Religion’s smart-people problem: The shaky intellectual foundations of absolute faith

Dec 24, 2014

Credit: Wikimedia

By John G Messerly

Should you believe in a God? Not according to most academic philosophers. A comprehensive survey revealed that only about 14 percent of English speaking professional philosophers are theists.  As for what little religious belief remains among their colleagues, most professional philosophers regard it as a strange aberration among otherwise intelligent people. Among scientists the situation is much the same. Surveys of the members of the National Academy of Sciences, composed of the most prestigious scientists in the world, show that religious belief among them is practically nonexistent, about 7 percent.

Now nothing definitely follows about the truth of a belief from what the majority of philosophers or scientists think. But such facts might cause believers discomfort. There has been a dramatic change in the last few centuries in the proportion of believers among the highly educated in the Western world. In the European Middle Ages belief in a God was ubiquitous, while today it is rare among the intelligentsia. This change occurred primarily because of the rise of modern science and a consensus among philosophers that arguments for the existence of gods, souls, afterlife and the like were unconvincing. Still, despite the view of professional philosophers and world-class scientists, religious beliefs have a universal appeal. What explains this?

Genes and environment explain human beliefs and behaviors—people do things because they are genomes in environments. The near universal appeal of religious belief suggests a biological component to religious beliefs and practices, and science increasingly confirms this view. There is a scientific consensus that our brains have been subject to natural selection. So what survival and reproductive roles might religious beliefs and practices have played in our evolutionary history? What mechanisms caused the mind to evolve toward religious beliefs and practices?

Today there are two basic explanations offered. One says that religion evolved by natural selection—religion is an adaptation that provides an evolutionary advantage. For example religion may have evolved to enhance social cohesion and cooperation—it may have helped groups survive. The other explanation claims that religious beliefs and practices arose as byproducts of other adaptive traits. For example, intelligence is an adaptation that aids survival. Yet it also forms causal narratives for natural occurrences and postulates the existence of other minds. Thus the idea of hidden Gods explaining natural events was born.


Read the full article by clicking the name of the source located below.

40 comments on “Religion’s smart-people problem: The shaky intellectual foundations of absolute faith

  • What continues to baffle me, in this kind of articles, is that they not bother to define what they mean by religion. As if it were intuitively obvious, like an eucliedan axiom.



    Report abuse

  • 2
    Emmanuel says:

    this is a weak argument. the reason for atheism amongst english speaking philosophers reflects the atheism of the society. it doesn’t have any great meaning.

    I dont get this ‘ oh, atheists are smarter and religious people are stupid’ line.
    it is rather tired and doesn’t work, in the sense that most people follow the trends of their society, atheism or religion. there are smart religious people and stupid atheists.
    this kind of shaming religious people as stupid is itself stupid.



    Report abuse

  • Both scientists and believers were told things an infants. Do not put your hand in the fire. Do not run out into the street. Do not drink iodine. Spiders are dangerous. Stay away from bodies of water. These beliefs are extremely hard to change later.

    Parents also lie to their kids about Santa. They also threaten their kids with eternal hellfire, but such beliefs are installed later. That makes the beliefs easier to change. The advantage of Santa is it builds in a lifelong scepticism of what parents tell them.

    Some kids get smacked down when they ask why. Others, such as myself, got pampered for asking why. Authoritarian parents are intolerant of why questions. They beat the curiosity out of their kids. The kids will never make great scientists.



    Report abuse

  • Emmanuel Dec 24, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    this is a weak argument. the reason for atheism amongst english speaking philosophers reflects the atheism of the society.

    I think the point was, that in terms of numbers, it doesn’t.
    Atheists ARE more heavily represented among top philosophers and top scientists.,
    Whereas believers are more disproportionately numerous in prison populations.

    it doesn’t have any great meaning.

    The statistical inferences are clear.

    I dont get this ‘ oh, atheists are smarter and religious people are stupid’ line.

    Looking at reasoning and scientific methodology makes it clearer.
    Those using scientific methodology and logical reasoning ARE smarter at a multitude of tasks, where as those using wishful “faith-thinking” are likely to regularly fail on skills requiring the ability to predict outcomes based on objective experience (individual or shared) followed by reasoning.

    it is rather tired and doesn’t work, in the sense that most people follow the trends of their society, atheism or religion.

