Strength in Numbers February 25, 2008

Strength in Numbers

A few articles in the news today give current statistics about atheism in America and abroad.

First, some helpful graphics from The New York Times:


And this optimistic picture:


As the caption mentions, the unaffiliated make up the “fourth largest ‘religious group'” and many of them were raised as Protestants or Catholics.

This article, via the Associated Press, says that “nearly half of American adults [are] leaving the faith tradition of their upbringing to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether.”

More than one-quarter of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another religion or no religion at all, the survey found. Factoring in moves from one stream or denomination of Protestantism to another, the number rises to 44 percent.

One in four adults ages 18 to 29 claim no affiliation with a religious institution.

The majority of the unaffiliated — 12 percent of the overall population — describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” and about half of those say faith is at least somewhat important to them. Atheists or agnostics account for 4 percent of the total population.

The religious demographic benefiting the most from this religious churn is those who claim no religious affiliation. People moving into that category outnumber those moving out of it by a three-to-one margin.

We’re gaining! Of course we’re not a “group” the way the religions are, but it means more people are getting sick of religion and/or becoming more rational when it comes to matters of the supernatural.

Also, you might wonder what the deal is with the 4% atheist number (That’s it?)… it’s a fairly accurate number. Far more people are not religious but they won’t use the terms “atheist” or “agnostic.” It’s also fair to assume there are plenty of people who use those terms to describe themselves but dare not say them in public (even in a survey). The fear factor keeps the number lower than it actually is.

Other facts:

Highest retention of childhood members? Hindus (They keep 84% of their lot)

Worst retention? Jehovah’s Witnesses (37% stay when they grow up).

Fastest growing? Jehovah’s Witnesses. Explain that one.

Another article (by Jacqueline L. Salmon) discusses how atheists are finding strength in numbers:

A legion of the godless is rising up against the forces of religiosity in American society.

We’re a legion?!

No one tells me anything.

A study released in June by the Barna Group, a religious polling firm, found that about 5 million adults in the United States call themselves atheists. The number rises to about 20 million — about one in every 11 Americans — if people who say they have no religious faith or are agnostic (they doubt the existence of a God or a supreme deity) are included.

They tend to be more educated, more affluent and more likely to be male and unmarried than those with active faith, according to the Barna study. Only 6 percent of people over 60 have no faith in God, and one in four adults ages 18 to 22 describe themselves as having no faith.

Of course, there are numbers that go above and below the ones mentioned.

A lot of atheist leaders are mentioned in the article:

“People who were ashamed to say there is no God now say, ‘Wow, there are others out there who think like me,'” said Margaret Downey, president of the Atheist Alliance International, whose membership has almost doubled in the past year to 5,200.

Representatives of atheist and humanist groups say the [New Atheist] books probably haven’t converted many religious people. But, said Lori Lipman Brown, a lobbyist for the Secular Coalition for America, which represents eight atheist or humanist organizations, the books “tremendously increase the visibility of nontheist rights.”

The budget of the Council for Secular Humanism has climbed 40 percent in the past two years, approaching $8 million last year.

The council opened a public-policy think tank in Washington last year to push leaders of both parties for policies based on the humanist principles of “science, reason and secularism” instead of religious faith, said Paul Kurtz, the council chairman.

A former Secular Student Alliance board member (and friend) is also mentioned:

Maggie Ardiente, 24, of Silver Spring, Md., faced the disapproval of her family and some friends because of her atheist beliefs.

“It’s hard for them even to comprehend,” she said.

There are some relatively small mistakes in the article (“Camp Quest” should be two words, not one; Congressman Pete Stark came out as a “nontheist,” not an “atheist”), but overall it’s a positive piece.

Some key statistics:

• 28 percent of atheists have post-graduate degrees or professional training.

• 15 percent of non-atheists have post-graduate degrees or professional training.

• 1.3: Atheists’ average number of children.

• 1.95: Non-atheists’ average number of children.

