Educating fundamentalists

If there is one thing that infuriates defenders of the faiths about atheists, it is that we keep pointing out … Continued

If there is one thing that infuriates defenders of the faiths about atheists, it is that we keep pointing out the worldwide connection between the most literal forms of religion and lack of education.

But the correlation between low levels of education and religion — specifically, the most extreme anti-intellectual forms of monotheistic religion — is an undeniable fact. Since 1960, the number of Catholics in Africa has increased by an astounding 708 percent, even as the traditionally Catholic countries of Europe have grown more secular and 25 percent of American-born Catholics have left the church.

In other words, the Catholic Church is shrinking everywhere but on the earth’s poorest, worst educated continent. The majority of those who remain practicing Catholics in the United States and Europe are what the Catholic right contemptuously calls “cafeteria Catholics,” who retain attachment to certain church traditions and rituals but reject Vatican teachings such as the necessity of a male, unmarried priesthood; the immorality of birth control, and the infallibility of a man in Vatican City.

Islam too is growing, in Africa and the poorer countries of southeast Asia, as well as through the tendency, especially evident in Europe, of recent Muslim immigrants from Africa and southeast Asia to have large families.

A list of the top eleven countries reporting adherence to either Christianity or Islam of over 99.99 percent, compiled by National Geographic, offers an instructive picture of the landscape of extreme religious devoutness and, in some instances, religious coercion: Afghanistan, Botswana, Burundi, Bangladesh, Chad, Comoros, Maldives, Mali, Niger, Pakistan, Somalia. Are any of these places where a majority of the population has access to decent schools, physical security, enough food and jobs that meet basic economic needs?

Even people of liberal faith are reluctant to admit that there is a correlation between religious literalism and the ignorance that flourishes in the absence of education, economic security and political liberty. At a recent panel discussion sponsored by the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Reza Aslan, the author of the bestselling No God But God, said it was “absurd” of me to make a connection between religious fundamentalism and lack of education.

Although Aslan is anything but a fundamentalist himself, he approvingly described the growth of religion around the world in recent decades as a refutation of secular prophecies in the 20th century that religion, certainly fundamentalism, was on its way out. Yes, the secular prophecies were wrong. But 20th-century secularists erred not in their perception of the linkage between declining religious faith and educational progress but in their anticipation poverty and illiteracy would soon be vanquished worldwide.

By making that connection, Aslan suggested, I was expressing a typical atheist belief that religious people are “stupid” and that atheists are more intelligent than believers. I readily acknowledge, as I told the audience, that there are stupid atheists and intelligent religious believers, if we are talking about intelligence as an inherent capacity to learn and understand the world. But education and natural intellectual capacity are hardly identical. Education is a system of instruction, and an assemblage of historical and scientific knowledge, that puts intelligence to use and makes it much more difficult for the recipient to believe in supernatural events.

A good secular education — not the sort of religious indoctrination that the children of fundamentalist Muslims receive in madrassas or fundamentalist Christians receive in schools where they are taught that dinosaurs roamed the earth with humans — is the enemy of fanatical and literal religion.

Aslan, a distinguished writer about religion and the son of parents who fled the new Iranian theocracy in 1979, is the sort of religious moderate or liberal who traffics in the delusion that the growth of the Muslim, evangelical Protestant, and conservative Catholic populations in Africa, Latin America, and South Asia is a victory for his kind of intellectual and liberal faith. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Even in the United States, the “religious exception” among predominantly secular developed countries, there is also a powerful correlation between religious fundamentalism and lack of education. About 45 percent of those who have no education beyond high school believe in the literal truth of the Bible, while only 29 percent with some college and just 19 percent of college graduates share that old-time religion. Two-thirds of college graduates but only a third of high school graduates believe that living beings have evolved over time, with or without the guiding hand of a creator.

Furthermore, the religious divide in American politics also correlates with the geography of poverty and poor education. Fundamentalism is strongest in the South, which still lags several percentage points behind the Northeast, Midwest and West in its proportion of both high school and college graduates. New England and the Northwest, with the highest percentage of college graduates, also are the most secular regions of the nation.

Fundamentalists understandably resent any discussion of the connection between their brand of blind faith and lack of education but it is not quite as clear why liberal intellectual Muslims like Aslan or their liberal Christian and Jewish counterparts (who long ago made the choice to adapt to secular knowledge rather than cling to Biblical literalism) are so indignant when an atheist discusses this subject.

One obvious reason is that the secular drift in the educated world has not boded well for liberal religion over the past century. The only forms of monotheistic religion that are growing today are those that reject secular knowledge if it conflicts with their faith. At some point, all monotheistic faiths — even the most liberal religions — require belief in something that flatly contradicts the known and verifiable laws of nature. The answer of liberal believers is to split their world into two “separate magisteria” — the spiritual domain of faith and the material domain of science.

In his new book “Civilization”, the historian Niall Ferguson offers a perfect example, from the 17th century, of the ways in which knowledge and education come into conflict with faith. In 1665, the English polymath Robert Hooke published his Micrographia, a revolutionary work that introduced the concept of cells as the basic units of living beings.

