Jul 1, 2019

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37 comments on “OPEN DISCUSSION JULY 2019

  • The July open discussion thread is now open.

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  • This is an interesting survey just out:

    The Arab world is turning its back on religion and on US relations, according to the largest public opinion survey ever carried out in the region.

    A survey of more than 25,000 people across 10 countries and the Palestinian territories found that trust in religious leaders has plummeted in recent years.

    The study, compiled by BBC News Arabic and Arab Barometer, a Princeton University-based research network, also identified a marked rise in the proportion of people describing themselves as “not religious” – from 11% in 2012-2014 to 18% this year.

    There’s quite a lot more detail via the link – worth clicking through.


  • Marco #3

    Purely from an observational point of view for me, I am not sure that the figures are on the rise. In Turkey and North Cyprus, people have been forced to finally declare one way or the other with the likes of Erdogan in charge. I am constantly surprised by members of my family who have suddenly become religious, or not. It seems it is no longer enough to be indifferent. The political situation in Turkey, one being an Erdogan (religious) supporter or a democracy (Ataturk) supporter.

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  • Olgun #4

    C’mon, Olgun, anecdote is no match for data, as you must realise. This was a very large, professionally conducted survey, carried out in accordance with the gold standard for surveys on sensitive issues, i.e. one-to-one, in private and face-to-face. Just because people in your family are as religious as ever (or say they are) doesn’t undermine the poll one little bit – not least, because Turkey and North Cyprus weren’t even included in it!!

    It is quite possible, though, that the situation in Turkey is different and that, whatever people’s actual beliefs, they feel wary about appearing to dissent from the official line. Dictatorships and would-be dictatorships tend to have that effect …




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  • Olgun

    people have been forced to finally declare one way or the other with the likes of Erdogan in charge.

    This is exactly what happened with the Algerians in the 90s during their civil war – secular government vs fundamentalists, people were forced to take their sides. It divided the country and made it very difficult for them to remain in the the neutral, moderate ground. Under threat of death we can’t be surprised when moderates and secularists take on personal displays of piety to save their own lives and those of their extended families but it does make it very difficult to get a proper measurement of their numbers in large surveys.

    What I’ve been most interested in for all of these years there is the degree of religiosity with the young people. They are the most affected by relatively new access to the internet, satellite TV, cell phones (even in the Sahara!) and all of their social media networks, all of which send ideas racing through the ether.

    I have no doubt that most young people in Algeria now know plenty about how their peers in the West live their daily lives, what they value, their material surroundings and the freedoms and opportunities that they enjoy. They are also aware of the sacrifices we make and I won’t say they are so admiring of those things.

    Starting in the early 90s, the Algerian expats here in the Boston area also divided socially. Religious conservatives and reactionaries started wearing their religion on the sleeves as we say. Women with their new hijabs and all of them praying on schedule in the open and much more religious terminology in their conversations. “Inshahallah and Alhemdulilah in every sentence to the annoyance of their secular interlocutors.

    We used to have social gatherings at my house here when all of our Algerian friends had young families and that went so well in the late eighties but then, as the situation developed back in Algeria and caused this religiosity rift, we couldn’t continue with our social events. The super pious bunch made every event a religious experience. We lost friends in those days and the community remains divided along these lines. The rift is very apparent at funerals where everyone of every stripe turns out and as we have discussed here previously Olgun, the fundamentalists go into high gear in their rigid adherence to by the book, full on Islamic dogma with no tolerance whatsoever for wishes of the family and friends of the deceased. This seems worse than ever here.

    My only hope lies with the young people who hear new moderate ideas from the West (and plenty of hard line intolerance from other sources) and have some flexibility of mind to give those Enlightenment ideals a fair chance of survival in this marketplace of ideas that we all exist in every day.

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  • Marco

    I wrote a longer, more emotional, response but it seems to have gone missing.

    I never doubted the numbers, just the conclusion.



    Please delete my missing post if it turns up.



    Thank you. Anecdotes (or field research, as I like to call it) are not all bad.

  • Olgun

    I never doubted the numbers, just the conclusion.