• 3 percent of atheists are “strong Republicans.”

• 16 percent of non-atheists are “strong Republicans.”

SOURCE: 2005 Baylor University Religion Survey and Barna Group

Another article (by Mary Jordan), juxtaposed with the previous one, focuses on atheism in Europe:

More than three out of four people in the world consider themselves religious, and those with no faith are a distinct minority. But especially in richer nations, and nowhere more than in Europe, growing numbers of people are saying they don’t believe there is a heaven or a hell or anything other than this life.

Christian fundamentalist groups who want to halt certain science research, reverse abortion and gay rights and teach creationism rather than evolution in schools are also angering people, according to Sanderson and others.

“There is a feeling that religion is being forced on an unwilling public, and now people are beginning to speak out against what they see as rising Islamic and Christian militancy,” [Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society of Britain] said.

The full report that these articles are based off of can be found (and downloaded) at the website for the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Thinks are looking bright for Brights.

(Thanks to Joseph and Brooke for the links!)

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Regarding the high Hindu retention rate: I’m curious whether this rate reflects actively religious Hindus, or if large numbers of them are merely “cultural Hindus”, in much the same way that many people are “culturally Jewish”. (Personally, I’d say at least half of the self-described Jews I know are really some mixturte of agnostic/atheist/apathist with respect to all the supernatural mumbo-jumbo.)

  • Lysander

    Things are looking bright for Brights.

    And dare I say not so super for the Supers… 🙂

    . . . we’re not a “group” the way the religions are . . . .

    Yeah… But just think, had secularism become mainstream much earlier, we would have had to commit genocide to establish and validate ourselves. Scientology has shown that we simply need to amass real estate and build a few pretty buildings. If we pool our assets, commandeer museums, and claim the world’s natural wonders as our own, we’ll pretty much be set. 😉

  • miy

    Following is the excerpt of a new book “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer” by Bart Ehrman, introduced by one of my favorite NPR programs “Fresh Air”

