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Contra Mundum: Selling Atheism

September 2nd, 2010 by Matt

New Zealand motorists will have noticed a new genre of advertising billboards, those attempting to sell the concept that there is probably no God. These billboards are the collective efforts of the New Zealand Atheist Campaign, The Humanist Society and the New Zealand Association of Rationalist Humanists. Like all advertising campaigns, these billboards offer clever-sounding slogans, which are indicative of the philosophy of the seller – in this case three variants of popular ‘new-atheist’ arguments. Like any consumer, I want to read the product labelling a little deeper before I consider buying. So here I intend to unpack the slogans and take a look at the implicit reasoning behind each.

Each billboard has the tagline “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” My first thought on seeing this was that authors must find atheism psychologically liberating. We do not have to worry that there is a God and that means that we can enjoy ourselves but why would the existence of God be something to worry about? Is it the moral accountability that goes with it? If God exists then we might have to worry that He has seen what we have done in secret, and being free from this worry enables us to enjoy our lives. If this is so then prima facie this suggests that guilt is a major motivation behind, at least some peoples, atheism.

The tagline aside, let’s look at the three slogans currently affronting us as we navigate our cities. The billboard on Auckland’s Newton Rd states, “Good without God? Over One Million Kiwis Are. Source:2006 Census.”

Good without god?

Here we are told that one million kiwis are good without God because the census says so. Now a lot could be said about the appeal to the census here, I don’t recall a question on it asking me if I was good and even if it did I am not sure that we should take too much from self-reported assessments of people’s own integrity. Let’s assume, however, that the billboard makes a fair claim. The inference is still is fallacious. What the census shows is not that one million kiwis are good without God, rather, it shows that one million kiwis are good without believing in the existence of God. But to say that one can be good without believing in God is not the same as saying that one can be good without God. Many people throughout history have been able to live and breath without believing in the existence of hydrogen and oxygen atoms yet it does not follow that they could live without hydrogen and oxygen.

I am still left wondering how the fact that people do not need to believe in something to do good deeds renders the belief false? For centuries people have done good deeds and lived good lives without believing in heliocentricism or quantum mechanics, should we conclude that these theories are therefore ‘probably false’? Surely we are not being asked to buy that the basis of our beliefs should be what is useful or helpful as opposed to what is true?

Perhaps the sellers mean to convey something else. Some Christian thinkers such as William Lane Craig, Robert Adams, Stephen Layman, Alvin Plantinga, John Hare and Philip Quinn have argued that moral properties such as right and wrong depend on God for their existence. Atheist writers such as Paul Kurtz and Christopher Hitchens retort that this claim is falsified by the existence of morally upright atheists. I suspect something like this is meant by the slogan on the billboard, it repeats Hitchens’ and Kurtz’s retorts as though they said something insightful or clever.

This retort misses the point. Craig, Adams, et al are not claiming that one needs to believe in God to be good – a point made several times in the literature (and particularly made so many times to Kurtz that it beggars belief that he keeps repeating it) rather, their claim is that moral properties, such as right and wrong, depend on God for their existence. This is not the same thing, we know that water depends for its existence on the existence of hydrogen and oxygen, this does not mean, however, that we need to believe in the existence of hydrogen and oxygen in order to effectively recognise and use water. Ancient and medieval people were drinking, washing in, swimming in and sailing on water centuries before the discovery of contemporary atomic theory.

This is a fairly basic and elementary distinction in the literature. How exactly expressing a common philosophical confusion counts as reason for thinking “there probably is no God” is hard to see.

Parnell Rise’s billboard informs us “In the Beginning Man Created God.”

In the beginning man created god

This one asserts that man created God. Now if one takes this statement in an absurdly literal manner (the way many sceptical organisations approach parables, hyperbole and poetry in the Bible) we find that atheists are telling us that God actually exists. I have no issue with the slogan at this juncture, however, the idea that God was created by human beings is clearly absurd. God is typically defined as an all-powerful, all-knowing, immaterial, necessarily-existent being who created the world and who sustains everything in it. Now if one is going to claim that humans actually created an all-powerful, all-knowing, immaterial, necessarily-existent who created and sustains the world, then they are contradicting themselves. Humans are part of the world and therefore cannot have created the being that created the world – otherwise humans would have to exist prior to their own existence.

Of course to interpret this billboard in this way would be uncharitable. The authors of this billboard probably do not mean to say that humans actually created God, they do not think He exists after all. Their claim is that humans created the idea or concept of God and developed it. This is undoubtedly true. Of course, humans also invented the idea or concept of atoms as well – ancient Greek philosophers came up with the basics of this concept millennia ago – but this fact tells us nothing about whether or not the idea or concept humans developed actually corresponds to anything in reality. To assume that it tells us something about whether the idea or concept is true is a fairly obvious case of what logicians call the genetic fallacy.

The last one is my favourite, “We Are All Atheists About Most Gods. Some of Us Just Go One God Further.”

We are all atheistsTo see the problems with this slogan take out the term “God” in the sign and replace it with some other term such as “non-Christian perspective.” When we do this we get: “We all reject most non-Christian perspectives, some of us just reject one more.” This argument has true premises, do we now have, a knock-down argument for Christianity?

Similarly, an analogous argument form with true premises gives us an argument for nihilism, the denial that humans have moral duties, the total denial of the existence of morality. “We are all nihilists about some conceptions of morality, some of us are just nihilistic about one more.”

The same argument for also furnishes a refutation of secularism, “we all reject some secular perspectives on reality, some of us just reject one more.” I could go on.

Taking a stand on any issue of philosophical substance, whether by affirming, denying or simply being sceptical of it, is to put oneself in opposition to any number of other people and groups who take a contrary stance. That’s life. Such pluralism hardly provides a reason for thinking “there probably is no God” any more than it gives us a reason to doubt any other perspective on the world.

So what do the atheist billboards do? Well the first one tells us that some atheist groups conflate basic philosophical distinctions and do not really understand the debate they are contributing to. The second shows us that these groups think contradictions and obvious fallacies are some how savvy and smart. The last shows us that they think that invalid argument forms, forms from which you could infer the denial of anything and everything by substituting one true premise with another, are avant-garde. All in all, pretty accurate advertising for these groups.

I write a monthly column for Investigate Magazine entitled Contra Mundum. This blog post was published in the Sept 10 issue and is reproduced here with permission. Contra Mundum is Latin for ‘against the world;’ the phrase is usually attributed to Athanasius who was exiled for defending Christian orthodoxy.

Letters to the editor should be sent to:
editorial@investigatemagazine.DELETE.com

RELATED POSTS:
Contra Mundum: Did God Command Genocide in the Old Testament?
Contra Mundum: Fairies, Leprechauns, Golden Tea Cups & Spaghetti Monsters
Contra Mundum: Secularism and Public Life
Contra Mundum: Richard Dawkins and Open Mindedness
Contra Mundum: Slavery and the Old Testament

Contra Mundum: Secular Smoke Screens and Plato’s Euthyphro

Contra Mundum: What’s Wrong with Imposing your Beliefs onto Others?
Contra Mundum: God, Proof and Faith
Contra Mundum: “Bigoted Fundamentalist” as Orwellian Double-Speak
Contra Mundum: The Flat-Earth Myth
Contra Mundum: Confessions of an Anti-Choice Fanatic
Contra Mundum: The Judgmental Jesus

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133 responses so far ↓

  • Yes this is essentially a re-write of last month’s blog post There’s Probably No God? Fisking Atheist Billboards. There are some differences though…

  • Keep up the good work, Matt.

    Nice to see that even Ian Wishart is providing free advertising for the atheist billboards.

    It’s been a highly successful campaign. Very few such campaigns have managed such a high return on restricted resources.

  • Well as we’ve previously stated ad nauseum Paul, of course we are always on the lookout for ways to drum up traffic, but again this was not the motivation here. We simply want a full collection of all of Matt’s Contra Mundum columns to be online.

    Also, there will be people who read the print version who did not see the earlier version who will be googling “Investigate, Contra Mundum Selling Atheism.” We want to make sure they can find it.

  • Firstly, I agree with Ken. Considering the low cost of the campaign, the return in terms of encouraging the debate is excellent.

    Can’t wait till the court ruling with regard to the original issue concerning the Bus Ads, then we should see even more coverage.

    Secondly, dare I suggest that Matt may be attempting to drum up further traffic for the M&M site by returning to what has to be one of the most commented subjects that they’ve posted.

    I wonder if there is a relationship between the site traffic and the amount of donations Matt has received for his US trip?

    Thirdly, still not sure if I’ll participate in this second round of debate on what is essentially the same subject.

    Then again…..

  • I like this article better than the other, for me this one is easier to read while at the same time really highlights the absurdity of those slogans.

    And someone is bitter about MandM traffic LOL

  • This is just sad. How come the Athiests don’t dare to ómit the word probably? Because they have no real proof that there is no God, do they. What fools, so in other words, do what you like, have no morals, and just enjoy life. If they’d only read the Bible, the might think otherwise!

  • Because this world is in a fallen state, and God allows mankind free will. People make their own choices, and if they choose to do evil, that is not God or the Church’s fault. The whole of history is full of every kind of wrong-doing. God is incredibgly compassionate and patient, and it’s not the existance of God that makes me worry, quite the opposite; God’s existence is a great motivator and joy. How bleak the world would be without the Creator, and how pointless. So put up your signs, whatever, they’re just laughable. Like Darwin, Dawkins is a mere mortal. He’s sold millions of books etc, but so what, his soap box will fade.

  • @ Rosette,

    I’ve taken the liberty of simply copying and pasting the answer to your question from the No god website FAQ section

    Why only “probably” no god?

    We decided to stick with the original UK campaign’s message and design. Quite simply, we like it and want to support it.

    The UK Campaign used “probably” for two reasons. The first was for legal reasons associated with the use of “probably” in other public advertising campaigns, such as the famous Carlsberg ads – “probably the best lager in the world”. Here “probably” helped to ensure the ads didn’t breach advertising codes in the UK.

    The second reason, and the more interesting one, is that “probably” is actually a great word. The use of a modifier such as probably supports the view that although there is no scientific evidence for God’s existence, it’s also impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist – just as it is impossible to prove anything doesn’t exist.

    As Richard Dawkins states in The God Delusion, saying “there’s no God” is taking a “faith” position. He writes: “Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist”. His choice of words in the book is “almost certainly”; but while this is closer to what most atheists believe, “probably” is shorter and sweeter, which is helpful for advertising.

    You then go on to state:

    What fools, so in other words, do what you like, have no morals, and just enjoy life. If they’d only read the Bible, the might think otherwise!

    Then how do you explain immoral behaviour done by people who are obviously religious, for example Islamic suicide bombers, Christian fundamentalists who murder Doctors running legal abortion clinics and Catholic priests who sexually assault children?

  • The thing about saying there is “probably” no God is that it allows Pascal’s wager to sneak in…

  • @ Rosette

    You end with:

    but so what, his soap box will fade.

    Much like the soap box for every other religion that has been and gone, has faded.

    In the same way that nobody believes in Zeus, Odin, etc anymore.

    One day they wont believe in your god either.

  • @Paul
    You may be right ,and of course I doubt it, but we certainly wont be around to see that happen.
    The worship of the Judeo-Christian god is doing a pretty good job of outlasting all others. Seen off the recent challenges of the communist ideologies, even atheism seems to have lost the popular appeal it once had.

    Who says nobody beleves in Odin anymore? Maybe you should read “The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul” by Douglas Adams

  • I think the world would “probably” be a better place if we all lived as though we had to give God an account for the way we lived our lives.

    It seems to be a fundamental character of human nature, that we do better when we know we are accountable.

  • I’d say the biggest question raised here is the one Matt gave the least time to.
    Why would the existance of God cause anyone to worry and compromise their enjoyment of life?

  • @ Jeremy

    Firstly, I have to agree. You and I will probably be long gone by the time the faithful has either disappeared, or become like those who believe in horoscopes and the like, a fringe group. This, as I’ve said before, can be shown by the drop of some 50% in the numbers indicating a religious faith in the last fifty years of the NZ census. So in another fifty years or so, Christians should almost be in single figures on the census returns, given current trends.

    Secondly, I also agree that a fundamental aspect of the character of human nature, seems to do better when we know we are accountable. I just don’t believe we need some invisible dictator in the sky to keep us in line. That’s why we have legal systems and human rights, etc. Plus, the majority of us, as Science is increasingly showing, have an inbuilt, evolved sense of right and wrong, that allows us to function in the complex society that we have created.

    Finally, the question raised by Matt, with regard to why would the existance of God cause anyone to worry and compromise their enjoyment of life? Can be answered as follows.

    Why say ‘stop worrying’?

    It’s a catchy, ad-friendly way of expressing the idea that you do not need to feel any of the worry or guilt that may exist in your life associated with religion. Especially in regard to such things as the Christian ads to which the original UK Campaign was a response to, which linked to a website that promised non-Christians and eternity of torment in a lake of fire.

    In addition to this, I would argue that many atheists, agnostics and others see religion as a promoter of fear and conformity through the use of guilt, fear and shame, so causing people to adhere to a specified religious teaching due to a belief that they will be punished, as outlined in the religious doctrines (e.g. Hell).