He wrote, “And as at first, mankind fell by tasting of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, so we, their Posterity, may in part be restor’d by the same way, not only by beholding and contemplating, but by tasting too those fruits of Natural knowledge, that were never yet forbidden. From hence the World may be assisted with variety of Inventions, new matter for Sciences may be collected, the old improv’d, and their rust rubb’d away….”

Think about what Hooke was saying: That mankind could only improve itself by repeating what had been considered the original sin and tasting more of the fruits of the tree of knowledge. The limitless pursuit of knowledge is simply incompatible with religions that insist, “You can learn this much and no more or your immortal soul will be in danger.” When atheists make this point, religious liberals become uneasy because they fear being tarred with the same anti-intellectual brush.

At some point, the religious answer to any unanswerable secular intellectual challenge must always be, “It’s a mystery.” The difference between atheists and all religious believers is not that we are more intelligent but that we are unwilling to accept the “mystery” copout. We look upon mysteries as puzzles that have not yet been solved but may yield, upon further inquiry, to the complex (but not mysterious) efforts of human intellect.

Susan Jacoby
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  • Carstonio

    Jacoby is right to point out that lack of education isn’t the same as stupidity. Still, she misses some of the context behind both education and fundamentalism, although she came near it with her point about the tree of knowledge. Education and fundamentalism represent irreconcilable views about knowledge. The former sees knowledge as the product of experience and observation and experimentation, a willingness to question. The latter is an authoritarian ideology, and therefore sees knowledge as a matter of doctrine and authority.

    But what Jacoby fails to point out is many secular authoritarian ideologies have that same repressive attitude. Also, nations afflicted with poverty and lack of education tend to be ruled by small wealthy oligarchies, who have a vested interest in seeing their fellow citizens remain uneducated. There’s a theory that the American variety of fundamentalism arose as a rationalization of slavery, resulting in a belief that what happened after death was more important than what happened in life.

  • abb3w

    The religion/education correlation is a bit more complicated than the column suggests. While there is a correlation between higher amounts of education (and lower intelligence) and decreased religiosity, among those who take the Bible as either Inerrant or Inspired, religiosity increases with higher levels of education and of intelligence. (Data: GSS, variables BIBLE, RELITEN, DEGREE, and WORDSUM.)

    I’ll also note the GSS doesn’t indicate much difference in the importance attached to education (variables such as OPEDUC, CONEDUC, CHLDEDUC,CONEDUC) across religiosity. Rather, it would seem the fundamentalists think that a well-educated person should “know” that the Word Of God always trumps any mere word of man.

  • abb3w

    While non-theist authoritarianism is possible, and correlation is not causation, in the US and Canada there is a strong correlation between authoritarianism and fundamentalism.

    You might care to look into the work of Robert Altemeyer. He has a free PDF book with a summary of a career’s research on authoritarianism (Google readily turns it up); he also co-authored “Amazing Conversions” and “Atheists”.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    susan said,
    “At some point, all monotheistic faiths — even the most liberal religions — require belief in something that flatly contradicts the known and verifiable laws of nature.”

    yup. that’s the crux of it right there. to preserve religious truth one has to erect a rube goldberg-like scaffolding of obfuscation and denial to prop up their faith. they develop a deep distrust of anything that has any semblance of scientific truth. they can’t trust biologists, geologists, astronomers, anthropologists, archaeologists, linguists etc…. this causes a general distrust of anything “sciencey”. they can’t watch national geographic channel or discovery channel or whatever w/o seeing some sort of giant anti-christian conspiracy at work. this feeds their persecution complex. they can’t take 8th grade biology class w/o “compartmentalizing” this “fake knowledge” they get in school about evolution and “millions of years….. it’s actually requires a certain amount/form of intelligence to hold these two mutually exclusive worlds in their heads….

    but it also breeds a kind of mentality where science becomes a matter of opinion. they can say, and actually mean, “well, it’s just your opinion that the grand canyon was carved in 20 million years” etc… in that world, it’s just a matter of opinion that the globe is warming due to human co2 emissions. it’s just doctors’ opinion that flu shots don’t cause autism etc….

  • tomstaph

    Carstonio: There is no such thing as a “secular ideology.” An ideology is, by definition, “the body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture.” In other words, ideologies reflect narrow and biased opinions rather than universal facts. A secular human being is one who accepts evidence and reason. Thus, to be secular is to be open-minded. It is to accept change based on the revelation of greater knowledge. To be secular is to aspire toward universal truth or knowledge and not a “body of ideas” that reflects the social needs and aspirations of some group. It is to reject that which is unsubstantiated by evidence or contrary to reason regardless of how much we want to believe it. Christianity is an ideology because it claims that its “body of ideas” are universal truths and does so unabashedly without a shred of evidence. And people who choose to believe such an ideology must also wrestle with the fact the much of what Christianity states is either contradicted by science or untestable. Secularism faces no such mental gymnastics because its philosophy humbly admits that it doesn’t yet know everything and is waiting for humanity to reveal it. That is the opposite thinking of an “ideology.”

  • tomstaph

    This is certainly going to sound incendiary but I wouldn’t say if I didn’t think it was true. I would bet my life savings that, on average, atheists have higher IQs. The theme of the article was that education cures religious delusions. But take it one step back. If education has the biggest impact on rejecting faith, what drives that desire to be educated? And not just any kind of “educated.” But the kind of “educated” that seeks to understand the nature of the universe and humanity’s role in it. Atheists were intelligent enough to identify the appropriate questions, skeptical enough to ask them, patient enough to process the responses, and brave enough to accept the hard truths.