    “If there is an all-powerful and loving God in this world, why is there so much excruciating pain and unspeakable suffering? The problem of suffering has haunted me for a very long time. It was what made me begin to think about religion when I was young, and it was what led me to question my faith when I was older. Ultimately, it was the reason I lost my faith. This book tries to explore some aspects of the problem, especially as they are reflected in the Bible, whose authors too grappled with the pain and misery in the world.
    To explain why the problem matters so much to me, I need to give a bit of personal background. For most of my life I was a devout and committed Christian. I was baptized in a Congregational church and reared as an Episcopalian, becoming an altar boy when I was twelve and continuing all the way through high school. Early in my high school days I started attending a Youth for Christ club and had a “born-again” experience—which, looking back, seems a bit strange: I had been involved in church, believing in Christ, praying to God, confessing my sins, and so on for years. What exactly did I need to convert from? I think I was converting from hell—I didn’t want to experience eternal torment with the poor souls who had not been “saved”; I much preferred the option of heaven. In any event, when I became born again it was like ratcheting my religion up a notch. I became very serious about my faith and chose to go off to a fundamentalist Bible college—Moody Bible Institute in Chicago—where I began training for ministry.
    I worked hard at learning the Bible—some of it by heart. I could quote entire books of the New Testament, verse by verse, from memory. When I graduated from Moody with a diploma in Bible and Theology (at the time Moody did not offer a B.A. degree), I went off to finish my college work at Wheaton, an evangelical Christian college in Illinois (also Billy Graham’s alma mater). There I learned Greek so that I could read the New Testament in its original language. From there I decided that I wanted to commit my life to studying the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and chose to go to Princeton Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian school whose brilliant faculty included Bruce Metzger, the greatest textual scholar in the country. At Princeton I did both a master of divinity degree—training to be a minister—and, eventually, a Ph.D. in New Testament studies.
    I’m giving this brief synopsis to show that I had solid Christian credentials and knew about the Christian faith from the inside out—in the years before I lost my faith.
    During my time in college and seminary I was actively involved in a number of churches. At home, in Kansas, I had left the Episcopal church because, strange as this might sound, I didn’t think it was serious enough about religion (I was pretty hard-core in my evangelical phase); instead I went a couple of times a week to a Plymouth Brethren Bible Chapel (among those who really believed!). When I was away from home, living in Chicago, I served as the youth pastor of an Evangelical Covenant church. During my seminary years in New Jersey I attended a conservative Presbyterian church and then an American Baptist church. When I graduated from seminary I was asked to fill the pulpit in the Baptist church while they looked for a full-time minister. And so for a year I was pastor of the Princeton Baptist Church, preaching every Sunday morning, holding prayer groups and Bible studies, visiting the sick in the hospital, and performing the regular pastoral duties for the community.
    But then, for a variety of reasons that I’ll mention in a moment, I started to lose my faith. I now have lost it altogether. I no longer go to church, no longer believe, no longer consider myself a Christian. The subject of this book is the reason why.
    In an earlier book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, I have indicated that my strong commitment to the Bible began to wane the more I studied it. I began to realize that rather than being an inerrant revelation from God, inspired in its very words (the view I had at Moody Bible Institute), the Bible was a very human book with all the marks of having come from human hands: discrepancies, contradictions, errors, and different perspectives of different authors living at different times in different countries and writing for different reasons to different audiences with different needs. But the problems of the Bible are not what led me to leave the faith. These problems simply showed me that my evangelical beliefs about the Bible could not hold up, in my opinion, to critical scrutiny. I continued to be a Christian—a completely committed Christian—for many years after I left the evangelical fold.
    Eventually, though, I felt compelled to leave Christianity altogether. I did not go easily. On the contrary, I left kicking and screaming, wanting desperately to hold on to the faith I had known since childhood and had come to know intimately from my teenaged years onward. But I came to a point where I could no longer believe. It’s a very long story, but the short version is this: I realized that I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things. For many people who inhabit this planet, life is a cesspool of misery and suffering. I came to a point where I simply could not believe that there is a good and kindly disposed Ruler who is in charge of it.
    The problem of suffering became for me the problem of faith. After many years of grappling with the problem, trying to explain it, thinking through the explanations that others have offered—some of them pat answers charming for their simplicity, others highly sophisticated and nuanced reflections of serious philosophers and theologians—after thinking about the alleged answers and continuing to wrestle with the problem, about nine or ten years ago I finally admitted defeat, came to realize that I could no longer believe in the God of my tradition, and acknowledged that I was an agnostic: I don’t “know” if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he certainly isn’t the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world. And so I stopped going to church.”

  • Jehovah Witnesses have the lowest retention rate and the highest growth rate isn’t a surprise. I’m not sure that the polling took into consideration ethnicity or immigration.

    I’ve come across other studies/stories that talk about the Jehovah Witnesses being the fastest growing religion among Latinos and immigrant communities. Dispiriting to say the least.

  • I like tea

    Interesting – and completely unsurprising – that Baptists constitute the largest group of Protestants, and also have the lowest retention rate among Protestants. Baptists are among the most conservative and judgmental of the mainstream sects – and I say this having once been one – and it’s no surprise that more and more people are realizing that such closed-mindedness doesn’t belong in the 21st century.

  • Joseph R.

    I also heard that “Fresh Air” piece. I plan on reading that book soon.

    As for the survey, I was dissapointed to find out that atheists(or people who refer to themselves as atheist) are in such short supply.

  • Karen

    Thanks for compiling all these stats, Hemant. I’m very encouraged by these trends, particularly in the waning religiosity of younger people. We’re ready to break out!

    I’ve come across other studies/stories that talk about the Jehovah Witnesses being the fastest growing religion among Latinos and immigrant communities. Dispiriting to say the least.