    Those that are simply followers are not in the top brackets of thinkers. However those who have been taught that faith (belief with evidence or proof) is a “superior way of thinking”, are severely handicapped in in dealing with practicalities of the real world which require thinking through logically.

    there are smart religious people and stupid atheists.

    There are, but the numbers in top ability brackets are not proportionate to the norms in their societies.

    this kind of shaming religious people as stupid is itself stupid.

    Many fundamentalist religious beliefs ARE STUPID, and deserve shaming, to encourage their proponents and followers, to grow out of damaging childish notions and uneducated assumptions.



    Report abuse

  • I don’t get this “religion must have a genetic component because it’s universal” argument. My admittedly undereducated opinion is that religion is simply a fantasy – a sometimes useful emotional antidote to anxiety and uncertainty since the time that hominids first developed the brain capacity for imagination. It might have been useful in less scientifically-informed times as a form of social bonding and tribal identification, but genetic? Come on. To me that’s just another way of saying, “We must have been created by a god, because we’ve got this inborn propensity toward religion.” We don’t. We have what our parents teach us. Religion is no more in our genes than the belief in Santa Claus.



    Report abuse

  • I don’t get this “religion must have a genetic component because it’s universal” argument.

    I don’t think it is genetic either, but I have to explain why the thousands and thousands of gods and religions were invented independently, by every tribe that has ever walked the planet. I think there is an evolutionary survival advantage for homo sapiens that act as a cohesive unit (tribe) instead of individuals. To see the predator in the grass, even if it was the wind. There is a greater survival advantage for homo sapiens if most of the tribe are gullible with a small percentage of leadership types. One only needs to look at religion in America to see how gullible homo sapiens are when it comes to religion. This survival advantage need only be miniscule to breed a species prone to following whichever smooth talking shaman that holds the town square.

    No its not genetic, but there must be something about the make up of homo sapiens that means every tribe on the planet invented gods independently to explain stuff they couldn’t. It might be a psychological trait left over from earlier times. This RD Net linked BBC article supplies a good scientific argument for how we might have been infected with religion. About half way down, read the paragraphs headed The Mind of God. Appears our ancient reptilian brain is prone to seeing causes for effects.

    http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141219-will-religion-ever-disappear



    Report abuse

  • Thanks, David. I think natural selection acted to favor those humans who saw agency behind every natural phenomenon or object, because as I think Richard said in one of his books, that shape you see in the shadows might just be a shadow, but it might be a tiger, too – and it’s safer to think and act (and react) like it’s a tiger. It’s just a small mental leap to seeing an invisible agency inside of every object and outside of our experience. And prayer to this agent is a soothing form of meditation that makes you feel less helpless in the face of nature. I can readily see how our naturally selected neuropsychology could concoct the idea of gods, and yes – it was probably conferred some evolutionary advantage to our societies.



    Report abuse

  • Religion is, above all, primitive science it gave people in ancient times an “explanation” of all the natural phenomena happening around. Secondly, being survival the main impulse in all living creatures, the belief in a god gave people the “certainty” that they would live for ever, that there was no death, but only a transit to another world, therefore survival was assured for ever and ever, and thirdly a god gives people hope to endure the difficulties of life. In a future, quantum physics, theory of strings, etc will give birth to other beliefs, leaving behind the present gods, and, again, it’ll be science that will put things in the right place. Unless you can assure people constant explanation about nature, erase the fear to death and protect them against a hard life, people will find a “being”, even imaginary, to seek protection, a false protection, but a sort of an appeasement after all.



    Report abuse

  • I forgot to add this in my last post above: we could consider ourselves lucky if we manage to turn the belief in gods into a personal affair instead of the constant public nuisance – interference in education, politics, public affairs, forcing people to believe in fantasies, etc- that religion represents today.



    Report abuse

  • To infer that religious people are by some definition less intelligent is about as silly as it gets. Some of histories most intelligent, and recognized as such, are amongst the most religious.

