Posts Tagged belief
I recently reported the data from our last census showing the decline of the numbers of Christians in New Zealand, and the associated increase in people declaring they have no religion (see Census 2013 – religious diversity). It’s interesting to consider the consequences if the trend continues. As the graph below shows, the”crossover point” (when the number of Christians = the number of No religion) will occur in 2016 – only 2 years away. Christianity itself will decline even further so that in about 20 years it will likely have only 20% of the census responses.
I think most people now accept that secularisation in the modern pluralist, democratic societies is a fact. (Although Christian apologist WL Craig still clutches at straws to deny this – see Philosopher reveals his predictions for the future of Christianity in America). Only the reasons for this are debated.
Of course, there is not going to be just one factor – life is never that simple. But one that interests me is changes in the way we perceive the representatives of religion. In my younger years I was quite happy to respect religious leaders – and give to religious charities. Despite my rejection of their beliefs I still held a certain amount of trust in those leaders. But not any more – and I think I am not alone in this.
Gallup recently released results of their latest poll of American’s attitudes towards professions (see Honesty and Ethics Rating of Clergy Slides to New Low). The poll asks people to rate the honesty and ethics of people in different fields. Gallup reported:
“Americans’ rating of the honesty and ethics of the clergy has fallen to 47%, the first time this rating has dropped below 50% since Gallup first asked about the clergy in 1977. Clergy have historically ranked near the top among professions on this measure, hitting a high rating of 67% in 1985.”
The graph below demonstrates this decline of trust in clergy.
Again, the decline in rating of the honest and ethics of religious clergy will probably have multiple causes. Sex abuse in the church will be a significant cause. As will attempts to promote outdated and inhumane attitudes on moral issues.
For me another strong cause of declining trust is the way that prominent Christian leaders and their news media will flagrantly misrepresent science – particularly evolutionary science . I agree, those specific leaders might not be representative of all Christians (who is), but these other Chrsitians seem unwilling to criticise them.
How can one maintain trust in people who knowingly misrepresent well established scientific facts and ideas? And how can one maintain trust in their associates who remain silent about that misrepresentation?
I always enjoy the Daily show and this is another classic. Jon Stewart interviews Richard Dawkins (who is on a tour for his latest book An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist).
Can’t embed the daily Show videos, but go to September 24, 2013 – Richard Dawkins | The Daily Show With Jon Stewart – Full Episode Video | Comedy Central.
The whole show is 36 min long – but if you just want to the interview it starts at 13.33 and goes to the end.
Stewart is an amazing interviewer.
It’s one mark of the significance of Galileo to scientific progress that many myths about him exist even today. He seems to still be a focal point in present day debates between science and religion, pseudoscience and magical thinking.
But one of the most cynical myths is the opportunist interpretation of his promotion of the Copernican heliocentric solar system as being simply a David vs Goliath struggle. And that Galileo was correct because he was standing up to the “orthodoxy,” or consensus, of the then “establishment.”
A recent example is that promoted by British playwright Richard Bean “who reckons climate change science is junk, the findings alarmist, data frequently tortured into submission and the mainstream media not in a position to confront the complexity of the issue and question whether it’s really happening” (see Herald article Beyond belief). He said in his interview:
“Orthodoxy closes off thinking and if you can’t express an opinion or question an idea, well, Galileo is the perfect example of what happens.
“He declared that not everything revolves around the Earth and paid the price for his beliefs [he was tried by the Inquisition as a heretic, threatened with torture, was forced to recant and spent the rest of his life under house arrest] while human thinking and endeavour were held back.”
But this is wrong on 2 counts:
- It relies on the fact of being in the minority, of opposing the consensus, as being “proof” of correctness.
- It implies that because the user of the fallacy is in the minority and opposing the consensus then the user is correct. In other words – “bugger the evidence, I must be right because I am coming out against the consensus.”
As Rational Wiki puts it:
“The Galileo gambit, or Galileo fallacy, is the notion that if you are vilified for your ideas, you must be right.”
It’s a favourite argument used by creationists, by climate change contrarians/deniers/ pseudosceptics (see the egregiously named Galileo Movement in Australia) and, as I have found lately, anti-fluoridationists. A way of claiming superiority while at the same time discounting, even denigrating, the wealth of scientific knowledge with which the user disagrees.
