Tuesday, August 25, 2009

We're In Good Company



atheism, atheist,

I disagree with some of the points made in this video*, and I'm not entirely certain where all of the assertions** came from, but I really enjoyed the video tour of famous atheists. We're in good company! (You can go ahead and turn the sound all the way off for work viewing, it's totally unnecessary.)

*For example, 10% of the US is not the real number of atheists. That includes agnostics and don'tcares.

**I do know that atheists tend to represent less of the prison population and have a lower divorce rate, but I'd be interested to see where the lower abortion rate figure came from. Maybe we're better at birth control?

20 comments:

  1. It's indeed been shown that religious people, and religious countries in general, have far higher abortion rates, murder rates, and so forth, than atheists and primarily atheist countries. Though I suspect many of the video's claims can also be maid from simple common sense: if atheists are generally smarter*, then logically they do less stupid things like unprotected sex and so forth.

    Though, I'd disagree with you in saying that 10% of America isn't made of atheists; maybe it's just me, but I consider anyone who doesn't believe in God, whether they openly deny his existence or are merely noncommittal or "neutral"), to be atheists in some form of other. Agnostics are "lite" atheists; strong atheists are, well, "strong" atheists", and etc. Maybe that's just my way of seeing it, but if someone is "without God or deities", then logically, they are "a+theist" (which literally means "without theism").

    * By which I mean smarter people tend to be atheists.

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  2. Err – that's "some form OR another". Dangit.

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  3. Oh, I see your point, but claiming the lowerst number protects me against being accused of being disengenous or simply a liar.

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  4. * By which I mean smarter people tend to be atheists.

    That's treading on dangerous ground there. I was strongly religious. Now I'm an atheist. I haven't gotten any smarter since that shift. I knew many smart Christians. I've met several dumb atheists.

    Claims that atheists are smarter are self-congratulatory and not based on any evidence whatsoever. The issue at hand isn't comparative intelligence, anyway. Smart people sometimes do and believe extremely dumb things. Dumb people sometimes do and believe incredibly smart things.

    The over all issue is indoctrination, preparation, and access to information. The average Christian believes that premarital sex isn't allowed, so they won't engage in sex outside of marriage. Then hormones take over and things happen. Since there was no preparation for sex they don't have a condom. Boom, baby. The non-Christian in that situation is far more likely to have paid attention in sex ed class (or been allowed to attend in the first place) and know about things like birth control.

    The non-Christian with a condom might be a lot dumber than the Christian who doesn't have a condom. The non-Christian in that scenario was simply better informed, more realistic, and better prepared. But it's a massive logical fallacy to say that an undesired result indicates lack of intelligence.

    And it doesn't help the dialog.

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  6. @Geds:
    About your (de)conversion: well, obviously (and I'm just guessing here) you realized what a load of baloney religion was, no? That indicates critical thinking, and therefore, intelligence.

    Long story short, all I mean is that it's been demonstrated time and time again that most atheists (but certainly not all) are generally more intelligent and/or knowledgeable than people who are religious *in general*. Hence why the "intellectual elite" as I call it (college professors, scientists and researchers, general intellectuals) is very predominantly atheistic. Here's a little graph. (And keep in mind, this dates from 1999, so it's safe to say atheism levels have only increased, however slightly, since then.)

    I'm certainly not saying that atheists are all smarter and that religious people are all dumber; that would be an unbelievably ridiculous, uninformed and insulting thing to say. It's that there is a demonstrable majority of the enlightened ones who are, indeed, atheists, so it's obvious that there's a relation between intelligence and/or knowledge, and a lack of belief in God/gods. That's what I meant.

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  7. "Hence why the "intellectual elite" as I call it (college professors, scientists and researchers, general intellectuals) is very predominantly atheistic."

    Bullcocky! That's just because the evil evolutionist atheist professors have indoctrinated the college students into believing that evolution is true and they're no better than animals!

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  9. true and they're no better than animals!

    Interesting! Christians seem to believe that comparing humans to animals is to degrade the human. I rather think it degrades the animals.

