Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Dec/08

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Acceptance of Evolution & belief in God

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The question as to the relationship on a socio-cultural scale about the relationship of acceptance of evolution and belief in God is often mooted.  In The Blind Watchmaker Richard Dawkins famously contended that the theory of Darwinian evolution allowed one to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.  I am mildly skeptical of universalizing this as a general truth; that is, just because Richard Dawkins’ atheism was solidified by his exposure to Darwin’s theory of evolution, does not entail that this is so for most humans.  The fact is that most humans do not understand the theory evolution, let alone are able to generate inferences and entailments from said theory.  An acceptance of the theory of evolution in the modern world is much more likely simply a signal or indicator that one is well educated and accepts the contemporary consensus of scholarship.  This general lack of internalization of evolutionary theory into the cognitive toolkit of the typical “educated” and “well read” person makes me skeptical of evolution’s socio-cultural impact, no matter what Creationists and Evolutionists might contend.

In any case, what does the cross-cultural data tell us?  As it is, we have a great deal of survey on belief in God (or lack of) in modern nations, as well as attitudes toward evolution theory.  So it is only a matter of effort to generate a few scatterplots….

 

The first three charts are self-evident, though I would add that the one which shows those who don’t believe in a personal God simply aggregated those who accept a Spirit/Life Force with those who reject God.  A R2 of 0.33 implies that you can predict 33% of the variation of Y by the variation in X, where X here is acceptance of evolution and Y are the various responses to beliefs about God.  This is a decent number, but perhaps somewhat less overwhelming than some might have expected.

As for the last chart, I’ve colored coded the first chart so that you see see which nations are historically Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox, as well as which ones were under Communist rule.  If you need a legend for this, I advise you to close the browser and read a book, seriously.  In any case, I think the two observations I would make is that Roman Catholicism’s acceptance of evolution shows, as those nations tend to be above the trendline.  And, Communism really, really, messes a nation up.  I doubt that the rejection of evolution has as much to do with Lysenkoism as it does with overall underdevelopment (it could also be that in nations such as Estonia and the Czech Republic religious beliefs are still artificially suppressed).

Note: The R2 of Life Force vs. Acceptance of Evolution is 0.25. Also, log transformation didn’t make much of a difference.

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50 comments

  • Paul · December 14, 2008 at 6:45 am

    When we think about evolution and religion, the focus is usually on the early creation, but I think a bigger problem may be the evolution of man from man-like primates.

    As I understand it, most religions recognize a significant difference between human life and the other animals. Doesn’t evolution present a serious problem to those who wish to draw such a line? At which point did God insert our souls? Did Neandertal Man have a soul? What about Homo Erectus? Australopithecus?

    How do religious teachings get around this sticky mess?

  • Tulse · December 14, 2008 at 7:19 am

    A R2 of 0.33 implies that you can predict 33% of the variation of Y by the variation in X, where X here is acceptance of evolution and Y are the various responses to beliefs about God. This is a decent number, but perhaps somewhat less overwhelming than some might have expected.

    In my experience, an R2 of 0.33 in psychology is pretty darned good, and given that there are likely all sorts of other influences on this relationship (such as the specific questions that were asked in the multiple surveys on evolution that the one source summarizes), that seems reasonably strong to me.

    However, it looks like the analysis presented here involves simple correlations for subcategories of the data in the two surveys. Given that both surveys have essentially ordinal categories (three levels of how sure one is that evolution is true, and three levels of degree to which one believes in a personal god) that are actually proportions, such a simple correlational approach may not be the most appropriate way to analyze these data. (What would be the best technique to use is, alas, beyond my statistical experience.)

  • Thras · December 14, 2008 at 7:19 am

    The concept of entropy is just as (or more) important than the concept of evolution. But for some strange reason I don’t see anybody complaining that less than 1% of the population can give the scientific definition. Not a single post on Secular Right about entropy yet.

    The real reason evolution is such a bugbear for atheists, is not really because science and reason are so important. Otherwise there are a number of other concepts that would get just as much airtime. Instead the harping on evolution is there because it is the most important crutch for our belief system.

    That’s not a bad thing, since evolution is true, but it does mean that a lot of people aren’t pushing evolution to further science, they’re doing it to proselytize. And if you’re an atheist who feels the need to proselytize then you are very confused. Turn around and take the exit at Evangelical Christianity instead.

    Now, when I make posts like these, I invariably get replies saying that I’m some sort of crypto-Christian (I’m not), or that I don’t think evolution is true (I do), or that I believe in God (I don’t). Please don’t do it; I will respond with scorn and possibly sarcasm.

  • Bjørn Østman · December 14, 2008 at 7:47 am

    ” In any case, I think the two observations I would make is that Roman Catholicism’s acceptance of evolution shows, as those nations tend to be above the trendline.”

    Eh? Shows what?

    “And, Communism really, really, messes a nation up.”

    Come on! You can conclude that from these data? Compared to say capitalism in the USA? Given the spread of the red dots, I don’t really think you can group those nations together in this study except to say that there are generally doing better than the USA (from the standpoint that accepting evolution is good).

  • Bjørn Østman · December 14, 2008 at 7:51 am

    Thras: “The concept of entropy is just as (or more) important than the concept of evolution. ”

    Why do you think so? Important to what? Physicists? Biologists? Understanding nature? Arguing with creationists?

  • Tulse · December 14, 2008 at 8:04 am

    Thras :
    is the most important crutch for our belief system.
    That’s not a bad thing, since evolution is true, but it does mean that a lot of people aren’t pushing evolution to further science, they’re doing it to proselytize.