Being vilified doesn’t make you right
And, it didn’t make Galileo right in everything he advanced. Classically he made a big mistake with his theory of tides where he tried to use tides to “prove” the movement of the earth. He was wrong there, and probably wrong in many other places, like all great scientists . Those people comparing themselves to Galileo are opening themselves up to the charge that they are “proving” themselves wrong, and not right.
It’s about evidence, silly
The real lesson from Galileo is not to oppose the “establishment” or current scientific consensus – but to rely on evidence. It was this argument of his, which today most of us accept and see as almost self-evident, that describes Galileo’s real contribution to the progress of science.
His argument for the heliocentric solar system, and against a geocentric solar system, was really an argument of evidence against dogma, prevailing philosophy and the Church’s use of scripture. he expressed it very well in a letter to the Grand Duchess Christina in 1615. He said:
“I think that in disputes about natural phenomena one must begin not with the authority of scriptural passages, but with sense experiences and necessary demonstrations. . . . and so it seems that a natural phenomenon which is placed before our eyes by sense experience or proved by necessary demonstrations should not be called into question, let alone condemned, on account of scriptural passages whose words appear to have a different meaning.”
He was arguing against the idea that science should be a handmaiden to, or slave of, religion. That for matters of the natural world, in astronomy for example, science trumped scripture (or its specific interpretation). And it did so because it was derived from experience, from interrogating reality, rather than relying on dogma and preconceived “revelations.”
So what about the “scientific consensus?”
Scientific authority no longer rests with the Church and religious philosophers, as it did in Galileo’s time. When we talk about scientific consensus today we usually refer to the widespread acceptance of a scientific idea, theory or facts based on evidence. The consensus on climate change represented by the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, are not dogma typical of Galileo’s time. It can in no way be compared with the consensus of theologians who rejected the Copernican heliocentric model of the solar system (see Consultant’s Report on Copernicanism (24 February 1616). It is in fact a consensus on the facts and conclusions based on an extremely thorough review of the scientific literature.
It is actually those people who use the Galileo gambit to support their own dogmatic, contrarian or pseudoscientific views who are not using evidence. They are relying on personal beliefs, religious ideas or magical thinking and not evidence. Their use of the Galileo gambit is a substitute for interrogating reality.
Of course, none of what I have said means that new ideas in science are never in the minority. obviously they often are – and must be fought for. But new ideas don’t win credibility by using the Galileo gambit, by arguing that just because they oppose the scientific consensus they must be right. They win credibility because their proponents gather the evidence that supports them, and evidence which conflicts with the prevailing ideas.
A minority viewpoint can and does win credibility because its proponents provide evidential support. The Galileo gambit is for losers.
A recent poll in the UK confirms a trend I have noticed elsewhere – the movement of younger people away from organised religion, and to a slightly lesser extent, from religious beliefs. But also to a decline in respect for religion and its leaders.
The YouGov poll for the Sun shows a decisive turn against religion among 18 – 24 year olds. And a very low belief in a god (see Poll: Young people turn decisively against religion).
Fifty six% of people in this age group say they have no religion while 38% don’t believe in a god.
In common with other polls there is still substantial support for not believing in a god but believing in “some sort of spiritual greater power” – the halfway house.
Only 12% said religious leaders have any influence on them – lower than for politicians, who scored 38%, brands, which scored 32% or celebrities, who scored 21%. Eighty two% declared religious leaders have no influence.
Finally, a high 41% told pollsters ‘religion is more often the cause of evil in the world’ while only 14% said it was a cause for good.
I think we might find the same attitudes in this country.
But it does raise some important questions about the public perception of the role of religion in today’s society. It’s commonly described as a source of good. But Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association and first vice president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, won’t have it. In a commenting article, Religion is in decline – so why are people so well behaved?, he says:
“One of the most mystifying aspects of recent governments’ emphasis on religion as a source of individual and social values has been its total mismatch with reality. Survey after survey has shown the population as a whole, and young people in particular, increasingly turning away from religious beliefs and influences entirely – and yet there has been no detrimental effect on the wellbeing of the nation.”
He concludes “there has been a change in recognised moral authority away from religion and towards secular influences.” And asks “when a government is going to realise this change and accept the implications for public policy.”
With polling like this it is about time that we all recognised that religion is not the source of our morality and public utterances claiming it is should stop.
A beggar’s market? May 084 Comments
This guy, James, from Austin, Texas, may have discovered something about the market. He is homeless man named James and is performing something of a social experiment. James has laid out nine bowls in front of him, each labelled by faith: Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, etc. The sign he is holding reads “Which religion cares the most about the homeless?”
