Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Religion's Not Really Dying? Who You Gonna Believe Two WSJ Religious Op-Ed Writers - Or Your Common Sense?

 According to WSJ op-ed contributors Byron R. Johnson and Jeff Levin (Religion Is Dying? Don’t Believe It  p. A12, July 30) 

"Reports of religion’s decline in A m e r i c a have been exaggerated. You’ve heard the story: Churchgoers are dwindling in number while “Nones”—those who tell pollsters they have no religious affiliation—are multiplying as people abandon their faith and join the ranks of atheists and agnostics. Headlines declare that the U.S. is secularizing along the lines of Europe. From Britain’s Daily Mail in 2013: “Religion could disappear by 2041 because people will have replaced God with possessions, claims leading psychologistThese conclusions are based on analyses that are so flawed as to be close to worthless. In a new study with our colleagues Matt Bradshaw and Rodney Stark, we seek to set the record straight.

Data from five recent U.S. population surveys point to the vibrancy, ubiquity and growth of religion in the U.S. Americans are becoming more religious, and religious institutions are thriving ”

Of course, data of whatever denomination are only as valid and useful as the interpreters who parse it.  In this case, these two clowns wouldn't know a 'religion' from a rhinoceros.  Hence, Amanda Marcotte in her recent Salon piece is quite correct when she writes:

"There can be no doubt about it: Religion, especially Christianity — while still powerful in American culture — is in decline. Fewer than half of Americans even belong to a church or other house of worship. Rates of church attendance are in a freefall, as younger Americans would rather do anything with their precious free time than go to church. As religion researcher Ryan Burge recently tweeted, "Among those born in the early 1930s, 60% attend church weekly. 17% never attend. Among those born in the early 1950s, 32% attend weekly. 29% never attend. Among those born in the early 1990s, 18% attend weekly. 42% never attend."

Don't just take mine or Amanda's word for it, dig into the data yourselves e.g.

So how do Johnson and Levin pull their positive spin out of such miserable data? Well, by the tried and true technique (fallacy of equivocation)  of re-defining what constitutes acceptable definitions or terms applied to religion,  e.g. as when they write:

"Hundreds of new denominations have quietly appeared, as have thousands of church plants (new congregations) and numerous non-Christian religious imports. These more than make up for losses from mainline Protestant denominations, which are indeed in free fall and have been for decades."

Well, no shit, Sherlocks! Of course, when you expand the constellation of "religion" to encompass hundreds of new sects and cults - excuse me, denominations-   as well as "non-Christian religious imports"  ( e.g. Santeria, Wicca etc.) you will inflate your side's numbers.  But it's bogus.  Peeling back their bunkum one finds the argument that any theism will work to support a religion, even if that means multiple gods.  This leads to the core question asked by all thinking people and certainly atheists - as articulated by James T. JHouk in his superb monograph 'The Illusion of Certainty-  How The Flawed Beliefs of Religion Harm Our Culture' p. 52:  "Why do literally thousands of religions and religious groups exist - a number that increases through time

If only one divine entity supposedly exists?  In other words, the very idea of thousands of religions destroys the putative basis of religion as an overarching, self- consistent belief system.  The two WSJ author very citation of "thousands of denominations"  confirms this, despite - as Houk asks 'Why do beliefs, dogmas and truths vary so much from one religion to another?"

Indeed, Houk points out there is not one single, solitary dogma or belief that has attained the status of global acceptance. Even Roman Catholicism - not just the laity - disagree over the meaning of the virgin birth, the Trinity, and even the resurrection:

 We're not even including here actual divergences on teachings supposedly universal, such as against artificial contraception.  Take this beyond the RCs and search all the supposed faiths for commonalities of belief and it quickly degenerates into absurdity.  In other words, the vast disparity of beliefs - as well as in entities worshipped- quickly makes a sham of any coherent meaning of religion.  But if one is hidebound to go that route,  to say this or that about religion- say in the U.S. - the only common sense approach would be to stick to what's happening to the mainstream ones - which these two stalwarts fail to do. 