    I think you have the issue backward, at least in terms of modern US history. It is not atheists, but fundamentalists, who identified evolution as a target in schools and popular culture. Were it not for their “culture wars” against it, evolution would be merely an important scientific theory, like relativity. Atheists did not choose this battlefield in the US (anti-evolution sentiment was promoted long before the rise of such folks like Dawkins and Dennett).

  • Roger Hallman · December 14, 2008 at 8:25 am

    Thras :
    The concept of entropy is just as (or more) important than the concept of evolution. But for some strange reason I don’t see anybody complaining that less than 1% of the population can give the scientific definition. Not a single post on Secular Right about entropy yet.

    At the risk of lowering the level of discourse, I’m going to invoke MC Hawking and “Entropy”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bueZoYhUlg

  • gene berman · December 14, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Thras:

    The answer to your question is simple. The evolution/creation question impinges directly on human behavior. It’s viewed by large numbers on both sides of the controversies as the root of impoertant normative questions and also related to understanding of important economic matters.

    In the (still mainly accepted) view of Classical Economics, virtually all men do (and can come to) agree on certain elements constituting the “harmony of rightly-understood interests,” principal among which are: 1.) the inherent social nature of man; 2.) the higher productivity of specialized effort; and, 3.) the mutual advantageousness
    of exchange (whether directly, by barter or indirectly, through the interposition of money).

    Opponents of the theory of the “rightly understood interests” are, indeed, very many, the objecting factions advancing many different arguments, some of which are related to the evolution/creation argument (and with some of those objectors controversy arising from both sides).

    I think my first paragraph is at least a satisfactory and complete answer to your question but wanted to be somewhat comprehensive.

  • Author comment by Steel Phoenix · December 14, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Awesome video Roger.

    I think the poor understanding of evolution among the masses is tragic. It isn’t a matter of history, it is going on right now and will continue to do so. It is vital to the understanding of why things are the way they are, and why so many of the things happen that religion seeks to sweep under the mat or explain away with fairy tales. Birth, death, mutation, the benefits of failure. These are all important concepts to have in all walks of life, economics being the one that most comes to mind today. At the risk of drawing down the wrath of Godwin’s law, I’m also going to make mention of social evolution. It is important for religions and societies to succeed or fail on their own merits. I’m not saying we can’t intervene to prevent genocide, but failed cultures should not be propped up any more than failed companies.

  • A-Bax · December 14, 2008 at 10:02 am

    As I understand it, most religions recognize a significant difference between human life and the other animals. Doesn’t evolution present a serious problem to those who wish to draw such a line? At which point did God insert our souls? Did Neandertal Man have a soul? What about Homo Erectus? Australopithecus?

    I think this hits on a very serious issue that Christianty/Islam etc. have with evolution.

    Geocentrism v. Heliocentrism was problematic for the Church for a variety of reasons, not least of which was the Church’s insistence upon an Aristotelian physical world-view (and its attendant geocentrism) to support its Thomistic theology. After a long, long while though, the Church was able to reconcile its theology & moral claims with the updated (and by then, nearly irrefutable) scientific world-view.

    I think the threat posed from evolutionary thinking goes much deeper than the one posed by heliocentrism, in part due to the issue Paul touches on. That is, when the Church gets round to attempting to reconcile the idea that “man was made in god’s image” with the biological truth that there really is no bright line demarcating homo sapiens from (other) *homo* species, or a bright line demarcating the homo genus from other “higher” primates, they will be faced with a serious conundrum.

    The temptation for the religious will be to imagine that there really IS a clear, brightly-demarcated line when there clearly isn’t. (They’ll try to get “Great Chain of Being” thinking through the backdoor somehow, but if you truly accept modern biology, you can’t really do this.) Perhaps some offshoot religious sects will try to push ensoulment further “down” this list, though this seems unlikely. (Although the PETA crowd seems to be heading down this path, though they might balk at the concept of “soul”.)

    What seems likely, to me, is that there will be continued resistance to the (more and more refined) claims of evolutionary biology/psychology, mainly to keep the categorical distinction between “man” and “other animals” viable.

    Evolutionary theory, at bottom, challenges the categorical nature of the distinction between human and non-human, and this is why the epithet “godless Darwinism” has such currency among creationists, I think.

  • Thras · December 14, 2008 at 10:10 am

    @Bjørn Østman

    I agree — despite the fact that Thermodynamics is one of the foundations of of science and that few natural phenomena of our daily lives can be explained without it, it’s not that important in an objective sense. The average man doesn’t know what the second law is, or if he does, he thinks untrue things about it. But that doesn’t really matter very much to his life. Anybody claiming that it does matter to him would be crazy.

    Belief and understanding of Evolution, similarly, doesn’t matter much to the average man. What we’re doing now, putting it into the public eye to score points against Christianity, is not good for anybody.

  • Tulse · December 14, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Thras :
    What we’re doing now, putting it into the public eye to score points against Christianity, is not good for anybody.

    Again, that is a gross misrepresentation of the history of the issue. Scopes was tried because the law forbade the teaching of evolution. Various religious groups are attempting to either outright expunge evolution from school curricula, or force the teaching of non-scientific theories in science classes.

    It is not the atheists who made evolution a bone of contention in the culture wars — it is the fundamentalists. Scientists are simply trying to hold the line, responding back to the threat.

    And it is not just biologists — similar threats are emerging in cosmology and even neurobiology. The problem for fundamentalists is not atheism, but science itself.

  • kurt9 · December 14, 2008 at 11:19 am

    You know, I have never understood why there should be a conflict between religion and evolution. One can always say that god made the big bang and the universe and everything in it has developed ever since. The fact that evolution exists does not necessarily invalidate the various religious memes. It also has no bearing on the questions of whether human consciousness survives death of the physical body (this is the only relevant issue and the only reason to believe in any religious meme as far as I’m concerned).