    St. Augustine and Catherine of Alexander come to mind immediately, and no one is going to successfully call the Borgias stupid. Nor do I think Ken Hamm is stupid, although deep down, probably not that religious really, just a snake oil salesman cynically acting out his part with near total hypocrisy. I suppose that much the same comment could be made of the Borgias, too.

    But the list of very genuinely religious people who combined a high level of intelligence, is an easy list to populate.

    The point of course is that they were thinking inside the fundamental mindset of their time, as our philosophers and scientists are thinking within the mindset of our time.

    As more and more of the previously unanswerable questions get relegated to common knowledge, the need for the “too hard basket, so God did it” diminishes further. At some point its relevance will be limited to those who enjoy the music, and the architecture, and the generally nice feeling that religion gives them.

    I suspect many, maybe most, are already there, and have left the supernatural waffle behind, despite what they put on the census forms.



    Report abuse

  • JC Sheepdog Dec 24, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    To infer that religious people are by some definition less intelligent is about as silly as it gets. Some of histories most intelligent, and recognized as such, are amongst the most religious.

    There are some vague and confusing issues here.

    First: intelligence and stupidity are not mutually exclusive.

    Second: While intelligent people educated in reasoning, are more likely to cast off religious indoctrination, many cultures have successfully repressed such mental maturation. – For centuries, religions dominated literacy and educational establishments, so apart from any book-burnings or witch burnings, records of non-religious “heretical” views were unlikely to be preserved. Rival religious “heretical views” do feature quite a lot.

    Third: In repressive regimes, many people go through the motions, and keep their doubts to themselves for fear of discrimination and persecution by the “devout”! – For example – in the middle ages marriage was only recognised if conducted by the “right” kind of priests, and ” bastards could not inherit their parents’ property – thus ensuring that the nobility were (at least token) faith-heads.



    Report abuse

  • Hi Alan,

    A very nice summary. No links this time?

    If added to Lorenzo’s comment that people discussing religion tend to be rather lax about what it is they’re talking about.that pretty much covers the objections.

    In essence the rest of the phenomenon of organised religion, it seems to me, is described by the mis-firing of other survival strategies (as ably described in the God Delusion) and deliberately undermined by the – to put it politely -politically ambitious.

    Merry Xmas.

    P.S. Any Brits reading this are advised that Richard Dawkins appears in the Xmas issue of a well know Satirical Magazine – in the worst possible light, of course.



    Report abuse

  • Humanity is a species dominated by conditioning – like any animal. We spend our first years surrounded by parental figures whom we experience as omnipotent, omnipresent, and beyond comprehension. We are thoroughly conditioned to a magical life where all sustenance / pleasure / pain is directly connected to these beings. This creates a natural need for gods. Given that this conditioning occurs during the formative years of every human, the emergence of atheism could only have occurred in modern societies where parenting and sociological factors enable intelligent children to deny their psychological need for powerful protector / provider figures. The less-intelligent remain psychologically dependent on the concept of benefactor gods.

    Whether this conditioning has imprinted itself into our DNA is an interesting question – but is it part of a solution? All of us are, to a large extent, defined by our early childhood conditioning. The intelligent seek to superimpose our understanding, and regulate our behaviors, but we all know this is less successful than we wish. How then would we realistically propose to overcome the god need of all who are indoctrinated by the simple fact of being a human child?



    Report abuse

  •  As toward believing in ‘God’ or not…Irrelevant! To do so. The mythological literacy program psuedo spirituality known as religion…is harmful. Acknowledging omnipresent energy and permanent mystery of the universe as fascinating and wonderful is not be confused with a human story character known as god or whatever. Putting a face/personality the the reality of being aware of things externally of yourself is foolish and not being honest as a true scientist…being fascinated with being and seeking greater depth of experience and information is science; being conclusive and elaborate in a mythological sense to intangible aspects of reality is ignorant, harmful and stupid. Reality is infinite to our perception and so is a waste of energy and creativity to perpetuate such ignorance. It is a failed inadvertent experiment in human commonality and control tax collection…that is really a short period in skeletally modern human conscious experiments..less than 1% in time. Let us move on to greater things…scientific method is a fantastic tool..it works(obviously)