These miscreants - Levin and Johnson -  even attempt in their sideways sophistry to include atheists in their inflated definition of those adhering to religion. As when they write this codswallop:

"According to the 2018 General Social Survey, 6.4% of self-described atheists and 27.2% of agnostics attended religious services monthly or more; 12.8% and 58.1%, respectively, prayed at least weekly; 19.2% and 75% believed in life after death; and 7.3% and 23.3% reported having had a religious experience."

Never mind the basis for the apparent anomaly or contradiction has already been explained here:

Atheists Who Go to Church: Doing It for the Children - ABC News

Wherein we learn:

A new study out of Rice University has found that 17 percent - about one out of five scientists who describe themselves as either atheists or agnostics - actually go to church, although not too often, and not because they feel a spiritual yearning to join the faithful.

More likely, it's because of the kids.

What?  Why would somebody who doesn't believe there's a god want his own offspring wasting their time in an enterprise he believes has no foundation in fact?  Especially a scientist. 

The study, by sociologists Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice and Kristen Schultz Lee of the University at Buffalo, found that many atheists want their children exposed to religion so that they can make up their own minds on what to believe.  In addition, church may provide a better understanding of morality and ethics, and occasionally attending services may ease the conflict between spouses who disagree over the value of religion to their children, the study contends.

The above study is spot on and I can say that nearly all the atheist colleagues I've known - as in the American Astronomical Society - were reluctant to expose their children to unbelief, even in their own actions, lives. They also sought to avoid conflict with their more religious spouses.   As one researcher from the AAS Dynamical Astronomy division confided to me at a conference back in 2008, "The problem with religion is that its base ideas are  so much easier to understand. Especially for kids."

This was reiterated in an essay about "ensoulment" in the August-Sept. Free Inquiry, p. 27.   

"The problem with every religious idea is that it's simple whereas the real world is complex. Ensoulment is so simple a child can understand it. 'Grampaw's watching over you from heaven, honeybunch'"

Thus, a human gets conceived and presto magico - a "soul" is instantly infused into his proto-cellular form.  At some point, many decades later, the 'ensouled'  physical system breaks down and the "soul" leaves the corpus behind as it wings it way heavenward.   What kid would not want to believe that as opposed to life being based on a million random agents acting in concert?  Or a real world model for consciousness which more fits the facts, e.g.

Wherein I note:

We can simplify what the Self is right away, by dropping the concept of "soul". It is ultimately, a vacuous Macguffin and non-entity existing only in human brain neurons as synaptic excitations. Thus, there is no immaterial soul on which most religions rely. As (Julian Baggini) writes:

"Whatever stuff you are made from is the same kind of stuff that everything else is also made of"

This is a radical concept more in tune with what modern neural science has found, but woe betide you if you try to impart it even to a high IQ kid. But as author Hark Fox puts it (ibid.): 

"The complexity of consciousness, the functioning of those processes that produce it, cannot be imprinted onto an invisible, undetectable 'soul'. any more than it can be imprinted onto a pile of leaves - or a section of concrete wall."

The reason, of course, is because consciousness requires a material substrate. It is preposterous to presume an immaterial, invisible 'controller' sits behind the eyes working some kind of magic. It is childish rubbish, but what most religionists believe.  Especially it is easy to have immature minds - as in children's, consume it - like Santy Claus.  Religionists get away with peddling this rubbish because: a) they never advance claims that are falsifiable, and b) they know most Americans will gravitate to their 'ensoulment' codswallop much more readily than a complicated, multilevel model that's more faithful to neural science, i.e. reality.

 Therein lies precisely the hook of religion and what makes it addictive for too many who have given up critical thinking or even basic inquiry.  It is also what enables feeble sophistry to be presented in papers like the WSJ, making the claim religion isn't dying and atheists and agnostics are really religionists in disguise.  (Based on absurdly expanding the definition of religion, and ignoring salient facts to do with atheists, i.e. wanting their offspring to make their own choices - so allowing some  exposure to bunkum like ensoulment.)

We should always be aware that religionists and religious promoters - like Johnson and Levin - will seldom miss an opportunity to  try to blur distinctions in order to promulgate their discredited brand of supernatural malarkey. We should also understand that religion's pushers never ever hold themselves accountable or subject their wacko beliefs to any standards of objective proof.   Which is why they're able to get away with spreading so much nonsense.

See Also:


You don't have a soul: The real science that debunks superstitious charlatans | Salon.com


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