    Also, the major branches of Christianity (Catholic church, most protestant groups) have accepted evolution for over a century. It seems to me if a minority of Christians have a problem with evolution, they need to convince their Christian brethren that such a problem exists first before spewing this stuff all over the rest of society.

  • Stopped Clock · December 14, 2008 at 11:21 am

    I believe that Revelation 16:3 states that animals have souls:

    “And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.”

    This may not seem like much of an affirmation given the figurative way that soul is used in modern English, but from what I have heard, the intended meaning of soul in this sentence in the original Greek is that of a literal soul, the same word as is used for human souls elsewhere in the Bible (is it pneuma?)

    For what it’s worth, I’m a former Christian, now simply a theist, and I believe that animals have souls. Which ones? All of them … honestly I don’t think that soul should even be treated as a count noun; there are no souls, only “soul”, and everyone has it. But I am basing this belief on pure emotion and nothing that I can make an argument for.

  • Caledonian · December 14, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Thras :
    Belief and understanding of Evolution, similarly, doesn’t matter much to the average man. What we’re doing now, putting it into the public eye to score points against Christianity, is not good for anybody.

    What alternative to a political struggle with Evangelical Christianity do you offer? They are very much opposed to rationality and the scientific worldview, and are not hesitant to limit their cultural and political influence.

    At present, biology is not and cannot be properly taught in the vast majority of our schools. If the subject isn’t important, then this doesn’t matter, and we should probably stop teaching it. If it is important, then this matters a great deal.

  • Bill of MD · December 14, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Whatever Dawkins meant by fulfillment, you can make the case that the Theory of Evolution is not a perfect substitute for religion because it fails to provides an absolute basis for moral belief. Without a transcendental basis for morality, the moral basis of law becomes consensual only, and the moral basis for individual action becomes personal. It is no good for amateur evolution supporters like Christopher Hitchens to maintain that belief in justice and fairness is hard wired in us as a consequence of our evolution as social animals; this view is merely a tacit admission that moral beliefs cannot be derived from first principles.

    The problem is that there are those among us in whom such “evolutionary” impulses are absent, and the more desperate of these will commit what the rest of us will construe as “immoral acts” – e.g. murder, rape, child abuse – without feelings of guilt or subsequent remorse.

    What is our intellectual basis for restraining and punishing them, by decades of incarceration or by execution? A decent respect to the opinion of mankind, and particularly the perpetrator’s, would require us to be able to contrive an argument to persuade him that his acts were immoral and his punishment just. But if the moral basis for law is merely consensual, no such case can be made. All anyone can say is that, as a society we regard your acts as wrong and that twenty-five to life is what you deserve. (It is likely that the guilty in such cases are too philosophically unsophisticated to require such an argument, or to understand it if they got it, but that is not the point.)

    Of course the situation for the believer is not much better, since, although God knows what’s right and what’s wrong, he leaves it to the faithful to figure out which is which for particular cases here on Earth. So, though they may think they have God’s approval for their actions, they can never know for sure, because, as they never tire of reminding atheists – who can know the mind of God? So the difference for the believer is that, unlike the unbeliever, he knows that morality has a transcendental basis, but both, for different reasons, cannot know what is the right thing to do in a given situation.

  • Author comment by David Hume · December 14, 2008 at 11:52 am

    The concept of entropy is just as (or more) important than the concept of evolution. But for some strange reason I don’t see anybody complaining that less than 1% of the population can give the scientific definition. Not a single post on Secular Right about entropy yet.

    This is just retarded. I obviously don’t give a shit about what the common man thinks, but when the common man decides to make a big stink about what the non-common man should think, that’s a problem. FWIW, ‘evolution’ comes up with 3 hits on your weblog, while ‘entropy’ comes up with 0. Dumbass.

  • Tulse · December 14, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Bill of MD :
    Whatever Dawkins meant by fulfillment

    The quote was “intellectually fulfilled” — the issue was not whether evolution explains everything, but whether it addresses the intellectual problems of the origin of species, which prior to Darwin had no good intellectual explanation beyond the divine.

    you can make the case that the Theory of Evolution is not a perfect substitute for religion because it fails to provides an absolute basis for moral belief.

    I don’t think that anyone would claim that evolution is a substitute for religion, but rather that it offers a rational, materialist explanation for many of the domains covered by religion. And while it may not provide a prescriptive account of ethics, it can certainly attempt to offer a descriptive account of why groups of people have the ethics they do. (I think the success of this approach is likely to be fairly limited, however, given the cognitive flexibility of humans.)

    Without a transcendental basis for morality, the moral basis of law becomes consensual only, and the moral basis for individual action becomes personal.

    That may be, but wishing won’t make it otherwise — is the goal the truth about the way the universe is organized, or a comforting lie about the way we want it to be?

    Besides, I am not convinced that the options are either a god or gods telling humans how to behave or ungrounded, animalistic amorality. That seems to me to be a false dichotomy.

  • Fred · December 14, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    The concept of entropy is just as (or more) important than the concept of evolution. But for some strange reason I don’t see anybody complaining that less than 1% of the population can give the scientific definition. Not a single post on Secular Right about entropy yet.

    Just as important? Our undertanding of the “ultimate” fate of the universe, pithy though it may be, has next to nothing to do with everyday life (other than the tax burden to pay for the people trying to unravel the mystery). Even if science were to solve this mystery tomorrow (which they won’t) it would be years before its practical aspects impacted the life of the man in the street. Millions of people are affected by whether or not the “soul” enters the body at conception. Millions of people are affected by whether or not Allah wants polytheists to be slaughtered and those of the book to be subjugated.