    Report abuse

  • What’s the mystery? Religion is ritualized mythology. Mythology is storytelling. Humans tell stories. Some humans believe them and while that might be considered less intelligent or, at the very least, highly impressionable, the wish to believe it to be true, actual and historical is easily addressed through science, logic and philosophy. If one looks to cosmology for the answer, you’re barking up the wrong tree. For the creator gods and god are resoundingly silent. Study the science of mythology ( and what a marvelous science it is) and you’ll find hundreds, if not, thousands of them: Awesome ones, terrible ones, delightful ones, bizarre ones. All of which one might expect in stories created by humans as they evolved. Collectively, the Gods are human milestones through which we can gauge our own psychological evolution and progress. I say, have at them. Regale in them as one might in any movie, book, or idea. Believe in them at your own peril, because you’ve missed the point. For they are us, in all of our terribleness, potential and wonder.



    Report abuse

  • Alternately, some of them may become some of the greatest scientists, assuming they can retain that curiosity and find the willpower to keep asking questions even in the face of refusal.



    Report abuse

  • english speaking philosophers reflects the atheism of the society

    Atheism is an overwhelming minority, so this statement makes no sense.

    this kind of shaming religious people as stupid is itself stupid

    IQ and religiosity correlate negatively, this means that religious people on average are more stupid, by the standard definition anyway



    Report abuse

  • Jack Dec 26, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Atheism is an overwhelming minority,

    Atheism in some populations is a large group, if individual religions are listed separately rather than lumped together!

    https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-belief-some-surveys-and-statistics/

    According to the 2011 UK Census, those of no religion are the second largest belief group, about three and a half times as many as all the non-Christian religions put together – at 26.13% of the population. 16,038,229 people said they had ‘no religion’ with a further 4,406,032 (7.18%) not stating a religion. 58.81% described their religion as Christian and 7.88% as some non-Christian religion. This represented a massive change from the 2001 Census, where 15.5% of the population recorded having no religion, and 72% of the population reported being Christian.

    However, in a poll conducted by YouGov in March 2011 on behalf of the BHA, when asked the census question ‘What is your religion?’, 61% of people in England and Wales ticked a religious box (53.48% Christian and 7.22% other) while 39% ticked ‘No religion’. When the same sample was asked the follow-up question ‘Are you religious?’, only 29% of the same people said ‘Yes’ while 65% said ‘No’, meaning over half of those whom the census would count as having a religion said they were not religious.



    Report abuse

  • The comments on diverse religious phenomena, origins and manifestations, expressed on this thread are worthy of extensive research.

    One other factor explaining the disposition toward the religious or the supernatural may have been built into the human brain as it evolved the ability to acquire and use language. (Obviously, animals don’t talk “about” God. Indeed they don’t talk “about” anything.) Language gave humans the ability to imagine that they could “conceptualize” the objects of their environment and generate “abstract’ thinking. We came to distinguish between the object and the “idea” of the object. The fallacy of transcendence became hardwired as we attributed “essence” to objects we named with relational descriptions. Thus like Plato we supposed that perfect forms existed in an eternal realm to be reflected imperfectly in the receptacle of space. The tree in the backyard, for example, reflected an ideal form existing in a supernatural realm. Without realizing that we were using a linguistic tool to describe relational properties-causes and effects- we came to believe in the transcendent thing-in-itself separate from any way we talked about it. Almost reflexively we jumped to the belief that God, or more fashionably today, a “higher power” created, sustained and animated “reality.” Even among secularists, atheists and agnotics we hear a lot of huffing and puffing about TRUTH, GOODNESS, and BEAUTY as though the words pick out entities in “reality” with essential properties independent of our verbal descriptions. Linguistic behavior including linguistic awareness and the neurological configuration behind it often project the illusion of transcendence, and expressed in many ways bear a kinship with the religious frame of mind.



    Report abuse

  • Even pigeons have been shown to be superstitious. It took human beings to make organised superstition into the art form and the business model that it is today. A very handy tool to keep people oppressed and the workers in their place.

    Nothing to do with genes, it’s all about social pressure to conform.



    Report abuse

  • For me one of the most astonishing faces of superstitions is that believers, far from hearing other people, even clearly more educated people when such a debate starts entrench themselves and display all kinds of (bad) behaviors towards people explaining them facts…

    I think that the explanation for the low education people can be found in the lack of self-criticism and the total miss of interest in learning new things.



