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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In a previous post, I noted the stability of atheist belief in the United States despite the many predictions about the end of religion. The number of atheists in the U.S. today is the same today as it was in 1944: 4%. In other words, "[t]he number of atheists in the United States appears to be unchanged for at least 63 years."

Just as the rise of atheism had been predicted for so long, the demise of church attendance and Christian faith has been anticipated by many. Studies show, however, that reported church attendance has been remarkably stable. Church attendance today is he same as it was in 1973: 36%. There was a drop off before then. From 1954 through 1964, church attendance was stable at 44%. The drop off occurred between 1964 and 1973. But why did it drop off about 8 points during that time?

Stark attributes the decline in the late 60s and early 70s to Vatican II. His theory is that Vatican II lead to a decline in Catholic attendance, while Protestant rates of attendance stayed the same. The overall drop is explained by significant reductions in Catholic attendance post-VII. Stark may have been mistaken in saying that VII made it so that missing Mass was no longer a sin, but there is no doubt VII brought about significant changes to the Catholic Church. Even so, the rate of attendance has been remarkably stable for 36 years through times of remarkable social change. Further, Stark is likely on to something about how -- at least -- VII was perceived by American Catholics.

Accordingly, predictions about the demise of Christianity and religion in the United States appear unfounded. It is likely that the nature of Christianity has changed -- for example, the shift from moderate and liberal denominations to more conservative ones and the rise of Pentacostalism -- but that Americans are going to church in about the same numbers as their parents and their parents' parents (with the possible exception of Catholics post VII).

Source: Rodney Stark, Introduction, What Americans Really Believe.

22 comments:

Accordingly, predictions about the demise of Christianity and religion in the United States appear unfounded. It is likely that the nature of Christianity has changed -- for example, the shift from moderate and liberal denominations to more conservative ones and the rise of Pentacostalism -- but that Americans are going to church in about the same numbers as their parents and their parents' parents (with the possible exception of Catholics post VII).


One mistake atheists make a lot is to assume that religion is stack and ancient. They assume that the same primitive understanding and impulses that animated most religions in the ancient world are still at work today. This just demonstrates that our understanding keeps pace with our times. God is timeless and our experiences of God are timeless, but experince is mediated by culture, and so we keep up with our times and are people of our times.

More rationally-inclined people sometimes underestimate just how deep-seated superstition is in the rest of their species.

More rationally-inclined people sometimes underestimate just how deep-seated superstition is in the rest of their species.

This begs many questions. One is whether they are in fact the more "rationally-inclined" members of the species if they are so willing to drink such cool aid. It is like the Jesus Myth phenomenon, an idea so contradicted by the evidence that only the more "rationally-inclined" members of our species can bring themselves to advocate it with any confidence.

That an individual is more rationally inclined than the average doesn't mean they're incapable of error.

Nor, for that matter, are most of us skeptics inclined to the view that religion is going to die out any time soon. You certainly won't catch me making such a claim.

More rationally-inclined people sometimes underestimate just how deep-seated superstition is in the rest of their species.


that is the kind of criticism La Palce would make. Most thinkers have known since the Schliermacher that religino is not superstition. In fact one might even say since Newton.

the tendency to link religion with superstition grows out of a kind o of intellectual insecurity that thirves upon canned prhases and stock arguments and instant rejoinders devoid of analysis.

I doubt that you can give me a coherent definition of superstition that doesn't require a circular answer such as "superstition is religion."

"supersition is belief in things that I can't prove.

or "Superstition is belief in things that I don't believe in."

There are lots of ways you can define superstition. I typically use it as a label for a general family of beliefs with sets of similar often overlapping properties but not ones which necessarily have all the same set of properties as every other thing labelled superstitious (think Wittgenstein and the meaning of games here). In most cases I'm using it in regard to beliefs which are unwarranted and non-naturalistic in character. That seems to cover most of what we call superstitious. Though there could also be outliers that fit well with the rest of the things we call superstition but which don't necessarily have these two characteristics, homeopathy for example---whose proponents might claim a real but unknown natural principle as the basis of its (supposed) effectiveness. That is, one might include unwarranted paranormal beliefs as superstitions as well as unwarranted non-naturalistic beliefs.