    Animals are wonderful beings and, for me, to be compared to them is an honour not an insult.

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  10. Joe:

    I don't think the argument you're making is getting you to the place you think it is.

    For one thing, your assessment of my personal story is, well, wrong. It's built on a teleological fallacy, an assumption that there are only two data points that matter, and it begs the question. That's not the best place to start things off.

    First of all, you have your overall claim that the intelligent people have no faith. You see that I left the faith and say, "Aha, you must be intelligent." That's just a bit circular...

    The truth is, there's a good chance that I wouldn't have left the church had I grown up in an environment with such an all-or-nothing theology. A more liberal, flexible view of god, like, say, the sort I would have gotten in the ECLA as opposed to my fundagelical church wouldn't have created the veritable mindfuck that precipitated my departure. That's a story for another day, but the point is that the theology set itself up to fail when confronted by my critical re-evaluation of the set up.

    By the same token, had I chosen to go to a conservative Bible college instead of a public university I probably wouldn't have ended up taking the classes I did for my Religious Studies minor wherein I was introduced to Martin Buber and the Documentary Hypothesis. Hell, I probably wouldn't have even learned about Paul Tillich and Hans Frei. I probably would have ended up with classes on systematic theology and apologetics specifically designed to reinforce the cognitive dissonance necessary to maintain an evangelical worldview.

    It's likely that I eventually would have had a breakdown if I'd stuck with evangelical Christianity. It's not nearly as sure a thing that I would have had such an occurrence with a nice, liberal mainline denomination. I can't say that for certain, of course, but the point is that there's way more to the story than a simple graph with one set of points for intelligence and another set of points for theological standpoints.

    Meanwhile, your argument about the "intellectual elite" completely ignores the issue of selection bias. You make the assumption that the "elite" necessarily choose a certain set of career paths. However, that ignores the simple fact that the secular elite and the religious elite choose different career paths. Christian intellectuals are more likely to end up in Seminary to go in to the ministry than on a tenure track at the big university. Moreover, when you throw out statistics like college professors being more likely to be atheists, does that data only look at state schools, Ivy League schools, or does it include Christian schools? That's an important thing to consider, because even though Liberty University, Pensacola Christian College, and Bob Jones U are laughable institutions, there are extremely respectable Christian schools, like Wheaton College, Taylor University, and Biola. And I can pretty much guarantee that the faculty in those schools skews theist.

    Moreover, the graph you linked to is an example of extreme selection bias. You're comparing scientists to the general population. This is actually selection bias from both sides. For one, Christians are probably less likely to become scientists. On the other hand, atheists are probably more likely. It's pure supposition, but the recent data that getting a degree in science is less likely to result in loss of religious belief as opposed to a social sciences program would bear this out. Everyone asks why when I would assert that the answer is probably quite simple: the people who go in to science programs in school probably didn't have religious beliefs to lose in the first place.

    (to be continued...)

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  11. (and now for the thrilling conclusion)

    As for your conclusion that "it's obvious that there's a relation between intelligence and/or knowledge, and a lack of belief in God/gods," I think you would benefit from a bit of wisdom from Errol Morris. "When someone says that something is obvious, it seems almost certain that it is anything but obvious – even to them. The use of the word “obvious” indicates the absence of a logical argument – an attempt to convince the reader by asserting the truth of something by saying it a little louder."

    Food for thought...

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  12. @Geds:
    No offense mate, but you seem to have seriously misunderstood what I wrote. =( I don't even recognize what I said in your interpretation.

    First, as I already said, I don't claim to know how or why you became an atheist. I was just drawing a guess from the fact that most atheists are "deconverted" upon examining their faith and realizing, "Hey, that's just silly" and subsequently discarding it.

    First of all, you have your overall claim that the intelligent people have no faith.
    Uh ... I never said that. Or anything remotely like it. I'm pretty sure I said the contrary, actually: plenty of religious people are intelligent, and there are plenty of intellectuals who are religious. I said that they weren't the norm, not that they were inexistent. And that true intellectuals tend to be agnostics or atheists.