“The atheists seem very competitive. For them, it’s all about the competition,” James reasoned, but whether or not the Atheist passersby were genuinely good-hearted, just wanted to stick it to religion, or somewhere in between is unknown.
Not exactly the most scientific poll, but the marketing technique might just catch on.
Thanks to: Atheists Winning Homeless Man’s Giving Contest.
Interfaith delusions May 06No Comments
I am not claiming that “interfaith” activity is bad – obviously it can do a lot to reduce inter-religious friction, hostility and violence. And that is certainly needed in parts of the world today. No – the bad arises when interfaith groups go outside their mandate and start thinking they represent everyone. Or they behave as if only religious “faiths” count and other, non-religious, beliefs should be ignored.
A blatant example occurred in the US in an “interfaith” service on April 18 after the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Despite repeated attempts humanists and secular groups were denied a representative presence (see Healing Must Be For Everyone, Including the Nonreligious Affected By Boston Marathon Bombings). Effectively the organisers excluded non-religious from an important ceremony which should have been for every American.
Staks Rosch, in his examiner article Interfaith: The very name is exclusive – National atheism acknowledges that:
“Even people who don’t immediately hate atheists for our lack of belief in deities would be quick to point out that atheism isn’t a faith and therefore atheists don’t belong in an “interfaith” service.
The problem however is not with atheists for wanting to be included in interfaith services, but rather with interfaith services themselves for pretending that they are inclusive when their very name is exclusive. If they desire to be exclusive that is one thing, but doing so while pretending to be inclusive just doesn’t work. The fact is that atheism is on the rise in America and many atheists have built and are building humanist communities like the one at Harvard. We are here and we are not going away; we’re growing!”
We had similar issues in New Zealand in commemorations held for victims of the Christchurch earthquake. I understand that even the minor religions had to fight hard against dominance of the major Christian denominations for representation at the “interfaith” service. I guess humanists and other nonreligious groups just didn’t have a show.
“Interfaith” in local bodies
This issue came up for me again when the local “interfaith” group achieved a small “victory” with the Hamilton City Council. Here’s how the Waikato interfaith council reported the City Council’s acceptance of their request:
The Waikato Interfaith Council (WIFCO) is pleased to announce that the Hamilton City Council has embraced the opening of each of its City Council meetings with an interfaith prayer. In 2013, these will be led by Waikato faith leaders from the Anglican, Baha’i, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim communities. We would like to extend our vote of appreciation to Her Worship the Mayor Judy Hardaker, Hamilton City Councillor Daphne Bell, and all Hamilton City Council members for including both majority and minority religions in the opening of future Council meetings. This positive action sends an enthusiastic message of inclusion to all members of society and we sincerely hope that our prayers, led by a more representative selection of Waikato faith leaders, may help guide and encourage our Mayor and City Councillors in fulfilling the obligations for which they have been elected. WIFCO believes that this is a significant milestone in local governance that embraces all members of Waikato’s multicultural and multireligious communities. We hope that other Councils throughout New Zealand undertake such initiatives. [My bold]
So there’s the delusion – blatantly presented. The idea that holding religious prayers at City Council Meetings is somehow inclusive. Or that just by including prayers from minor religious groups as well as the major one is being inclusive.
But it’s not – as this figure from my recent post Fiddling with census figures for religion in New Zealand shows:
WICO’s agreement nice little arrangement with the Hamilton City Council is not inclusive because the largest New Zealand belief group is actually excluded!
Questions for consideration
- Are ceremonies and prayers needed in local bodies and public events?
- Should interfaith groups make sure there is representation of nonreligious beliefs in such “inclusive” ceremonies?
- should nonreligious organisations be more proactive and request their recognition and offcial presence in “inclusive” ceremonies?
- Why do “interfaith” groups and activities usually ignore the nonreligious?
Colin Craig, leader of New Zealand’s Conservative party, is upset at last night’s parliamentary vote supporting marriage equality. On twitter (@ColinCraigNZ) he warned “The day of reckoning is still to come.” Some Catholic Bishops in Auckland issued a similar warning.
The religious connotations are obvious – war, pestilence, etc. But Craig’s press release hints at electoral consequences for parliament ignoring the expressed will of the people. He said: “Last night was not a vote of the people of New Zealand. If it had been, the answer would have been no.” (sic). And went on to claim: “Next year’s election will be the opportunity for New Zealanders to finally have their say. . . . . we expect our support to continue to increase.”