It seems to me that most of the religious beliefs of most religious people are unwarranted non-naturalistic beliefs as much as astrology or belief in witchcraft and magic is. And fits appropriatedly, if unflatteringly, in the same category.

Perhaps there are SOME religious beliefs which lie outside such a definition of superstition such that in a venn diagram of religious and superstitious beliefs the circle made up of the set of all superstitious beliefs only overlaps with religion rather than enclosing it entirely.

Perhaps thats even the case with your particular religious views (or at least some of them). I can't say since I don't know much about your personal religous beliefs.

There are lots of ways you can define superstition. I typically use it as a label for a general family of beliefs with sets of similar often overlapping properties but not ones which necessarily have all the same set of properties as every other thing labelled superstitious (think Wittgenstein and the meaning of games here).

In other words, a meaningless epithet used an insult. A way of labeling ideas you hate.



In most cases I'm using it in regard to beliefs which are unwarranted and non-naturalistic in character.

that let's God out because God is warranted. But what do you mean by "non naturalistic?"


That seems to cover most of what we call superstitious.

and most everything else. The Platonic forms would be superstition in that sense. But does it really seem fair to put Plato in the same camp as some derelict who thinks the right foot of a dog will cure bad breath?

the capture theory of the moon would fit in there given a bit of tweaking of the "non naturalistic" clause.



Though there could also be outliers that fit well with the rest of the things we call superstition but which don't necessarily have these two characteristics, homeopathy for example---whose proponents might claim a real but unknown natural principle as the basis of its (supposed) effectiveness. That is, one might include unwarranted paranormal beliefs as superstitions as well as unwarranted non-naturalistic beliefs.

why? what possible rationale other than a way to get at religion could you have for making such an association? what about the fear factor? most dictionary definitions include the concept fear.



It seems to me that most of the religious beliefs of most religious people are unwarranted non-naturalistic beliefs as much as astrology or belief in witchcraft and magic is. And fits appropriatedly, if unflatteringly, in the same category.


why should "non naturalistic" assuming we even know what that means, assuming it's a meaningful term equate with superstition?

Perhaps there are SOME religious beliefs which lie outside such a definition of superstition such that in a venn diagram of religious and superstitious beliefs the circle made up of the set of all superstitious beliefs only overlaps with religion rather than enclosing it entirely.

Perhaps thats even the case with your particular religious views (or at least some of them). I can't say since I don't know much about your personal religous beliefs.


but that doesn't stop you from using a blanket description even though you have no idea what it includes and what it doesn't include and you have real rationale governing what you do include.

boiling it down you seem to be equating "non naturalistic" whatever that is with superstition

so If I believe that stepping on a crak will break my mother's back because there's a hidden scientific connection and it's part of nature then it's not superstition.

It's pretty obvious your definition is designed to to get at religion. why don't you just define superstition as "anything religious?"

Those who predict the demise of religion have something in common with those who predict the end of the world: Thus far, every single one of them has been wrong.


In other words, a meaningless epithet used an insult. A way of labeling ideas you hate.


Meaningless? I put religion into the category of superstition because it has (in my opinion, at least) the characteristics of being unwarranted beliefs and non-naturalistic beliefs.

Hardly meaningless. And if I am incorrect about the beliefs being unwarranted (as you think based on what you've written) then I am simply incorrect about them being superstitions.


that let's God out because God is warranted. But what do you mean by "non naturalistic?"


Not being part of the natural world as we normally, if quite loosely, understand it. The world of physical events caused by physical processes and of the minds seemingly dependent on the physical processes in the brain.


The Platonic forms would be superstition in that sense.


If belief in them is unwarranted, yes, probably so. A highly abstract and intellectualized superstition.

Whether belief in them in unwarranted though, I see little reason to argue since it somewhat tangential to the present discussion.


But does it really seem fair to put Plato in the same camp as some derelict who thinks the right foot of a dog will cure bad breath?


Perhaps not, perhaps one should include abstract objects in one's idea of what constitutes the naturalistic. I'm open to the idea---though I'd probably take some persuading.

I would not agree, though, with your apparent implication that all unwarranted beliefs are equally implausible. This seems to me obviously false and not implied by anything I said.


why? what possible rationale other than a way to get at religion could you have for making such an association?


