of the data (broadly defined–not just sense data but also personal experience, knowledge about other theories, participation in a particular tradition, etc.) we’ve got. Knowledge actually consists of a “web” of inter-related beliefs–and a theory that makes sense out of them. The “web” of beliefs is always subject to change and amendment, as we learn new facts, have different experiences, etc. When the web changes enough that an entirely new theory is necessary to explain the data points in our system, we experience what is called a paradigm shift.

    In a foundational system of knowledge, science (or more accurately science-ism based upon Empiricism’s rejection of faith-based claims) and religion (particularly Christian fundamentalism) are incompatible, even polar opposites, because they claim entirely different foundations upon which knowledge is built.

    If knowledge is a web of beliefs, however, science and religion may or may not be incompatible, depending upon what counts as data–what else is in the individual’s web. Some people see science as explaining the “what” or the “how,” while religious faith explains the “why”. They may both be part of the same larger web. Some people may still see them as entirely different systems–incompatible with each other.

  • Joe

    I know its not the best reason to enjoy these posts studying the social reality of atheists and the rhetoric they use to create and sustain their reality. But as an orthodox Christian, when reading liberal secular leaning media and science journals (almost all of them) I have routinely felt like a lab animal or some exotic species, to be condescended to, poked at, and dissected as a relic of a weird and inferior mindset. The level of caricature is sometimes comic as many of these sources lack, maybe deliberately, any nuance or real understanding of the “evangelicals” (a label which almost no trouble is taken to use consistently and accurately). Simply the fact that a sociologist has found it interesting and helpful to turn methods of analysis that have been used most often to objectify conservative Christians, to instead objectify atheist ideology and belief, a system that has conspicuously neglected to study itself critically, is refreshing and satisfying. Once again, this reason, this awareness of coming closer to justice and fairness, the delight in the irony of turning the supposed science monopolist’s method against him to crack his facade of self righteousness, is not the best one by which to enjoy your research, Dr. Yancey, but it is irresistible to me nonetheless.

    • Sastra

      If you have not liked sociologists’ attempts to analyze Christians because you have constantly thought “but that’s not what I believe!” — then let us hope that Yancey and Williamson resist the “irony” of putting out portraits of atheism which will have atheists shaking their heads and saying “no, that’s not right.” Before anyone can start to show where an argument goes wrong, they better know what the argument is. Keep restating it till the other person says “yes, I might have put it that way myself.”

  • George Yancey

    For the record, both Dr. Williamson and myself worked hard to repersent atheists in the most honest manner and we analysied our data as honestly as possible. As it concerns the general themes that I am presenting in the blog I am very comfortable that I am accurately repersenting what the respondents told me. I think members of any group will feel a little off putting when they are analyzed because the person analyszing them does not share their presuppostions and will not sound like them. So to the effect that such analysis has been troublesome for Christians who feel misrepersented that is understandable. I also understand if atheists do not think we quite got it right. Any time a group’s perspectives are de-constructed that type of perception is going to occur among in-group members. Unless a researcher is going to become an overt advocate of the group studied, and thus an insider, it is an unfortuanate aspect of doing research on a group one does not belong to.

  • Jay Egenes

    When we say things like “atheists believe …” or “Christians do …” we’re always talking in some sense about constructs. There may be no single person who fits into the general category (atheist, Christian, athlete, white male, whatever…) and has all of the attributes that could be used to describe a “typical” member of the group.

    As a Lutheran pastor who studied at both denominational and non-denominational seminaries along the way, I found that I could pick nits with (and sometimes drive a truck through) any description of “Lutherans” I came across–none of them described me very well. Yet, many of them were close enough to be fair descriptions of Lutherans in general. In some ways it was worse within a Lutheran seminary–where somebody would say “Lutherans do it THIS way”–when anyone who’d been around very much knew that not all Lutherans did it THAT way.

    The biggest problem at the non-denominational seminary would arise when people ascribed the view of some particular Lutheran theologian (the usual culprits were 19th century Germans) to Lutherans in general or worse yet, to Martin Luther.

    Drawing that line, between describing a group generally and attributing the views or behavior of a particular group member to all group members, is sometimes difficult, if not for the writer or speaker, then for the reader or listener who feels misrepresented.

    • Psy

      {When we say things like “atheists believe …”}

      There are 2 chapters out of the book available on the internet an the constant use of the words ‘belief’ and ‘believe’ comes across as trying to associate non-belief with a religion like not owning a car is driving.