    In this way, religion can be seen as promotional of people pushing guilt onto others, or becoming fanatical (i.e. doing things they otherwise wouldn’t if they were non-religious), for example flying planes into the sides of buildings, in order to shed their own guilt and fear ultimately generated by the religion itself.

    Further to this, this also comes from the FAQ section: Why say ‘enjoy your life’?

    The best answer for this comes from the NZ Campaign’s FAQ:

    People who do not believe in gods or other supernatural things, do not usually believe in life after death. Humanists believe that death is the end of our personal existence, that we have only one life and must make the most of it – as Robert Ingersoll, a nineteenth century American humanist said, ‘The time to be happy is now!’

  • “Why would the existance of God cause anyone to worry and compromise their enjoyment of life?”

    If God really is the mass murdering,animal hating,sex obsessed blood lusting monster the Bible clearly recounts him as being then how could you not be worried and living in paralised terror of eternal torment in the lake of fire?

    Your Bible shows your God to be terrible and bloodthirsty…..why do Christians evade and skim over the TRUTH of their Bible?…just maybe you quietly are as sickened and repulsed as the rest of us?….and therefore ashamed for still believing in him.

  • Anonymous
    if you havent got the guts or integrity to put your name to your comment, well that pretty well says everything we need to know about you…

    Paul
    Thankyou for the politeness of your reply.
    I am afraid we will always disgree. My experience of Christian faith varies so much from your perception i sometimes wonder whether we are talking about the same thing. You usually quote extremist examples [and i guess we all do] which are not at all the representative of the vast majority of faith holders [ even of more forceful religions like Islam] and no different from the extremist nature of non faith holders like Stalin etc. These behaviours are part of the nature of people and have nothing to do with religion, although religion is often used as a justification.
    The imperfect and often unpleasant character of men is amply demonstrated across all faiths, non faiths, theist and non-theist ideologies.
    Clearly as a Christian i’m not impartial on the subject and believe men will be at their best by following Christ.
    Still i am left wondering what do atheists believe would actually change or improve if somehow they managed to get rid of all religion?
    If we somehow got to the position where “adaptive advantage” was the only measure, what kind of human society would that create? Who would want to live in it?

  • Jeremy – what a strange comment: “Still i am left wondering what do atheists believe would actually change or improve if somehow they managed to get rid of all religion?”

    As an atheist I have never advanced that – and don’t know anyone who does. However I do advocate for science and reason and will argue against those who oppose it – whether they are religious or not.

    Pity that you have that misunderstanding as it probably prevents you coming to humane conclusions.

  • Pity that you have that misunderstanding as it probably prevents you coming to humane conclusions.

    Ironic quote of the day!!

  • Heres a quote by Stephenie Merritt of the Observer from the back of Sam Harris’ book “The End of Faith”…

    “an eminently sensible rallying cry for a more ruthless secularisation of society”

    Sounds as bad as what Sam’s complaining about.

    I wonder what a ruthlessly secularised society would be like?

  • Strangely i would suggest that my belief that we are all equal in worth and value before God places me in a better position to come to humane conclusions than someone who believes that we are the product of purposeless blind chance with no value as individuals other than as means to propagate our genes into the future.
    I guess you dont really live like that Ken, but then its you whose life and belief would appear inconsistant.

  • Heh!.. Just heard on The Rock….”If we are all Gods children why is Jesus so special?”

    Exactly!

    Thank you….;-)

  • We are not all Gods children… would be the answer. :(

  • These reactions to my comment pointing our that as an atheist I have never advocated for “getting rid of religion” are really strange. That is an obvious statement of fact  in my case (clearly I have always supported the recognition of pluralism and the need to handle that by respecting human rights). And I have yet to see any credible reference to another respectable non-believer promoting that. Why should they? They are more interested in advocating for their own rights than removing others.

    I repeat that I do advocate for science and reason and will argue against those who oppose it – whether they are religious or not. Perhaps you interpret that as getting rid of religion?

    However, the silly reaction does illustrate what I mean about being humane. Unfortunately the willingness to promote a lie against all the evidence leads to the inhumane characterization of me implicit in these comments

  • Wow James, you heard it on the rock. I guess that mean’s that comes from a really credible source. I guess next it will be on shortland street and then we’ll have confirmation of its veracity.

  • Sorry can’t find the old post to put this on but you might like this Matt:

    This is from a song:

    Obie Trice – Shit Hits The Fan Lyrics
    (feat. Dr. Dre and Eminem)

    The line you might like is:

    “Curtis pulled your skirt up n**** you got murdered
    Now take it like a man and shake it off. Damn”

    I take it you know why you would like this line?

  • (nothing sinister.. just a modern example of murder clearly not being literal in popular culture)

  • @Ken
    “As an atheist I have never advanced that – and don’t know anyone who does.”

    I think you will find it was the second half of you comment that i reacted to. It is quite clear that people like Harris and Dawkins believe religion is dangerous to society especially theist religions and by implication [ although Harris says it clearly] we should be rid of it.
    I guess you dont Know them personally but you must at least know of them which makes your comment as quoted above, questionable.
    I am at a loss to understand why you are so upset, no one has said you specifically advocated getting rid of all religions.
    I did ask the question
    ” what do atheists believe would actually change or improve if somehow they managed to get rid of all religion?
    If we somehow got to the position where “adaptive advantage” was the only measure, what kind of human society would that create? Who would want to live in it?”

    Although this question wasnt addressed specifically to you it seems a reasonable one for you to answer given your atheist belief , your repeated comments on the problems of religion, its non-evidententiary basis and your advocacy for science and reason..

    So what do you say Ken, how do you think things would be any different and better in a religion free world, one where evolution and its implications were the measure of things?

  • Jeremy – you ask again: “So what do you say Ken, how do you think things would be any different and better in a religion free world,”

    I don’t think about that all. It’s a silly question. Like asking what conditions would be like of no-one believed in astrology. It’s not a real situation.

    Our species is crap at predicting the future or describing what something would be like if we just removed one factor.

    Personally, I think that superstition is part of being human. We have evolved to be like that and this is also the basis of god beliefs. I don’t think superstition will disappear in the foreseeable future so I don’t think religion will either.

    Just look at the manned space programme – very much a scientific phenomenon. But at every Soyuz launch the rocket is blessed by an Orthodox priest. More personally the cosmonauts have a superstitious tradition of urinating on the wheels of their transport bus before launch. And as the cosmonauts enter their vehicle each one is kicked in the bum by the commander. All superstitious traditions even though these people may well be strongly scientific and probably atheist.

    However, I think history shows that superstition and religion are having reduced influence. Let’s face it – people like me would have been imprisoned or killed a few centuries ago.

    But there is a fight-back. Even today religious leaders (christian and Islamic) have been calling for a campaign against atheism – even against secularism. They would like to “get rid of these.”

    So Jeremy, perhaps the relevant question is to you – “how do you think things would be any different and better in an atheist free world, one where evolution, & its implications, and a scientific understanding of reality were suppressed?”

    Science and reason has become far more widespread in the last 400 years. It is continually under attack but I think humanity has enough experience with it to see that they don’t want to lose it.

    Increase in atheism is the inevitable result of modern science and increased knowledge – but this occurs naturally. No suppression of religion is required. Quite the contrary. A pluralist society really appears to favour knowledge, science and reason.

    The problem you have is that you see any attempt to advance, or defend, science and reason as an attack on religion. As an attempt to remove religoon. That is your paranoia and it has no basis.

    You say: “quite clear that people like Harris and Dawkins believe religion is dangerous to society especially theist religions and by implication [ although Harris says it clearly] we should be rid of it.” The old jerking kines again I see.

    Well, many people have come to see religion as dangerous after the terrorist attacks in 2001. Many people see the attacks on science by fundamental Christians and others as dangerous. These things have to be fought – and I just wish moderate Christians would stand up to such extremism, but that is not the same as “getting rid of religion.”

    I think many people also see ideology of any sort as dangerous. Dogmatism and extremism, religious-based or political/secular based is dangerous. Let’s not forget the political terrorists of the 70s, even though today’s terrorists seem to be mainly religious motivated.

  • @ James

    “Heh!.. Just heard on The Rock….”If we are all Gods children why is Jesus so special?”

    Exactly!”

    This is a completely fallacious argument because it misses the point altogether. Jesus is the “Son of God,” also the “Son of Man,” but he is not a child of God in the way that we are. We are God’s children because we were CREATED in His image, though many choose to reject that image and desire to create their own. Jesus IS God! He was not created, He simply IS. God in the flesh who came to live bodily among us. We cannot put ourselves on a par with Jesus as children of God because that would be elevating ourselves to the level of God, which would be our “iniquities” that Jesus was bruised for. So yes, Jesus IS special!

    As an open comment, I love how they stay “There’s probably no God.” Real conviction of beliefs! Boy they’re really sticking their necks out there leaving open the possibility!

  • [...] 3rd, 2010 § Leave a Comment Matt elegantly deconstructs the atheist billboard campaign in New [...]

  • “Anonymous
    if you havent got the guts or integrity to put your name to your comment, well that pretty well says everything we need to know about you…”

    Maybe Anonymous fears that judgmental people who will make a snap decision about their entire character based on one post might be reading…. no where would they get that idea…..

  • @ Christian,

    I’ve taken the liberty of simply copying and pasting the answer to your question from the No god website FAQ section

    Why only “probably” no god?

    We decided to stick with the original UK campaign’s message and design. Quite simply, we like it and want to support it.

    The UK Campaign used “probably” for two reasons. The first was for legal reasons associated with the use of “probably” in other public advertising campaigns, such as the famous Carlsberg ads – “probably the best lager in the world”. Here “probably” helped to ensure the ads didn’t breach advertising codes in the UK.

    The second reason, and the more interesting one, is that “probably” is actually a great word. The use of a modifier such as probably supports the view that although there is no scientific evidence for God’s existence, it’s also impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist – just as it is impossible to prove anything doesn’t exist.

    As Richard Dawkins states in The God Delusion, saying “there’s no God” is taking a “faith” position. He writes: “Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist”. His choice of words in the book is “almost certainly”; but while this is closer to what most atheists believe, “probably” is shorter and sweeter, which is helpful for advertising.

    Hope this helps!

  • Good point Max, Anonymous also ignores the fact I have actually addressed his claims about God a few times on this site.

  • @Max
    I would have to agree that i might have over reacted a bit there, but perhaps you should read his comment it was infact seriously judgemental and prejudiced and rather clearly fairly ignorant of the subject on which he/she was commenting on.
    Nevertheless i agree i should have done better.

  • “This, as I’ve said before, can be shown by the drop of some 50% in the numbers indicating a religious faith in the last fifty years of the NZ census.”

    NZ’s population size is almost insignificant to the bigger scheme of things really. Also true for other ‘secularized’ nations like Sweden.

    Most of the world population still believe in God.

  • @ anon

    The statistic I quoted with regard to religious trends was specifically related to New Zealand.

    However, another interesting trend with regard to religion on a global scale can be seen here:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/04/opinion/04blow.html?_r=2&th&emc=th

    Perhaps poverty leads to religiosity? As in, the absence of a proper habitation leads to the wanting of something to give you hope (false hope, but nonetheless)?

    Perhaps the progression from third- to first-world countries over time might decrease the rate of religion through a balanced and accessible education, a healthier and therefore more conscious people, and maybe an increased ability to concentrate focus on science rather than hunger.

    In that case, removing a chunk of religion would be as simple as donating to the Red Cross much more often. It wouldn’t eradicate religion, obviously, but at least the vulnerability to add more members to it would diminish.

    In addition to that, it would appear that it is not material wealth as main driver but the social security and safety which is causing the decline for religiosity as tool for brain soothing.

    The wealth in the USA looks high per capita but is very unequal distributed and sudden unemployment or sickness can let you slip down to the bottom of society very fast, so a very unsecure environment.

    46 million US citizens which do not have any health insurance coverage, so the hospitals and emergency services will reject them any medical help.

    Last week I read that now after the economic downturn and widespread unemployment is bringing down salaries in the US so much, that Indian call centers are now shifting parts of their global operation to the USA and want to hire thousands of desperate low salary staff there !

    And today I read in the German news (Spiegel Online) “ Poverty : 50 million Americans are suffering from bad nutrition”.

    So a deadly self-reinforcing downward spiral of insecurity -> religiosity -> poverty -> insecurity -> ……

  • The irony of Sam Harris’ “annihilation equation” was highlighted by Vox Day in his book The Irrational Atheist. The major religions have been around for collectively more than 10,000 years, and though we’ve fought like cats and dogs we’ve not managed to destroy the Earth. Science has been around for 400 years and now we have weapons that can shatter the planet.
    Given that history has shown that it is possible to inhibit scientific progress, and impossible to supress the religious instinct, if we actually cared about our long time survival we’d start exterminating scientists.
    It’s tongue in cheek of course, but it does illustrate the stupidity of that particular atheistic argument.

  • Still peddling that long debunked and fallacious line by pseudo-statistician Gregory Scott I see..