How does including at least some potentially naturalistic unwarranted beliefs constitute an effort to "get at" religion? The idea of unwarranted non-naturalistic beliefs already included religion (assuming I was right in characterizing religious beliefs as unwarranted---which you are more than free to disagree with and argue against).


what about the fear factor? most dictionary definitions include the concept fear.



It seems rather peripheral to me. While that trait certain is part of some superstitions I see little reason to make it an essential feature of what we call superstition. The belief in fairies, for example, is generally regarded as superstitious but doesn't seem clearly motivated by fear. A sense of wonder can as easily be the essential emotion response involved in superstitious thinking, as I'm using the term, as much as fear.


why should "non naturalistic" assuming we even know what that means, assuming it's a meaningful term equate with superstition?


It doesn't. Only unwarranted supernaturalistic beliefs would fall into the category of superstition.

Again, you are free to argue that some or all religious beliefs are, contrary to my opinion, NOT unwarranted and therefore not superstitious.


so If I believe that stepping on a crak will break my mother's back because there's a hidden scientific connection and it's part of nature then it's not superstition.


That was covered in my comment on things like homeopathy---paranormal but not supernatural beliefs which are nontheless unwarranted and similar enough to what we normally call superstition to be reasonably categorized with them under that label.

Ah, so a systematic error can be made repeatedly by "rational" people if they consistently underestimate the "irrationality" of their fellow humans--don't you guys place a value on "seeing things as they are"?

How close are you getting if you keep underestimating the irrationality of the rest of us?

One of the ideas that secularizers use is that they have a pretty good handle on what could possibly happen if religion is marginalized or eliminated. But, we're supposed to believe that you can speculate on what real people do in theoretical situations, when you don't have that good of handle on real people in real situations.

The "error" you have made in modeling human behavior may be excusable, but that's no reason to put you in charge of reforming human behavior.

(I leave it here, as I'm hoping that you'll make the expected--but wrong--rejoinder.)

MetaIn other words, a meaningless epithet used an insult. A way of labeling ideas you hate.


Meaningless? I put religion into the category of superstition because it has (in my opinion, at least) the characteristics of being unwarranted beliefs and non-naturalistic beliefs.


but those are not adequate definitions of the term "superstition" if that is the case than any idea that is not yet proved is superstition so theories such as string theory are superstition.

the idea singularity is superstition. The idea of space/time continuum is superstition.


Hardly meaningless. And if I am incorrect about the beliefs being unwarranted (as you think based on what you've written) then I am simply incorrect about them being superstitions.


the term is an insult. It's a belittling term. It was invented to ridicule ideas the philosophes didn't like. It has no real meaning. It can apply to any idea that you think is unproved.


Metathat let's God out because God is warranted. But what do you mean by "non naturalistic?"


Not being part of the natural world as we normally, if quite loosely, understand it. The world of physical events caused by physical processes and of the minds seemingly dependent on the physical processes in the brain.


that would mean the big bang and the singularity are superstitions. That is why it's a silly term. It's a meaningless term. singularity is not phsyical, it's not part of the natural world, the big bang itself the expansion is not part of the natural world, the natural world is part of it. The space/time continuum is not part of the natural world it's the envelope that contains the natural world. So all those things, and string membranes in so far as they are beyond the space/time continuum would also have to be superstition.


MetaThe Platonic forms would be superstition in that sense.


If belief in them is unwarranted, yes, probably so. A highly abstract and intellectualized superstition.


that just proves my point. because no ratinoal person would that Plato was superstitious and no one understanding the forms could possibly compare them with what we usually think of as superstition.

your definition is nothing more than an excuse to encode your ideology and ideological slogan as dominate ideology thus ridiculing all that does not belong to the ideology.


Whether belief in them in unwarranted though, I see little reason to argue since it somewhat tangential to the present discussion.


what basis is there for argument with someone who displace total contempt for all that is not his ideology? why would I want o ever have any kind of exchange with someone who believes I'm irrational idiot because I don't tow his party line?

that is all your use of the term "superstition" accomplishes. It's a way of ridiculing what is not the ideology.



MetaBut does it really seem fair to put Plato in the same camp as some derelict who thinks the right foot of a dog will cure bad breath?