    The conclusion follows from the numbers, though, Olgun. And your doubt was based on what you’re seeing in a country that wasn’t even included in the poll. I don’t know whether the conclusions of the poll are correct or not, but they are at least reasonable, based on the data.

    Anecdotes (or field research, as I like to call it) are not all bad.

    The problem arises when they’re asked to carry too much evidentiary weight. The whole point of research is to gain more reliable reasons for believing things than merely our own personal experience, or our gut feelings.

    If you’d said, “I can’t say I’m seeing any signs of that in Turkey or N. Cyprus”, I’d have had no argument with you (how could I have?). But when you say “I am not sure that the figures are on the rise” based on limited personal observation in a country not even covered by the survey, you shouldn’t be surprised to be challenged, here of all places! Perhaps you just forgot to add “where I am”, which would have made all the difference. 

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  • Marco #8

    ”Purely from an observational point of view for me…” didn’t cut it then?


    I do try the cover/excuse myself Marco. I might not be able to express myself as well as you guys do but I do expect, especially here, for people to allow for that. To be less pedantic. To enquire even. Especially here!

    Lauries account does nothing for the numbers but then we might have interpreted that differently as well?

  • Olgun

    ”Purely from an observational point of view for me…” didn’t cut it then?

    No! The issue is your use of personal anecdote to cast doubt on a conclusion based on data – a lot of data. The fact that you acknowledge that’s what you’re doing doesn’t improve it as an argument.

    Olgun, this is a written forum. Some people may find that easier to work with than others, but all anyone has to go on is what we write. People aren’t mind-readers! It’s not pedantry – what you wrote was that you doubted the conclusion of the mass data exercise was correct, because you’d experienced something else in a country not even included in the survey! Can you not see the problem with that? “Especially here”?

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  • I’ll leave it there Marco. You seem to be more interested in being right than having a conversation on possible reasons for the changes recorded.

  • Marco


    I should have included you in the post above. Don’t want to be rude for the sake of it. The link there used the word “suggests” for the results of the survey which I, for one, am more happy with.

  • Olgun

    The link there used the word “suggests” for the results of the survey which I, for one, am more happy with.

    So am I. I am not especially invested in the poll’s findings, and so far as I’m concerned our disagreement has not been about whether they are correct or not. Only about what does or does not constitute rational grounds to cast doubt them.

    As an example of a potentially rational reason to question them, a poll of 25,000 people is very large, but I don’t know how that compares to the total population of the countries included in the survey and therefore whether or not it is statistically significant.

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  • Olgun


    The video is interesting. It took serious guts for those guys to admit their doubt to their families, to meet in public and to consent to filming of them. I honestly don’t have that degree of courage at all.

    As for anecdotal stories, I think they’re valuable as a way to put the research results into some context and to try to understand the current trends and how such a result could’ve come about. Anecdotes don’t begin to replace cold hard data. When anecdotes and general discussion of certain observations happen before surveys or experiments happen then this can actually prompt people in the field to launch proper investigations. Brainstorming is where much of this starts. But after the data is collected and organized into usable informative stats, then we can set off on another round of discussion on the meaning of this and that and an explanation of why there are differences between this and that and then on the consequences of this and that.

    So I think that’s what you and I engage in from time to time here. I read the article in Marco’s #3 and yes, it has a nice big and I was actually surprised to find Algeria was included in the survey since it’s mostly hostile to outsiders and especially outsiders who come along asking nosey questions, haha, but then, did they actually employ an outsider to collect the data or did they use a nonthreatening local person…?

    I don’t have reason to doubt the results of this but then again I haven’t read the in depth nitty gritty on the methodology either. In light of the hostility toward atheists, agnostics and all sorts of doubters and disrespecters in that part of the world I must say that I’m curious about how honest the respondents felt they could be. I don’t blame them for being somewhat paranoid about the approach of the surveyor and their tablet with questions on delicate subjects.  Conspiracy theories run rampant there and every scary thing is a plot by the Americans/Israelis (dar al harb) to sabotage the good Muslim citizens of dar al Islam. I wish I could see some video of the sessions but of course, any subject who suspected video was being collected would be highly motivated to lie. So interesting!