    To state that atheism is correlated with wealth and high living standards and religion is the opposite is bull shit! As Matt, George Gallup and statistician Scott Gilbreath already pointed out flaws in that one-sided biased nonsense of a research. Yet why does Paul and Ken keep on parroting an already beaten theory? One wonders at the mindlessness fundy atheistic thought has on its followers

    Education and wealth does not guarantee that a society will be morally upright. Nazi Germany for example had Hitler enact policies favoring German owned businesses and industries to flourish with generous concessions to those who can employ German labourers, He built autobahns, eliminated unemployment. Ensured that German citizens were educated and trained to be skilled labourers and good soldiers for the Reich. At the same time, traditional religions like Catholicism and lutherans were losing their members by the numbers, while those who believe in the Secularist National Socialist doctrine were rising. This mimics the trends that Paul and Ken were talking about regarding first world nations today, but as they both agree. the Nazi’s did not adhere to their liberal, tolerant brand of atheism, but in a more aggressive, brutal pragmatic kind of godlessness.

    In the same vein, a country’s religiousity can be deceptive, there was an article chronicling how religious Iranians are; Turns out they practice Islam in a cultural, nominal sense; They are not devoted to the five pillars as devoutly as a fundamentalist Muslim is. The way an average Iranian see his/her religion is the same way a Canadian sees Christianity as nothing but labels and practices with no signficance in daily living. So, this whole debate about atheism vs religion correlation with standard of living is complicated with no black or white conclusions despite what the drones say.

  • Alvin, you guys have got an extremely shocking disregard for the truth. Your claim: “Still peddling that long debunked and fallacious line by pseudo-statistician Gregory Scott” - you can’t even get Gregory Paul’s name right.

    And your concept of debunking is fanciful:
    “As Matt, George Gallup and statistician Scott Gilbreath already pointed out flaws in that one-sided biased nonsense of a research.”

    Come off it- Matt didn’t even understand the statistics. He swore black and blue that there were no correlations when anyone who can pronounce the word could see the evidence.

    George Gallop is a religious apologist – not a statistician – nothing to do with the polling organisations. There response was not a debunking – just a childish reaction to something they didn’t like.

    You guys will grab at any straw to defend stupid ideas.

    In fact Paul is still going strong. Has done further work on these stats. He has a useful web site (The Science of Religion) and presented a lecture at the Copenhagen conference outlining some of the work. The video of the lecture is in six parts starting with Gregory Paul – Is religion really universal and good? [1/6].mp4.

    Paul’s article from last year The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions is worth looking at. It is a follow up to his Journal of Religion & Society paper discussed here. It contains more statistical analyses and he draws firmer conclusions about the role of social security, or lack of it in the case of the USA, in relgiosity.

  • George Gallop is a religious apologist – not a statistician – nothing to do with the polling organisations.

    And Gregory Paul is the epitome of an atheistic apologist, who himself is neither a scientist nor a statistician. He holds an undergraduate degree in art, and is and artist best known for his models and drawings of dinosaurs.

  • Here’s a journal response to Paul’s earlier work, published in the same journal that Paul originally published his work:

    http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2006/2006-1.html

    This article is neither by Gallup (who Ken claims to be a religious apologist) nor Paul (a dinosaur artist and anti-religious apologist known for debating Young Earth Creationists and being a national speaker for the Council of Secular Humanism). Instead, it’s by two Ph.D. professors in political science, and a Ph.D. professor in history.

    His latest reworking of the original article is still too new to receive adequate responses, but I doubt it has advanced much beyond the earlier work which was almost universally criticized by actual sociologists and statisticians such as Berger (a former atheist…but not sure what he is now other than a theist), Micklethwait and Wooldridge (who are atheists) and Arthur C. Brooks (Catholic)…but are actual social scientists. Statistician Scott Gilbreath has loads of articles back from 2007 debunking the many errors in the original work.

    Despite it’s almost universal rejection among professionals, atheist apologists continue to use the study for obvious reasons. Phil Zuckerman even uses it as the basis for his “research” in the Cambridge Companion to Atheism. I guess when you have an agenda to prove, you use whatever makes you look good no matter the quality…unfortunately, both sides of these debates can be accused of doing this way too often.

    Ken, on a somewhat different note, all across his personal website, Paul refers to himself as a scientist and says he is doing science. He of course has no degrees in science, but has worked alongside scientists to create his models and artistic renderings. Would you consider his artistic work and model crafting to be “science?” Just wondering…

  • Gregory Paul may be going strong, but the kindest thing one could say of his understanding of the Bible and Christianity is “superficial”.
    You know full well from your participation in discussions on this site that the caricatures of Christian belief he describes have been thoroughly debunked.
    Matt may have misunderstood the statistics of correlation but as a scientist you also know that even a 100% correlation may not represent any actual relationship and the most it points to is the necessity and possible direction for further reseach.
    Finally what is particularly suprising about the fact that as people have less power and control in their lives they seek help and comfort? Or as they feel more in control they feel less need for these things?
    This does not say anything about the veracity or otherwise of thoses sources of help and comfort.

  • Jeremy, you need to direct your statistical advice to Matt – not me. He is the one who couldn’t get his head around the fact that a correlation didn’t mean causality and therefore felt he had to deny that there were correlations!

    But all I hear from you and G. Kyle Essary are attacks on the person of Paul – nothing about the “faults” in his work. Even reference to Scott Gilbreath is superficial – my reading of his comments show that he was critical that Paul didn’t include corelation coefficients, for example. Ignoring the fact that most people can read a graph when it is that obvious. There are some situations where the correlation coefficients are really superfluous – I can remember statisticians joking about my desire to display coefficients in situations when the result was so obvious no sensible person was going to worry about the significance of the correlations. (By the way Pauls latest paper includes coefficients – they are necessary in some cases).

    And, Alvin, you seem to really make your attempt to discredit Paul rather pointless when you admit the very point that Paul is concluding from his work.

    Sure, G. Kyle Essary, Paul describes himself as an “independent scientist” (although he has worked at universities) and of course that can raise a flag. But, getting back to his work – it has been published in peer reviewed journals and his conclusions are similar to others working in the field. I noticed from the videos of the lecture he gave at the Copenhagen conference in July that other experts disagreed with some of his conclusions (eg. about the lack of gods in the religious beliefs of some African tribes). Like any other such forum this is the sort of debate I expect.

    So less of the playing the man – get back to the ball. And don’t be so dishonest with the attempts to undermine that work. That doesn’t make it go away.

  • all I hear from you and G. Kyle Essary are attacks on the person of Paul – nothing about the “faults” in his work.

    Actually, that’s all you offered in regards to Gallup.

    Despite your claim, in my response I referred to a published response full of critiques of his work, by professors in the social sciences.

    I also referred to atheist, general theist and Catholic schoalrs and research that directly contradict his claims in my references to Berger, Micklethwait, Woolridge and Brooks. Here are direct links to some of their works, for the interested reader:

    Religious America, Secular Europe edited by Peter Berger has a strong critique, and along with the other sociologists in this compilation, they show many of the myths regarding Europe’s secularism.

    God is Back, written by two atheists, is full of examples showing that as religious beliefs have increased throughout the world in the last fifty years, much good has come, often in response to explicitly atheistic governments and social policies. It also offer plenty of critiques of the “superior secular nations” myth along the way. Wooldridge has a Ph.D. in history of sociology, and is a fellow at Berkley. Micklethwait studied history at Oxford, but is best known as the editor-in-chief at the Economist.

    Arthur C. Brooks has critiqued this type of thinking in many of his books, but the clearest examples critiquing the myth of the “superior secular nation” thesis would be Who Really Cares?. He has a Ph.D. in social analysis, and has taught at Georgia Tech and Syracuse.

    Anyone can search for Gilbreath and find lots of blog posts critiquing Paul for much more than “not including correlation coefficients.”

    So I’m not sure how these are merely “attacks on the person,” but I’m guessing the intelligent reader can see through the semantics.

    Regardless of the quality of Paul’s work, this is way off topic and most theists at this site aren’t interested in whether or not atheists can be moral (they obviously can), but what justification they have for their morality. This being the case, Paul’s research on the quality of life for less theistic nations is irrelevant (Sweden, and the core northern European nations in his research, are still predominantly theistic/deistic – in Sweden for instance, 76% believe there is some God, spirit or life force – and this doesn’t even deal with the influence of the Christian residue found everywhere in Swedish culture and public policies).

  • @ Alvin

    You say:

    Education and wealth does not guarantee that a society will be morally upright.

    I did not say anything about such a link, I was merely commenting on the concept of lower rates of religiosity in first world countries, bar the US, and much higher rates in the third world.

    In addition to that, another possibility could also be that better educated western countries, with a free press and the legally enshrined right to free speech, also allow for a greater understanding, coverage and critique of some religions failings, such as the current state of the catholic church in Europe:

    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/512021-how-bleak-is-the-future-for-catholicism

    This links to an excerpt from a larger article from the UK Observer newspaper, which in the expanded form goes on to show how Catholicism is growing in many third world countries, that may not have the same level of education, free press, etc.

  • @Ken
    I went and read Pauls intro page, he clearly knows little or nothing about the Christian faith, but stating that is hardly playing the man.

    The analysis Kyle directed you to came to this conclusion
    “At the same time, however, its methodological problems do not allow for any conclusive statement to be advanced regarding the various hypotheses Paul seeks to demonstrate or falsify. What one can state with certainty is that one cannot in any way be certain as to the effects of religiosity and secularism upon prosperous democracies at least as based upon the methods and data of Paul’s study.”

    In other words he achieved nothing.

    But even if he had acheived something in the direction he wanted too—so what? I will repeat my previous question…
    “what is particularly suprising about the fact that as people have less power and control in their lives they seek help and comfort? Or as they feel more in control they feel less need for these things?”

    I mean ,for goodness sake, anybody can see this simply by looking around themselves.

  • G. Kyle Essary – I am disappointed. The links you gave were all to Amazon. No way for me to get to their content without buying the books. I expected journals. Perhaps your claim that these contradict Paul’s findings are wishful thinking.

    Jeremy, your assessment of Paul’s understanding of Christianity is irrelevant, as is his specific understanding. The research involved a statistical survey – not an analysis of the bible.

    But again you repeat Paul’s conclusion. This might appear to obvious to you (according G. Kyle Essary it has been disproved – perhaps not so obvious).

    I agree it is something along the lines of what i would expect from my own observations., But Paul’s analyses provided empirical information confirming it.

    Again your strange desire to criticize the man and the research is an indication that it upsets you somehow.

    G. Kyle Essary you say: “Regardless of the quality of Paul’s work, this is way off topic and most theists at this site aren’t interested in whether or not atheists can be moral (they obviously can), but what justification they have for their morality.”

    I was responding to Alvins misrepresentation of the research and the man and to Alvin’s specific reference to me. Perhaps you should admonish Alvin.

    However, bring it on. I am all too keen to discuss how our morality (believer and non-believer) is justified. There is fascinating research on that which you guys should really catch up with. I have discussed it on my own blog (see Is and ought, Evolution of gods, morals and violence and The new science of morality) and am ready to also discuss it here. In fact, I think I have made some comments here on this.

    I believe there are huge holes in religious apologetic arguments on morality so am keen to point these out.

  • interesting slogans aye. makes one think about doctrines, theology, and yeah. its great.

  • Ken wrote “Matt – not me. He is the one who couldn’t get his head around the fact that a correlation didn’t mean causality and therefore felt he had to deny that there were correlations!”

    I see you still have not moved beyond, misrepresenting what others say. Please try not to tell lies.

  • That is an obvious statement of fact in my case (clearly I have always supported the recognition of pluralism and the need to handle that by respecting human rights).

    Ah, that explains why you changed your tune when I pointed out that our respective positions on religious charitable deductions were based on tolerance of others on my side and attempts to exclude religion on yours.

    But there is a fight-back. Even today religious leaders (christian and Islamic) have been calling for a campaign against atheism – even against secularism. They would like to “get rid of these.”

    Can you produce something proving that a credible christian leader said something like that?

    So Jeremy, perhaps the relevant question is to you – “how do you think things would be any different and better in an atheist free world, one where evolution, & its implications, and a scientific understanding of reality were suppressed?”?

    That’s a bit of a silly question. But were one to rephrase it:

    “how do you think things would be any different and better in a world where the reality of God was acknowledge widely, one where evolution was regarded as a nonsense, and a science was free and determined to pursue truth even if that meant acknowledging a creator?

    I believe in such a society we would be marginally better of socially (there still being plenty of false religions – getting rid of one isn’t going to help that much), but science would be advancing at a rate of knots.

  • Ken,

    One of G Kyle’s links point to one technical summary made by statisticians competent in their field (they belong to the same organization that Greg peddles his papers from), He makes valid points that there has been omissions and deep ignorant understandings of Mr. Paul’s definitions on what a secular country is or is not

    As George Gallup Jr. himself indicated Greg’s assumptions are biased and misinformed, He thinks the US is a religious country, when constitutionally it’s not. Also, you cannot make the same tired argument that the Statisticians quoted by Kyle are biased in favour of theism, they clearly aren’t theologians nor do they care about throwing doctrinal axes at atheists. Berger himself is a lapsed lutheran by the way, which means he uses ‘methodological atheism’ whenever he researchs social phenomenon, unlike Mr. Paul’s secular humanistic bias that seem to spill unchecked from his papers.

    Another thing, it is plain silly to be associating theism and religious belief to psychosocial disorders, its more of a general human problem resulting in a country’s complex history than it is on theism, this involves taking to account its nationalistic (atheistic) movements, politics, economics and religion.