    Report abuse

  • Then is there a genetic difference between Americans and W. Europeans, or W. Europeans and E. Europeans, which explains the difference in religiosity? Or, for that matter, has the disappearance of religion in W. Europe and Japan corresponded with a genetic shift? Or, indeed, has there been a genetic shift in Russia, first going from religous to non-religious, and then, in more recent times, back to religous?

    What theory could account for such quick changes in religiousity, if religion was, in fact, a genetic phenomenon?

    The article offers that other studies have found a genetic basis in several personality traits: “the ability to get along well with others and being conscientious, working hard, being punctual, and controlling one’s impulses”. Is it not possible that what’s really going on is that religion is sort of like a country club. People with certain dispositions are attracted to the club more than others. But the club has a cost – cognitive dissonance. In the past, the cost has been low, since most people didn’t realize how foolish the religious beliefs were. But as people become more educated, the cost (the cognitive dissonance) has increased, and so membership in the “religion club” has decreased.

    That theory makes alot more sense of the data to me, than than “propensity to join the religion club” is some kind of genetic expression.



    Report abuse

  • I’m more inclined to accept that societies and cultures are slow to change when not compelled to do so. When the cultures and traditions supercede any attempts at using applied knowledge to draw conclusions and as a result people remain stuck in unproven and often contradictory ideas.

    The whole measuring of intelligence in regards to religious or atheistic ways of thinking is a bit of a slippery slope when what is really missing is the ability to and the teaching of critical thinking. I like to think of it like this: Intelligence is something that anyone can display evidence of through reading and comprehension, but the actual application of that knowledge in the real world will vary from person to person regardless of their background. There is in the end a profound difference between being smart and being wise.

    Now obviously in cultures and traditions where the social norms push against science and favors the unproven as acceptable it will be harder to find people using wisdom or indeed being encouraged to do so. It certainly doesn’t mean it’s not there, just much harder to nurture and develop.

    Someone cited Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s video where he breaks down the societal changes in the middle east that all but destroyed the massive scientific and mathematical advances of the time. So any wisdom that could be nurtured or developed was routinely outcast from the culture, and as a society it hasn’t recovered to this day.

    I don’t see it as being evolutionary. It’s cultural, and changes dramatically when people are given the impetus to think, learn and grow. You simply can’t do that when your culture tells you the truth is false and all of the answers can be found in ancient texts.



    Report abuse

  • “Nothing to do with genes, it’s all about social pressure to conform.”

    And how is it that this “pressure” has such power over human individuals and groups?
    If the behavior doesn’t enhance survivability and increase the likelihood of descendants, it’s not going to be common in a population. And the converse as well.
    It has everything to do with genes and their continued existence. That’s what life is all about.



    Report abuse

  • The pragmatic application of science in more and more diverse and complex ways has marked the rise of secularized societies over the last 300 years with a corresponding decline in religious influence. This process is subsumed under the term “Technology,” or more dynamically the phrase “Technological Progress.”

    The achievements of science and technology that continue to increase at an accelerating pace have not only supplanted the explanations that religion offered for the origins of the universe and our planet; indeed for our own biological evolution; but have also built an infrastructure pragmatically calculated to meet the physical and psychological needs of our species without vacuous appeals to non-functional divine
    intervention or grace.

    Over millenia, humans have controlled and manipulated their environment advancing human purposes and interests in a natural environment, until knowledge, transmitted from generation to generation, accumulated a critical mass sufficient for the current consensus that physical cause and effect is the exclusive substance of reality. For philosophers and scientists today, gods along with other imaginary supernatural powers have nearly completed their vanishing act dissolving from human consciousness into non-existence.

    Admittedly, a significant portion of world population still constitute an impressive base of pious believers, notably among Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Too many of the world’s children lack access to secondary and tertiary education, and those, who do receive education, lack access to modern science education. Nonetheless, every child born today will grow up in a world where Science and Technology are conditioning everyone to think and act in a secular context where religion is losing traditional claims to power over human lives.