  • abb3w

    Compartmentalization could be part of it. For myself, I think this effect is more straightforward. Given the premise that the Bible is true (and ignoring a subtle is-ought bridge), the intelligent understand the implication that they should do what it says, and are more likely to be more religious. Given the premise that the Bible and other religious scriptures are collections of fables, the intelligent understand the implication that there’s little reason to be religious.

  • persiflage

    The complexity and character of religion tends to evolve with the movement of human culture from rural to urban settings and economies.

    I do think even a brief, comparative study of the history of mythology ( Campbelll and Eliade, et al) and the development of various religious beliefs by way of cross-cultural fertilization over time, would clearly demonstrate the non-literal nature of the bible to anyone with an open mind. Religion has common themes and has the mark of the human imagination everywhere you look (the gods are always human writ large).

    Intelligent people may opt for a literal interpretation of the contents of the bible, but there are powerful subliminal forces steering them in that direction – and away from any kind of rational understanding.

    Belief in the existence of supernatural beings and realms is not rational by the ordinary standards of everyday experience – I’d much sooner believe that super-intelligent aliens ‘seeded’ the earth with the essentials for intelligent life i.e. the panspermia myth.

  • Carstonio

    I am familiar with Altemeyer’s work, and that leads me to suggest that fundamentalists start with an authoritarian mindset and find that religion, instead of the religion causing the mindset.

  • bethcecilia

    I am not sure why it would infuriate defenders of (ot least the Christian) faith to discover that there is a correlation between lack of economic excess and faith; Jesus said it was so. “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24

  • persiflage

    Carstonio, there’s not much doubt that you’re correct. One could take it a step further, and postulate something close to a genetic pre-disposition for the authoritarian world view. As far as native intelligence goes, it’s been noted that the upper ranks of the Nazi regime was populated by individuals of very high intelligence.

    Even when the core beliefs have been completed deposed as false, the abolute conviction of true believers and their driving need to impose those beliefs (and the consequences of not believing) on others is pretty hard to fathom without including emotions in the equation – a critical but completely insubstantial factor than can’t be easily measured.

    Emotions generally trump intelligence and rationality. Maybe this is really a much more subtle issue concerning the dominant roles of certain brain mechanisms within groups and like-minded individuals.

  • PhillyJimi1

    Don’t lump all degrees of faith together. The overly superstitious are much more zealous in their faith. While both could be considered faithful there is a large degree of difference between the two.

  • mrbradwii

    There is something about “intelligence” that seems to treat human nature as if it were a malleable property that can be directed toward the vision of an “ideal goal” with just the right amount of coaxing, prodding, and authoritarian direction. Liberals see no bounds between the individual and the state, and literally ask questions like why do flyover conservatives vote for someone who will clearly not fix their problems with a government check and why do they cling to their guns and their bibles… The only answer is if you have to ask, there is no answer that will satisfy you.

    Conservatives like myself have started off as marxist world-changing idea machines bent on fixing the world. At 15, with no real concept of humanity, the world looks like a piece of clay with which to build a great civilization. The excitement of “wild-eyed liberalism” as my grandpa called it, is palpable.

    But at some point, you are confronted with human reality, and, hopefully, most radicals are recast into moderates and a tiny portion of us opt out entirely by becoming libertarians.

    So I think there is more than IQ at play in the equation, it’s about the ongoing identification of values and boundaries and these come as experience builds.

    Unfortunately conservativism has become synonymous with the Rick Perry and Sarah Palin, instead of Goldwater, or even Hitchens or Will or Buckley. The Left and Right monikers no longer serve us. So I propose a new anti-authoritarianism party, AAP, that is just as against republican collusion with business and vapid moral authority as it is against democratic paternalism and stagnation.

    Now that ‘s a Tea Party, I’d go to. …end of soapbox…

  • ThomasBaum

    One thing, that those who believe there is more to reality than meets the eye and those that believe that all of reality can be scientifically discovered, have in common, is that there are “holier than thous” in both groups.

    God became One of us so that God and man could look each other in the eye rather than just from on high, so to speak, and tried to teach us as much and we still like to look down on others, ye old holier than thou attitude mentioned previously.

    There are going to be people from both groups (believers and non-believers) that will be surprised to find out that God is a searcher of hearts and minds and not of religious affiliations or lack thereof, even tho this will be taken into account since this is part of the overall person.

  • persiflage

    The psychologies of personality development espoused by Adorno and Altemeyer are both indebted to the early social psychologists Charles Horton Cooley (The Looking Glass Self) and George Herbert Mead – where interaction with the environment shapes the self-identity of the individual. Behaviorist B.F. Skinner would agree.

    I’m not sure that puts us any closer to understanding the growth of religion in the 21st century – and particularly Islam in the USA.

    Go figure………….

  • joeduffus

    There are so many wrong assumptions in this piece. Taking only the observations about America, it should not surprise anyone that college educated people tend to be less religious: higher education in the US is almost completely hostile to religious faith, secular in detail as well as unwilling to teach the importance of religious faith in the nation’s founding, its ethics, its motivations and its desire to improve itself. All these are washed over in favor of secular explanations in most university history courses.