    Atran is a shining example of a moderate non-believer’s voice amidst the fundy atheists, he cites studies done by Noreyenazan on the Reality Club website on the Edge on scapegoating behaviour and found that secular humanists themselves are not exempt from typifying inhumane attributes to theists. He is right on the money here, look at columbine, the norway shootings, the nature and motive for the act isn’t anyway religious at all, but the shooters on both cases occuring in 1st world secular humanistic countries cite Natural selection, evolution as its reasons for weeding out the weak by going on a killing spree.

    Like I said before, Paul’s study is simplistic nonsense, it defies common sense by overlooking technical difficulties as cited by Kyle and exemptions to his rule (examples above) Its also overtly disturbing that he wants to associate religion with disorderly conduct, must be a shout-out to Hitler’s or theologians’ attempts to do the same with Judaism or humanism by pairing something bad with them.

    Congratulations Ken that apologist hole you’re talking about just swallowed you Whole!

  • Matt: “Wow James, you heard it on the rock. I guess that mean’s that comes from a really credible source. I guess next it will be on shortland street and then we’ll have confirmation of its veracity.”

    Wow Matt…you got your religion and worldview from an invisible sky fairy that,no matter how much you may write and spin about, you still can’t produce any actual evidence for..I can at least turn on the radio and get the Rock…what can you do other than talkbalk to yourself?

  • James, to be clear: Every time someone calls you out for relying on, say, popular radio or something equally unscholarly for conclusions about complex issues, are you going to avoid the accusation and effectively justify yourself by calling religion funny names? Or is it actually possible that at some point in the future you’ll acknowledge the force of those criticisms against your methodology?

  • Matt got his religion and worldview from the testimony of those who saw this man called Jesus from Nazareth, heard him say remarkable things, witnessed him do miraculous works and then, after being crucified under Roman law, recover from being dead. When challenged by their peers they appealed not only to what they had seen, but that which their critics had seen.

    It’s what is known as historical evidence.

    Sky fairy, spaghetti monster, invisible pink unicorn, they’re all the same thing. They just demonstrate that the speaker values rhetoric over substance.

  • OK James, I read you loud and clear. I get it. You’re immune from criticism.

  • I guess it’s part of the theological thinking which selects or distorts reality to fit a preconceived conclusion. But you guys are surprising lax with the truth, even so. Perhaps its just a habit.

    1: Matt – you easily accuse others of lies. The fact is though that in the previous discussion of Paul’s work you continually denied there was a correlation between religiosity and some measures of social dysfunction like teenage pregnancy and abortions despite the clear evidence in the graphs. Several people pointed out you were wrong and that you didn’t understand statistics. I concluded you were motivated by a fear that a correlation proved a causal link – despite almost everyone else stressing this is not the case.

    Anyway, you can clear that up by simply acknowledging what everyone else saw – that there is a correlation very evident from the plots in several cases. I repeat that doesn’t prove any causal link – so don’t let that worry you.

    2:Alvin – you are willing to repeat the tone of criticism of a clearly biased religious apologist who criticised Paul – but what about some specifics. I know this guy doesn’t like Paul but one has to talk about real evidence.

    The single thing you claim is Paul “thinks the US is a religious country”. Well, I disagree. I certainly didn’t read that in any of Paul’s presentations. he was, in fact, not categorizing countries as religious or otherwise. What he was doing was using several parameters as measures of religiosity. Such as prayer frequency, church attendance, etc. His comment was that religiosity, as measured by those parameters, was higher in the US than in other developed nations – just as was the murder rate. Surely that is not controversial.

    Alvin, I think you are straw clutching and poisoning the well. You appear not to like the conclusions that can be drawn from the study – and yet you then go on to claim that these are obvious anyway. Come on, you can’t have it both ways. All Paul seems to have done is provided empirical evidence to support something you appear to intuitively beleive.

    3: Scrubone – you of course have a very selective memory of the discussion on religious privilege re tax exemption. I repeat: “clearly I have always supported the recognition of pluralism and the need to handle that by respecting human rights” – and I defy you to find evidence otherwise. Calling for removal of financial privilege for one beleif is not an attack on pluralism – quite the opposite.

    re campaigns against atheism and secularism. One example is the interfaith dialogue which lead to the Madrid declaration – supported by major religious leaders (see Interfaith dialogue to fight against human rights and Interfaith dialogue and human rights). This was promoted by King Abdulah (a credible Muslim religious leader) to fight “the disintegration of the family and the rise of atheism in the world – a frightening phenomenon that all religions must confront and vanquish.”

    Pope Benny (a credible Christian leader) has several times called for a campaign against secularism, and recently announced formation of a Vatican Office to handle this.

    And let’s not get started on some of the American Johnny Boys in the mega churches! I don’t know if you see them as credible (well a lot of people don’t find the other two credible either) but they certainly seem to fool enough people to live very richly.

    re the question of what an atheist free world would be like – I agree a silly question. Meant to be to show Jeremy how silly his question of what a religion-free world would be like. I think Jeremy may have realised that because he didn’t respond.

  • “Matt got his religion and worldview from the testimony of those who saw this man called Jesus from Nazareth, heard him say remarkable things, witnessed him do miraculous works and then, after being crucified under Roman law, recover from being dead. When challenged by their peers they appealed not only to what they had seen, but that which their critics had seen.”

    Really? And wheres the solid evidence an individual called Jesus Christ actually existed? Historians etc haven’t come up with any that stands scutiny…do you have some?

    Are these witnesses the same people who previously were his friends who at first didn’t recognise him on his “return”? Funny that…

  • Paul, there’s no defensble way, as far as I can tell, to effectively say (and this is my re-phrase) “if something is best read as not literally true, then everything is equally a candidate for being properly read as not intended to be seen as literally true.”

  • “James, to be clear: Every time someone calls you out for relying on, say, popular radio or something equally unscholarly for conclusions about complex issues, are you going to avoid the accusation and effectively justify yourself by calling religion funny names? Or is it actually possible that at some point in the future you’ll acknowledge the force of those criticisms against your methodology?”

    Who “relied” on popular radio for “conclusions to complex issues?” I simply posted a slogan from a T-shirt contest they ran that actually asked a rather pertinant question…it wasn’t the revealing of a hiterto unknown gospel you know…..;=o

    Please get some perspective.

    Ps…Glenn…hows that “I so look like Jesus!” thing working out for ya? Is the beard getting itchy yet?…does it get you chicks?

    ….or were you trying to channel Che prehaps?

    ;-)

  • To be fair to James,

    Matt has argued for quite a long time, very strongly, both on this blog, at the Falannagan V Bradley Debate and in the broader theistic community (Hence his invite to speak in the US) that much of what the bible says should be viewed as metaphor and/or hyperbole and should not be taken literally.

    Therefore, is it so improbable that the accounts related to such events as the supposed resurrection of Jesus, could not have been embellished possibly, even exaggerated or just created to help support the growth of christianity in general.

    I know I’m an atheist, but even a theist can see that could have happened, couldn’t it?

  • “Heh!.. Just heard on The Rock….”If we are all Gods children why is Jesus so special?”

    Exactly!”

    My immidiate thought when this post appeared was; the answer is in the tense.

  • Paul, I think you’re jumbling together different issues.

    On the one hand – and this is the issue I was talking about – there’s the question of the correct way to read and understand a piece of writing. Your question was basically: If Matt and others accept that there are parts of the Bible that were not written to be taken as literally true, but which conformed to fairly common practices of hyperbole (just as an example), then why is it so impossible that the Gospels were written that way too?

    My point in reply was just that the mere existence of this practice doesn’t mean that it’s equally likely to be found everywhere. We’re still talking about how to read literature at this point, bear in mind, and not over the truth of what that literature means to convey.

    In other words, you’ve got to answer the question “how was this piece of writing meant to be understood” on a case by case basis, rather than just saying “well, the literary phenomenon exists, so I guess this could be a case of that phenomenon.” In the case of the Gospels, it is by now very well documented that they resemble ancient hellenistic biography more than anything else, a genre that differs significantly fromt he ancient near eastern warfare accounts that are relevant when it comes to reading the accounts in Joshua. So that’s why you can’t take the literary phenomenon that occurs in one and just assume that it might be present in the other.

    You now – quite confusedly in my opinion – drag in a very different issue, namely the Humean principle that if an account contains anything supernatural then it should be suspected of being false. But this is quite irrelevant. Sure, after understanding what the Gospels accounts mean to convey – namely a literal account of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead – your beliefs about metaphysics might kick in, forcing you to reject the account as false. But that wasn’t the issue. The issue is over how the account should be read, and whether or not we should read it as an account that was meant to be understood as literally true.

  • Glenn,

    I understand your reasoning, but surely when the subject being written about involves supernatural claims, you can understand why more than a few of us are rather skeptical.

    I remember studying the diary of Anne Frank when I was at school. Now I, along with the vast majority who have read the book, seen films based on it, etc, have no way of knowing if it is actually true.

    As you can see from the following, even a story such as hers, that has no supernatural elements contained within had to undergo this drawn out process that took place after publication to prove it valid.

    After the diary became widely known in the late 1950s, various allegations against the diary were published, with the earliest published criticisms occurring in Sweden and Norway. The allegations in the Swedish Nazi magazine Fria ord (free words) in 1957 came from the Danish author and critic Harald Nielsen who had written antisemitic articles about the Danish-Jewish author Georg Brandes already at the beginning of the twentieth century.[66] Among the accusations was a claim that the diary had been written by Meyer Levin,[67] and that Anne Frank had not really existed.

    In 1958, Simon Wiesenthal was challenged by a group of protesters at a performance of The Diary of Anne Frank in Vienna who asserted that Anne Frank had never existed, and who challenged Wiesenthal to prove her existence by finding the man who had arrested her. He began searching for Karl Silberbauer and found him in 1963. When interviewed, Silberbauer readily admitted his role, and identified Anne Frank from a photograph as one of the people arrested. He provided a full account of events and recalled emptying a briefcase full of papers onto the floor. His statement corroborated the version of events that had previously been presented by witnesses such as Otto Frank.[68]

    Opponents of the diary continued to express the view that it was not written by a child, but had been created as pro-Jewish propaganda, with Otto Frank accused of fraud. In 1959, Frank took legal action in Lübeck against Lothar Stielau, a school teacher and former Hitler Youth member who published a school paper that described the diary as a forgery.

    The complaint was extended to include Heinrich Buddegerg, who wrote a letter in support of Stielau, which was published in a Lübeck newspaper. The court examined the diary, and, in 1960, authenticated the handwriting as matching that in letters known to have been written by Anne Frank, and declared the diary to be genuine. Stielau recanted his earlier statement, and Otto Frank did not pursue the case any further.

    In 1976, Otto Frank took action against Heinz Roth of Frankfurt, who published pamphlets stating that the diary was a forgery. The judge ruled that if he published further statements he would be subjected to a fine of 500,000 German marks and a six-month jail sentence. Roth appealed against the court’s decision and died in 1978, a year before his appeal was rejected.[67]
    Otto Frank mounted a further lawsuit in 1976 against Ernst Römer who distributed a pamphlet titled “The Diary of Anne Frank, Bestseller, A Lie”. When another man named Edgar Geiss distributed the same pamphlet in the courtroom, he too was prosecuted. Römer was fined 1,500 Deutschmarks,[67] and Geiss was sentenced to six months imprisonment. On appeal the sentence was reduced, but the case against him was dropped following a subsequent appeal because the statutory limitation for libel had expired.[69]

    With Otto Frank’s death in 1980, the original diary, including letters and loose sheets, were willed to the Dutch Institute for War Documentation,[70] who commissioned a forensic study of the diary through the Netherlands Ministry of Justice in 1986. They examined the handwriting against known examples and found that they matched, and determined that the paper, glue and ink were readily available during the time the diary was said to have been written. Their final determination was that the diary is authentic, and their findings were published in what has become known as the “Critical Edition” of the diary. On 23 March 1990, the Hamburg Regional Court confirmed its authenticity.[51]

    Is it so hard then to understand why the stories in the bible should then be met with the same disbelief?

    Anne Frank’s book was written by one author less than 100 years ago and was subjected to this scrutiny.

    In contrast, the bible is created from multiple contributors, who give accounts of events from over 2000 years ago, translated from several different languages and in some instances, relating events that are so far outside human experience, that if you started recounting them today, you would be examined for mental health issues.

    Regardless of where your personal beliefs lie, you can see my point, can’t you?

  • Also Glenn,

    Using your perspective, then why don’t you also believe all the other amazing claims made in the religious writings of other faiths, such as Allahs ascent to the heavens, for example?

    Surely, if the bible is to believed , then why not them?

  • @Ken
    The guy found some correlations which you keep mentioning but the question remains —so what? You have had to state that correlation does not mean causality. Why do you keep mentioning it and what are you trying to say by doing so. We get the implication that religiousity is related to social disfunction in some kind of negative manner but the data and analysis do not establish this.
    I understood Matts concerns to address the inferences people were appearing to make rather than being an analysis of the stats and in this he was right, the guy Paul didnt establish anything.
    Yes i would still like to know what you think an atheist world with only evolutionary paradigms for guidance would look like and no i dont think its a silly question, apparently you believe its the right option and you are an “advocate for science and reason” therefore presumably you believe it would better if thats the way things were. Why arent you prepared to tell us what you believe about the way things should/could be.
    By the way you have been taken to task for cheap shots about non-response before, well its particularly cheap this time, we had an earthquake down here in Kaiapoi, lost power water and sewerage and as such wasnt inclined or in a position to reply.
    My house is broken but my family are all safe and well.