The Catholic Bishops also implied that the next election might see loss of support for those MPs who supported the law as an angry electorate took vengeance.
Craig and those bishops should get out more. Polling has shown majority support in New Zealand for marriage equality. And comments in the twitter stormduring the parliamentary debate last night indicated people were considering electorally supporting good speakers even though they represented political parties they hated.
The overwhelming assessment of the parliamentary debate on this legislation was that it was a high quality, reasoned and non-partisan approach made possible by the conscience vote. Bloody hell, the parliament TV channel must have had a huge following – patrons in bars and at parties were watching the debate. On this issue parliament TV was the best viewing of the night.
Watch Maurice Williamson’s speech on the legislation
Human rights the issue
The legislation was passed by an overwhelming majority (77 to 44). Members of parliament supporting the legislation impressed in their speeches because they were arguing in favour of human rights, and removal of discrimination. That resonated with viewers – and will do those speakers no harm in the next elections.
The few MPs speaking against the legislation instead argued for “tradition,” “authority” and conservative religious, even supernatural, morality.
I think this illustrates a clear difference in foundational values some moral psychologists describe as underlying human morality. I have written about this in reviewing Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (see Morality and the “worship” of reason and Human morality is evolving).
Haidt lists six foundational values in human morality:
I think this is a useful hypothesis (although I don’t agree with his conclusions about political values and the way he treats each foundational value as equal). We all have underlying intuitions and values driven by these sort of instincts. However, I just don’t treat all these “foundational values” as equal. Or the resulting moral outlooks as always valid.
While these instincts evolved in humans, and some other animals, some, to me, seem more valid in today’s society. For example, foundational values related to survival, harm and care seem fundamental, arising naturally from the inherent biological value of survival. But those related to purity, sanctity authority, etc., while often relying on instincts developed for survival (eg purity of food), are actually hijacked to emotionally justify features of society and religion.
Foundational values of purity are important in considering unusual food, authority and loyalty in times of war, natural catastrophe, etc. But purity in considering beliefs, social arrangements like marriage and sexual relations? Authority and loyalty when considering behaviour in a democratic and pluralist, multi-belief and secular society? I think in the latter situations these foundational values are being misused and the moral conclusions are unjustified. They are relying on the hijacking of human instincts to give emotional support for outmoded social relations.
The moral drift?
Many people have commented that the marriage equality legislation is long overdue – others have commented that “it is time.” Clearly it’s passing is possible now, and not 5 or 10 years ago, because of the change in our moral outlook. Conservatives may lament that – they may see this moral change as a decay or degradation. Others (the majority in this case) see it as progress.
But in terms of Haidt’s “foundational values” I see it as society giving more credence to foundational values related to survival, care, harm, fairness, liberty and human rights. And giving less credence to foundational values related to loyalty, authority, purity, sanctity and sacredness in human relations.
I think that is progress.
OK, I can appreciate that criticism of Margaret Thatcher upsets some people – not speaking ill of the dead or something. Trouble is, one has to choose. A lot of people were hurt by Thatcher’s policies. And she supported some atrocious regimes which were responsible for the suffering, and yes death, of many people.
So, to ignore the bad, and especially to make sweeping claims that Maggie Thatcher was a “champion of the people”, fought for “liberty and democracy,” and “destroyer of tyrannies,” you are actually speaking very ill of many dead. trampling on their memory.
We should not be afraid to mention she was on the wrong side of history when she supported South African apartheid, as the poster above indicates. And frankly, as someone who knew many of the Chilean refugees who came to New Zealand in the mid 1970s, I was extremely offended by her support for the Chilean dictator Pinochet, and don’t think her memory should be sanitised to remove that crime against humanity.
Have a look at Why Would Anyone Celebrate the Death of Margaret Thatcher? Ask a Chilean for more on her support for Pinochet, who was responsible for the torture, death and disappearance of thousands of Chilean democrats.
But we have a more direct link with Maggie Thatcher and her passing at the moment. The ultra conservative Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, who we have described here as the “Potty Peer,” is currently on a New Zealand speaking tour, “The Freedom Tour.” Telling us about the greenie, communist, fascist, tyrannical conspiracy to form a one world government, through the United Nations, and with the help of climate scientists. As he tells it, he and Mrs Thatcher were great pals, and he has written up her obituary on Facebook and the ultra conservative Free Republic (see Lord Monckton writing about Margaret Thatcher). He starts:
It will be from heaven that Margaret Thatcher, the greatest friend the United States ever had, will observe the now-inescapable disintegration of the dismal European tyranny-by-clerk whose failure she foresaw even as it brought her down.
