America, Land of the Free Thinkers

By Tom FlynnExecutive Director, Council for Secular Humanism Meerkat or ostrich, what’s your style? Consider the meerkat, standing vigilant astride … Continued

By Tom Flynn
Executive Director, Council for Secular Humanism

Meerkat or ostrich, what’s your style? Consider the meerkat, standing vigilant astride its burrow. Then the ostrich – well, everyone knows what ostriches do. Two long-running studies of Americans’ religious alignment exemplify these styles. Which is doing the better job of capturing today’s religious landscape?

Standing with the meerkats we find Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College. Since 1990 they’ve helmed the American Religious Identification Study (ARIS). The third of their massive, methodologically consistent surveys was released this week.

ARIS 2008 finds Roman Catholicism in near-collapse across the Northeast. The church of Rome now draws its numbers largely from Hispanics across the South and West. Denominational Protestantism, too, is in decline. Mainline Protestant denominations claimed 17.2 percent of Americans in 2001, just 12.9 percent in 2008. Even Baptists declined as a portion of population. In their place have surged generic or nondenominational evangelical Christian groups (for example, megachurches): 5 percent of Americans in 1990, 11.8 percent today.

Meanwhile, America’s fastest-growing religion is … no religion at all. In 1990, 8.2 percent of ARIS respondents claimed no religion; in 2001, 14.2 percent; in 2008, 15 percent. This trend is confirmed in other studies. A 2004 Pew Center/University of Akron study using different methodology found 16.1 percentage claiming no religion. Meanwhile the share of Americans identifying as Christian declined from 86.2 percent in 1990 to just 76 percent today.

What do we know about religiously unaffiliated Americans? Not all reject supernaturalism entirely. Some “nones” are drifting between churches, spiritual but not religious, and so on. But the number of Americans who live without invisible means of support is clearly increasing. Kosmin and Keysar find a small number of respondents who claim the labels atheist or agnostic (about 1.6 percent). Even so, the number of outright atheists has almost doubled since 2001. But an impressive 12 percent of respondents qualify as atheists or agnostics based on their stated beliefs, though they do not embrace the labels. In 2004′s Pew/Akron study, roughly two thirds of its religiously unaffiliated respondents were atheists, agnostics, or “hard seculars.” The questing, spiritual-but-not-religious contingent composed only a third of this group.

ARIS 2008 also identified a further 12 percent who merit identification as deists, believers in a vague higher power but not a personal God. Here’s another stunner: more than a quarter of respondents do not expect a religious funeral when they die.

In all of this, ARIS 2008 reinforces the findings of studies by Pew, Harris, and other survey organizations. While remaining a force to be reckoned with, Christianity has lost its hegemonic monopoly over American life. The group rising fastest in its place is not only non-Christian, but to a great and growing extent not religious at all. At least, so it seems to the meerkats.

If that picture disturbs you, another long-running survey project may be more to your liking. Enter our ostriches: researchers at Baylor University, a Baptist institution, depict another America altogether. Open What Americans Really Believe, a book reporting on this group’s latest study by lead researcher Rodney Stark, and you’ll discover a nation where the percentage of atheists and agnostics has barely changed since World War II and the percentage of Americans confident in God’s existence holds steady at close to ninety percent. How can the Baylor study’s America be so deeply unlike that described by ARIS, and for that matter almost everybody else? Stark is a leading figure in the sociology of religion, though his best-known theory (that America’s free market in religious ideas drives its exceptional religious vitality) now commands more respect at cocktail parties than among professional sociologists. For its surveying legwork Baylor relied on the Gallup Organization. And the work was funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation, that deep-pocketed friend of religion in public life.

According to a critical study released by my organization, the Council for Secular Humanism , Baylor workers sometimes employed questionable interpretive practices. Study author Gregory S. Paul suggests that by choosing carefully among Gallup polls, Baylor workers overcounted American atheists and agnostics in the 1940s and undercounted them in later years, creating the illusion that the level of unbelief has held almost steady for six decades. Meanwhile, many Americans who emerge in other studies as agnostic, unaffiliated, or nondenominational, or who hold non-traditional ideas about God, were counted by Baylor workers as traditional Christians. “The Baylor team treats almost any deviation from strict atheism as a sign of religiosity,” Paul reports. “Doing so falsely maximizes the apparent level of faith.”

What’s the future for American religion? Dynamic flux or reassuring stasis? Meerkat or ostrich? Apparently, you can choose your studies and take your pick. This secular humanist sides with the meerkats.

Tom Flynn is executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of Free Inquiry magazine.