    A 2012-14 result of 11% non-religious to a 2019 result of 18% non-religious is a very interesting finding. This is what we’ve been hoping for! What if because of perceived  hostility, those numbers really are less than the actual count of non-religious in that region? That would be very interesting to know. How can we be creative with our methodology and verify this result?

    I must say Olgun, even though you and I have an insider knowledge of this culture, it’s still extremely difficult to extract any kind of honest truth on the subject of personal religiosity. That and sexual behavior – forget about it! Methodological nightmare! It really does seem like the number of non-religious is right around zero!

    Now after all of my mumbling along (anecdote) in my comment #6, I want to know more about the factors that have contributed to the stats we have been provided with from the survey. What is working and what is not working in the fight against Islamism? How can we best deliver secular values to the young people in those countries?

    On a lighter note…it’s raining on Trump’s parade…literally! Haaaaa
    All praise Zeus, God of thunder and rain.



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  • Laurie#16


    Exactly my point. I did not question the numbers, as I said but how about breaking it down. How many of them felt they could say it out loud, even to research on 2014 and how many more, or less, could say it in 2019. How many will say it at all still. So the claim that numbers are rising might not be true. They might have always been that high and might be even higher in reality. It was a sensationalist claim by the guardian and less so by the BBC in that case. Most of these countries are controlled by despots or, as you say, very different entities that make it hard they be certain you are getting the right answer. I did not make a case for religion and I  not even sure the claims reported are made by the researchers. The data is there for all to see.

  • Add;

    If these figures were given about Turkey and the same conclusion in the guardian made, I would say, come back in five years after a general election and if the leadership changes, these figures will be much higher and truer. I know what it’s like to be scared of saying what you think. If not for me, then my family.

  • Sorry. Just need to add;


    People could even become more mellow towards believing in a god, at least, if their politics and the polarisation is sorted out. As Phil says, the figures are sound the analysis not so.

  • Olgun #17

    Everything you say in #17 would make it more likely that people would overstate their religious and conservative attitudes, not understate them. That’s why this type of poll methodology is considered the gold standard in polling circles: one-to-one, in private, in person. People are far more likely to express themselves honestly in that context than with their families or friends or other public. This is accepted polling science, Olgun.

    The survey says nothing whatsoever about Turkey or North Cyprus, so I am still at a loss to understand why you are using the situation there to base your scepticism about the survey results on. The survey and its conclusions might theoretically be faulty for a hundred different reasons – but NOT because the results don’t apply to a country not included in it. Nor, unless as part of a wider study, is the situation in your family reliable evidence for anything other than the situation in your family. It might be an interesting starting point for a discussion, but it is certainly not a reason to discount the conclusions of a properly conducted 25,000-person study.

    I am genuinely shocked that I should have to belabour this point here of all places, on a website devoted to the promotion of science and reason.

    Possibly you are being derailed by the headline in the article. No one should ever attach weight to the headlines of newspaper articles. They are not written by the authors of the articles, and their purpose is to be sensationalist and grab attention. The data results show significant movement in attitudes, and that is interesting, and that is why I shared the link.


    As Phil says, the figures are sound the analysis not so.

    Phil said nothing about the analysis.

    There’s simply no point discussing on this level, and I’m not going to waste any more time on it.

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  • Sorry, Ollie.


    I stand with Marco on this one. All other things being equal (in terms of bias and we have no reason to think think the assessing process changed) these numbers show a clear and marked delta.

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  • Ollie,


    following on from your observation of an increasing polarisation, at least among Turkish folk, how do you view the substantial failure of the AKP in Istanbul? Is this perhaps simply a galvanising of existing positions?

    I’ve been re-thinking your argument. Galvanising the anti populist position is a thing we might be seeing elsewhere.

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  • Vicki #23

    Ha, that is rather satisfying.

    Interesting, too: if anyone had asked me where most of the world’s Bible production was done, I’d never have guessed China.

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  • Just watched an old TED video with the great man himself.