    I offer you two concepts of the “universe”:

    1.) we live in a closed system and entropy increases for billions of years until the universe is dead and isothermal

    2.) the system extends beyond our “universe” in forms we do not know and the mass/energy/whatever-you-wish-to-call-it that accumulates in black holes is released billions of years hence (much like an exploding star) and a new “universe” is born.

    Other than satisfying intellectual curiosity, what difference would it make in the short run to everyday lives. FWIW, my money is on door #2, and yes, I do understand that access to “higher” forms of energy would eventually make an enormous difference to mankind, but likely after most, if not all, now on this earth are dead.

  • Author comment by Steel Phoenix · December 14, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    @Stopped Clock
    Do you believe that bugs have soul? Plants? Bacteria? Viruses? Individual blood cells? Man-made life forms? Computers? Teddy Bears? Is the soul in the eye of the beholder, anthropomorphised into wherever we believe it to be?
    I’m not asking for justification, just trying to see where your feeling ends.

  • Stopped Clock · December 14, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    I think that there are some scientific arguments that can be used as evidence against the traditional “one body, one soul” viewpoint. For example, sometimes two embryos will be conceived in the womb and then merge into one. Would this baby have one soul or two? Likewise (I think) identical twins are born from the opposite process: one baby splits into two. Do identical twins share one soul?

    Then there’s the fact that all eukaryotes are really just colonies of many prokaryotes. If a eukaryote has one soul, what would a prokaryote have? If a prokaryote has one soul, would a eukaryote the size of a human have quadrillions of souls?

    I, personally, behave as if there is only one soul, housed in many separate bodies, and unaware of its oneness because each of the bodies has a separate consciousness. It’s rather like the syndrome suffered by some humans in which their consciousness splits and they’re only aware of half of what their body is doing. So yes, everything, including teddy bears and particles of air, “has (a) soul”, but I would perhaps be better off phrasing it by saying that the soul is housed in the universe and everything in it. This does not lead me to insane conclusions such as the idea that my bed will get upset if I don’t rotate the pillows every week, or my car doesn’t like long trips, etc., because I don’t believe human motives can be attributed to anything other than humans.

  • Author comment by Steel Phoenix · December 14, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    Interesting. If everything, including particles are all parts of one unaware soul, it isn’t functionally different than it not existing, or being called something like thermodynamics. It reminds me a bit of Richard Feynman’s one electron universe hypothesis. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a belief system so nebulous that it is indistinguishable from science in all but that warm fuzzy feeling.

  • Tulse · December 14, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Stopped Clock :
    I, personally, behave as if there is only one soul, housed in many separate bodies, and unaware of its oneness because each of the bodies has a separate consciousness.

    Well ok then.

    By the way, how is this situation distinguishable from there being no souls, and just separate consciousnesses?

    And if the soul is separable from consciousness, what does it do? If it is not responsible for conscious experience and memory and feeling and personal identity, what is its function?

  • Bjørn Østman · December 14, 2008 at 11:19 pm

  • Bjørn Østman · December 14, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Y’know, I used to code HTML for food, and now this…

  • Grant Canyon · December 15, 2008 at 5:46 am

    “What is our intellectual basis for restraining and punishing them, by decades of incarceration or by execution? A decent respect to the opinion of mankind, and particularly the perpetrator’s, would require us to be able to contrive an argument to persuade him that his acts were immoral and his punishment just. But if the moral basis for law is merely consensual, no such case can be made. All anyone can say is that, as a society we regard your acts as wrong and that twenty-five to life is what you deserve.”

    Exactly why would we need more than simply saying that we, as a society, using our collective responsibility, informed by the consensus of our consciences, deem this act illegal and this punishment appropriate?

  • Polichinello · December 15, 2008 at 6:48 am

    Hume,

    As I’m no statistician, I can’t really argue terms like R^2 with you. Still, I’ll venture a wildly uninformed opinion, as that’s what comments sections are for, right?

    Looking at the graphs, you certainly see a lot of outliers. That’s undeniable. But, as you’ve so helpfully done, you can see there are a lot of weirdoes in the mix by coloring certain countries. What would be a useful measure, I believe, is to remove ex-communist countries–where theism has an emotional value as rejection of the commies–and then weight the remaining countries for population. I notice that big nations, like the U.S., the U.K., France, and Germany all pretty much fall on the line. Spain and Italy would be notable exceptions, so they would throw off the correlation. But should we weight small fry, like Malta or Luxembourg, the same as the bigger fish?

    If you have already done this sort of weighting, I do apologize and will conveniently chalk it up to my ignorance. :)

  • kurt9 · December 15, 2008 at 9:24 am

    Without a transcendental basis for morality, the moral basis of law becomes consensual only, and the moral basis for individual action becomes personal. …..
    …this view is merely a tacit admission that moral beliefs cannot be derived from first principles.

    All this says is that morality is contractual in nature, something I have believed even since high school. I see nothing wrong with and am quite comfortable with a contractual concept of morality. Certainly I have lived my entire adult life based on such. A contractual standard of morality is derivable empirically (does not require belief in anything that is not objectively observable) and certainly precludes the kinds anti-social acts such as rape, murder, any kind of theft, and “exploitation” (which has to be defined) that we all want to prevent.