Perhaps not, perhaps one should include abstract objects in one's idea of what constitutes the naturalistic. I'm open to the idea---though I'd probably take some persuading.


what is sacred about the term "natural?" Why do "natural" things get to sacrosanct? I think your obsession for that term is rather superstitious.

and doesn't the use of that term to defien the distinction just automatically mean god is in the stupid pile? God is not naturalistic so by defitino God is superstion and then if you beilef in him you are an idiot.

so it's just another atheist attempt to short circuit reason and to cheat your way to a win by a trick instead of thinking it through.


I would not agree, though, with your apparent implication that all unwarranted beliefs are equally implausible. This seems to me obviously false and not implied by anything I said.

clearly it is. since you ignore the fear aspect of superstition than idea that doesn't agree with your ideology is automatically superstition. superstition means something bad that stupid people believe.


Metawhy? what possible rationale other than a way to get at religion could you have for making such an association?


How does including at least some potentially naturalistic unwarranted beliefs constitute an effort to "get at" religion?


In placing anything not "naturalistic" whatever that is, in the superstition pile you assure a prori that all religious ideas are by definition superstition. but with that goes just about all other ideas that are unproved.

superstition has to include magic, which is not religion, religion is not magic, and fear. Religious does not have to include fear.



The idea of unwarranted non-naturalistic beliefs already included religion (assuming I was right in characterizing religious beliefs as unwarranted---which you are more than free to disagree with and argue against).


that's exactly the point, you tailored the defection that way. it includes just about everything else that is not reductionism.


Metawhat about the fear factor? most dictionary definitions include the concept fear.



It seems rather peripheral to me.

It didn't to Webseter

While that trait certain is part of some superstitions I see little reason to make it an essential feature of what we call superstition. The belief in fairies, for example, is generally regarded as superstitious but doesn't seem clearly motivated by fear.

I do not think it is. belief in fairies is not superstition. But who does believe in fairies?

you are mixing together a bunch of things such as folk beliefs, religion and just anything that doesn't cow tow to your ideology.



A sense of wonder can as easily be the essential emotion response involved in superstitious thinking, as I'm using the term, as much as fear.

who says that? did you write the dictionary? I don't see that in my dictionary. I see it includes fear I do not see wonder.


Metawhy should "non naturalistic" assuming we even know what that means, assuming it's a meaningful term equate with superstition?


It doesn't. Only unwarranted supernaturalistic beliefs would fall into the category of superstition.


why supernatuarl? What is supersticious about that?

what is supernatuarl? can you define it for me?

what about warranted supernatural beliefs? why unwarranted one?

what is the warrant for sting membranes?


Again, you are free to argue that some or all religious beliefs are, contrary to my opinion, NOT unwarranted and therefore not superstitious.

I do not see why you should be allowed this rhetorical device fo the insulting epithetic when it has no logical meaning and was invented merely to deride other people's beliefs and has valid rational definition.


Metaso If I believe that stepping on a crak will break my mother's back because there's a hidden scientific connection and it's part of nature then it's not superstition.


That was covered in my comment on things like homeopathy---paranormal but not supernatural beliefs which are nontheless unwarranted and similar enough to what we normally call superstition to be reasonably categorized with them under that label.


(1) you are ignoring two major elements in any superstious idea which must part of the defition and are in most major dictionaries: (a) fear (b) obcession/compulsion.

(2) you are merely using the term to bully an brow beat people into your ideolgoical sloganism and to dismiss ideas you can't disprove.

Layman, neither you nor Stark know what you're talking about. See this. It depends on what questions are being asked in these polls.

If you fudge facts on this nonessential question, how does anyone know you're not also fudging facts when it comes to the truth claims of the religion you accept and defend? Try being a little more objective. A little here isn't asking a lot.

Sheesh.

Loftus,

Perhaps you could be specific about what you think Stark -- perhaps the leading sociologist in the United States -- got wrong. Your post says nothing about church attendance, so it doesn't refute the substance of my post here. And Stark -- and I -- discuss the number of atheists, not the number of agnostics or people who "aren't sure." So that you cite a different poll that tests for something else doesn't mean Stark doesn't know what he's talking about. At most, it means we are talking about different things.