  • @ Ken
    “So Jeremy, perhaps the relevant question is to you – “how do you think things would be any different and better in an atheist free world, one where evolution, & its implications, and a scientific understanding of reality were suppressed?”?”

    I dont think anything would be better, but i dont believe nor advocate that these things should be suppressed. Nor do i take a position that can be interpreted that way.
    I do however believe that the world would be an infinitely better place if we all obeyed Jesus summation of the Torah

    ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart mind soul and strength and love your neighbour as yourself’

    i cannot see that this has any negative implications for science and reason.
    Shalom

  • Sorry to hear of your experiences, Jeremy. My brother was also in Kaiapoi and their house will probably have to be demolished. Even with the technology we have today this earthquake has certainly disrupted communication between members of families and amongst friends.’

    So, no cheap shot intended. Just responding to Scrubone’s cheap shot. I personally had forgotten the question.

    But I was glad to see that you wouldn’t suppress atheists or secularism. Nor do you advocate such. A mirror image of my attitude towards religion. No way do I advocate suppressing religion or other superstitions. I don’t know of any significant atheist who does. Quite the contrary. Christopher Hitchens has gone on record when discussing such a hypothetical situation of religion dying out or disappearing that he would miss it.

    One can be an advocate for science and religion without suppressing the alternatives – and it is mischievous for any one to suggest otherwise.

    So you have your theist beliefs, I’ll have my atheist beliefs. I am happy about that.

    We live in a pluralist society though (and I am also happy about that) so that we have to respect each others persons to get on. We have to be able to consider and debate differences when they occur. And we should not suppress anyone’s contributions to such debate. I am definitely opposed to attempts to use “defamation of religion” legislation to restrict democratic discussion.

    Nor should we attempt to impose our own convictions on others.

  • Overall a great article. I do, however, take issue with part of the following statement:

    “Their claim is that humans created the idea or concept of God and developed it. This is undoubtedly true.”

    The part I take issue with is “created the idea or concept of God” in the first sentence, and the subsequent declaring of the overall statement, including that phrase, to be undoubtedly true.

    Part of Christian theology is that God has specifically and explicitly revealed Himself to humanity in various ways at various times. This is in addition to less explicit forms of revelation(such as Natural Revelation). If one takes the early chapters of Genesis to be literally correct, then man simply had no chance to create the “idea or concept of God” independent of God revealing His existence to man since there was literally no time prior to said explicit revelation.

    And even if one does not take the early chapters of Genesis to be wooden literal history(personally, I don’t), then at most that leaves us with an unknown. I don’t see any way to know if God explicitly revealed Himself to the first humans(in the sense of beings who were officially moral agents) on the scene, or if He let us go around unaware for some amount of time before giving such revelation.

  • Here’s another one by Moreno-Riano, Smith et al of the Journal of Religion and Philosophy critiquing Paul’s study for those interested: http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2006/2006-1.html

    The odds are against Greg Paul’s work, even the institution were the paper was published from is going against his conclusions

  • This will be a bit of fun. I won’t give the answer (in a way this is a bit of a test for the likes of Ken), I’ll just engage in a deliberately flawed bit of speculation, and I’ll see if people can spot the flaw. It’ll be interesting so see who doesn’t see it.

    The following are (for the sake of this exercise) facts:

    1) People of ethnicity E tend to have a high statistical likelihood of being affiliated with religion R.
    2) People of ethnicity E tend to have a high statistical likelihood of liking food F.
    3) People of ethnicity E tend to have a high statistical likelihood of liking music M.
    4) People of ethnicity E have an average level of literacy which is L.

    Wow look, a connection between R and L! Let’s not worry about what the connection is – it just makes you wonder about R though doesn’t it?

    Let’s see who sees it. ;)

    I also wonder, ken, if you noted that what was being measured was not really writing proficiency, but rather the reading level employed in peoples’ public profile at a website.

  • Yes, I had seen that Alvin. Effectively it says nothing new beyond the well established fact that correlation doesn’t mean causation. I suspect you are searching for quotes and references to support you pre-conceived belief (whatever that is – not clear to me).

    Correlation not proving causation is something I am well aware of having often used statistical analysis in my career. However, it is also true that one can use statistics to either support or not support an hypothesis.

    Nowhere, as far as I can tell, does Paulo advance the hypothesis that the specific parameters of social dysfunction he uses cause religiosity. Nowhere.

    Rather he was dealing with the commonly advanced (by the religious) hypothesis that a democratic society and social well being requires religiosity. The data certainly doesn’t support that hypothesis.

    In his Copenhagen talk he was advancing the hypothesis that social insecurity is a factor in religiosity. The data is certainly consistent with that and the position of the USA as an outlier is also consistent.

    I think there have been a number of other studies reinforcing that type of hypothesis – it’s not just new to Paul. For example, the importance of church membership to Korean immigrants.

    This is also consistent with the well established social role played by religious institutions, and the decline of that role in the developed democracies.

  • Here’s something else for you guys to get upset about. So what about running around and finding references and quotes to refute this figure on Religion and writing proficiency. From The REAL ‘Stuff White People Like’ « OkTrends.

    As someone far witter than me has pointed out it is a great opportunity for confirmation bias on the part of us atheists, Buddhists and Jews.

    Bloody hell, the protestants don’t fare too well, though.

  • Yes – I did Glenn. Full marks for noticing, but it was pretty obvious.

    It has more to do with ethnicity in that particular situation. But it demonstrates how we can misuse statistics for confirmation bias. It will be interesting to see how far this particular meme spreads – so far I have only seen ridicule or humour from atheists.

    Now just imagine if Paul had found a positive correlation between measures of atheism (eg low religiosity, acceptance of science) and the dysfunction parameters like teenage pregnancy, etc.

    There would be a lot of confirmation bias alarms set off around here (remember how Matt used references to other statistical studies of happiness etc.). It would have been interpreted as confirmation of the hypothesis Paul was testing.

    But, come on Matt, was there a correlation between literacy and belief in this study?

    One should always remember that correlation doesn’t prove cause. But at the same time the statistics can indicate deeper causes which are worth pursuing – as Paul and others have with the question of influence of social security.

  • That was utterly hilarious. In one post Ken warns about confirmation, and then in the very next post he topples headlong into confirmation bias, assuming that ethnicity really wasn’t the player here, it was religion all along, and that what was really being shown was writing proficiency. This comes after I had pointed out that it was “not really writing proficiency” in question at all. I asked ken if he had realised this, and he said: “Yes – I did Glenn. Full marks for noticing, but it was pretty obvious.” But now in the next post suddenly it’s no longer obvious, and now it is about writing proficiency. Just fascinating to watch.

    This is especially ironic in light of Ken’s comment that “it demonstrates how we can misuse statistics for confirmation bias.”

    So true! Ken, you’re a case study. This was a particularly telling example.

  • Ken – first you’ve gone silent about your very sudden change of mind. Is it about writing proficiency or not? I pointed out why it’s not, and you agreed that my observationw as “obvious,” but now you’ve slipped back into saying that it’s about writing proficiency.

    Second, you say “No I do not think religion causes lower writing proficiency as you claim” – even though I never claimed this. I don’t know where you got this from.

    So before you continue to talk about “writing proficiency,” can you go back and explain why you changed your mind? I explained why it was not about writing proficiency at all. It was – and the page that you linked to explained this – an assessment of the reading level used in people’s profile at a dating website, and not an overall assessment of writing proficiency. We clearly can’t continue to discuss why group X has a different writing proficiency when the stats weren’t even about writing proficiency.

    When I first pointed this out you agreed with me (saying that it was “obvious”), but now you don’t, Ken. It’s confusing to see you flip flop so quickly.

  • Pity I got so few bites.

    However, as an exercise – is anyone willing to speculate on the basis of the presented data (which looks reliable enough) why protestants score low on their writing proficiency and Hindus, Buddhists and Atheists score highly.

    I am sure ethnicity is not the underlying reason (and it would worry me if it were). Although such statistics have been used in the past to claim superiority of white races! Another confirmation bias.

  • So Glenn – do you interpret the correlations to mean that ethnicity is the cause of writing proficiency?

    I disagree. I think the data is more reliably interpreted as arising from another factor (No I do not think religion causes lower writing proficiency as you claim – you really must become aware of your own over-riding confirmation bias).

    The fact remains that in this sample protestants scored lower than Hindus, Buddhists and Atheists on writing proficiency (does anyone deny that fact?).

    I think this is easily explained by another factor – not ethnicity.

    What do you think the real explanation is? Do you stick with ethnicity? If so, why?

  • Ken, it’s silly to now turn around and say that I’m confused about what was being measured.

    I was the one, if you recall, who had to point out to you that it was not the individual’s writing proficiency that was really being measured, but only the reading level of what was written in their profile. You agreed, and then turned around immediately and started talking about writing proficiency.

    And now to muddy things up and pretend that things are not as they are in our conversation history (even though it was said today), you’ve started to talk as though I’m confused about this.

    Same old Ken. Ah well, it’s the best you can do. I won’t bother today, as I have productive things to do with my mind.

  • No, I haven’t changed my mind, Glenn. However, ethnicity is an indicator of what the underlying reason might be. (Although the confirmation bias of a racist might tempt them to stop with that – until they think about it and see that Indians score more highly than whites. I have an Indian friend though who might take this as the reason).

    Yes, the writing proficiency was taken by a standard method analysing the profiles of the individuals and then the group (very large) was divided according to (self-stated) race.

    You may have confused the information, Glenn. There was no measurement of the reading level of the individuals in the sample. Their writing proficiency was determined by basic reading-level analysis of the profiles they had written. Hopefully this confusion is not going to get in the way. My congratulations was for picking out the possibility of other causes, I didn’t actually pick up your mistake about reading level.

    If one is going to talk about writing proficiency one has to have a parameter one can measure. I have no problem with the parameter they chose in this particular case.

    So the fact remains that in this sample of 526,000 people protestants score lower on writing proficiency than did Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Atheists. I think that difference is statistically significant with such a large sample size and I don’t think you are disputing that – are you? The difference between Hindus and Atheists may also be significant although I doubt the difference between Buddhists, Jews and Atheists are.

    There is another interesting trend I would like to see the significance figures for. With people of faith their writing proficiency decreases with the seriousness of their belief. With Atheists their writing proficiency increases with seriousness of belief. Pity the statistical analysis is not available to determine if these trends are real.

    I imagine you agree with me that the poor writing proficiency demonstrated by protestants was not caused by their religion.

    Do you think it is ethnically or racially caused?

    If not, what do you think the underlying cause is?

  • *chuckle* it’s a little priceless actually…

    Glenn: You do realise that they’re not assessing writing proficiency but only the reading level of their public profile, right?
    Ken: Yes, that’s obvious.
    Ken (a minute later): They’re assessing writing proficiency.
    Glenn: Ken, you just agreed that this is not the case:
    Ken: Glenn, you’re confused.
    Glenn: What? No, I clearly explained this already.
    Ken: Ah, as I thought. Jelly wrestling.

    A real gem, Ken… You either don’t know how to keep a story straight, or else “Jelly wrestling” is just a phrase you throw out when you’ve lost track of what’s going on. In the meantime, Ken wants suggestions on what causes the difference in the reading proficiency that’s not even being measured. Magic stuff!

  • Ah, I was afraid you would get into jelly wrestling. It is a way of avoiding something unpleasant you cant explain, or want to avoid.

    The graph is entitled “Religion and Writing Proficiency Level” .Writing proficiency was determined by “basic reading-level analysis on what people had written about themselves. We used the Coleman-Liau Index.” And that index is “a readability test designed by Meri Coleman and T. L. Liau to gauge the understandability of a text.”

    Come on – writing proficiency – an indicator of the understandability of the text produced. We don’t want to go around in that circle do we?

    I repeat:

    “in this sample of 526,000 people protestants score lower on writing proficiency than did Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Atheists.”
    “I imagine you agree with me that the poor writing proficiency [readability level of their writing] demonstrated by protestants was not caused by their religion.”

    Do you think it is ethnically or racially caused?

    If not, what do you think the underlying cause is?”

    Anyone else?

    Glenn seems to be stumped.

  • You are avoiding the question, Glenn.

    Anyone else want to explain these stats Religion & Writing Proficiency Level ? at The REAL ‘Stuff White People Like’ « OkTrends

    On the surface they aren’t exactly flattering to protestants (or Catholics) are they?

    You need to explain them away somehow.

  • Well i can think of one very simple reason, the more disadvantaged you are in a hindu or buddhist society the more likely you are to be positively affected by the christian aid groups working in those areas and the more likely to turn christian, thereby making a large partially educated protestant contingent from the “bottom” of thier societies. I doubt ethnicity has anything to do with this at all. I will need to read the article first but i can immediately see problems with the groupings. Historically at least there is a significant match between being Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish and ethnicity, in the case of Buddhist and Hindu also significant matches to country/area of origin. Protestant doesnt necessary make any hint of ethnicity or origin
    , in fact protestant as a grouping is so diverse as to be almost meaningless since by definition its just any christian who does not belong to one of the Orthodox denominations.