    And yet it’s wrong to concede that the better educated one is, the more likely one is to believe in random creation of the universe (the best description I can find for what atheists truly espouse) than in a benevolent Creator, whose means science struggles to pursue and decrypt. I am an educated Christian. As I see it, it takes far more faith to believe in random creation than to find the origin of existence in the work of an intelligent designer.

    For those who remain atheists, I say that once you realize that the Dawkinses and Hitchenses of the world have no more to say about the origin of the universe than a fortune cookie, you live in a twilight world where you deny openly what you secretly must realize — God wanted this, and you, here.

  • DanRiley1

    Unfortunately, facts are non-denominational. Higher education is “secular in detail” because religious explanations of phenomena are, as is obvious to anyone with common sense, unfounded and biased. Not espousing religion is not the same as advocating atheism. There are countless religious student groups on college campuses. If they can’t hold their own in the marketplace of ideas, it’s their own fault.

  • DanRiley1

    By the way, a truly “educated Christian” would probably have a much better understanding of the arguments involved. You live in a twilight world where “I don’t get it” means “God must be the answer”. Please explain how you get from an impersonal, poorly defined, cop-out conception of a “creator” to your very personal, active Christian God.


    You can’t educate the deliberately ignorant.

  • DanRiley1

    Your conception of God as a “searcher of hearts and minds and not of religious affiliations or lack thereof” is a position held by only one person I’ve heard of: you. What evidence do you have for such an idea, other than the fact that you want to have your cake (God) and eat it too (do away with the unpleasant aspects of the religious traditions)?

    Either accept that God revealed himself via the Bible, or acknowledge that it’s baloney. You don’t get to make up some mishmash with no basis in history, science, or tradition just because you don’t like your options.

  • DanRiley1

    Yeah, one group takes their religion seriously and the other wants to ignore half of it so that they can justify being religious in modern society.

  • DanRiley1

    This article is about education. Did you miss that? It’s in the title.

  • persiflage

    ‘God wanted this, and you, here.’

    Joe, as an educated Christian, why do you believe this? Unlike T. Baum, I’m assuming you have not communicated directly with the creator of the universe… there must be another reason.

    Care to take a shot at it……….??

  • persiflage

    ‘Either accept that God revealed himself via the Bible, or acknowledge that it’s baloney.’

    I have to admit, I like T. Baum’s version better. The bible presents a vindictive creator that randomly slaughters folks that happens to displease him at the moment – talk about giant egos and no impulse control!!

    The biblical creator appeals to those authoritarian personalty types that we were discussing earlier – he’ll kick you right where it hurts if you screw with his rules. The fact is, we saw a lot of that thinking during the reign of the Catholic Church up to and including Martin Luther’s reformation.

    Curiously, the Protestants immediately took over where the Vatican left off. The fundamentalists now have a corner on the market with their ‘god of wrath’. How boring………………..

  • persiflage

    Brad, I always enjoy your posts. At 67 I’m still the liberal that I always was, and even put on a CSNY disc from time to time in order to recall my faded youth. I think I became a liberal after returning from Vietnam in ’67………and voted for Nixon – my first and last vote or a republican.

    I have to say I’ve spent more years as a bureaucrat than I care to remember, and have seen more than my share of freeloaders – have even gotten them extra money from time to time. I don’t generally like poor people, but then I don’t like more than about 10 people in the entire world anyway. Still, I stand by my liberal philosophy.

    You make some good points about republicans and democrats, and I can’t really disagree – I think Obama screwed the pooch with his appointments of Larry Summers and Tim Geitner as a suck-up to Wall Street. But how do you become a libertarian in this day and age? Certainly not by following Ayn Rand’s elitist ramblings.

    LIbertarianism in the USA seems to be kind of a narrowly circumscribed, microcosmic view of what has become am eclectic macrocosm of over 300 million and counting. I know Allen Greenspan claimed libertarian credentials, but surely Ron Paul is nobody’s idea of a true libertarian. So what gives?

    I’m genuinely curious about this and am not being a butthead – which I’m certainly capable of, but not at the moment ;^)

  • mrbradwii

    Well, I call it libertarianism for lack of a better word. I’ve certainly enjoyed my share of Rand-yness, especially the early novels, but she is a bit of a cold fish, but her thoughts on the role of women were just head-scratchers. And, as with all dogmaticians, if you don’t happen to think her way, you are righteously screwed. But she killed the revolutionary in me and to this day I look askance at chanting protesters. Better to change by words and persuasive argument, dialog, and dialectic so I was still writing a bill of rights for my “one world government” some kind of great principled manifesto after reading her clear and concise writing.

    The table truly turned for me when Free To Choose came out. Milton Friedman, just an awesome thinker, uncluttered by an agenda. Holding court in the videos, patiently answering thoughtful questions with thoughtful answers. That and conversations with my dad about how people would react to my grand unified proposals helped me realize that it could never be as simple as having “the one great plan”, but nearly as simple as not having plan.