  • John K

    If I were to state that I have clear evidence that no gods exist. Your natural response would be to ask to see this evidence. And if I replied to your request by saying that you are not mentally prepared to comprehend this evidence and further more when you do become mentally prepared to comprehend it I won’t need to show it to you because the preparing of your mind for it has made this evidence so obvious that you already know and understand it. Now this little exchange sounds silly but it is repeated by faithful people everyday. They can’t see through this kind of logic to know it is false. This is the kind of logic that many believers use and it is this kind of circular nonsense that atheist like me find so laughable.
    But the real irony here is that the same kind of loop is going on here but this time the atheist such as myself who have fallen in to the wrong side of the loop. As in “your not understanding the correct way to use the word Belief. – Well when you show us proof that god doesn’t exist we’ll stop saying that you have a Belief .”

    And the merry-go keeps going round and round!

    • Psy

      He can stay on that merry go round if he want by himself. Its a non-issue without evidence or proof either way.
      If someone can prove God exist my first inclination would be “Cool, how does it work, can we apply its properties to technology?” Flying cars, space travel, colonizing other planets, edt.

  • Lewis C.

    This exchange could have been resolved far more effectively if Psy and Coffey understood a little basic sociology. To the sociologist, everyone has “beliefs,” just as everyone has attitudes, perceptions, cognitive schemas, interpretative frameworks, etc. Sociologists are very interested in how beliefs are acquired and legitimated as “knowledge”; they are often less interested in whether knowledge happens to be “true” according to nature, metaphysics, theology, current scientific evidence, intellectual elite opinion, etc. This is a tradition that goes back to Karl Marx.

    From this approach, anyone who thinks they are exempt from having “beliefs” is completely delusional. That’s simply a logical impossibility, particularly because they BELIEVE they don’t have beliefs. Trying to escape this predicament by claiming to only hold “scientifically-verified” beliefs is not a viable strategy either because of all the well-established logical flaws of scientism.

    I think what you mean is that your beliefs appear to be “self-evident” to you, so much so that you can’t even see them as beliefs anymore, but simply reflections of how the universe simply happens to be. This is either the results of a very deep indoctrination of belief or a very poor theory of epistemology. I’m leaning toward the latter, but this point is clarified, this discussion is fairly incommensurable.

    • Coffey3C

      I think that Coffey has an adequate understanding of how sociologists try to categorize knowledge and belief. You don’t do much study in the physical sciences without developing a passing understanding of epistemology, or without a deeper working understanding of empiricism, evidence and logic. I clearly said that I consider the ‘Belief’ thing to be a problem with language, and even let the bit about beliefs being unproven go with a shake of the head. My concerns lay exclusively with his use of common theistic terminology and bias to cover what I see as shallowness and failings in his assertions thus far. This Inane, if sometimes amusing, discussion as to the nature of beliefs is merely a small part of that bias, which seems to be used as cover for deeper flaws within the work.

      It is all too common for theistic apologists to misuse many well founded principals of logic and science by contortion and misapplication. In consideration, I would give you the example of the comments where the author said that scientists would not allow the evidence for the extraordinary claims of supernatural causation to be considered, and that he maintained his faith by avoiding the trap of philosophical naturalism. [Exactly the same drek Stein tried in the expelled movie .] He considers these to be presuppositional errors, which is a very common argument theists try to use. However, knowing what we know of epistemology, we can examine this bias that I’ve unequivocally accepted within myself, and without the author’s acknowledgement, in more specific terms.

      My bias is that I expect that for things that are to be accepted as true, that there will be some tangible evidence for them. I am prejudiced, such that, logical arguments that are internally inconsistent, are unpersuasive. I also require that before making a determination that someone else’s mountain of subjectivism constitutes that they are objectively correct, that there must be some observable, reproducible, and verifiable facts in evidence to further support that conclusion. You can call this a presuppositional bias when speaking in terms of mysticism and theism, but in every other field of human inquiry, they are called rationality and sanity, not bias or error.

      I clearly argue, that it is in equating these vastly different positions under the same terminology, and in some instances a false dichotomy, that the author makes errors that are a little hard to swallow in a trained researcher. He can call atheism a belief all he wants, because though strictly inaccurate logically, it is a trivial concern; but, he can not equate the rejection of the premise that god exists, in the absence of any objective evidence for that claim within the entirety of human history, with all the multitudes of conflicting theistic beliefs. The most recent of which we have watched being developed as fiction only to be adopted as religious truths, intent on explaining the very nature of the universe with which they conflict. It is false to claim that they are simply two opposing beliefs. That is obfuscation, whatever discipline you use to try and justify it, and for a trained sociologist to do so would be obscene.

      Likewise, it is wrong to dismiss as a bias, the insistence that reality and nature must give support to supernatural claims for the creation of that reality. Stomping one’s foot, and claiming that scientists just won’t listing to these nonsensical claims because they are closed minded and mean, is in no way equivalent to: Examining the writings of a Theologian, and noting that the vast majority of examined phenomenon are held as proof of an otherwise un-evidenced god, even though they are later shown to have perfectly natural and mechanistic explanations. Or, in looking at the work of a Scientist, and seeing that he has dismissed out of hand a report of a phenomenon that seemingly breaks some accepted law of nature; whither or not, the phenomenon is later found to be extant, and to have a perfectly natural explanation. These examples are not equally biased with the notion that the proof of some extraordinary claim of many, many, conflicting versions, should have some… well… actual proof. To equate them falsely, is also obfuscation.