    I don’t think bats hear in color, since they only have one sound receptor per ear same as us. Instead I think what they hear sounds more like an orchestra of varying notes, tones, pitches, and rhythms. Since their ears are very much like ours, I imagine that what they hear is very much like what we hear (only ultrasonic as we would call it). The difference would be that a bat can get real world information from what we would consider the difference between a trumpet and a trombone playing the same song. Or how most of us can recognize hundreds of songs by the end of the first bar. I imagine the same is true of other echolocators like dolphins. Again, the ear is so similar to ours that I think they hear a symphony, rather than hear in color, plus they have the ability to judge distances based on echo timing or rhythm (which we can sort of do to a limited extent too). Our ability to see in color is based on the fact that we have 3 different color cones in the eye plus the black and white ones, and all of them aimed in slightly different directions. The ear of a bat cannot do that, there is only one eardrum. Thus I suggest they hear a symphony, each note, tone, pitch and rhythm providing very useful information. Much as submarines chase each other around in the dark of the ocean, only much better and faster.

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  • Nonplused #25


    I remember being very struck by something he wrote in one of his books (though I can’t remember which one now): that dogs have so many more smell receptors than humans do that he imagined their smelling experience as being the olfactory equivalent of a chord rather than the single note that is all humans are able to pick up.

    And ever since then, whenever I’ve seen a clearly ecstatic dog running zigzags through the woods or the countryside, hungrily sniffing at every single thing en route like some kind of junkie, I’ve imagined it experiencing its own special and clearly delightful ‘concert’, and it makes me smile every time.

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  • A longish and seriously worrying read about “The American dark money behind Europe’s far right” and “the vital role of US Christian conservatives” in the surge of far right, populist parties across Europe pushing ultra-free market capitalist, socially conservative, anti-feminist, anti-abortion, anti-LBGTQI rights, climate-change-denying, anti-migrant, ethnically nationalist policies (and in the case of the UK, of course, Brexit too):

    I’m including a couple of extracts to give a flavour, but the whole article is well worth a read.

    Their strategy begins by influencing elections, courts, education, and healthcare systems, as well as policymakers and public opinion, and ends by taking power.


    This political vision is explicit about seeking to shift power away from women and LGBTQI people. It aims to promote the “life” of the unborn (while disregarding the risks of unsafe abortions and pregnancies to women’s lives); the “family,” by which it means a return to traditional gender roles, without any space for LGBTQI people, and putting women back in the home, seen as their “natural” place; and the “freedom” of markets and religious institutions, specifically Christian ones, above all other claims of rights or liberties.

    It still amazes me how many people see Brexit as some kind of end point, as though that alone had been the Brexiteers’ real goal. You only had to look at the people who had pushed for it for so many years, and recall what else they had pushed for to see clearly that Brexit will just be the beginning: the EU having been merely an obstacle to their true goal, which was always to impose an economically libertarian, socially repressive agenda.

  • An extremely disturbing piece, Marco.

    But I think it focuses on Christianity when, in truth, the focus should be on the power behind that: the Libertarian PACs funded by the likes of the Koch brothers. I’m glad it included Bannon’s influence, as he was the first person who sprang to mind before I read the article.

    Also, I can’t help wondering how much the issue of immigration is playing right into their plans. IMO, many who support these types of groups are doing so with a nationalistic/xenophobic mindset, and those groups are using that to their advantage.

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  • I do agree, Vicki. It’s definitely the Libertarians in the driving seat here.

    It still always bewilders me, though, just how much overlap there is between the agendas of the Libertarian PACs and the conservative Christians, how easy they find it to share each other’s bandwagons.

    I’ve written this before, I know, but how anyone can study the alleged life and words of the man Christians are supposed to follow as their role-model and conclude they should be persecuting migrants, abandoning the poor, fighting wars, not healing the sick, endlessly pursuing $$$$, being vindictive towards prisoners, spreading hate, sowing division etc. is utterly beyond me.

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  • Brexiteers are old folk in favour of the old ways, when you could properly punish people with death or worse….

    They undoubtedly feel nostalgic for the time when the death penalty could be applied  to those…

     “being in the company of Gypsies for one month”, or given “strong evidence of malice in a child aged 7–14 years of age”

    Ah, 1820 when the last person convicted of treason  was hanged, drawn  and quartered, Good times…good times….