  • Ken,

    For the last fucking time, you fail to take into account other critics of Gregory paul’s work that are NOT DEVOUT: Berger, Brooks, the Journal of Religion and Society’s Gary F Jensen who’s work “Religious Cosmologies and Homicide Rates among Nations” link: http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2006/2006-7.html discusses technical difficulties with G, Paul’s study. That’s what I have been trying to get across, You really are Dense as a dummy Ken! Out of all Paul’s critics that Kyle and myself have given you all you saw was Gallup! Something’s clearly wrong with your eyesight

    Maybe you’re the one doing your own jelly wrestling by continuing to tout Paul’s study, Matt was right about you being a parrot in continuing to even bother bringing up a topic he already dismantled.

    And yet another red herring, high murder rates in the US has nothing to do with religiousity, in fact, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research study: “The Role of African-American Churches in Reducing Crime Among Black Youth” link: http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/crrucs2001_2.htm
    state the obvious trend in the areas where there has been low-church going activity tend to increase potential crime-seeking behaviour than high-church ones, this in the sad context of City Journal’s article here: http://www.city-journal.org/html/eon2007-04-02hm.html explaining that african american new yorkers pre-dominantly commit crimes. This has everything to do with poverty, drugs and broken families that have dysfunctional moralities resulting from irreligion not the opposite.

    Who’s grasping at straws, who’s poisoning the well? It’s you and your ilk obviously, by unfairly juxtapositioning religion with murder and disorder, whilst failing to properly account for other factors that are much stronger in explaining societal disorders.

    Put up with the facts contra Paul and shut up about it.

  • Alvin, I have responded to each specific criticism of Paul’s paper. I will not respond to vague claims disparaging Paul or his work. That is pointless, although it might suite your confirmation bias.

    For example when you refer to “technical problems” it is impossible to assess what you mean. Just indicate what they are specifically – as you did with your claim that Paul classified the USA as “religious.” I was able to show your mistake there.

    Criticisms in the article you link are also rather mild. For example pointing out that Paul was using pre-existing data. That is just the facts of the situation. True it meant he couldn’t design his own questionnaires but it in no way discredits the correlations he found in the existing data. That paper actually accepted most of Paul’s work for what it is.

    You seem more intent on trying to undermine an honest researcher than looking at the data and understanding what is going in. Surely the later is what we need.

    I agree high murder rates have nothing to do with religiosity (at least causally) neither I or Paul claimed they did. That is a red herring.

    In fact it is worth removing the USA from the stats because it is an outlier and could lead to incorrect conclusions by naive people.

  • Jeremy, have a look at the previous graph. It does appear that Indians rated very highly for writing skills. And whites relatively low.

    I take your point about missionary education of the more disadvantaged Indians. Maybe they would describe themselves as protestants at such a site. Although I have heard that Indians went along with the missionaries for the sake of the education but still adhered to their cultural religion. In fact resented the missionary education. It is unlikely that very many of the Indians actually had low writing skills.

    But I suspect that the self-declared protestants were mainly white which is consistent with the low writing skill of both groups.

    I don’t think race has any causal relationship. But within race there could be selection by the sampling. I don’t  believe, for example, that Indians and Asians (randomly sampled) would have better writing skills in English than whites – probably mainly Europeans and North Americans.

  • The problem with any appeal to averages is that it will generally disadvantage Christians.
    We can see that in the regularly cited claim that atheists are more intelligent than Chrisitans. Based on averages it’s probably correct.
    Self-identified atheists (as opposed to those of “no-religious-belief”) tend to come from academic backgrounds and that tends to attract slightly more intelligent people.
    Chrisitanity on the other hand has no academic prerequisite, consequently we represent a wider, more natural, spread of intellects.
    That said even on averages the difference isn’t that great. IQ 103 versus 97 if I recall correctly.
    For those like myself, looking down from the top 0.5% of the IQ range, it’s hard to find anything to relate to in either group.

  • Jason, you’d probably find a correlation between intelligence and Stalinism. Most people with little education know little about Stalin, and most people do not get any exposure to Stalinism as an ideology till University. It follows then that those who accept it are likely to be university educated.

    Nothing in this observation would mean Stalinism is true, more accurate or even good.

  • Jason, why should Christians have poorer writing skills than Jews, Hindus, Atheists and Buddhists?

    There has been a suggestion that more intelligent Christians have no difficulty getting dates and therefore don’t join such dating sites. While Atheists (and presumably Jews, Buddhists and Hindus) find it more difficult to get dates so join dating sites.

    However, I don’t think that is serious.

    Are Jews, Hindus and Buddhists more likely to have an academic background than Christians?

    Are they more intelligent than Christians?

    Matt, are you saying that universities indoctrinate students with Stalinism? I would have thought that learning the history of the Stalin period would do exactly the opposite? i certainly haven’t noticed a significant number if Stalinists amongst university graduates. And what is your take on the poorer writing ability of Christians in this data?

  • OK Ken heres you answer
    Its an American dating site the data is gathered from, blacks were 50% more likely to mention thier faith [ as previously mention Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish can be indicators of ethnicity in a way that Protestant isnt though this may be less so in USA than world wide]. Black churches in USA tend to be protestant. Black americans like NZ maori are disproportionately represented in negative social statistics. It follows quite simply then from the way they gathered data that protestants would show up poorly in the literacy comparison.
    In fact based on the above it could have been reasonably predicted as an out come from the sample before the analysis was done.
    I,d have to say though that given where the data came from it would have to be regared as a non representative sample, no controls etc, and no meaningful conclusions possible from the analysis [no matter how good the maths]. The whole thing was trashy mag populist tabloid type stuff, not serious at all. Given you advocacy of science and reason , rather a step down to be quoting this kind of trashy populist stuff isnt it?

  • Jason, why should Christians have poorer writing skills than Jews, Hindus, Atheists and Buddhists?

    There has been a suggestion that more intelligent Christians have no difficulty getting dates and therefore don’t join such dating sites. While Atheists (and presumably Jews, Buddhists and Hindus) find it more difficult to get dates so join dating sites.

    However, I don’t think that is serious.

    Are Jews, Hindus and Buddhists more likely to have an academic background than Christians?

    Are they more intelligent than Christians?

    Jews certainly are, their dedication to education goes back into the middle ages where an education was the only portable income generating tool they could rely on.

    Self-identified Atheists, already dealt with.

    Hindu and Buddhist, this is the Asian group. Do I really have to mention the stereotype of Asians as intellectual powerhouses. Made so it has to be said because we tend to only see the academic peoples, they’re the ones sent to Western universities to get an education. Muslims fall under the same category.

    If they’re converts to Eastern religion, then it’s likely they were exposed to Eastern philosophy in a place of higher learning.

    The Latino and Black results fit the expected stereotypes. Once you think it through, they all do.

    If you compare the exceptional, like the Asians and Arabs who are specifically sent to a place because of their academic ability, to an average who just happen to live there, the exceptional will always look better.

    Also, looking at the previous statistics they should really compare like with like. Stating a nation with a lower Church attendance has a higher standard of [insert criteria here] than a nation with higher Church attendance means nothing. What would be meaningful would be showing that Nation A with low Church attendance has a higher standard of [insert criteria here] than Nation A with high Church attendance. Of course such changes can only take place over time, so a multiplicity of other changes can take place too.

    Stating that a nation is “secular” doesn’t mean much. Secular doesn’t really mean “atheistic.” Secular usually means a degree of religious pluralism where no particular religion is favoured above another in law. In practise it tends to enshrine the religious principles of its previous system without endorsing the religious foundations thereof.

    There have only been a handful of explicitly atheistic regimes, post revolutionary France and the Communist states if I recall correctly. None of them had any qualities that would recommend them in my eyes.

    Matt, I wouldn’t say Stalinists, but Marxists yes. Academia is the last refuge of unreconstructed Communists.

  • Jeremy

    1: It is an international dating site but I imagine most traffic may come from the US.

    2: Perhaps we shouldn’t concentrate on protestants – rather Christians as Catholics scored low as well.

    3: Of course it’s not a representative sample. And I think whenever we refer to such statistical surveys we should keep that in mind and adopt a critical analytical viewpoint. This is aimed at Matt who blithely quoted stats in a previous thread “proving” religious people were “happier” than non-religious. He simply used the studies which fitted with his requirement, without checking details – confirmation bias. Consequently he missed the real value of the studies.

    4: So don’t extrapolate to the population at large – but the study is still valid for that particular sample. We can have a meaningful discussion of that and draw some conclusions which could be worth testing further. In fact there should be more data (I think the site has further posts planned) and a statistician would have an overall look to tease out the information rather than just relying on a simple correlation like this.

    I think that even from the writing skills vs religion and writing skill vs race and the nature of the sampling (computers/internet) we can draw some conclusions which can raise interesting questions.

    5: Bit twisted to accuse me of “quoting” this. I presented it merely as an example of how statistics can be used to support a bias. And I made clear at the beginning I did not accept the superficial conclusion. While I don’t know of any atheist doing this I could image it being used that way. And if the result had been that atheists appeared dumber than Christians – I imagine Matt would be happily quoting it as “scientific evidence.”

    6: Some questions:

    You refer to “control” – what controls would you suggest in this case?

    How do you explain the low writing skills for whites in this sample? This suggest that your inclusion of “blacks” in the Christian group may be only part of the explanation as I imagine Christianity would be the major religion for whites.

    Do you think atheism is more common amongst Indians than whites (this would help explain their high reading skills)? I would have expected it more common amongst whites?

    If that is the case then we are forced to conclude that in this sample atheists and agnostics have dragged the average writing skill for whites up, and Christians have dragged it down.

    I suspect if one just took the data for whites, thus removing specific racial effects we would see a very marked difference with atheists having far better writing skills than Christians (the dominant religion for the group).

  • Jason, I don’t think the Indian and Asian stereotype can be generally applied to populations at large. (Although one could make a bit of an argument about the poor education in the US)

    Personally I see the higher writing skills of Asians and Indians as an indication of the bias of this population. A dating site will bias for people routinely using computers and the internet. It will also bias against those in cultures more effected by traditional arranged marriage agendas etc.

    Therefore I suspect that the Asian and Indians in this group would come more from the higher educated, westernised sectors of the population. Those living in the US could well be there as part of higher education.

    So while Indians and Asians in this population are more likely to be westernised and highly educated I think it is different for the white (and US black) population. Computer and internet use is more evenly distributed along educational and social spectra. Also dating, and use of dating sites, would be more evenly distributed. There would be less family control of such things.

    I conclude from that, then, that the data for whites, most blacks, and for Christians and Atheists/Agnostics (who I suspect are mainly white) is probably fairly representative of the population at large. But not representative for the other racial groups.

    If that is the case (which would be worth testing in a more general survey – which may have been done of course) – why is it so?

    Are atheists more likely to have a higher education?
    Is it that only more highly educated people are prepared to admit they are atheists?
    Should self reporting of “non-religious” been used? Although inclusion of agnostic may help here.

    Or picking up on Glenn’s point that the parameter used for writing skills was a measure of readability level. While the study interprets the low readability level as indicating poor writing, perhaps we can argue that it actually represents better writing as it can communicate to more people. (I have an editing programme which applies this readability test to my own writing. But, while I try to aim for more readable writing I don’t aim as low as the levels demonstrated in these graphs.)

    Are Christians more used to writing for younger children?
    Are Atheists too nerdy to be able to communicate clearly at a popular level?

    Finally, while I think we can interpret the data in terms of level of education I don’t think it fair to interpret them directly as measure of intellectual ability.

  • I think your comments pretty much reinforce my point about the sample. it is non representative ie it draws from people who went to a dating site, all “answers” are self reported, generated from filling in the sites forms which no doubt havent been written to the standards necessary to be sure of non-ambiguous answers. I would have to question the honesty of the answers, not saying anyones lying just putting thier best foot forward.
    A control would have to be a “randomised” sample across the population as a whole ie not voluntary and self reporting.
    Really this sample is like a tv txt poll only people who were motivated to use a dating service were involved so any conclusions can only relate to people prepared to use a dating service and can only be at best tentative on subjects other than a dating service. Any thing else is speculation without foundation.

    May be it says highly literate atheists are sufficiently socially incompetent to be unable to develope relationships in a more normal way!

  • Since – as Ken agreed was quite obvious – this has zero to do with writing proficiency – the correct question needs to be asked. The question literally cannot be about any connection between religious belief and writing proficiency, since writing proficiency was not measured. This is obvious (as Ken agreed, before suddenly changing his mind).

    So the question is: Why are some online profiles at dating websites written at a higher reading level than others? One possible answer is that some people are intentionally (or unintentionally, I suppose) a bit pretentious when they are trying to attract people of the opposite sex. This is understandable. My own suggestion is that the kind of person who is likely to be so inclined is also the kind of person who is likely to ostensibly maintain beliefs that are intellectually cumbersome to maintain but which are associated (in the writer’s mind, and – hopefully – in the mind of the person he is trying to attract) with a degree of maturity or sophistication, hence improving his appearance in the eyes of prospective partners who may be reading the profile.

    Remember – it has nothing to do with writing proficiency (this is “obvious,” as Ken and I agree. He even gave me “points” for realising this). It is about the way a person chooses to write a profile to attract a partner at a dating website.