It is so funny to see those who supposedly appreciate "nuance" and "objectivity" stretch their polemic so quickly into making yet more false accusations.


but those are not adequate definitions of the term "superstition" if that is the case than any idea that is not yet proved is superstition so theories such as string theory are superstition.


String theory is not nonnaturalistic. I MIGHT extend the definition of superstition to include unwarranted beliefs that they claim have a natural basis but which are so bizarre as to be hardly indistinguishable from the supernatural. Homeopathy falls into that category. In my opinion, string theory doesn't. Certainly it doesn't simply mean any unproved hypothesis. You should, perhaps, read my definition more carefully before criticizing it.


the term is an insult. It's a belittling term.


Yes, it is. I think religious beliefs are unwarranted and therefore irrational and see little reason to pretend religion is worthy of my respect.

But perhaps I'm wrong about them being unwarranted. Feel free to present a case for religious beliefs that shows me to be mistaken.


In placing anything not "naturalistic" whatever that is, in the superstition pile you assure a prori that all religious ideas are by definition superstition.


Again, only nonnaturalistic beliefs that are UNWARRANTED go into the "superstition pile". Therefore if any religious beliefs are warranted they are not superstitious under my definition. I happen to think all of them that I know of are unwarranted. Show me to be wrong.


It can apply to any idea that you think is unproved.


It applies to unwarranted beliefs (and only some of those). Not unproven hypotheses. Surely you recognize that there's a difference.


It didn't to Webseter


So? Is Webster's dictionary divinely inspired?


belief in fairies is not superstition.


You are free to define the word more narrowly than I do. Frankly, I don't care. I won't debate semantics with you.


But who does believe in fairies?


Slightly more than 50% of Icelanders according to an article I read recently.


what about warranted supernatural beliefs?


Already covered (more than once). Warranted beliefs are not superstitious by any useful definition of the term.

And that's all I have to say about semantics. If you want to discuss whether religious beliefs are unwarranted or not then we can carry the discussion further. If not you're just going to be taking to yourself (or, at least, not to me).

Ellis, your original post struck me.

"Those of us more rationally-inclined"

With one sentence you show bigotry to the rest of humanity. It blows my mind that this is called "free-thinking".

I would argue that it is not bigotry to call irrational thinking what it is: irrational.

I think believing that homeopathic remedies will have any effect beyond that of a placebo irrational.

Am I then bigoted against believers in homeopathy?

I think belief in astrology is irrational.

Is that bigotry?

Must one think everyone's opinions on everything as reasonable as anyone elses or be a bigot?

If so, then we are all bigots and the term becomes devoid of its negative meaning. It would just be a word for a person who thinks that there's such a thing as irrationality.

You're right, except you referred to "other members" of your species and not to ideas. I just have to read between the lines a little bit to find it.

Its not just ideas that are irrational. People can be irrational too.

I don't claim that religious people are irrational about ALL things.

I do, however, think that religious beliefs are of such a fundamental nature and so pervasive a part of the way the person holding them functions in the world that I think it perfectly justified to call religious people irrational in a very fundamental way.

That doesn't mean they try to drive their car by prayer rather than with the steering wheel or anything. I said its irrational to believe in religion. But irrational doesn't mean crazy (not necessarily anyway---some religious practices do indeed rise to the level of crazy---but that's not really what I'm focused on here).

Didn't Bill Maher say that to go to work six days and to church on the seventh is schizophrenia? It just seems like the way you are using "rational" is a code for someone who believes like you.

The word rational does not mean or imply "believes like me".

It means having your beliefs formed by sound methods---methods likely to generate true beliefs and avoid false ones.

The reasons religious believers give for holding their beliefs are pretty obviously not sound.

That's my opinion. And that's why I call religion a form of irrationality.

Its your right to be offended by my opinion....and my right to hold that opinion.

Its also your right to present an actual case for why belief in your religion is rational and, therefore, why I'm totally wrong in calling it irrational.

And I invite you to do exactly that.

David, you know good and well that it will take a lot more than one post to hash out "rationality" in religious belief.

I'm not even objecting to your opinion, you may be right in the end (though we wouldn't be around to know) but it's the tone that you set from the start that gets me. Somehow you of all people have risen above feeble human attempts at understanding over the millenia and now can look down at all the silly religionists.

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