    When a loved one feels chest pains, enters the cardiac clinic for an angioplasty subsequent to diagnosis, well-wishers will tell the family that their thoughts and prayers are with them. How many decades before well-wishers will drop “prayers” from the phrase, tell the family that their [empathetic] thoughts are with them then cut quickly to questions about reports from the medical chart?



    Report abuse

  • Hi achromatt666,

    I’m more inclined to accept that societies and cultures are slow to change when not compelled to do so.

    The evidence of history strongly supports the parallel notion that people are naturally conservative – that is: conservative in the sense that they resist change. To not add that some people are motivated to use this natural phenomenon is, I hazard to guess, naïve.

    [Regarding] the whole measuring of intelligence in regards to religious or atheistic ways of thinking … what is really missing is the ability to [think critically] and the teaching of critical thinking.

    Those who set out to misuse our fear and uncertainty of change are well aware of the fact the humans must learn critical thinking. They therefore work to also undermine our critical thinking and to oppose high quality education.

    Control of information and idea dissemination therefore become critical – particularly to those who wish to misuse our conservative attitudes to change and who are already in power.

    Intelligence is something that anyone can display evidence of through reading and comprehension, but the actual application of that knowledge in the real world will vary from person to person regardless of their background.

    I cannot say, or gainsay, such an idea. It depends a great deal on your definition of intelligence. However, it is clearly true to say that the way in which knowledge is received, interpreted and acted upon varies widely. The reasons behind these differences are usually easily detected: Bigotry, poor education, misinformation and so on.

    In cultures and traditions where the social norms push against science and favors the unproven as acceptable it will be harder to find people using wisdom or indeed being encouraged to do so.

    This extension of your idea relies heavily on your readers understanding wisdom in the same way that you do. I do not understand what you mean by wisdom, but I think you may be trying to demonstrate that some societies have become organised around a central, conservative (resisting change), agenda and this leads people to despair – they believe change to be impossible, so take no part in the polity?

    The United States, Putin’s Russia, North Korea under the Kim’s and Saudi Arabia all have this problem in common – though, to be fair, the severity of the problem varies.

    It certainly doesn’t mean [critical thinking is] not there, just much harder to nurture and develop.

    Agreed.

    Someone cited Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s video where he breaks down the social changes in the Middle East that all but destroyed [early medieval] scientific and mathematical advances … I don’t see it as being evolutionary. It’s cultural, and changes dramatically when people are given the impetus to think, learn and grow.

    Any religion that relies on tradition, holy scripture, or any other difficult-to-change support has fully invested in conservatism (with a small c, meaning: They are not wedded to a political movement or party that is conservative, they are stuck with dogmatic reactionary thinking).

    Religions must, by their very nature, resist change because accommodating change is hard (for the religion). Look at any of the statements made by the Catholic Church regarding the scandals over their many allegedly pederast priests, even the apologies. You will see, if you bear in mind the above, a desire to keep change to a minimum.

    They rely on this working because they know that people also resist changing their minds. Having been persuaded once, many years ago, that their religion is true, many intelligent people (however you want to define that) will seek ways to undermine truth, rather than admit they were wrong. over the last two years we’ve seen much supporting evidence presented on this point, at this Site.

    You simply can’t do that [push for change] when your culture tells you the truth is false and all of the answers can be found in ancient texts.

    For those of us who can, however imperfectly or inconsistently, think critically it is not enough to say that society is resisting change. Because to do so only states the problem, it does not help us reach the answers. The reality of the World which we inhabit appears to mean we must speak up.

    The irony of a man using a pen name, in a relatively safe country, in a relatively comfortable armchair, during a very comfortable holiday, telling others to be brave … is not lost on me. But my fellow citizens have been seduced by these comforts and they are not vigilant, the authorities may come knocking on my door very soon now.

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Too few of us pay our dues. Some of us are in for a rude awakening.

    Peace.



    Report abuse

  • Thanks for the qualification, Phil. My example was chosen for contemporary relevance to some readers without considering that it might sound “ethnocentric” to others. I’m reminded of the story of two blondes walking across from each other on opposite banks of a river. The first hails the other and shouts, “How do I get to the other side?” The second shouts back, “You are on the other side.”