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  • Paganplace

    That overall picture certainly seems to be the case. It was reported as the case before the Bush administration, too. (Careful of the state-by-state particulars, though, particularly with the New England Catholic count… a lot of them are *moving:* some of the traditional demographics there are finding it rather *expensive* to live where they were, retiring to Florida, and finding jobs elsewhere: Pagans, too, though still showing rises in total numbers often not of moneyed classes, and generally-inclined to seek more rural lifestyles, also seem to be shifting around New England. (Back in Boston, I noted a real tendency for Pagan groups to spring up, get organized, and get the Hel out. :) )One story that doesn’t seem to have come out of the ARIS survey, is actually that a whole lot of the nation’s people have been *moving around.* Yes, there’s a huge overall decline in people affiliated with certain denominations, but also a big *shifting around.* Surely, this is *caused* by certain economic factors, and the rootlessness of the corporate lifestyle, but the *effects* are pretty interesting. People who once never questioned their denominations …because they only heard their own denomination’s version of who others are… Are now mixing. And isn’t *that* interesting? :)

  • Paganplace

    Oh, but, yes indeedy. It’s hard enough when a pollster is *trying* to be neutral, but the kinds of ‘surveys’ undertaken by Christian-agendaed universities tend to be structured to get the answers they want. If you ever take their surveys, even a pretty devout Pagan is going to either come off like she believes in their God or get their data thrown out, cause the *questions* are structured in that way …you either believe in ‘God’ (which they’ll say means you believe in theirs as presented,) or you’re the kind of ‘atheist’ that fits their view of ‘atheist’ …or you’re either not counted or counted as one of those two. The results are in the questions, and the questions are often ….just the wrong questions.

  • norriehoyt

    (1) Vermont could reasonably lay claim to being the most hospitable and civilized state in the Union.(2) The American Religious Identification Survey found that Vermont led the states in the percentage of citizens “who follow no religion” (34%).Do you see and understand the connection between paragraphs (1) and (2)?

  • ThomasBaum

    First off, a disclaimer, I have met God and know that God is a Trinity and that God is a Being of Pure Love.Second, does the apparent fact that less people might believe in God have anything at all to do with whether or not God Is?Hi, Norrie Hoyt, how are you? Hope you’re doing fine.As I have said before, some may find themselves to be either pleasantly or unpleasantly surprized to find out that: God is a searcher of hearts and minds, not of religious affiliations or lack thereof and that it is important what one does and why one does it and what one knows.God’s Plan which He has had since before creation will come to Fruition.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • csintala79

    Tom, thanks for your clear and concise summary of the ARIS. At this point, most commentaries on this topic have been spurious and indicate that conclusions are being drawn without reading first being done. You have cleared up the greatest misconception being bandied about, i.e., the non-religious are atheists. While it is true that all atheists are non-religious (maybe, as you say, most are), the converse is not, i.e., all non-religious are atheists; one can be a non-religious believer in a personal God. From what you say about the Baylor study grouping non-religious believers in the “traditional Christians” category makes this the most misconstrued and misrepresented group touched by the surveys, with both groups callously melding the “unchurched” into their numbers to bolster their agendas.

  • ThomasBaum

    PAGANPLACE Hi, good to talk with you, hope you are doing fine.You wrote, “I think it has a lot to do with people like yourself starting to see a distinction between that question and the authority of ‘religion,’ Thomas.”As I have said many times, I look at it as a relationship rather than a religion. Religion can be about “rules and regulations” and when Jesus, Who is Love-Incarnate or one could say God-Incarnate since they both mean the same, became One of Us, He tried to show by the Incarnation itself and what He taught and what He was born, lived and died for, that God cares for us more than we can imagine and that we should care for each other.You then wrote, “I don’t think you describe a God (or Trinity, if you will) that would much care what beliefs are in someone’s head, if they were setting themselves up like a human judge or government, in the first place.”If I understand what you wrote and I believe I do, it goes hand in hand with my statement: God is a searcher of hearts and minds, not of religious affiliations or lack thereof. Also, Jesus said, “All power and authority has been given to Me”, He also said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, “Forgive and you will be forgiven”, and He said other things in the same vein. It is simple, but that does not mean that it is easy, how many times did the Apostles say, “These are hard sayings”?The Apostles may have been clueless about a lot of things but they did seem to notice that some of Jesus’s teachings was contrary to basic human nature. Jesus did much more than just teach when He was down here, He accomplished His Mission and one day, we will all know it.You also wrote, “What good ‘Father’ or ‘Mother’ could be upset, never mind petty, about *that?*”, I believe that it tickles God’s Heart, so to speak, when one of His Children “grow up” as you put it.God is not petty at all, but we humans sure can be.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • CCNL

    We see Thomas “The Hallucinator” Baum is out thumping today.Hmmm, did the simple preacher man really say, ” All power and authority has been given to Me” (Matt 28:18)?????Not according to most contemporary historical Jesus exegetes.e.g.Matt 28:16-20 The description of Jesus’s appearance is minimal, as attention is focused on the content of Jesus’ message to the Eleven. Lüdemann notes that “the historical yield is extremely meager.” He accepts the early tradition that various disciples had visionary experiences, most probably located in Galilee, and that these experiences led to the founding of “a community which preached the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus as the Messiah and/or the Son of Man among their Jewish contemporaries.” [Jesus, 255f.] i.e. Matt 28:18 is simply more words put into the mouth of the simple preacher man by the prime embellishers, P, M, M, L and J.And a “Ditto” for Matt 7:1 !!!