  • Cornelius J. Troost · December 15, 2008 at 10:55 am

    David Hume started an important discussion but contributors have run amuck with the conversation. I did a recent book on Darwin and evolution which included some material on this initial issue. While the consequences of evolutionary belief are somewhat unclear, we can say that atheism is often a product of the dramatic realization of the power of Darwin’s theory. The serious inquirer must come to appreciate the explanatory power of this idea in its modern version.Once applied to human evolution this idea is simply overwhelming.

    Hume is right about most people believing simply to appear “sophisticated” among educated folk, but mass grade inflation and liberal admissions policies have diluted “educated” to mean average in America. I suspect that SECULAR RIGHT bloggers are not among the pseudo-evolutionists. I have taught evolution at both high school and university levels for some 40+ years and found that only about 10% of people really grasp the mechanics in enough detail to provide a basis for intelligent discussion.Of course, relativity theory is even worse!

    Scandinavian countries plus Japan have majorities that believe in evolution and also disbelieve in God.While we don’t know what fraction know half as much as Dawkins, I suspect that they have better science education there and cultural factors that include the very bitter experiences of European history. These less diverse populations generally beat us in international math and science competitions, so they have the advantage of few or no blacks or hispanics, as well as no Mississippis. The US carries an awesome burden which depresses its results.Diversity in this case is entropic!

    Liberalism in Europe grew to encompass atheism in an organic way.Darwinian thought fit into an intellectual milieu that was gradually more conducive as liberalism moved further left with time.Russia’s case was unique because it involved a massive “makeover” by the Bolsheviks to violently remove Christianity from a peasant society of true believers.Only a Stalin could remake a society in the image of errr Stalin. Raised as atheists, millions of Russians today have zero religiousity in a society ranked about the most corrupt in the world.Human life in Russia, not very heavily valued in Custine’s 1830’s, is even less valued after Joseph Stalin.Remember polonium?

    I will gladly comment on the moral aspect of atheism and Darwinism because it is of supreme importance for all of us who unshackle ourselves from the bonds of religion. Different cultures have different solutions but it is nonetheless important that we try our hands at finding a rational “solution.” I hope we return to this question later.

  • Caledonian · December 15, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Of course, relativity theory is even worse!

    Relativity is simple enough for a motivated high-school student to grasp it, although full comprehension requires knowledge of tensors, which high-schoolers are unlikely to possess.

    A lot of advanced physics is far more complicated, and completely beyond the grasp of most people.

    You wouldn’t think that would be important, but when it comes to questions about whether we should build particle accelerators, it becomes extremely relevant. The politicians in charge simply don’t understand the choices they’re confronted with.

  • Ivan Karamazov · December 15, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    I will gladly comment on the moral aspect of atheism and Darwinism because it is of supreme importance for all of us who unshackle ourselves from the bonds of religion. Different cultures have different solutions but it is nonetheless important that we try our hands at finding a rational “solution.”

    The problem I keep coming back to is that statements like the above include, (don’t they?), an implicit assumption, the degree of correctness of which may change the debate.

    The assumption could be made more explicit by saying something like this: What is the effect of the idea of atheism, or the idea of Darwinism, in a human mind, and on that human being?

    To which one might answer, “Well, what sort of mind do you mean?”

    If you had said “What is the effect of the principles of advanced calculus in a human mind?”, most of us would readily admit that many human minds cannot grasp advanced calculus, so you have to qualify the question.

    In like manner, of more interest might be questions like “What is the effect of the idea of atheism on the type of human mind that can’t even grasp, say, the principles of algebra, versus on the type of mind that can?”. Is there any difference, and does it matter?

    To make the same point in another context, the social ramifications of the mass raising of children by unwed parents in, say, a place like Sweden, could easily not have the bad effects of the same thing tried in South Chicago, say.
    Same concept: “you don’t need to marry”. Wildly different effects when implemented.

    Shouldn’t we stop acting like everyone everywhere has the same capacity to understand and deal with the consequences of concepts and ideas like atheism, Darwinism, belief in God, libertine social freedoms, etc? I don’t think there can be one rational “solution”.

    I feel I haven’t made my point as eloquently as it could be made, but I hope you at least get the gist of it.

  • Author comment by Steel Phoenix · December 15, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    The solution is to give people logic, literacy, and connectivity, and then let them be. If we believe something to be true, then we shouldn’t have to push it on others. Once they think about it with a strong and open mind, they will come to the truth in a better way. If the poor and uneducated are the ones who turn to religion, then we should turn our front lines from fighting religion to fighting poverty. Creationism is fighting an uphill battle. Look at where they send their missionaries. They don’t go to Africa because it is black, they go there because the people there have neither the resources nor the education to resist them. When they prey on the weak, they show their own weakness.

  • Cornelius J. Troost · December 15, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    In response to Ivan Karamazov, I deliberately used quotation marks around the word solution because minds are both different and the same.Human genetics already suggests that various races differ in certain brain-building genes that will eventually explain far better why the major racial groups have different behavioral profiles.We do not have the same amount of criminality, aggression, impulsivity, or even honesty. Brains follow the same basic plan but widely diverge in biochemical and structural intricacies. If, for example, the pre-frontal cortex shows racial differences, then we have indeed a biological basis for things like incarceration. What do we do in a pluralistic society if such information became public? What are the implications for understanding human morality?