    My central point is that advances in Science and Technology are conditioning each successive generation to understand their world more in secular terms; to appreciate that technology raises standards of living; that technology facilitates health, prosperity, and preconditions for happiness on empirical criteria independent of futile praying to non-existent gods. The influence of religion will begin to fade and over time shrink to a vanishing point as the global consensus realizes that humans live in a natural world that operates exclusively on intelligible proven laws of cause and effect.

    I look forward in imagination to a time when Muslims, for example, will start watering down orthodox dogma with sentiments like: I don’t need to go to the mosque or assume that rump-up crouching position for prayer, I can pray at work or while walking in the park – The Prophet never intended to limit the rights, opportunities, mobility or dress of women. All that nonsense derived from ancient custom. Get rid of the hijab and burka, ladies. Dress in fashion (probably western) of your own choosing and drive or walk alone to work or school and afterwards enjoy a drink or two at a wine bar with your friends, male or female.

    The next steps in the vanishing process will put forward sentiments like: We all believe in the same God. Don’t be so intolerant of Christians and Jews. Want to join the interfaith committee? Want to sign the petition to separate Islamic law from [secular] Constitutional law? Any educated person should recognize that our scriptures are man made and while conveying moral insights are not divinely inspired…You know, the balance of evidence suggests there is probably no such thing as God…

    You can see how the process will yield more and more secular non-believers as time goes by. The summary above is encapsulated in time-lapse photography. The change may take 50 years; it may take a century, but I believe it is most probable with western Europe and, to a lesser degree, the U.S. already laying the foundation and proceeding apace to construct the secular infrastructure that the rest of the world seems eager to emulate.

    To be sure, religions or various beliefs in supernatural powers will persist. Small orthodox or fundamentalist sects, traditional or to-be-invented, will stay with us, but probably chastened by their minority status, fester harmlessly in tiny niches. The more robust expression of innocuous religiosity will come from those who claim to be “spiritual.” Finally there will be a small class of educated intellectuals who will eschew the description “religious” in favor of vague diffuse beliefs and practices we would call “mystical.”



    Report abuse

  • Religion’s “Smart people problem”, is that the religious who THINK they are smart, can be seen with the benefit of analysis and hindsight, as pompous buffoons, when they are compared in debate, with rational people who really are smart!!

    http://dangerousminds.net/comments/monty_python_vs._god1

    As Life of Brian was released, Cleese and Palin agreed to debate the film with professional Christian and hypocrite, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Mervyn Stockwood, Anglican Bishop of Southwark,

    It was a brutal schoolyard battle, with most of the bullying coming from God’s defendants. At one point, the prissy Muggeridge turned to Palin and said:

    Muggeridge: “I started off by saying that this is such a tenth-rate film that I don’t believe that it would disturb anybody’s faith.”

    Palin: “Yes, I know you started with an open mind; I realise that.”

    (See video links)



    Report abuse

  • Religion’s “Smart people problem”, is that the religious who THINK they are smart, can be seen with the benefit of analysis and hindsight, as pompous buffoons, when they are compared in debate, with rational people who really are smart!!

    We may be seeing more the difference in worldviews and the sensibilities held by men born in different historical periods than a difference between buffoons and rational people – “stupid and smart people.” Muggeridge born in 1903 and Bishop Stockwood born in 1913 were conditioned to cherish a conservative pious tradition of Anglican Christianity. They would cleave to memories-many of them false-of their boyhoods when God-fearing decent people upheld a simple virtuous way of life (officially) cleansed of vice, smut and blasphemy.

    We may be witnessing the generational culture clash gathering momentum since the mid sixties, coming to the fore in this debate. Cleese and Palin represented the boomer culture, secularized, hostile to organized religion and authority in general, skeptical of superstition, embracing a vision of reality grounded in science and technology confined to a physical universe, liberated in matters sexual, and delighting in graphic images or language that repelled the establishment.

    To say “The Life of Brian” could not have been made in 1950 is an understatement. It could not have been even conceived in 1950. Eighteen years later, society had rapidly evolved away from religion towards secularism. To be sure, people now as then will still find the “blasphemous obscene” film offensive.
    It is testimony to the emergence of a secular-skeptic revolution whose progress cannot be thwarted that “Life” has become a popular classic to the generations born in the decades since WWII.