    The house across the street from me is some kind of JW group home. About 20 of them meet there on weekends before they go out on their door-knocking missions. I’m amazed by how many black and Latino people are involved – at least half, and that is not at all reflective of our neighborhood.

    I think it is sad, and perhaps reflective of the sincere desire of so many minorities to improve themselves and overcome their life circumstances. They’re just latching on to a really dumb way to try and do that.

  • My husband mentioned that some of those “unaffiliated” in the survey are actually from corporate mega-churches in the evangelical movement, which apparently don’t affiliate themselves with other church groups. On the other hand, wouldn’t that go under the “pentecostal” category? Of course, it could just be that pentecostalists don’t even know what they are.

    In any case, there’s still definitely growth among secularists, which is great.

  • Pseudonym

    I found Kathy’s comment interesting, but I’m not convinced.

    In the UK, Australia and New Zealand (i.e. that part of the English-speaking world where there are no “corporate mega-churches”), something like 75% of people self-identify as some kind of Christian on census forms. However, only about 15% turn up at a Christian place of worship regularly (say, once a month).

    Think about that for a moment. Christians who don’t go to a church are the religious majority.

    This certainly fits with my experience. I know an awful lot of people who say “I believe in God”, or “I’m spiritual, but not religious”, and who stay away from institutions. Hell, I’m one of them!

    Does this translate to the US? Possibly, possibly not. But I think it’s clear that “unaffiliated” does not imply “atheist”.

    One thing that this survey is hiding, of course, is that there are an awful lot of “de facto unaffiliated” people, who identify as having an affiliation, but don’t do anything about it in practice.

  • Interesting – and completely unsurprising – that Baptists constitute the largest group of Protestants, and also have the lowest retention rate among Protestants. Baptists are among the most conservative and judgmental of the mainstream sects – and I say this having once been one – and it’s no surprise that more and more people are realizing that such closed-mindedness doesn’t belong in the 21st century.

    Did such closed-mindedness really belong in any century? It may have been accepted, but that does not make it acceptable.

  • Arlen

    A few thoughts from a Christian:

    Baptist is almost too broad a category to pin down; that heading here appears to encompass both the Southern Baptists (who tend to be very Charismatic and judgmental) as well as American Baptists (who are very moderate and considered “mainline”).

    Mega-churches will almost always fall under the “non-denominational” heading. These churches tend to be fundamentalist and are often literalist, and like other churches of that ilk, they are typically closest in theology to Southern Baptist or Pentecostal churches.

    I would be very surprised if a mega-church member would be reported as unaffiliated rather than non-denominational. I suspect that the unaffiliated group consists mostly of the nominally religious, atheists, and agnostics. I’m not sure where people of other sects fall, I assume that Wiccans and Scientologists were just thrown out of the data rather than lumped into the unaffiliated segment, but I don’t know that for sure.

  • Roy Gathercoal

    This is a long and complicated post. If you are offended by long and complicated posts, you probably should not even begin to read this one.

    Christians are flawed, I am one.
    I agree fully that we Christians are a sorry lot. Always have been, from the time Judas sold out the Messiah. We probably are at our best when the costs are high. Regular stonings/burnings/imprisonments/torture/hangings do a lot to wash out the rabble.

    So how can I believe both that Christians, on the whole, are wrong-headed, yet still call myself one? (Evangelical Quaker, to be precise about my self-identification)

    A Postmodern Evangelical Christian Quaker

    Obviously there is presented here a slew of impressive statistical information and colorful anecdote. Yet consider this:

    (1) I also identify myself as postmodern. This is often a jaw-dropping claim for those accustomed to thinking of Evangelicals as fervently flaky, or worse. For me, this means that I resist any attempt to close the debate, to end the dialog. I do not believe we are capable of omniscience, and am absolutely unimpressed by the track record of our “hard sciences.” This also means that I reject the right/wrong dichotomous thinking employed both by those who claim that “science proves God” and that “science disproves God”. I am also deeply suspicious of the mail that arrives telling me “you have already won a million dollars” and that assuring me that it is scientifically proven I can raise my salary by flushing 20 pounds from my colon into my manly tool.”