    While moral behavior has a universal aspect it also contains considerable variability. Countries like Sweden have low rates of homicide as does Vermont in America. These places have low black populations or none. They also are less religious and more highly educated. Certainly cultural factors interact with biological ones to produce fairly peaceful societies. Conversely, Congo and Rwanda are extremely violent places where race may loom very prominently.Russia, where religion was systematically destroyed, remains with Columbia one of the world’s most dangerous places. In chasing the biological basis for morality we must seek the deep connections of brain, learning, and culture.
    In Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds he outlines research evidence for reciprocity and altruism in monkeys. He is setting the stage for a grand explanation for virtue and morality in humans.In the vast panorama of human cultures we find few universals and much violence and aggression.In nature diversity spells trouble. If atheism becomes widespread, we may see narcissism and hedonism dominate wealthy societies that will languish like Brave New World.
    Humanism contains postmodern weakness that cannot provide the legal and moral restraints needed by most mortals. We are too close to the apes for such “freedom.” Hollywood is now a cesspool of violence and sex.It will get worse because the moral lessons of Christianity have been discarded.I have been happily an atheist for most of my life but I have Sydney Hook’s and Walter Kauffman’s kind of atheism: a dose of Christian morality mixed with humility and skepticism. Remember that word “humility” for it may soon disappear.

  • Stopped Clock · December 15, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    Tulse :

    Stopped Clock :
    I, personally, behave as if there is only one soul, housed in many separate bodies, and unaware of its oneness because each of the bodies has a separate consciousness.

    Well ok then.
    By the way, how is this situation distinguishable from there being no souls, and just separate consciousnesses?
    And if the soul is separable from consciousness, what does it do? If it is not responsible for conscious experience and memory and feeling and personal identity, what is its function?

    Thank you for your interest in my personal beliefs :) I love this blog, but it moves too fast for someone like me (I have 39 blogs on my RSS feed) to respond quickly.

    Anyway, I would say that my beliefs regarding souls are not necessaarily theistic, only that they’re not materialistic. A materialist, if I am not mistaken, believes that all observable phenomena can be explained as being physical processes … even emotions, colors, etc. I am not a materialist because I believe that there are things that are imnmaterial … and I have met some atheists who agree with me there, so I don’t think that my beliefs about souls by themselves would qualify me as a religious person. This explains very little, sorry, I will put up my beliefs on a website someday.

  • Ivan Karamazov · December 16, 2008 at 5:56 am

    @Cornelius J. Troost
    Thanks for the reply. Sounds like we agree, right down to the kind of atheism.

  • kurt9 · December 16, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Why I don’t understand is the reluctance on the part of the religious right to accept that sentience is what separates humans from animals. They seem to down play the significance of sentience itself.

  • Caledonian · December 16, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    kurt9 :
    Why I don’t understand is the reluctance on the part of the religious right to accept that sentience is what separates humans from animals. They seem to down play the significance of sentience itself.

    Lacking the trait themselves, they don’t wish it to be perceived as important.

    In all seriousness, religion is heavily dependent on folk concepts and judgment-by-feeling. Most people do not reach conclusions by rational analysis, but by considering how they feel about different options. Religions, which by and large are not viable when analyzed rationally, survive only because they can get people to accept premises and then maintain them from a sense of familiarity.

    The people who object the most to the idea that people are just another type of animal are usually the ones least dissimilar to animals, in rather the same way that the poorest low-class whites tended to support slavery and the subhuman status of blacks most vehemently. They could always tell themselves that despite being white trash, they were at least better than the Negroes – so they had the most to lose, psychologically speaking, from considering them as potential equals.

    Everyone wants to be superior to something. No one wants to be inferior to everyone. So inferior people look for, and sometimes create, things they can be superior to.

  • Richard Saunders · December 16, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Caledonian

    Religions, which by and large are not viable when analyzed rationally, survive only because they can get people to accept premises and then maintain them from a sense of familiarity.

    Which is why religion seeks to inculcate belief in the young and emotionally vulnerable, and uses appeals to authority and emotion. You have to get people when they aren’t thinking rationally, ideally before the onset of rational thinking.

  • Author comment by Steel Phoenix · December 16, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    A lot of what separates us from the animals is language; not just that we have it, but that we have it down well enough to pass on complex information between each other and future generations. Try holding a thought process without the languages you have been taught. When learned young, things like religion enter our brain almost inseparable from language and thought. We are asking them to unlearn a language.

  • Cornelius J. Troost · December 19, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    In this trail of digression from the David Hume starting point we have managed to vent opinions with no solid agreement except for the untenability of religion. In my latest book I did a chapter called The Origin of Faith. Since we see evidence of religion dating back at least 30,000 years, we must realize that this is a profound impulse with a possible biological foundation. If that turns out to be true than all our slings and arrows seem somewhat misguided. Until recently atheism was rare because it may be quite NATURAL to be religious. Smoke that in your pipe!

    The Economist, usually a highly rational magazine, celebrated the coming 150 year Darwin anniversary of The Origin by examining why we are as we are. All of you will find it interesting.Thankfully, the writer strongly supports the genetic aspect of human nature against the liberal “blank slate” myth so widely believed in Obamania and like-minded European leftist dribble.Despite a generally competent Darwinian analysis of human behavior, the author suddenly cherry-picks the data to treat race as “almost” nonexistent.Not only are races kind of like “brands” but the author assures us that intelligence is safely equal!

    Since human nature was molded by evolution we have to start from the basic data from the human sciences and work toward our own philosophic perspective based upon as much real science as we can assimilate. Religion is based in part upon a complex instinct that may be partly genetic.Dean Hamer discovered what he calls “The God Gene” He found alleles called VMAT2 that control monoamines in the brain.They help build the vesicles within which these neurotransmitters reside.The VMAT2 genes have an effect like the drug Ecstacy which teens use very widely.Taking this drug, one’s ego dissolves as one feels in sublime connection with the Universe. Mystical emotions may well depend on one’s genetic constitution.Females have 18% more VMAT2 than males. Some people simply have trouble getting aroused mystically and may become scientists!