Margaret was unique: a fierce champion of people against government, taxpayers against bureaucrats, workers against unions, Us against Them, free markets against state control, privatization against nationalization, liberty against socialism, democracy against Communism, prosperity against national bankruptcy, law against international terrorism, independence against global governance; a visionary among pygmies; a doer among dreamers; a statesman among politicians; a destroyer of tyrannies from arrogant Argentina via incursive Iraq to the savage Soviet Union.
Much of the rest is really about Christopher Monckton, and what a great bloke he is. He loves to talk about himself, although I would have thought that was bad taste for a eulogy.
He finishes with:
It was not hard to see why Margaret and Denis Thatcher were the most popular couple among the old stagers working at 10 Downing Street since the Macmillans. Now they are reunited; and I pray, in the words of St. Thomas More, that they may be merry in heaven. They have both earned it. Let her be given a state funeral. Nothing less will do.
The Potty Peer seems to have very naive, even childish, religious beliefs. Does he picture Maggie chatting with Dennis on a cloud in heaven? Perhaps he actually includes Pinochet in that picture? And sees himself as part of that merry little group some time in the future?
I am sure he doesn’t include either Nelson Mandela, or Salvador Allende - the democratically elected president of Chile overthrown by Piochet in 1973.
Alex Hern, writing in the New Statesman, has ticked off the Church of England (CofE) for their blatant misrepresentation of the statistics resulting from a survey they sponsored (see Church of England commits sins against statistics).
He subtitled his piece:
“Four out of five British adults believe in the power of prayer.” Really? Really?
and concluded it with:
It’s almost as though the CofE relishes the idea of a war between religion and science almost as much as Dawkins does.
Here is the CofE’s “sin.”
The survey “Prepared on behalf of Church of England by ICM Research” included the question:
“Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, What would it be for?”
Well, OK – even an atheists could say they would lump for peace in the world (31 of the respondents did) or an end to poverty in the world (27% did). After all, they had been asked to withhold their attitude to the efficacy of prayer.
But perhaps that was a purposeful trap? Because the CofE reported the results as “Four out of five believe in the power of prayer.” Even though no-one was asked if they believed in prayer. In fact they had, by implication, been asked to assume belief!
The Telegraph went even further claiming in their article Britons still believe in prayer – and young lead the way, poll suggests:
“Research commissioned by the Church of England found that only one in seven people insist they would “never” resort to prayer in the face of problems in their lives, those of their friends or the wider world.”
If you are really interested you can download a pdf with the survey results and see just how the CoE and the Telegraph got such amazing results – which the Telegraph even acknowledged “contrast sharply with the findings of the most recent census which suggested a significant drop in religious affiliation in Britain over the past decade.”
OK – perhaps we should expect people to lie when it comes to statistics. Perhaps its only natural to cherry pick facts to produce the result your would dearly want, than the one which is more accurate. Perhaps Alex Hern was a bit harsh to write this suggests the CofE relishes “a war between religion and science.”
I wouldn’t worry about this specific distortion – but I can certainly sympathise with Hern’s response. I too react when I see or hear scientific ideas and data being distorted and presented as proof of supernatural ideas or an ideological agenda. But rather than distortion of polls and surveys (which we expect) my list of scientific knowledge and ideas which are commonly misrepresented and distorted by religious apologists, including prominent figures in the CofE, include things like:
- “Fine-Tuning” of cosmological and physical constants – (Sure we don’t yet understand why some of these constants have the values they do, or even if they could have different values than they do, but that is not “proof” of a god);
- The “big bang” theory of the beginning of the universe – (again science cannot completely resolve what went on at the beginning but that’s no excuse for introducing gods, goblins or angels – and it’s certainly not proof of them);
- Human morality – (Yes, it’s a mystery to some even though cognitive science and evolutionary psychology is making progress in its understanding. But, again, mystery or ignorance is not proof).
- Evolutionary science – (Sure outright creationists are a minority among believers but in my experience scratch almost any believer and you find someone who willing to distort the science to give their god a guiding role).
It’s these unfortunately common arguments, and ones similar to them, used by the theologically inclined to “prove” their god exists which makes me feel that maybe there is “a war between religion and science.”
I just wish these people would think before they use such silly arguments.