      This same problem also occurs, in the author claiming that his conclusions are not bias, that they are just his conclusions; but, that my likely broader experience of working with, and discussing this subject with atheists who work in the sciences, would be less likely to constitute a common opinion among those same atheists. I think that you need only look at the two stated views as to why educated atheists are drawn to scientific explanations to understand which is more likely to be more common among atheists.

      Hear me very clearly, though, that while my scientific knowledge and viewpoint is certainly a large part of my persona; my atheism stems from the internally inconsistent claims made by theists, and the dishonesty with which they argue the proposition.

      I realize the cutesy stories I used were long and probably obscured the meaning of my argument, if not just causing people to skip them altogether. However, it is not my want to be deliberately hard and blatant in my criticism. It goes to an effort to communicate, rather than to accuse, and to talk past each other . Too often in listening to discussions on this particular subject, you find afterwards that all the theists listening in accord that they have ruled the day, while the atheists are left asking if there were actually present that the same discussion as everyone else. Both sides clearly have vastly different standards of reason and evidence – but given our far more numerous commonalities, honesty in the consideration of other views, should still be the universal currency that allows questions and challenges to become a positive methodology for better understanding.


      • Lewis C.

        He can call atheism a belief all he wants, because though strictly inaccurate logically, it is a trivial concern; but, he can not equate the rejection of the premise that god exists, in the absence of any objective evidence for that claim within the entirety of human history, with all the multitudes of conflicting theistic beliefs.

        I believe you’re still confused. To the sociologist interested in the study of “knowledge” (which is equivalent to belief in most senses), these beliefs are equated, regardless of which may be true. Again, everyone has knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, etc….sociologists just want to see who has what.

        “Multitude of conflicting theistic beliefs”–I presume you’re ignoring the multitude of conflicting atheistic beliefs. Let’s see, there’s Atheism+, New Atheism, there’s “New New Atheism,” there’s Dawkins’ self-confessed agnosticism (a “soft atheism”), Sagan’s very similar agnosticism-atheism, there’s Stalinist-style state atheism, various forms of existentialism…the list goes on.

        By the way, sociologists also believe that “rationality” is a belief that has been socially and historically constructed. As is empiricism. So everything you’re professing here as your “biases” are, from a sociological point of view, the product of a particular social and historical location and particular socializing forces. The fact that they seem so natural and unquestionable to you only heightens the need for sociological inquiry into how you and atheists like you got that way.

        Aren’t sociologists a weird bunch?

        • Coffey3C

          Most of you fuzzy logic bunch are a bit strange, but I have to say, that although most science disciplines are convinced that they breed the weirdest of the bunch. I think they are right.

          I’m equally sure that most sociologists would be horrified by my knowledge of black holes, and just exactly the number of things in the average household that you can turn into other weird things, if you understand chemistry. Equally, the completely differing view neurochemistry gives of human behavior.

          But, there are just a few things there that you I most certainly not confused on. Atheism, regardless of what else you believe, is the rejection of a single proposition the god myth. This is why Atheists have not taken over the world, because if you gather them in groups of less than a thousand, their atheism may be the only thing that they have in common.

          Atheism plus, Dawkins atheism D. . yada, yada, yada. You may attach social demands to it, you may call it new, or old, or even nouveau, but regardless of any other social construct you choose to hang on it, it is a single premise as to the existence of god. That is all I am talking about. Likewise, Regardless of the nature of the society we have, or the society we should work to create, each and every aspect of those societal principals may be held as more or less important by people without regard to their theistic stand… or belief.

          There is very little comparison between, Atheism and atheism plus, or Atheism and actuall degrees of Gnosticism, I think you may be missing something as well. Atheism and atheism plus do not contradict one another. Quiet , socially acceptable atheism, and strident militant atheism and anti-theism don’t contradict each other in that basic. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Egyptian and Greek mythology, and Judaism most certainly do, in quite fundamental ways. (Even though many more of the basic concepts have been borrowed through from the Phonecian, and Hittite, and Canaanite, than most Christians fully realize.) Atheism is the rejection of one assertion.

          I also think you’ve not grasped one of the fundamental differences with another thing on your list, Empiricism. Regardless of that theological or philosophical definition you prefer, as applied in science, it simply means that there must be some evidentiary support for your silly ideas. This is why you’ll find me as admiring philosophical considerations as to how the brain works, and now reason and belief are constructed, and yet also find that I am utterly dismissive when people try to reason anything into actual existence. The differences are, that rationality as opposed to irrationality and Illogic, and empiricism vs faith and dogma, actually work objectively. It sets them apart on sociologists classification lists.