    Our “belief engines” in the left hemisphere are often fooled when we gullibly believe soothsayers or various kinds of powerful leaders. Obedience is part of our cognitive arsenal. Unless we sharpen our critical faculty we can easily follow deceptive leaders like Jim Jones or David Koresch or…… I dealve into this aspect of faith in my book but not enough space here for more. I think that religion deserves more respect than we give it but Islam’s extremism reminds us that we must guard against the worst features which are called fundamentalism.

  • Ivan Karamazov · December 19, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    @Cornelius J. Troost
    All very interesting.

    But I have always thought that just the following goes a very long way towards explaining why man seems to need religion. Looked at a certain way, our brains, and the brains of all creatures that have them, are basically “determine- the-cause-from-the-effect” devices. An excellent survival mechanism, the better they are at that, the better the odds that the owner survives to reproduce. So “identifying causes” is what brains do, and the evolutionary best brains do that very well indeed.

    Initially, this was all just in service to the immediate environment. But man has developed the ability for abstract thought, and thus the “eternal questions” must eventually arise. The brain, doing what it does best, is then asked to determine a “cause” for the cosmos itself, and, finding only the infinite regress, settles on a causa sui , so it can get closure, and go on to other things.

    The various religions and their elaborate canons are then just artful frosting on the cake.

  • Cornelius J. Troost · December 20, 2008 at 9:51 am

    For Ivan Karamazov:
    No wonder you chose Ivan rather than Alyosha.However, while there is truth in what you say or science and common sense would not exist, you are not thinking carefully about the dominant role of mysticism and religious emotion in human history. The cognitive tool kit was suppressed for many thousands of years as magic and religion were essentially barriers to the kind of causal thinking you correctly identify.Incorrect thinking was commonplace. We celebrate the Greeks because they were the first to break through that emotional blockade.

    The genetic evidence of Bruce Lahn suggests that human brains are divergant from a basic plan laid out in Africa. Accelerating evolution under cultural pressures led to Ashkenazi Jews having extremely high IQ’s and Africans averaging only 70 on the IQ scale.Where IQ is low the power of religious emotions is often overwhelming.Even Islamic Jihadists often have advanced degrees but harbor seething religious emotions driving them to commit suicide. However, this bestial killing by itself may well be nothing more than our basic instinct for preservation modified by cultural factors like Alexander the Great or Napolean or God.

    The modular brain is integrated in a way that allows for a Newton who discovers laws of physics while feeling close to God.Recall the great thinking of Kepler while he heard the divine music of the spheres.He sought God’s divine plan in astronomy.Conversely, witchcraft in Africa can be deadly to albinos because the power of rationality seems very weak. Only as civilizations arose that encouraged science actively even as religion often conflicted with it did rational analysis of nature proceed unabated.Religious emotions may well be natural and, for some, almost impossible to suppress.Feeling you are close to God is not bad in itself but could be if combined with our drive for self-preservation(survival)and affected by doctrines of hate.

  • Ivan Karamazov · December 20, 2008 at 10:30 am

    @Cornelius J. Troost
    Thanks for the reply! I agree with everything you wrote. Strange that even religious suicide can be a manifestation of the preservation instinct, if only it becomes convinced that it is the soul, rahter than the body, that needs preserving.

    Re: my handle, it is only with the sentiments of the Ivan who wrote “The Grand Inquisitor” tale, that I can identify with, not the one who went insane. :) And as for the “all things are permissible” line, I instead agree more with Rakitin when he says, to Alyosha, “Humanity will find in itself the power to live for virtue even without believing in immortality. It will find it in love for freedom, for equality, for fraternity.” But even that hope requires a universal minimum IQ that, it looks like, does not exist. Sigh.

    Are we not doomed, then?

  • Cornelius J. Troost · December 20, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Mr. Karamazov,
    In my book called Apes or Angels? Darwin, Dover, Human Nature, and Race, I pose serious doubts about the capacity of secular societies to practice the virtues which I call “Christian.” The wanton destruction of Christianity could accelerate our current descent into the moral maelstrom. While Darwin is acclaimed one of the greatest men in human history, he had an impact that was and is earth-shaking.Secular humanists understand all this but the remedies posed by them are often controversial.Iam very uncomfortable with the liberal philosophy of our American humanists who would sentence pedophilic killers to ten years rather than life. Scandinavian countries embody this liberal view of morality which treats deviant behavior as mild deformations of normal behavior. They have little or no moral outrage.

    Secular humanists today are multicultural advocates who would “solve” the problem of black crime by therapeutic methods and EARLY release.They are extremely forgiving when their children have not been defiled.Many would open our borders to people desparate for money but hateful of almost everything else. Their morality, in short, fits into hollywood more than it does a Christian society.The authority of parents, teachers, and Church has been demolished under the wave of liberalism that swept through the nation in the sixties. Pop culture today reflects this degeneracy.

    Can the best of Christian morality blend with humanist principles? This is a worthy task but Iam not optimistic because of the inherent pathologies of liberalism, including the egregious myth that we are all equal. We ain’t and have not been for at least thirty thousand years.

    While IQ is vital for national wealth, the immigration problem in Europe is threatening that reality. Britain, for instance, is declining culturally as its liberalism paves the way and PC mandates actually imperil what little free speech they still have! How very sad.The US is lucky to have some free sppech but that cannot last with a socialist president with an agenda that could really reduce the prison population by releasing blacks back into the community. His idea of justice is far different from our traditional Christian notion.

    Doomed? Diversity may well turn out to be a Darwinian apocalypse in which a War of All against All will be the outcome. Babel may be our fate but I hope not. Nations must retain their special character as democracies and promote Christian values and basic freedoms with limited immigration.This will not be an easy path in this global environment full of toxicity.One can and perhaps must hope.