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  • Nonplussed  #25


    I rather side with Dawkins on this question. Our sensors (transducers that turn one form of energy into another that we can process, electromagnetic, chemical) aren’t the generators of experience. It is our brains, after much processing and combining of information from other sources that delivers the actual experience.


    We simply don’t see red. We have a total of five colour sensors, receptors in our retina. The three cone types constitute the source material for most of daytime conscious experience. These have broad peaks at colours we in the west would define as blue sky, lime and orangey-red. We never experience colour as the three differing signal levels.


    Our colour experience isn’t three things but a single experience seemingly laid out in a plane of contiguous experience the single experience seamlessly merging into neighbour experiences. This virtual palette of experience is a construction of data processing in the brain. The brain computes from the three sensor levels a triangulation of where on the plane the colour experience should be. In so doing it can triangulate above and below the wavelengths of light that the sensors have as a peak. Deep red is deduced because the “red” sensor signal is not very strong but “green” is tiny and “blue” utterly absent.

    The colour palette is yet another example of neural data compression and loses real information in return for configuring an experience that is easier to further compute with and store. (A pastel colour have many recipes of sensor output combinations for the same experience. We might not be able to distinguish different recipe mauves that other creatures could.)

    Our colour palette is different between cultures, being squeezed together in some places and expanded in others, and reflects cultural needs and early experience.

    There is every reason to imagine that greenness or sweetness or warmth may well be a suite of interior constructions that are co-opted depending on the kinds of neural anatomy that processes the data. Brains, astonishingly, can route data to the types of neuron that can best generate all this meta-data from them.

    In blind folk touch sensory data starts to map onto the visual cortex, because it is better configured to manage the data. Synaesthetes with slightly under-pruned brains have strong colour experiences from other sensory data and even abstract concepts. Inbound data is always processed to data compress it into some stripped down form, This much more manageable form is the stuff of experience.


    My feeling is that Dawkins is right.

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  • Phil #30

    Brexiteers are old folk in favour of the old ways, when you could properly punish people with death or worse….

    That’s certainly true for a lot of them, and how ironic it is that a rhetoric built on “Great” Britain, Britain flexing its muscles, Britain being strong enough and bold enough to cut itself off and do its own thing, Britain showing the world what it’s made of, etc., should be so deeply rooted in fear and cowardice.

    Fear of the modern world, fear of its openness, fear of its trend (in Europe, at least) towards working together, fear of the loss of that sense of “specialness” that came from centuries of conquest and military might (now out of favour among enlightened European nations), fear of growing equality, fear of increasing rights for people who aren’t you, fear of the loss of their white-straight-male privilege (there are female Brexiteers too, of course, but they are significantly outnumbered), fear of a world that has been becoming kinder by the year, fear of being unable to keep up in a world where success and respect are gained through the ability and willingness to negotiate and compromise and engage in focused, pragmatic, analytical discussion of facts rather than just dependent on anachronistic notions of status.

    Brexit – whatever the outcome – is the ultimate proof of our weakness as a nation, of our inability and unwillingness to adapt to the world as it now is, of our unfitness for the 21st century. Is there a national version of the Darwin Award?

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  • Have just come across this rather splendid quote from Kurt Vonnegut, in Man without a Country:

    For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. “Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”

    Vonnegut could always be relied upon to be perceptive, and he’s certainly spot on here.

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  • Alan #35

    I see that abusive and dangerous cult leaders are still managing to recruit gullible followers!

    Astonishing, really, isn’t it? Life can be hard and many people are really struggling, so I can understand why they might get sucked in by some of the more benign ‘teachings’: for people who feel entirely powerless to improve their own lives in any way, it’s not hard to see why the promise of a loving god looking out for them and having a plan for them and ultimately recompensing them for their suffering could be appealing.

    But when the cults are this brutal and this physically cruel – when they just make adherents’ lives worse in every possible way – it’s very hard to understand. A combination of forceful charisma on the part of the leaders plus threats of the most terrible kind, presumably? I can make excuses for the followers, but none whatsoever for the people exploiting them.

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