    In my experience, I have developed an ongoing, every-day-with-me relationship with God. One of the conceits I had to lose before there was room for God in my life, as opposed to in my church or in my Bible was that I am not God’s equal not God’s partner, not even God’s “business associate.” The universe is not about me.
    When God says “Let us make humans in our image” God wasn’t talking about two arms, two (or three) legs, a head with side-facing stereo hearing and forward facing bi-optical eyes, with ten fingers and toes. If God looks like people, then Jesus taking the form of a human is no big deal–swapping one body for another.

    I really like the idea of knowing stuff that others don’t know (it’s pride, I realize, and not flattering. I don’t seem to feel enough guilt to really change, but I do like thinking I’m smart). .A big part of my spiritual life awakened when I finally found myself admitting that there might be some things in this world that God knows and that I don’t.

    If you pick up enough apples under the tree, you’ll find at least one hollowed out and filled with hornets!

    (2) Whatever “most people” are part of is tautologically corrupt and shallow. One of the hardest things to teach/to encourage learners/to achieve within a fertile learning environment is how to take another’s perspective.

    It’s hard to see things from any perspective but your own.

    When I taught advertising writing one of concepts hardest for students to grasp is that the messages you find persuasive may not speak at all to someone else
    Consider this example of a frequent interaction:
    “Do you like this ad?”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Do you think it is a good ad?”
    “What is it trying to accomplish?”
    “You know, to sell things.”
    “To sell what to whom for what reason?”
    “Well I hate it! It’s so lame.”
    “[why is “lame”, a description of a person with a physical disability, any more culturally acceptable than “blind, deaf, or dumb?”]
    “Was the ad written to persuade you? are you its target market?”
    “God, no! I’d never buy this shit!”
    “Would it make sense for a manufacturer of this product to pay someone money to try and persuade you to buy it?”
    “No!! I never believe what I see in ads, and this product is so gay!”
    [“Gay” is the identifying collective name that has been chosen among many in our society who are homosexual people. It is not acceptable here to use such a demeaning or awful term in that way, especialy given the awful record of violence against people who identify themselves as gay.. Please reframe your statement.]
    “You’re such a tight-ass–why don’t you just loosen up and flow with it some? I didn’t mean anything by it, that’s just a common phrase. Everyone makes mistakes even professors!. . .””
    “Agreed. No one knows everything.. But you, at least, have been willing to borrow money for the purpose of learning. . .”
    “WhatEVER” “But don’t change the topic. This is a stupid product and only stupid people would buy it.”
    “That might be. What evidence do you have to support that?”
    “God, does everything need to have evidence?”
    “No. But this product sells to millions of people each year. So if you claim that only stupid people would buy it, you are claiming that there are millions of stupid people around. While I don’t necessarily disagree, I don’t believe that people who bought this product last year are more stupid than those who didn’t”
    “WhatEVER” “So what kind of Bozo would write this garbage?”
    “Probably the kind of Bozo who gets paid to persuade people to buy this product.”
    “Well the ad is still bad advertising.”
    “Why do you say that?”
    [reads some obviously inane bit of text] “Don’t try to tell me that’s Shakespeare.”
    “Wouldn’t think of it. But I can’t tell you whether it is good advertising copywriting or not.”
    “Where do we find a professor who can tell the difference?”
    “Look, like I have been trying to explain, good persuasive writing of any kind–especially advertising–needs to speak to the people you are trying to persuade. What sounds stupid to you might be entirely persuasive to someone very much unlike you. Good rhetoric–in ths case, persuasive copywriting–makes sense to the intended audience. Chances are good that audience won’t always look, talk, like and believe like you do.”
    “WhatEVER” [walks away muttering “He doesn’t even know when something’s this stupid].