    You see that I left the faith and say, "Aha, you must be intelligent." That's just a bit circular...
    Again, that's not what I said. I stated – *in accordance to my guess as to why you became an atheist* – that it would mean you possessed critical thought, which I see as a strong indicator of higher-than-average intelligence. Again, if my guess was wrong, then logically the rest is nulled along with it.

    You make the assumption that the "elite" necessarily choose a certain set of career paths.
    Not what I said. I merely used examples of people who are universally renown as being the best of the best in terms of knowledge and intelligence, and who also happened to be atheists. I don't see where selection bias comes into play here.

    Moreover, when you throw out statistics like college professors being more likely to be atheists, does that data only look at state schools, Ivy League schools, or does it include Christian schools?
    I wouldn't know; I didn't take the polls. I can only assume that they polled a large number of these "intellectual elites" from the widest possible variety of sources, religious or not.

    Liberty University, Pensacola Christian College, and Bob Jones U are laughable institutions, there are extremely respectable Christian schools
    I don't follow. They're laughable, yet respectable? Or do you mean respectable, within Christian school circles?

    Moreover, the graph you linked to is an example of extreme selection bias. You're comparing scientists to the general population.
    Again, I was just using scientists as an example, a symbol if you will, of true "smart" people, those who've studied their stuff and know the world better than most others can honestly claim to know it. Of course their average of how many are atheists is gonna be significantly higher than the average population; that's precisely the point.

    And as for that Errol Morris quote, I can't say I've ever believed it for a second. Some things actually are obvious; denying it is just denying reality. It's as though saying "Evolution isn't obvious!" when the sheer amounts of clear, incontrovertible evidence for it make it more than obvious, but virtually impossible to avoid. But I digress.

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  13. I'm nit-picking - but is that Stephen Hawking in the Intellectuals section? He's not American...

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  14. @Lorena, and side-swiping Quasar- you're just saying that because animals don't have good options for torture and extraordinary rendition, unlike evil university profs. ;)

    @Joules- there was indeed some questionable content in the intellectuals and celebrities sections. Hawking is indeed British and Portman is Israeli by birth. I think that I counted several others. Twisting figures and roll call for atheists undermines the argument by giving believers a platform on which to build their arguments....

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  15. Joe:

    First off, it's probably not in your best interest to accuse someone of misunderstanding your argument and then go off and do the same thing yourself. To wit, you said "I don't follow. They're laughable, yet respectable? Or do you mean respectable, within Christian school circles?" after quoting the middle of one of my sentences, specifically: "Liberty University, Pensacola Christian College, and Bob Jones U are laughable institutions, there are extremely respectable Christian schools." That sentence fragment makes absolutely no sense, but it's part of a larger sentence that does. Were I an actual Christian apologist I'd jump on that in a second.

    The actual sentence was "That's an important thing to consider, because even though Liberty University, Pensacola Christian College, and Bob Jones U are laughable institutions, there are extremely respectable Christian schools, like Wheaton College, Taylor University, and Biola. And I can pretty much guarantee that the faculty in those schools skews theist." This makes it quite clear that I'm drawing a line between laughable Christian schools and reputable Christian schools. Moreover, the context makes it fairly clear that I'm saying Wheaton, Taylor, and Biola are respectable in addition to being Christian. I'm limiting neither set of schools to "Christian circles." Your out of context quote makes it seem like you're trying to paint me as dishonest and self-contradictory. I wouldn't recommend it as a rhetorical device in the future. Unless, of course, your opponent is dishonest and self-contradictory. But when you pick a chunk of a sentence, take it out of context, and then say, "See, you're dishonest!" you're gonna get bit.

    (continued)

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  16. Now, then, as to the substance of the debate at hand:

    You don't seem to grasp my main point that you keep using statistics based entirely on self-selective qualities. You're making assumptions that for the nebulous quality of "smart" there are certain characteristics that one can assume and most of those characteristics are made apparent in career choice. This is a bad tactic, especially when the only hard data you offer is a graph of the general population's opinion of the existence of god v. the percentage of scientists who also believe in god.