    But because human behavior is the sum of an infinite number of bell-shaped curves on infinite dimensions of possible behaviors, certain patterns emerge and certain other ones are best tended by those who engage in them. So the principle I take away is that vibrant chaos is the best and most effective organizing principle.

    The big obvious pathologies can be proscribed by law, ie, murder, lie, cheat, steal, rape, pillage, plunder, etc. Everything else is left to the individual. I soon discovered amendments 9 and 10 and really thought about how well they fit a free society, as statements of principle, if not legal criteria.

    Couple that with Feynmanian independence, Godellian incompleteness, and Gleikian introduction to chaos, where simply defined rules lead to complex and beautiful results–and there you have it. My version of libertarianism–nearly completely built on intuition

  • persiflage

    Thanks for the response Brad. I have to agree that pragmatism may ultimately see us through. Unlike ageless activist Pete Seeger, my own social liberalism and dedication to humanism has been reduced to the level of philosophy – possibly due to a long career in human services, accompanied by a certain cynicism over human self-centeredness and the growing inability of government to think straight and function in a reasonable and timely manner.

    Thoughtful isolation now seems to be a pretty good option for advancing old age.


    The Christians HAVE burned scientists at the stake.

    You know who preserved scientific writings while the Christian Church was burning them? The Muslims. The Caliphate of Baghdad, to be precise.

  • WmarkW

    I didn’t want to jump ahead of Brad to answer Persi’s question; so now that he’s answered, I’ll add my $.02:

    I don’t accept Libertarianism wholeheartedly, because something as complex as the role of government in our lives, can’t be reduced to a monistic philosophy like limiting its role to protecting a narrow conception of what rights are.

    Still, Persi and I have gone back and forth over what both Obama and Bush II did wrong about expanding government in the form of bailout and stimuli and committing to foreign defense. Anytime a partisan debate gets reduced to which side is worse about committing taxpayers’ money to a favored constituency, that’s an argument for moving in the direction of libertarianism.

  • Counterww

    Mark, I agree with you on the taxpayer’s money. The military industrial complex has too much influence on our government(Republicans ) and how we spend our money, and the libs love to spend money on entitlements to buy votes- even if it means the entitlements are offered up to immigrants that come here illegally. They want the poor to come here as that is how they stay in power. Both parties have gotten away from their pure political philosophy and let the far left and right convolute sensible solutions. Just look at the Obama’s response to Jobs when he told him that we need to have more visas for engineers that get educated in this country stay so they could supervise Apple factories here, not in China- he had to couple it with the Dream Act. Pragmatism is thrown out the window in both parties.

    I don’t buy the liberal mind think even in its pure form, though a safety net is necessary. I do buy the fact that the country should be protecting us, but the overzealousness of our military adventures in the last 10 years . Special interests screw us up so we cannot even really argue our direction , or what direction our country should take in the long run., as the direction left or right has been polluted by people that don’t care. Couple that with inept politicians who either know this and don’t care or are too stupid to figure it out and the pooch is screwed.

  • Counterww

    Meant to say, do buy the fact that the country should be protecting us, but the overzealousness of our military adventures in the last 10 years have made me doubtful when we go to war….

  • Counterww

    Sure persiflage, you are like the looney Dawkins, that has to explain all this complexity we have in the universe with some super intelligent aliens that came here. Where did they come from?

    In any case , the road leads to one conclusion that you super elitist types refuse to confront- a creator that put us here for a reason, and that put all of this in motion.

    You obviously have not read the Bible enough or you would see the descriptions of the fact that God is spirit, not flesh(much different than what mankind appears to be at first glance) and that Paul tells us we see through a glass darkly, which means we cannot know everything about the creator or his creation until we pass from this earth. Sadly, you are likely to be one of these people that gets to the other side and know immediately how glorious it all is and be saddened and dismayed at you own lack of insight and faith on this side.

  • mrbradwii

    Dawkins et. al. may only provide “fortune cookies”, but highly accurate fortune cookies they are–ones that don’t conflict with observed reality. Or when they do, are revised and rewritten.

    The crux of JD’s argument is a false premise: the two alternatives are the “random creation of the universe” or a “benevolent creator” and that “belief” must be applied to one or the other.

    Reality exists “whose means science struggles to pursue and decrypt”, with or without the benevolent creator. The simpler solution is without; that’s the totality of the atheists main point. We don’t know what we don’t know and keep looking for the edge of that julia set.–and cannot but merely speculate beyond it.

    The meaning that god or gods gives a person’s life and fulfillment achieved in such communion is just not relevant to the interrogation of the universe or of existence itself. It brings only unfalsifiable assertions to the table, which only serve to misdirect thoughtful attention.

    And It is especially detrimental if all you have to say to prove an assertion is that god wants it that way. That may work in the solipsistic world of the faithful man, sure only of himself and his relationship with god, but its application just cannot be generalized to all of mankind.

    So, try persi’s thought experiment, how do you *know* –or “overtly realize”–that god wants you and us and all of this here? What artifacts does an educated person’s application of ontology and epistemology produce that we should take it to be true? Just curious.

  • persiflage

    As far as liberals and wars go, I do believe the most outspoken anti-war avocates opposing all the wars in recent memory were pretty much from this cohort. For once, the so-called classic liberals (today’s libertarians) and social liberals agreed on something – the incredible waste of unnecessary war.