    It’s also plausible (not certain, but plausible) that people are are conservative Christians are writing a profile to attract another conservative Christian, and a lot of common ground is already being assumed and so is not included int he profile. Remember that the reading level employed in a profile is determined automatically by a pre-programmed method, and factors like this are clearly not taken into account.

    As for whether or not there is anything at all to so with “writing proficiency” demonstrated in the stats that are being (mis)used here, the answer is clearly no. Someone seeking bias confirmation is likely to re-interpret the facts to say otherwise.

  • Ken, it looks to me like you’ve just wasted a wall of text. A better reply would have been: “Whoops. Fair enough, OK it’s not about writing proficiency at all, but about readability. Let’s have a look at what you’ve said about readability.”

    I don’t think there’s anything to “clarify” in my comment, really. I’ve offered a possible explanation of why some people wrote in a different way from others.

  • Glenn, your denial of writing proficiency is a red herring. The group doing this study used the particular index as it could be easy done by computer.

    As I said, I use the same test when I edit my writing. In my case I am trying to overcome the habit of overlong sentences and words and jargon due to experience with technical writing. However, I obviously don’t want to drive my level down to those reported in this study. Particularly the low level exhibited by Christians.

    Given the range reported and the fact that this was purely an analysis of existing information, and not a very serous one, I am not at all concerned about their calling this parameter writing proficiency. Particularly as the methodology is made very clear and the low levels measured are obvious.

    If you disagree, clarify yourself. Are you claiming that the low readability level should be considered more desirable than the higher levels for this range? If not – your objection has no validity.

    I have explained that even a not very serious survey like this can provide some useful information provided it is interpreted intelligently. Also, I am sure there is other information, such as education levels, included (which they may report something about in later posts). 

    Personally I would love to have all the data so that I could have a play and get a feel for what can be extracted.

    I have explained why I think the data for whites, Christians and Atheists/Agnostics could be indicative of the population as a whole in the USA and Europe. Certainly much more so than for Asians and Indians.

    So I suspect the large difference between Christians and Atheists/Agnostics in writing proficiency (or readability level of writing) is probably indicative for the normal population – at least in that age range.

    My interpretation is that it reflects the different education levels for these two groups (and yes this may be effected by the influence of education on ones willingness to self identify ad Atheist/Agnostic). Those with more education would tend to produce writing aimed at more educated people.

    Of course, as an Atheist I recognize the possibility of my own confirmation bias in that judgement so it is the sort of thing I would check in a specially designed survey – or by consulting reports of other research.

    Obviously I aren’t going to do any work myself – but I am aware that some work has shown similar results. At least for acceptance of evolutionary science, and probably science in general. My memory us that Christians generally score lower as do those with less education than the non-religious.

    Somebody else here also suggested that Christians tend to have lower education levels than the non-religious.

    And, yes, self reporting is an issue in itself. Maybe somebody with a social science background could suggest how this is overcome.

  • Just to finish off something that appeared earlier.

    Really? And wheres the solid evidence an individual called Jesus Christ actually existed? Historians etc haven’t come up with any that stands scutiny…do you have some?

    Are these witnesses the same people who previously were his friends who at first didn’t recognise him on his “return”? Funny that…

    Not recognising him at first actually refutes the popular canard that the Apostles saw Jesus because they expected to see him, and the post-resurrection appearances were a matter of wish-fulfilment.

    Credentialled historians don’t dispute the existence of Jesus, irrespective of whether they believe his theological claims. The very fact you try to raise that canard tells me you’re not worth the time.

  • @ Ken

    So really, what you’re saying is that you agree with me for slightly different reasons.

    We shouldn’t allow the reporting of non-religious for the reasons we’ve been over before. According to the atheist who attempted to answer my argument that the non-religious group were more criminal than Christians, that group aren’t atheists, they’re just people with no strong religious conviction, which means that the one in three that are appealed to on the billboard are also merely those with no strong religious conviction.

    Self-identified atheists tend to be recipients of higher education because that’s where they become exposed to lecturers with an axe to grind. Evangelical atheists you might say. At one of the blogger pub nights I listened to one of the visitors tell how one of his lecturers basically preached atheism to him until he converted.

    Are Atheists too nerdy to be able to communicate clearly at a popular level?

    According to a poll at scienceblogs, there was a correlation between atheism and social autism.

  • Interesting, if rather biased, take on higher education, Jason. I always thought the value of higher education was to get people to think for themselves. Sure, I know what really drives most people is the chance of a job. But as someone who has often interviewed prospective employees who were graduates of higher education I have always valued the independent thinker.

    So I find this attitude extremely cynical – and actually an attempt to “explain away” unfortunate (for you) facts.

    I don’t think there is any doubt that the proportion of believers declines as education levels increase. Among US scientists probably less than 40% are believers (less here) but at the highest academic level about 6%.

    These are people who have been trained to think independently and consider evidence – its part of their job to do so. If these are people who have been raised as believers and changed as they learned more, and reflected on what they had learned, I think you should face up to the fact that perhaps they have looked at the evidence and found it wanting.

    Most religious communities attempt to capture their children for their faith at a very early age. Some are quite explicit about that – they recognise how vulnerable children are and that they are just not capable of making good decisions independently in this area. This blank slate situation is consciously taken advantage of by churches.

    So I find you claim that people are brainwashed during their higher education pathetic. At this stage people have learned how to think. They are no longer as vulnerable. So such brainwashing would not be successful – even if it were attempted – which it obviously isn’t.

    Come on – relying on pub talk is straw clutching at its worst.

  • @ Jason,

    You say:

    Not recognising him at first actually refutes the popular canard that the Apostles saw Jesus because they expected to see him, and the post-resurrection appearances were a matter of wish-fulfilment.

    So, just to be clear. A man who was unrecognizable as Jesus, appeared to those who knew him best.

    And this is supposed to make me more convinced of the truth of this event, exactly how please?

  • As James has demonstrated, many atheists haven’t examined the evidence and found it wanting. They have just asserted that it doesn’t exist.

    You have a point inasmuch as the Church is not doing its duty to its young people. There are, after all, no new arguments in the atheist’s arsenal, and only a few teaching classes would be necessary to show that there are answers.

    Yes, sitting in a pub talking to atheists, and listening to them talk to each other, has been an enlightening experience. Don’t you go to the pub and sit and talk with theists? Or do you prefer to study them, like frogs in the laboratory?

    Where are these independent thinkers? Atheists who rely on Euthyphro? People whose response to references to Christian morality is “priests abuse children?” People whose response to philosophical discussion is that it’s all jelly-wrestling? I don’t know anyone like that. :-)

    No thinker is truly independent. They are shaped be the sources they are exposed to. If those sources do not present an argument accurately and fairly then they are engaged in indoctrination. There are very good lecturers, both atheist and theist, who present a balanced argument, and there are very bad lecturers, both atheist and theist, who do not.

    As has been often pointed out, human beings are rationalizing creatures, rather than rational ones.

    Have you considered that your statement about scientific believers is self-fulfilling? If you tell someone that if they want to be accepted in the scientific field they have to hold a certain set of beliefs (like belief in the ether a hundred years ago, or geocentricism five hundred years earlier) then if they want to be accepted they will conform to those beliefs. Indeed they may never consider any other position because of peer pressure.

    Francis Collins, who has a long and distinguished scientific career, was described as a clown by PZ Meyers, a man whose claim to fame is that his daughter wrote an article defending bestiality (something that might be of benefit in New Zealand,given recent news). Collins’ only “fault” is that he is a theist. He doesn’t even hold to any form of creation.

    Meyers is a teacher. Would you rely on such a man to educate Christian children in a fair and balanced way? I’d sooner trust Ken Ham to give fair and balanced coverage of evolution.

    One thing I have urged Matt to do here is cover top-level atheistic arguments. Not the kind fielded by Dawkins and Harris, because to be quite honest the only feeling they elicit in me is embarrassment that anyone would find them convincing. As Matt has pointed out though, the higher arguments are usually particularly sophisticated versions of the argument from evil. Your average atheist wouldn’t use them, because your average atheist wouldn’t understand them, even with their 6 point IQ advantage over the average Christian. However I would find them interesting, perhaps even a little amusing, and amusement is so hard to come by these days.

  • Not recognising him at first actually refutes the popular canard that the Apostles saw Jesus because they expected to see him, and the post-resurrection appearances were a matter of wish-fulfilment.

    So, just to be clear. A man who was unrecognizable as Jesus, appeared to those who knew him best.

    And this is supposed to make me more convinced of the truth of this event, exactly how please?

    Reading comprehension is a wonderful thing. I wrote in response to James’ assertion that Jesus’ friends didn’t recognise him. I should have said friends rather than Apostles.

    I said that those who met him, like Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus initially didn’t recognise him. Whether grief clouded their vision or it was something else, they didn’t recognise him until he broke the bread for their meal. It may have been nail marked hands/wrists that caught their attention. Mary Magdalene didn’t recognise him either until she heard his voice, tears probably blinded her.

    They weren’t expecting a resurrected Jesus (Jews looked for the final resurrection but not individual resurrection) and the fact that they didn’t initially recognise him supports the case that they weren’t expecting it answering the claim that it was some sort of wish-fulfilment.

    This wasn’t the case for all those who are recorded as seeing Jesus after the resurrection. There’s no indication that Simon had that problem, and obviously the twelve sans Thomas didn’t have that problem either. Thomas certainly recognised him, though Jesus chided him gently for not believing what his friends told him.

  • Yes Jason, I have often said we evolved to be rationalizing rather than rational. And I think you demostrate this as you attempt to rationalize away things which you find unpleasant. I have met PZ Myers and like him. He is a gentle humane and witty person and an excellent writer. Keep an eye out for his upcoming book. It is pathetic to hear your attempt to diss him like this.

    Really if you want to understand atheism don’t rely on Matt as he is too biased about the subject. We are generally just like most other people, possibly more open minded and educated. And we do think deeply about origins, morality, meaning and purpose. But we generally get turned off by preaching.

    Why don’t you go to some if the sites where atheists blog (try mine) and get some first hand experience.

    You seem unaware of scientific and non-theist thought conflicting with theist ideas. There is a lot of research on morality currently – I have often posted on it. Similarly there is a lot if refreshing anthropological studies if religion and god beliefs. Well worth looking at.

    You were joking about Ken Ham weren’t you? Mind you it’s hard to mention that name without laughing!

  • There’s at least one atheist who disagrees with you on morality.

    I find your contentions on morality to be an example of that kind of rationalizing. You assume that it exists, then try to justify it.

    I also wouldn’t try attempting to psychoanalyse me. I don’t attempt to rationalize away things I find unpleasant because there’s very little I find unpleasant.

  • @Ken
    Why are atheists so defensive in regards to PZ? You said, “It is pathetic to hear your attempt to diss him like this.”

    But what did Jason say? He mentioned that he was a teacher, who is biased against Christians. He’s shown this by his many responses to Francis Collins (including calling him a clown as Jason mentioned) who is a vastly superior scientist by anyone’s standards. He’s biased against him (and his appointments based on his academic career) due to his religious beliefs and nothing else.

    What else did Jason say? He mentioned what PZ is best known for his daughters defense of bestiality. This of course isn’t true, because PZ is known for his blog. It’s one of the most popular science blogs on the internet, yet ultimately still only reaches a small amount of people. Currently his blog gets about 25k hits per day. That’s a ton for a blog, but considering that on any given day Sean Hannity has 12-15 million listeners and millions upon millions will watch Fox News every evening, I don’t think he’s making that large of an impact.

    So Jason has said two things:
    1. PZ is biased against Christians, specifically Collins due to his theism (something that Myers has said on multiple occasions)
    2. PZ is best known for his daughters defense of bestiality (which is false)

    So do you really think that was a “pathetic” attempt to “diss” him?

    I had a friend who met Myers as well and he said that (like you said) he was very nice, until another atheist friend ratted out his Christian faith. He said at that point, he became the blunt of a couple of quick jokes. But that’s PZ, he’s a funny guy, very anti-theistic, but not really well known for his science or anything other than his atheistic activism.

    So why do other atheistic scientists like yourself get so up in arms when anyone says anything remotely negative about him (and Jason didn’t really say anything very negative)? Do you support his methods of activism and it offends you when they are critiqued?

    Since you suggest going to atheist websites to converse with them (something I’ve done frequently), I hope you would admit that neither Myers nor Dawkins site offer rational conversations in their comment threads, since I think we can all agree that the commenters (for the most part) have not thought deeply about morality, origins, etc. The vast majority are high school, bachelors degree level students who are at the site due to his activism and thus aren’t interested in actual conversations. I have found that Common Sense Atheism has some decent conversations though, so I would suggest going there for a little higher quality. Of course, none of these sites offer the level of discourse that has come about at times here. Neither do they offer the level of intellectual rigor in the posts.

  • @Ken
    By the way,
    I read your posts linked above about morality and was already keeping up with the Edge lectures. Considering that the video from Glenn is a direct response to Harris’ contribution, I’m surprised you haven’t responded since you are “all too keen to discuss how our morality (believer and non-believer) is justified.”

    Glenn has fired the first response, so it’s your turn…as you said, ” bring it on” (but please do so in that thread instead of this one).

  • @ Kyle, the comment about bestiality was tongue in cheek.

    I know he’s famous for his blog.