    Report abuse

  • Melvin Dec 29, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    One of the features of sheeple -faith-thinking, was that people who had never seen the film “Life of Brian”, were howling in protest, and demonstrating in the streets, against it being shown!



    Report abuse

  • One of the features of sheeple -faith-thinking, was that people who had never seen the film “Life of Brian”, were howling in protest, and demonstrating in the streets, against it being shown!

    In all candor, having seen the film myself, the reaction of devout protesters who had not seen the film was spot on from their perspective. They did not need to see the movie in order to know that it was a gross-out blasphemous send-up of Jesus and the gospels.

    Obviously intergenerational survival becomes the living cause of conflict. The fathers and mothers of one era live side by side with their children who establish a subversive peer group in a “new” era. The “Mother” of all generational clashes began around 1965 when “flower” children rebelled against the conservative, faith-based lifestyle of their parents. The boomers born from 1946 to 1963 (and other cohorts) indulged in a unprecedented revolution of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” rejecting the strict taciturn code of duty, patriotism, respect for authority, decency, and propriety in morals and manners, language and popular entertainment embraced by their depression era WWII parents.

    At the time and in retrospect some of their concerns were justified but in any event we cannot blame generations for belief systems they were socialized to cherish.

    The schema laid out certainly suffers from over-generalization. More realistically generations bleed into each other. Some of the old folks adopt the revolutionary worldview of the young folks while some of the young folks, especially as they move into middle age, return to the faith of their fathers. Societies always comprise a mix of of conservatives and progressives of all ages. Predominately, however, societies have slowly evolved over the last 300 to 400 years, incorporating the discoveries of science and inventions of technology into systems of education, moving successive youthful generations toward secularism and naturalism while relegating vacuous belief in the supernatural to the ignorant past.

    Resurgence of Christian fundamentalism in some regions, especially in the U. S., and the far greater threat of Islamic fundamentalism have given secular humanists cause for concern and dismay. Contemporary turmoil -Jihadist atricities- seem to signal a dystopian future with no end in sight. To the contrary, these religious fanatics are probably fighting a die-hard reactionary battle against what they fear and despise as the secular wave of the future. Like Nazi Germany and Stalinist-Marxist Russia, religious extremists will beat themselves to death fighting the world, and increasingly their own disillusioned people.



    Report abuse

  • 38
    ManuMaid says:

    What worries me is the author’s use of a final clause (or clause of purpose) in the fourth paragraph when he proposes that “religion may have involved to enhance social cohesion”, which is a common mistake in everyday language. A construction like this causes unease because it implies a plan, a purpose, a target, an intention as if ‘evolution’ was a puposeful entity. What we really need here is a construction like “there were very probably individuals who were able to act more socially (because of a genetic disposition) within their population and who were therefore able to pass on their genes to the gene pool of the following generation”. I am a biology teacher who very intentionally and purposefully teaches the pupils to avoid such linguistic fallacies!



    Report abuse

  • @OP – Now nothing definitely follows about the truth of a belief from what the majority of philosophers or scientists think. But such facts might cause believers discomfort.

    Faith-leaders have no problem with spouting self-contradictory nonsense , which rational people would be embarrassed to utter, and with airs of authority too!!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-30789124
    .Pope Francis has called for the “pursuit of truth” in Sri Lanka as he visits a country still grappling with the legacy of a long civil war.

    On Wednesday he is celebrating a mass in Colombo where he will canonise Sri Lanka’s first saint, the 17th Century missionary Joseph Vaz.

    Who in keeping with Catholic tradition needs to have performed “2 or more miracles” to achieve sainthood! – Ah! Catholic “truths”!!!??



    Report abuse

  • OP:

    But such facts might cause believers discomfort.

    Oh I love causing such discomfort ! No wonder Richard Dawkins has something of an affection for the CoE, – it’s so bloody unsure of itself, jeez even the bloody devil is verboten ! But those other pompous and equally shallow versions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism etc, with all their petty rules their social control and their plain ignorance deserve all the discomfort I, and the likes of me, can give them.



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.