    That, again, will not get you anywhere. You're talking correlation and implying causation. Moreover, you're talking about self-selective correlation and implying causation. It's an extremely weak argument.

    Furthermore, your argument requires a narrow definition of the meaning of the nebulous concepts of "smart," "intelligent," and whatnot. I'm not talking the old argument of "book smarts" v. "street smarts," but "public intellectuals," philosophers, professors, and scientists all reside within narrow specialties that are generally marked by determination and the ability to grind through lots of study and work as much as they're marked by mental ability. So you basically define "smart" as "knowledge + time + patience + resources (i.e. the money/connections to go get a Ph.D)."

    That combination, meanwhile, doesn't always result in critical thinking. Many members of the clergy put in just as much time and work at their education as an equivalent non-believing college professor, yet still end up believing in god, Jesus, and the majority of the ball of wax. That's something you have to come to terms with. Because for all your protestations that this isn't the argument you're making, you've been shifting the goalposts.

    The original statement you made to which I replied was "[b]y which I mean smarter people tend to be atheists." While "[f]irst of all, you have your overall claim that the intelligent people have no faith" is a hyperbolic statement of your premise on my part, it's not so far off as you might think. What you are doing is setting up an extraordinary claim that an increase in intelligence brings about a decrease in theism. That's theism period, not "a severely limited definition of one particular religious text." Moreover, this statement from the initial comment to which I replied: "Agnostics are 'lite' atheists; strong atheists are, well, 'strong' atheists', and etc.' Maybe that's just my way of seeing it, but if someone is 'without God or deities', then logically, they are 'a+theist' (which literally means 'without theism')" is demonstrably false. "Atheist" does not mean, "One who lives without a specific god belief," as you seem to have decided to define it in order to add agnostics to your atheist roster. "Atheists" are people who don't believe it's provable there is a god and don't believe it's worthwhile to believe in a god. "Agnostics" are people who believe there's a god but don't believe it's possible to know much of anything about that god. Ergo, agnostics are demonstrably theists, no matter how much you want to twist the meaning of the word to suit your purposes. I didn't bring this up the first time around because I was more interested in how you'd respond to a defense of a more limited argument.

    You have not shown that you can adequately defend your initial claim against the more limited use of theism I used in my counter argument. Catching that I misrepresented your argument was good, but following that up by misrepresenting my argument, then relying on an argument by assertion that your example of scientists v. general population in re: god belief was still valid because it's just an example when I'd already engaged the entire scope of the argument you were trying to make didn't really help your case.

    (stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion)

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  17. I would again encourage you to engage the Errol Morris quote I used. For you are correct, there are things that are obvious. For instance, if you were standing next to me right now you would be able to say, "It's obvious that you are sitting in a chair." However, it was not that sort of claims for obviousness that Morris was engaging.

    He was talking about people who make unsupported assertions -- or assertions that are supported by specious claims, biased speculation, and improper evidence -- then follow up with, "See? It's obvious!"

    In fact, you would do well to go and read the article from which I borrowed the quote. It's an excellent example of the exact process one must go through in an attempt to find truth in murky circumstances.

    (Freaking Blogger and its 4096 character limit. Ah, well, done for now.)

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  18. First, my apologies for misreading what you said about Christian schools and so forth. I just realized I had misread "there" as "they", which as you'll imagine significantly skews the meaning of what you said. Dammit, I hate doing that. Consider that statement of mine retracted.

    I knew we'd fall into the "what-does-"smart"-mean?" pit; I should've explained. I see "smart" (and dictionary definitions agree) as being a broad, catch-all term for people who are both intelligent and knowledgeable. Intelligence is basically one's IQ, their brainpower, their capacity for problem-solving and so forth; and knowledge ... well, what they've learned and can put to use, of course. People use "smart" to mean both; it's a distinction I believe should be made much more carefully, as there is of course a huge difference between being intelligent, and being knowledgeable (though there is quite often a correlation – intelligent people are usually more curious, leading them to explore and therefore, learn more).