    Yes, the military/industrial complex has prospered mighily at the top of that pyramid, but the blood and money spent is beyond calculation – about 3 trillion dollars since the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan alone. To say that this had a negative impact on the economy is something of an understatement.

    I personally never supported any of them – and after I returned from Vietnam I stopped supporting that one as well. On the other hand, the survivors that fight the wars for these so-called masters of war, often need a lifetime of support after the fact – this I know from much direct experience.

    It’s speculated that as the Supercommittee reaches it’s economic nadir later this month, both parties will find some way to exempt the Defense budget from the huge budget cuts that kick in automatically in case of a budgetary failure (a most likely event).
    That’s how protected defense money really is.

    And of course the GOP and it’s misbegotten candidates are once again starting to rattle their sabres over Iran – picking up where McCain left off with the nuclear scare tactics. This crap just never ends………

  • WmarkW

    In case anyone hasn’t noticed, Reza Aslan has posted a rebuttal essay on the main page. Unfortunately, too much of it is “I said, then she said, …” rather than just describing his opinions about faith, education and fundamentalism.

  • abb3w

    We confront the idea; we simply don’t accept the conjecture as being more likely than its refutation.

    Oh, and Dawkins doesn’t support the panspermia conjecture; he merely notes that it’s been made — specifically to point out that the conjecture has the problem you note.

  • abb3w

    persiflage, IIR some twin studies have been done, suggesting RWA orientation has a moderate (~50%) genetically inheritable component.

  • persiflage

    ‘Sure persiflage, you are like the looney Dawkins, that has to explain all this complexity we have in the universe with some super intelligent aliens that came here. Where did they come from?’

    Never said I believed it – and in fact referred to it as a myth. My point was that one myth is about as believable as any other – the world of religion has a very large number indeed. I do like Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung on the functions of mythology……they present myth as entirely manmade, as do many other scholars of religion.

    What diehard Christians like to believe is that their mythology is actually founded on real historical events – contrary to all the evidence oltherwise.

  • persiflage

    At least this was a theory widely supported by various Muslim sources – although disputed by others. The actual history of the fabled library will probably remain just that – a tale of mystery with several endings.

  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “Your conception of God as a “searcher of hearts and minds and not of religious affiliations or lack thereof” is a position held by only one person I’ve heard of: you.”

    I may or may not be the only person on this planet that has this position but this position is all over the bible if one has the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

    “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”

    “Whatever you do to the least of my people, you have done unto me”

    “Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us”

    “Come follow me”

    There is plenty more in the bible, as far as God looking at our “motives”, not just our acts.

    Didn’t Jesus say to look at and think of God the Father as Abba which translates as Dad or Daddy?

    Check out the Beatitudes, they speak very much of one’s attitude, do they not?

    Also, God has had God’s Plan since before creation and it is God’s Plan that ALL be with God in God’s Kingdom, the new heavens and the new earth.

    God becoming One of us was/is part of God’s Plan since before creation but it came about at a very specific place in time and that was when Mary said YES.

    See you and the rest of humanity in the Kingdom.

  • ThomasBaum


    I have met God, that is all the evidence that I need.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    “RWA”? what’s that?

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    “Either accept that God revealed himself via the Bible, or acknowledge that it’s baloney.”

    it’s baloney.

  • Secular1

    ThomasBaum, so all we need to do is take your word no need for us to seek any evidence to buttress your claim. That is the crux of the problem between believers and skeptics. Also that is the crux of the problem amongst believers of different stripes. By that I mean believers A want evidence off the believers B for their claims and vice versa. It is always the believers of every stripe feel they don’t need evidence for their claims, but every one else needs to put up or shut up.

  • ThomasBaum


    Who said that you or anyone else has to take my word for it?

    God chose me to speak therefore I speak, it is up to the hearer to do with it as they wish.

    You can seek evidence if you want but I would recommend seeking this “evidence” from God, not from your fellow man, since ultimately, only God can give this “evidence”.

    Your fellow man can and has spoken of experiences in their lives that do not fit neatly into what one can experience thru their natural senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch).

    I can’t give you any evidence and as I have said before, God will give this evidence, to all, in God’s Time and in God’s Way.

    I was not seeking evidence that God Is when God revealed to me, in a very personal way, that God Is, I was seeking forgiveness, for I know that I have done wrong.

  • ThomasBaum

    walter-in-fallschurch wrote:

    “Either accept that God revealed himself via the Bible, or acknowledge that it’s baloney.”

    it’s baloney.

    Time will tell.

    By the way, time is also a creation of God.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    ok, so they said that while overall “concern” went down with scientific literacy/numeracy, there was a much much stronger correlation to “values”…. when people were grouped according to “values” into “Hierarchical Individualists” (e.g., republicans) and “Egalitarian Communitarians” (democrats), the results are telling: for egalitarian communitarians, literacy and concern correlate positively, but among hierarchical individualists literacy and concern correlate negatively.

    remember, this is asked in the context of “concern” – not a commentary on whether the global warming effect is real, just whether they’re concerned.

  • Secular1

    ThomasBaum, you like to nail jelly on the wall don’t you? Well with your acquiescence I believe you are perhaps playing with few of your marbles missing. Also I wish all of your ilk are as cool as you are about others not believing your fairy tales. I don’t mind the non-pontificating believers, like you.