    Point is, with regard to religious beliefs–as with any other sort of belief–what is persuasive to one person is inane to another. It always comes down to starting with believing something. You cannot “disbelieve nothing.” Yet in order to even “a place to stand” while you are engaged in the process of disbelieving, you have to believe a bunch of things.

    When Believing Something Becomes Popular and Goes Wrong. . .: It has Every Time, so far

    There is something that happens, however, whenever a belief system is taken up by hordes of people. People are dicey at best at consistency at anything. The more you get them together the less predictable they become. And paradoxically, the more you get together the more predictable they become: But that is just another word game.

    While religion is often the “beneficiary” of the effects of this phenomenon, the mechanism itself has nothing to do with spiritual beliefs.

    You only have to look at what WE (most everyone but me, of course. . .and you, certainly. . .”present company” and all that) did and said and claimed to believe in the months following the September 11, 2001 debacle can see a non-religious example close to home. No reasonable person, relying on physical facts alone, would ever react to an event by setting up donated million-dollar-plus gifts for the families of those killed.

    Not to be too gruesome about it, but we can’t seem to see our way clear to provide adequate healthcare for our own neighbors who have lost limbs or experienced severe life-changing trauma while working as the employees of “We, the People” and who are off killing people who we fear might conduct another attack. Now a logical approach would say “what’s the cost/risk benefit?” We know pretty much just what we are willing to pay for a life. That decision is ratified every day in insurance settlements.
    So why are the surviving relatives of the victims of the original attack entitled to so much more for each life lost than are the families of the soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq ostensibly to prevent another such disaster?
    Why are the families of those killed in the World Trade Center entitled to so much more than, say, the families of the survivors (including little children!) killed in the terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City?
    Why do we accept that it is “too costly” to provide failsafe protection so that the families of those who died in Hurricane Katrina won’t again lose family members?
    Why is it so awful for us to witness “the loss of precious human life” in the 9/11 debacle but the systematic rape, killing, impression of children into combat, and the destruction of entire villages in Sudan bumped from our news reports by news that some candidate for local office, somewhere, was caught in a sex scandal?
    These are evidence of the absolutely indefensible–by appeal to logic and reason–effects of the phenomenon called “patriotism.”
    You think atheists have a tough time getting elected? Just let someone announce that he or she is “proudly un-patriotic” and watch the mess. There are parts of this great land in which someone making such a statement could pretty much count on being killed.

    There is nothing (perhaps) inherently wrong with patriotism (at least in deference to our country.) There is something terribly wrong with much that has been done in its name, since it became so overwhelmingly popular to be patriotic. It seems the more patriots we get, the stupider we all become.
    Can you even imagine how we got to a place where people are discussing whether waterboarding should be allowed? Can any reasonable person read the Declaration of Independence and Constitution and agree that US armed forces have the right–because they have the might–to sweep through a neighborhood, kidnap an apparently random selection of young men, fly them to a string of secret detainment facilities in a variety of countries (who are dependent on our military and economic aid) then hold them for years in solitary confinement with no right to contact family, legal counsel, or even the American Red Cross? All this without formal charge or legal representation!
    I’m not (restricting my) picking on the US. In fact, my point is that this happens everywhere, to just about everyone on one level or another. “Pure Marxists” watched in horror at the Stalin purges, the Chinese Re-education system and the terrorism of the Shining Path in Peru and Ecuador. Communism among the “wobblies” was one thing: When you got an entire country full of people committed to it you end up with something completely different.
    I’m fairly confident that most US Atheists would not agree to be tied to any government in the 20th century with an official policy declaring support for atheism.

    Folks will line up around the block when a job opening for “stawmen” comes up in such a situation. McCarthy’s “problem”–like that of many religious figures–was that he was too successful. There’s lots of stupid among our elected representatives. We are so shocked when one flavor or another gains enough momentum to break out of the normally-stifling process of government.