    What I meant by "smarter people tend to become atheists" is that people who are both learned (by which I mean in a wide variety of fields, usually scientific – though in a way, all knowledge is scientific, since science literally means, dumbing it down to its core and basics, the "study" of the world, how it works and all things in it), and intelligent enough to use this knowledge and apply it to solve problems and use logic and so forth (ie. those with above-average IQs[*]), will often – not always, of course, but often – become either agnostic, or atheist, if later rather than sooner. I draw this conclusion from that a sizable majority of these public intellectuals are indeed agnostic or atheist.

    ([*] Yes, I know all about how IQ tests and scores don't prove much and can be unreliable at best, but no-one can deny they're a strong indication of one's brainpower. One who scores 150 IQ will unlikely be stumped by questions you'd ask someone with a 90 IQ.)

    What you are doing is setting up an extraordinary claim that an increase in intelligence brings about a decrease in theism.
    That's not exactly what I meant. I meant both intelligence, and knowledge (hence, "smartness", as per what I explained above). And also, skewer me if you think I'm wrong, but I haven't yet seen much evidence contradicting that, indeed, higher brainpower (which, as I said, usually leads to higher knowledge) has a correlation with a decrease in religiosity, if not theism itself. It's in the numbers; numbers don't lie.

    [Cont'd]

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  19. The point is, we can debate this a hundred ways to next Sunday, but you can't dispute the statistics, taken from all past polls and studies: most scientists, who you'll agree are usually "smarter" (in both intelligence and knowledge) than the rest of us mortals, are atheists and agnostics. Most professors, also smarter than most of us, are atheists/agnostics. Most public intellectuals, who by very definition are usually smarter than the rest of us, are atheists/agnostics.

    I know it's a scientific and/or mathematical no-no to state that these numbers "prove" that being "smarter" leads to atheism, but I for one cannot see how anyone can deny that there is a very clear correlation. If just 5-10% more of these intellectuals and experts were atheists compared to the general public, then perhaps it'd just be a coincidence or a fluke, but now we've got a whopping 70-80% of them who are (according to various graphs and charts I've found via Google). Call me narrow if you must, but I simply cannot find a way to honestly deny that there is a clear correlation there.

    I disagree with your statement that agnostics are theists (and I imagine a fair few agnostics would even be insulted). Anyone who doesn't claim that there is a God, is inherently not on the "He's real" side. They merely say that they don't know; they don't reject God, but don't accept him, either. They're basically in the middle – I've drawn this little graphic months ago (it's for something else but serves here just fine).

    As for that previous graphic (percentile of religious scientists vs. religious commoners), I really don't understand what your problem with it is. They simply polled scientists to find out how many of them were religious or not, and most turned out not to be. I think it's safe to assume they understandably polled both atheistic and Christian scientists from as large a sample size as they could, from both Christian and secular sources and bases. But, once again, I don't know. I can't. I didn't conduct the thing, and background or explanatory info is, to put it mildly, scarce. Though, I'd guess that the fact that nearly all other charts and statistics on the same topic show the same thing with relatively minor fluctuations, would indicate its validity.

    Finally, I read that Morris quote to mean any form of obviousness, not just what's "obvious" when taken from biased or unreliable studies and stats and so forth. Of course, people using unreliable studies as "proof" of something being obvious should be ridiculed.

    Now, I'm getting fairly uncomfortable with hijacking PF's thread like this just for our debate/argument/whatever-you-wanna-call-it. I'd be happy to continue via eMail if you like (you can see mine on my profile), but I for one will not be adding to this particular discussion here on this thread. Hope you understand.

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  20. this video is just stupid, exactly the kind of thing you'd expect from uber-religious. I'm not disagreeing about the benefits of contraception, etc, it just it seems to be filled with a lot of generalizations. I guess I'd want to see how atheism makes you more intelligent, because the reverse is clear enough.

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Comments are for you guys, not for me. Say what you will. Don't feel compelled to stay on topic, I enjoy it when comments enter Tangentville or veer off into Non Sequitur Town. Just keep it polite, okay?

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