  • abb3w

    “Right Wing Authoritarianism”, which Altemeyer developed as a successor to Adorno’s F-Scale. Note, it’s not always “right wing” in the sense of right-wing politics; just after the fall of the Soviet Union, research in former soviet states found high-RWA personalities tended to support Communism, which is pretty much the definition of politically left-wing.

    The book I alluded to earlier has more details; it can be found via if you’re curious.

  • mrbradwii

    Concern is indeed different than accepting the nearly universal conclusions drawn from the data. The data supports climate change and a correlates it with human activity, end of story.

    Non-scientists without access to any sort of intelligent interpretation by any existing news outlet, simply go by anecdotal information. My part of the world is colder and wetter than recent years. Go figure. Pity the poor polar bears who have to stay on the mainland and eat tourists. I’m stocking up on sand and salt.

    So, if you’re going to tell people that: a, they have to lose their job, b, stop driving altogether, c, build charging stations on every block to plug electric cars into (for those who do manage to finance them i.e. only the rich and “elite” can go where they want when they want), d, change the entire economy from top to bottom by imperial edict — then, you need something more compelling than concern –and more compelling than mere evidence of a phenomenon. Egalitarian motives are the worst kind ever invented, i.e. authoritarianism hiding behind a face of do-gooder-ism.

    Show that you can make an electric car that you can afford on a fast-food salary, show that you can power it, without burning more coal or natural gas, show that you can make an electric tractor engine that can pull a truckload of food across the country. In other words, compete in the marketplace of technology and innovation, send your kid to engineering school to learn the physics of thermodynamics, and tell them to get busy.

    But to sit around the global kitchen table and say that you rich countries can’t really be allowed to function as you have been and therefore you have to sacrifice your standard of living so everybody feels better is a crap sandwich.

  • ThomasBaum


    Trying to force one’s beliefs on others is not even close to what Christianity is about.

    God, during our earthly life, does not force Himself on us, therefore we should not even attempt to force God on others.

    God takes a lot of lip for giving us free will but if our free will wasn’t completely free or only free up to a certain point than it would not be free will at all and we would be nothing more than fancy puppets on a string.

    Attempting to set up a theocracy on earth in Jesus’s Name is going directly against what Jesus clearly said.

    As I have said before, I believe that the founders of this country (USA) in their founding documents were divinely inspired in putting into print, freedom of religion, they saw what a mess “state sponsored religion” could lead to and they did not have to look far since there had been state sponsored religion right here in some of the colonies.

    Even with freedom of religion there may be times that a religion can not do just anything, case in point, if a religion has human sacrifices.

    Freedom of religion has to apply to all religions but no religion can become the law of the land.

    Freedom of religion should, by definition, allow everyone to believe whatever they wish to believe including the belief that there is no God or gods or whatever.

    Kind of a shame that something such as this had to even be codified.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    thanks, abb3w.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    the other reason why “concern” over global warming is such a “hard sell” is that it’s effects are way off in the future, for the most part. it’s like telling a kid that eating bacon every day will cause a heart attack when he’s 60. this is so much the kind of thing we’re great at “kicking down the road”. it’s very much like the national debt, actually. somewhere in the hierarchical individualist calculus is the idea that he won’t be around for the worst of it. and let’s face it, for everyone asked in that poll, somehow adapting in the future is easier than doing something now.

  • mrbradwii

    The something now can’t be just anything.

    Do you remember when particulate emissions were going to cause the next ice age? When the ozone hole was going to give everyone cancer or kill all the amphibians?

    A war-induced famine can kill more than a localized drought. A shifting seabed can kill more than a nuclear disaster. There are things we can do something about and things we can’t. Life is about prioritization and adaptation. The things that we can do something about are driven by the human engine, knowledge, action, and progress. By golly, CFCs aren’t the only propellant, nor phosphates the only detergent. These are not products of corporations any more than they are products of government. They are products of engaged individuals dealing with the reality they know and working within the limitations of their knowledge and ability, driven by desire…. desire for a better life, to beat the competition, or to change how things get done, or to save future generations.

    Vibrant Chaos, it’s the next big thing. The days of sitting stoned in a tent with a placard, soiling a public space while whining about the fairness of the big bad are over.

  • mrbradwii

    Yes, I tossed a canard, sorry. Although I do remember that particulates in the upper atmosphere was discussed seriously in some context. Probably in the context of the cold war and nuclear winter that was imminent once Reagan ordered the first strike.

    The point is that what you observe and what you do about it are two separate problems. To curtail human activity on a scale that is likely to affect warming is a tall order. For that you need a lot more options in the face of a far better explained and for more accurately predicted disastrous consequence. I’ve yet to see an actual assessment of how much ice is floating and how much is landlocked. I’ve yet to see a proposal that begins to introduce alternatives to the myriad of carbon spewing devices, cars, trucks, boats, planes, electric generators. I’ve yet to see a proposal for even measuring the rates carbon eating flora. Nope, you must ditch your car, take public transport or walk, forget about travel of any sort, stop making stuff out of raw materials and grow your own food. Personally I’d love to get back to that native American type of culture, although it would more likely lead to a feudal culture instead. It would mean certain death for so many that it is not even close to justifiable.