  • G. Kyle Essary:

    1: We will have to agree to disagree about PZ. Hardly surprising. As he is one of the key targets for Christian demonisation you are hardly going to have a balanced view of him.

    But haven’t you guys got the latest memo. PZ and Dawkins are just so old hat. The important demon at the moment is Stephen Hawking. People around here seem to have not caught up with the fact that he has to be attacked for stating the bleeding obvious in his new book The Grand Design (see An unnecessary being?)

    Mind you, I can’t imagine that a bit of knee jerking around here could do much to elevate his book sales. They have already been pushed through the roof by eager knee jerking theologians already. You guys are just too late to that party.

    2: Me being defensive.? Well obviously I won’t agree with demonisation. But you guys are the ones who bring him up and are writing at length, although not substance, about him. PZ doesn’t need my defense – he is a very capable person by himself.

    3: You ask for my input into discussing Glenn’s video. Couple of points:

    a: I haven’t watched the video yet – although I do intend to. We have already had a lot of discussion on my blog about Sam’s recent talks and articles on morality (neither you or Glenn participated – In effect we fired our shots well before Glenn). These have been very useful as I think that Sam is making some useful points, although he has not done any research in this area and their is worry about his possible conclusions. You will have noticed that at the Edge seminar he got a lot of opposition – but I am sure that he was included because his points were provocative. And that is their value.

    There has been discussion of Sam’s original lecture (not Edge) on quite a few science blogs.

    b: I have been promised a copy of his upcoming book to review. It is at that stage where I will make substantive comments on his ideas. And I believe these comments will be negative as well as positive. But I expect the book to be very interesting. I think he is a much better writer than speaker. Personally I think discussion around his book will be the most useful and authoritative.

    c: Glenn does not allow me to comment at his blog (which would be the logical place to discuss his views on Sam). So unfortunately I don’t see any possibility of any reasonable discussion with him, personally. He tends to climb out of his tree too easily – which is his way of attempting to manipulate the discussion, I guess.

    d: So yes, I will welcome discussion on Sam’s ideas. I suggest the book will be the best source to base it on. (Although there are the existing articles on the science blogs which document Sam’s thoughts and the scientific reaction to them. And I don’t mind participating here, on my blog, or elsewhere in that. Unfortunately it is impossible to discuss it with Glenn for the stated reasons.

  • @Ken
    Well Myers and Dawkins are easy to hate on since they dish it out so frequently. Personally, I think most people can safely ignore either in regards to most of what they say now anyways (Dawkins 20 years ago is a different topic though). I’m not a fan of irrational activism against others, that credulously accepts and propogates every criticism, regardless of the side producing it.

    Hawking is a different case altogether. Obviously the book has philosophical issues (as Penrose/Davies and philosophers have already pointed out, his definition of “nothing” isn’t what philosophers or the average Joe on the street has in mind when they think about “nothing”). But even if the book were philosophically accurate at every point, from my reading of the book so far I can’t tell that Hawking says anything different from what he said twenty years ago, outside of giving a better framework and discussion of M-theory. So I would lineup with the Christians (and atheists) who are saying, “What’s the big deal?”

  • Kyle – it is the scientists who say “whats the big deal.” After all, as far back as 1878 George Romanes, a biologist and lapsed catholic, wrote “There can no longer be any doubt that the existence of God is wholly unnecessary to explain any of the phenomena of the universe.” Hawking has only stated the bleeding obvious when he said: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

    It is the theologically inclined who have created a straw man out of the obvious and proceeded to attack it.

    One of the worst comments I read was by Mike Bara (see Hawking’s Latest Absurdity Spells the Death Knell for Scientific Materialism). He called Hawking “arrogant and ignorant”, a “self-appointed academic elite”, “deluded”, “a broken, ill and crippled man”, “narcissist” and a victim of “the Darwinian delusion”. He added, for good measure, that “science is an empty path bereft of meaning” and “the scientific materialists day is over, and Hawking, their champion, deserves not our wrath, but our pity.”

  • I’ve been at OP attempting to critique Hawking’s ideas but for every point I have made and every reference I have quoted, there’s been a lot of strawman burning and personal smears made. Not much in the way of actually addressing the substance of arguments

    “theologically inclined” is Ken’s code word for anyone who dissents against his desired hegemony of secular materialism.

  • Ropata – you are whining like a puppy with its tail between its legs after being caught out. My response to your latest attempt to mine quote and produce Schaefer to run down Hawking is hardly “smear” or a ‘straw man”

    My summation was:

    “Pure confirmation bias – you trust these guys as “authorities” against any number of credible working scientists.

    So your authority may be a good, even excellent, chemist. But in cosmology he has absolutely no authority.

    But he is your man because he is a creationist willing to give a “sciency” air to his religious claims. (It’s called prostitution).

    Ropata, don’t you feel even a bit ashamed using this guy against Hawking?”

    And you run away sulking because you were caught out!

  • So Ken, in your world using words like “prostitution” isn’t a disgusting smear?
    And I see you have again failed to address the substance of Shaefers argument… which is mathematical critique of Hawking’s M-theory approach.

    I would have expected a mathematical response but got all sorts of other garbage instead. I guess soil science is pretty light on maths …

  • Why don’t you present the maths, then, Ropata, instead of quote mining and making claims for your Schaefer which just aren’t true (actually, like Schaefer, my training is in chemistry – so I am not an expert on cosmology either):

    Let’s consider how relevant Schaefer’s knowledge is to Hawking’s theories.

    Schaeffer is a chemist – has an impressive number of publications in chemistry (this usually indicates a senior position where staff are obliged to include their supervisor’s name on authors lists).

    But let’s do a search of Google scholar to find how relevant his publications are to Hawking’s work.

    * Number of scientific publication relevant to cosmology and the universe – ZERO

    *number of publications referring to Hawking – ONE.
    This is a book entitled “Science and Christianity:
    conflict or coherence?” Strictly not a scientific publication.

    The book received a favorable review by the Discovery Institute. Not surprising as Schaefer is a fellow of that creationist organisation.

    Schaeffer is also one of the signatories of the Dissent from Darwinism list. My analysis (see Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?) of that showed the overwhelming proportion who signed this list did so for religious reasons, not scientific.

    I think it is safe to assume Schaefer’s hostility to Hawking and scientific cosmology arises from his religious views, not scientific views.

    If he had a valid scientific criticism to make of the Hawking/Hartle model he would have published that in a scientific journal – not a discredited religious apologetics site.

    So your reference to him as an “an experimental scientist”, in bold no less, is dishonest. (The large number of publications suggest to me that he no longer does any experimental work in chemistry himself – it happens with age and seniority). But he clearly has never and doesn’t do any work in cosmology worthy of publication anyway. And he has clearly never made a critique of Hawking which would pass peer review in a scientific journal.

    OK – the relevant thing of course is how and why you use Schaefer as your authority. It’s not because he has any relevant expertise or authority in this area – you aren’t quoting him on chemistry.

    No, it is the apologetic ghetto problem (see The ghetto of apologetics “science”). This is where you guys have a list of “safe” scientists to use as authorities. These work for or with creationist and apologetics organizations, do their own quote mining and make this available to Christian sycophants. It’s called “reinterpretation research.”

  • Oh look here’s a practising quantum physicist who echoes similar critiques.. so no it’s not a christian conspiracy it’s a frikkin book review

  • Poor old Ropata. You are desperately searching the Internet to find negative reviews of Hawking’s book. And so you hit on Peter Woit. He is very critical I’d string theory – write a book on it called “Not Even Wrong” so of course he us going to disagree with Hawking’s support for M theory. Many scientists will. I think Peter makes some very valid points on his book.

    But why drag him into it? He us not supporting your criticism of Hawking’s reference to gods not being required. You should really have read the review where Peter says:

    “The book’s rather conventional claim that “God is unnecessary” for explaining physics and early universe cosmology has provided a lot of publicity for the book. I’m in favor of naturalism and leaving God out of physics as much as the next person” and then he returns to criticizing M theory.

    So, Ropata, another cheap attempt to discredit Hawking by quote mining. Pity for you it backfired.

  • Glenn does not allow me to comment at his blog (which would be the logical place to discuss his views on Sam). So unfortunately I don’t see any possibility of any reasonable discussion with him, personally. He tends to climb out of his tree too easily – which is his way of attempting to manipulate the discussion, I guess.

    This is the most ridiculous lie I have seen in a while. Ken, you know perfectly well that you have always been allowed to comment at my blog. Is this your way of avoiding doing so? You know as well as I do that any restraint from posting at my blog is entirely your decision and has nothing to do with me. To date I have not banned anyone from my blog, nor have I asked anyone not to comment.

    How many other people are you telling this tall tale to? Why even bother making thuis sort of thing up? If you don’t want to comment at my blog then just say so rather than trying to slur me in the process. Own your cowardice if that’s what it is, but don’t attribute it to me.

  • Get back in your tree Glenn. I am referring to the fact that you closed off a discussion on a thread specifically to prevent me replying (August 6, 2010 at 8:03 pm). Subsequently I made several comment on other posts of yours and they were not accepted.

    So I just accepted you had specifically excluded me and didn’t bother from then on.

    Maybe there was a fault. In fact, I have just tested and my comment got through. So I have obviously jumped to the wrong conclusion based on that fault. It must have occurred around the time your blog was having problems as I haven’t bothered commenting since you went to a new server.

    I sincerely apologise, Glenn, for my interpretation. And I am thankful I was wrong.

    I look forward to fruitful discussions with you, then.

    Maybe when I have had a chance to watch your video I will participate in the discussion at The New Atheism, Science and Morality – University of Auckland. Especially as Sam’s book will be out in a few weeks.

  • Ken – I closed down a thread at somebody else’s request. That is definitely no basis for saying that I don’t let you comment at my blog.

    As for “Subsequently I made several comment on other posts of yours and they were not accepted” you must have a magic computer, since there were no posts that appeared in my spam filter, and I didn’t delete any.

    It’s nice that youve apologised, but you do make this kind of comment about my blog from time to time, and I have never understood it. Nobody else has ever said this to me.

  • Ken,
    Surprisingly I think we might be making progress here.. Like Woit I happily accept the premise of naturalism for scientific pruposes. Also like Woit I think that M-theory seems to be on very shaky ground. And for Hawking to use this dubious approach to then boldly jump into metaphysics and make statements about God is simply a stunt. Not serious science.

    I note that you used a quote .. omigod quote mining!!

  • Ropata, in effect Peter said the same thing as Hawking. It is the same as most scientists would say – that gods are not required to explain phenomena.

    The attacks on Hawking are not about string theory or the M theory version. They are about his stating the bleeding obvious about gods not being required.

    If you accept that from Woit and Hawking then there is no issue. No need for you to run around trying to find ways to justify the theological attacks on Hawking. He is advancing interesting speculations and I have always supported the value if such speculating in science. Just leave your god out if it.

  • Anonymous, if you’re accusing me of changing other people’s comments to say somethng else, give specifics with evidence right now. That is a blatant lie and it is defamatory.

  • A couple of comments have appeared in an edited form to change the meaning on G-boys blog – which is even more deceptive than just deleting them… but his choice.

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  • They aren’t “theological attacks on Hawking” they are reviews of his poorly thought out speculations. And here’s a new one
    http://thinkingmatters.org.nz/2010/10/professor-edgar-andrews-reviews-the-grand-design/

  • I get tired of the arguments between belief and atheism… I have heard them all. I think the following quote hits the nail right on the head: “The atheist can’t find God for the same reason a thief can’t find a police officer.” Any argument about the existence of God comes to an ubrupt and utter end to the person who surrenders his life to Jesus Christ and pursues a daily walk with Him. Here’s another quote I like: “The Christian trying to explain God to an atheist is like a butterfly trying to explain flight to a caterpillar who refuses to enter his cocoon.”

  • Contra Mundum: Selling Atheism…

    My first thought on seeing this was that authors must find atheism psychologically liberating. We do not have to worry that there is a God and that means that we can enjoy ourselves but why would the existence of God be something to worry about? Is it …

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  • I’m surprised someone could get so outraged over a few atheist billboards. How many Christian billboards do you see polluting the road ways trying to sell you into the religion?

    And seriously goodness does not come from a deceptive tribal war god. Goodness is the expression of moral virtues we hold dear to our species. All people hold these virtues and religious people have merely stolen them, anthropormorphisized them, and used them to dominate others.

    By the way could anyone tell me how you get maximally great courage? Because as far as I know virtues are not measured by a scale.

  • I’m surprised someone could get so outraged over a few atheist billboards. How many Christian billboards do you see polluting the road ways trying to sell you into the religion?

    I don’t recall expressing “out rage” I simply offered criticism of their message.

    And seriously goodness does not come from a deceptive tribal war god.

    I agree don’t recall anyone claiming this, of course some people choose to caricature other peoples position that way but that does not mean its accurate.

    Goodness is the expression of moral virtues we hold dear to our species. All people hold these virtues

    That is of course a circular tautology, goodness is an expression of moral virtues. Expressing circular tautologies does not really answer a substantive metaphysical question.

    and religious people have merely stolen them, anthropormorphisized them, and used them to dominate others.

    This is simply a false generalisation about “religious people”

    By the way could anyone tell me how you get maximally great courage? Because as far as I know virtues are not measured by a scale.

    Not sure how this is remotely relevant, last I checked no one claimed anything about courage having an intrinsic maximum.