  • Ivan Karamazov · December 20, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    @Cornelius J. Troost
    Again, agreed. And, ‘well put, sir’. I know of your excellent book, but haven’t bought it yet mainly because I know of its arguments, and already agree with them. But it’s on my Christmas list, because authors such as yourself need to be supported.

    I too would hope for the best of Christian morality blended with humanist principles, but meanwhile, in the USA, we need to continue to pound that very “Christian morality” in the public square, while we still can, and if for no other reason than to keep free speech alive for that happy day when, we can also beat back the dangerous nonsense in Islam, currently the world’s greatest ideological threat. Europe appears to be already lost, and unilaterally, tragically.

  • Cornelius J. Troost · December 21, 2008 at 9:15 am

    Ivan Karamazov,
    I hope you and I are not in an empty room !!I appreciate very much your compliments. Iam a veteran of the evolution wars who had Carl Sagan as a friend from high school and later got to know H.J. Mulller quite well. America before the sixties was a different world than the one you inherited.The “emancipated” nation after civil rights morphed into a PC world where college students are shackled by “speech codes” and soon Obama will require all middle school students to do community service.Liberal fascism is here and we must fight to retain our Constitution.

    Henry Harpending is coming out with a promising book called The 10,000 Year Explosion. He is one of the best anthropologists in the country and has endorsed my book as “wonderful.” His book is a more technical treatise than mine and it should be because he is a researcher into human genetics.Both books should be read by intelligent readers interested in the culture wars and the role of evolution in a society dominated by liberalism.My book is certainly blunt about the features of human nature that clash with liberal myths.The price I pay for truth is banishment from traditional publishing.Still, my book has a great cover,is printed on decent paper, tells how Darwin really had two dangerous ideas, and explains how our society has been deceived into believing the myth of equality. Hard as it is on Christians who wish to believe in souls, it is equally hard on liberals who impose legal and social restraints on our basic freedoms in the service of false equality.

  • J. · December 21, 2008 at 10:10 am

    That’s not a bad thing, since evolution is true, but it does mean that a lot of people aren’t pushing evolution to further science, they’re doing it to proselytize. And if you’re an atheist who feels the need to proselytize then you are very confused. Turn around and take the exit at Evangelical Christianity instead.

    Good point. The traditional rational skeptic (say, Bertrand Russell) did not rely wholly on Darwinian evolution to buttress his anti-theological arguments as do a Dawkins and Dennett, etc.. Evolution plays an important part in the skeptics’ weapons, but there are other tactics: showing the shortcomings of the theologians’ own arguments and assumptions, for one.

  • J. · December 21, 2008 at 10:30 am

    Darwin and Lyell did, however, establish the fallibility of Scripture (and Darwin’s hypotheses were supported by radiocarbon dating): a key point that fundies continually ignore, as do some of the pop-skeptics and atheists (there were doubts of infallibility pre-Darwin, of course–courtesy of Hume and others).

    It’s not only the Hucklebee xtian yokel who hates Darwinism (and atheism): more than a few Imams have issues fatwas (more or less death sentence) on western science (and scientists), and that type of rage’s not unknown among some rabbinical sorts. That may be obvious to college-town freethinkers, but out in the sticks, Darwin remains anathema.

  • Susan · December 21, 2008 at 10:41 am

    I wasn’t raised in any religion, though my parents are nominal Christians, so I never learned to accept anything on blind faith. It was thus easy for me to abandon any vestigial belief I might have had in the literal truth of the Bible by the age of ten or so. (I remember having a real problem with the notion of Methuselah living to the age of 969. Ninety-six or sixty-nine maybe I could have bought.) Anyway, the evolutionary theory always seemed to me to make perfect sense.

    The anti-evolution (actually anti-science) stance of evangelical Christians comes from their belief that the Bible IS literally true–that the earth was created in seven days as we understand days, and that it’s only 5000+ years old as we understand years, and that there really were an Adam and Eve who were the first humans. I’ve tried to raise such issues as carbon dating with true believers, and the response is either that it’s a hoax perpetrated by atheists or that God just makes things that appear to be 30,000 years old when they actually are only 4000 (or whatever) years old. The immediate question is, of course, “Why would God bother to do that?” I’ve never gotten any answer other than that God works in mysterious ways. That’s the same answer you get when you ask why petitionary prayers don’t always work, or even most of the time. The answer is that God had other plans. Well, if God’s plan is all laid out, why bother with petitionary prayer? And, in a larger sense, why bother to do anything at all if the outcome has been decided in advance by a higher power?

    Another thing evangelicals don’t get about the Bible they’re reading today is that whatever the original text was, it’s been translated and redacted and revised so many times that who can say what the original authors (and there were many) intended.

  • Santiago · January 5, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    I agree with Professor Agazzi, who says: If you read Darwin’s books, Darwin directly, You can see that he was never opposed to the idea of Creation. Never. He was always opposed to the idea of individual species being created by God or by Someone, Separately rather than being the result of a transformation. What happens nowadays? Unfortunately once again in the United States there is a minority of fundamentalist Evangelicals, Seeking to take the Bible word for word, as a discourse that tells us how the world was created. They call themselves creationists. Once again the term has been seized for another use. The term “creationists” does not mean in the slightest. That the book of Genesis should be taken as a true story about the Cosmos. But for them it does. They say yes, here is something that at the very least. Should be taught alongside the theory of evolution.. Once again a mistake has been made. And people say, Creationists are enemies of science and enemies of Evolution.
    Regards,
    Santiago Chiva
    Granada, Spain

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