    There, instead of a canard, I think that’s reductio ad absurdum? Or just my version of contrarianism. Oops I forgot to mention volcanoes somewhere I’m well out of my league in this, so I’ll move on.

    As far as god and consequences, you can’t educate belief out of someone and you can’t educate sacrifice into someone. There has to be options, options that don’t suck.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    the current (last 200,000,000 years or so) scale of volcanic eruptions cause cooling, if anything, and only for very short periods.

    not sure what you’re getting at with “floating” vs “landlocked” ice. are you talking about ice melt as an indicator of warming? or a cause of sea-level rise? obviously melting of “floating” sea ice (like the north polar cap) does not cause sea level rise, but melting of ice on greenland and antarctica would.

    anyway, i “get” your larger point about not wanting to give up cars and planes and cruise ships…. that’s why doing anything is such a hard sell. we’re like the obese man contemplating “no more bacon”. it’s a sad thought. plus there are many asians who now want to start eating LOTS of bacon too. the key is that we’ve got to come up with some kind of “substitute bacon” that doesn’t suck….

  • persiflage

    Yes, once the Big Three relocate all their production facilites to India and China and start selling Fords and Chevies to the locals, the ozone layer should disappear in about 25 years…’s going to get mighty HOT around here, not to mention all that UV pouring down. If we’re lucky, they’re export ‘made for USA’ models back to Detroit for re-distribution.

    To imagine that humans and/or their governments are going to do anything significant to eliminate global warming and and/or effect climate change on a global scale is more fantasy than anything else – not when there’s so much money to be made via the current economic paradigms.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    you mean because the ozone will be depleted by stratospheric cooling caused by co2-induced tropospheric warming? eh… who cares? i’ll be over 70 by then. hopefully my kids or their kids can solve the problem.

  • AmazeMe

    Jacoby’s own education apparently didn’t include any courses in statistics, or she wouldn’t be so loose in her application of the term “correlation” or the anecdotal observations she deploys to try to support her claim.

    Those observations include some statistics that derive ultimately from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. The headline number here is a 708 percent increase in Catholics in Africa between 1960 and 2000. Taken out of context (i.e., failing to account for growth in the overall population), that figure may indeed seem “astounding.” However, the real picture (using U.N. data) is that in 1960, about 7 percent of Africans were Catholic, and in 2000 that figure had slightly more than doubled to about 16 percent — significant growth, certainly, but not the wild outbreak Jacoby evidently wants to suggest.

    Worse, growth in Catholicism has nothing to do with Jacoby’s main argument. She suggests (by juxtaposition) that Catholicism is one of “the most extreme anti-intellectual forms of monotheistic religion,” a characterization that is borderline delusional and suggests she believes the Catholic church is still operating under the doctrines of the 14th century (or Mel Gibson). In fact, the church’s current teachings on such matters as scriptural interpretation, science, immigration, economic justice and a host of other issues are best characterized as liberal or progressive. And while it’s true that the church does hold some positions on social issues (e.g., abortion, contraception, sexual identity) that are clearly conservative, to use Catholicism as a proxy for “fundamentalism” is to grossly misunderstand what fundamentalism is.

    Even if Jacoby had demonstrated a real correlation between low educational attainment and high levels of religious belief, she would still have to offer some argument to establish a causal relationship. And one could counterargue that increasing Catholic influence in Africa actually increases educat

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    what % of muslims would you say “believe in” evolution?

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    i ask this question in all seriousness to anyone who can answer. i won’t be able to check back here for about a week and a half, but i’ll check back when i get back.

    what percentage of muslims are koranic literalists?

  • abb3w

    It doesn’t take more faith to understand the rise of local order from wider randomness; it does require more understanding, in that there are more steps involved from the basic premises.

  • abb3w

    The attempt, however, is sometimes instructive to bystanders.

  • abb3w

    GSS sample is too small for realistic confidence intervals, but it looks like 30±20% of US Muslims accept humans evolving from earlier animals.

    The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press report on Muslim Americans indicates (p 72) “45% say that humans and other living things have evolved over time while 44% say humans and other living things have always existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” This is within a few percent to the US overall (52/40).

    The Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Survey (under Portraits, Beliefs and Practices) indicates half US Muslims consider the Koran Inerrant, a bit over a third the non-literal Word Of God, 8% Word-of-Men, and 6% miscellaneous responses.

    My impression is that US Moslems are relatively liberal by international norms; theologically more conservative Moslems are more likely to denounce the evolutionary model. Pew may have more details about international Islamic attitudes on this question buried in one or more of their reports.

  • JohninMpls

    To your original point, tom, I think there’s a bit of a flaw in the reasoning.

    I accept that intelligence can drive some to become formally educated. But that’s not the only motivation to pursue education – at least the kind of education to which I believe Ms. Jacoby is referring. There are a great number of students in higher education with extrinsic motivations for attending school. The necessity of a degree (or professional credential) for adequate employment drives many to pursue formal education and training. In that sense, education can be completely transactional.

    There are also a number of barriers that can prevent intelligent people from pursuing education. The first that comes to mind is financial, but the roadblocks certainly aren’t limited to simple dollars and cents.