    A friend of mine once explained to me that the reason most adults are surprised at their teenagers is one of mathematics. We assume that wit is additive, but it is, in fact, multiplicative. So if we begin with six full-witted teens we don’t, of course, end up with a “six-wit” group. If we try to think that we can somehow get more than a full-witted group, we will fail. 1x1x1x1x1x1=1. When you add a single half-wit, you will not end up with 1 1/2 wits! When you add a second half-wit, you’ve got yourself a political or social or religious movement.

    Some things of great importance cannot be evaluated by sensory data or logical thinking

    (3) No dogma, no creed, no code of morality can ever be “proven” in a way that would satisfy every reasonable person Logically (to toss a little dust, playfully) it is no more “true” to adhere to a set of religious beliefs than to reject them: Unless you can make a claim you have another set of beliefs that can be proven logically. .

    The position that truth (whatever you and I might agree it means) can be discovered through a process restricted to logic and observed reality is a philosophy of science generally called “logical positivism” and has pretty much been laughed out of philosophy programs for about 50 years already. For example, the very claim that one should believe what can be proven logically is itself a claim that cannot be proven by logic.

    So you won’t be able to find a position, (perhaps other than “apathism”–I like that) that can be proven without subscribing to some core set of beliefs that are themselves not provable.

    And any philosopher of science will tread lightly on claims that “the Scientific Method” is what distinguishes “Hard Science” from the “Soft Science” and from non-science. [isn’t it interesting that “hard” is held to be better than “soft.”] After all, the whole of paleontology and high energy physics, just to name two, would be disqualified as “Science” under that definition.

    Paleontologists cannot structure experiments in which experimental design may identify and controlled for in reproducible actions by another investigator at another place and/or time. A Paleontology that limits itself to “this fossil lay here, and that bigger bone–that was over there” is no serious scientific discipline.
    Likewise, there is no way to prove that time and energy have any relationship at all–to do so would first require defining “time” and “energy” in operationalizable terms. Unfortunately, no one has been able to either without employing arbitrary distinctions and definitions–itself a process that fails the “scientific method” test. The building blocks of the physics of the really tiny things are things which have never been observed. We can set up apparatus that can provide evidence that something has happened. To call that “proof of existence” would be analogous to saying that vapor trails visible at certain times and under certain conditions can be studied so as to discern the makings, structure and function of a passenger airliner, air freight jet or military transport.

    So what do we have? I suspect–yet I could not, in the “humanly possible” sense, ever know–that stupid and excess and cronyism and hypocrisy and banal beliefs and hedonism and egotism and graft and all sorts of other ugly qualities we seem to all have been blessed with at least a small measure of, are not a function of religion, or absence of. They are rather always present in any crowd of people. The bigger the crowd, the more likely some critical mass for a particular vice will accumulate, spill over and make an awful mess.

    After all, who can make a case for rioting and fighting and even murder after a sporting event? It doesn’t make sports bad. just human.”The fans of the victors in tonight’s event have whipped themselves into a religious fervor” is metaphor.

    This is all not at all to say–as many have (I believe, in error) accused postmoderns of advocating–that any belief is as good or bad as any other. For all my other vices, I’m no relativist. But the range of alternatives to “not that religion” is not restricted to “no religion.” The person who attempts to logically and rationally decide on the validity of of a particular set of religious beliefs is on an impossible assignment. Not that it is hard to do–it is, in fact, impossible.

    I can say, “This is my experience, why I have come to this place. And especially what my unresolved issues currently seem to be.” I cannot say “I am omniscient. I possess the certain knowledge I believe God has.Thus I know you are wrong and I am right.” I also cannot say “your beliefs are logically flawed. Any reasonable adult, knowing what I know, must come to share my beliefs. Failure to do so is conclusive evidence the individual is either a fool or a liar.”

    I’ll leave for another time my own coming to grips with the question “How could an omnipotent God allow pain”–since I suffer from an incurable and degenerative condition which has pain as its main symptoms–I have though long and hard about the issue.

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