          There is a difference between using these principals to draw concrete conclusions in the merciless travail of sifting through bad data to find physical reality, and using them as classifications to sort things out about human societies.

          My objection to the conclusion expressed by the author have nothing whatsoever to do with the minutia of sociologist nomenclature, or the pointless sliding of basic concepts from one label to another. I think that for the purposes of the article there, these are approaching irrelevant.

          The conclusion stated is spurious, in that it supplants a major philosophical basis for, and result from, atheism, with a psychological construct of self image. That same type of claim may be tailored to anyone who ever took a position on any point, and the argumentation used in defending it is biased in ways that trivialize the process by recycling discredited theistic nonsense. Examples of which, I have given above.

          I would like the author to go further in considering the observations presented. It is why I ignored the general/typical discussions (as well as the last comment to me), other than to note where they were obscuring the actual points I was making. That does not constitute misunderstanding.

          I will say this though, your last few sentences intrigued me more than any other here. If you would like to actually know those aspects of what I consider unquestionable, and what I’ve allowed to go unquestioned in regards to forming my beliefs and non-beliefs, you need only ask. You may find, that a bias for the mystical over the real is indeed a product of societal influence, but that the obverse bias for reality over myth may also be, but need not be as it is reinforced by non-social realities as astronomy to Zoology. Thus, If you’d like to know how I got this way, and how atheists like me got this way, you might try asking that question.

        • Coffey3C

          Sorry Editing silliness

          There is very little comparison between, Atheism and atheism plus, or Atheism and actuall degrees of Gnosticism, I think you may be missing something as well.

          Should have read

          There is very little point in comparison between, Atheism and atheism plus, or Atheism and actual degrees of Gnosticism, and I think you may be missing something as well.

        • George Yancey

          Yes. We are quite weird Lewis. Quite weird.

          • Coffey3C

            I know that your self image requires this reinforcement, Dr Yancey, but until you’ve spend a few nights a thousand feet under ground with Particle Physicists, you guys are only mildly misguided in comparison. Academics and scientists are rightly criticized for not communicating knowledge to the population at large, but the more staggering truth is, that we can hardly talk to each other.

  • Coffey3C

    By the way, It looks like I’m out all together. Good luck,Dr. Y, and thanks to everyone. It was… interesting.


  • JCF

    I’m very interested in the sociology of atheism. And, FWIW, I’m also a Christian. But I have to say, I think a sociological study of atheism by a “Christian…sociologist” (your Twitter description, Dr Yancey) is going to be widely ignored, and not just by atheists.

    And probably *should* be ignored, if the interview in the Christian Post (a tendentious Fundamentalist site that should probably be avoided by anyone w/ scholastic bonafides). Atheists are “old, rich, white men”? Come on! The numerous (for example) young poor lesbian (some non-white) atheists I know are going to not be amused AT ALL by that characterization.

    The *first* duty of any sociologist/anthropologist is to NOT approach a human population—ANY human population—as the proverbial English-gentleman-among-the-benighted-headhunters. As a scholar of comparitive religion myself, the texts one easily learns to ignore are those proselytizing handbooks, which describe a religious tradition ONLY to assert its limits, failures (and specific techniques to out-convert its adherents): is that what’s happening here?

    Objectivity, empathy, understanding, openness, intellectual integrity: I’m not getting that from descriptions of the book [including your own. No, I haven’t read the book. If you want me to review it, send me (another of those poor lesbians) a copy and I promise a deeper assessment! (via jcf1899 at gmail dot com)]

    • George Yancey

      Curious that you seem to be implying that becasue I am a Christian I should not study atheists. Maybe that is not what you meant but that is what it seems like it to me. I definately did not go into this research thinking of myself as a gentleman among savages. I do not have to agree with atheists to respect them. I did go into it as an outsider and that gave me a different perspective than an insider would have. There are advantages and disadvantages to that. By the way I have also done reserach on Christians and was probably more critical of Christians than I was of the atheists in this book.
      As to the findings that atheists being more likely to be white and men that is tied to probablility samples. We cite them in our book. There is some research suggesting that atheists may not be wealither than others but most work supports that they are. I do think the age effect is a factor of my sample and I do not emphasize it in our book. If you are a sociologists then you know that probablily sampling is a better way to locate characterisics of a group rather than convenience sample as your lesbian friends would be.
      Plenty of scholars do interviews in periodicals that are biased. Any periodical that calls me up for an interview will get one for me. I have no problems with that. I wonder if you would have a problem if the article came out in Mother Jones? I am satisfied that the interview at CP convey basically some of the elements in the book. Clearly it did not capture all that is in the book as the interviewer has his own perspctive but it focus on some of the findings in the book.