  • Paganplace

    I mean, you know, Thomas? There’s still plenty of people out there who think even the words you say mean the ‘One and only god of the universe’ is sitting up there somewhere just waiting to get his hands on me for not marrying a man and pretending I might reproduce when the equipment for such had to go years ago, anyway. CCNL, here, obviously believes that’s the only way ‘God’ could possibly be, and that if that’s not working, it must be the fault of someone else being ‘flawed’ by the standards of his own mind. Poses as an atheist to cover that up, but he’s really an authoritarian of some small group, maybe just one. Either way, his ‘God’ is too small. :) And, Thomas, I think those of us willing to claim to have seen some stuff are pretty acutely aware of what it means for the seer. :) It’s bigger than us. And certainly bigger than certain people can represent. Right? *wink.* :)

  • CCNL

    Hmmm, very odd “bedfellows” are Tom “The Hallucinator” Baum who talks to god (and his three buddies) and Paganplace who talks to witch doctors and trees. Very odd indeed!!!

  • colinnicholas

    It’s good that more and more people are becoming aware that gods don’t exist. Welcome to the 21st century.The trend is away from superstition and towards science and common sense. How could it be otherwise?

  • SpiritualMongrel

    The whole world comes down to belief.If God exits I believe the burden does rest with us believers. We must continue to explore and further our understanding of God. If God exists there is very likely he, she or it is significantly different than what we have understood. We should be looking forward, not back to discover what God is. Whether God exists or not we should be expanding our knowledge, not carving it in stone.For the atheists out there, you still believe; just not in God.You may believe any of the following (or something completely different):I am complete separate from all other people.None of those need God in the equation, but regardless of which one(s) you follow, your beliefs determine your actions.For an atheist I would assume that if a belief fails to serve you then you change your belief. Those of us who believe in God should be so wise.

  • ThomasBaum

    CCNLYou wrote, “Not according to most contemporary historical Jesus exegetes.”I guess you know that some of Jesus’s “contemporary historical” people seemed to not think too highly of him at that time, should it surprize you that it is not only that way now but was also written about.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • ThomasBaum

    PAGANPLACEYou wrote, “Well, Thomas, I think you still sell ‘human nature’ short”All I can say is look around: the economy, the environment, the wars, our own personal shortcomings, just to name a few.You then wrote, “People may rightly fear what ‘human nature’ will do when people feel threatened or pressed. Want to control it.”Doesn’t the fact that some people want to control or have power over others have something to do with human nature?Reality is reality, as I have said before, I am not an optimist nor a pessimist but a realist.I have also said that God is not even close to being anything like what some people who know His Name think that He Is.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • CCNL

    Thomas “The Moses of the NT” Baum,And it turns out those early skeptics who questioned all the hype built around the simple preacher man were right after all!!!

  • globalone

    colinnichola,Ahhhhh, another disciple of the great myth of progress. Are we still on that great march to utopia?Question – what is the myth of progress solution for evil?

  • Carstonio

    Spiritual Mongrel,Your list of beliefs are really about human interaction and not about the existence of physical objects or phenomena. The question of whether gods exist is like the question of whether black holes exist. You’re right that beliefs can and do determine actions. The issue is that there is a physical reality independent of belief. Either black holes exist or they don’t, and either gods exist or they don’t. Answering either of those questions should be a matter of scientific investigation independent of belief.

  • ThomasBaum

    CCNLYou wrote, “And it turns out those early skeptics who questioned all the hype built around the simple preacher man were right after all!!!”Time will tell.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • ThomasBaum

    CARSTONIOYou wrote, ” Either black holes exist or they don’t, and either gods exist or they don’t. Answering either of those questions should be a matter of scientific investigation independent of belief.”All of the “scientific investigation” in the world is not going to prove that God is Real.Nevertheless, God is Real and He is a Being of Pure Love and He is a Trinity and Jesus is God-Incarnate.One day all will know that God is Real and God’s Plan will come to Fruition which He has had since before creation and is unfolding before our very eyes.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Carstonio

    Thomas Baum,If an object cannot be detected empirically, how would one get the idea that such an object exists? While an object like that could exist, there doesn’t seem to be a way of separating likelihood from speculation about such objects. Anyone can make any sort of claim about objects that exist beyond sensory perception or empirical detection.

  • Carstonio

    “If it wasn’t for an outside force, (laws, government, whatever), some things might be even worse.”The idea of government is to balance the interests of the individual with the interests of society, and laws are expressions of that idea. These laws don’t constitute an outside force since they were created by humans. We have no evidence for any laws originating outside of humanity. Again, anyone can create a set of laws and claim that these came from a force or source outside humanity.

  • ThomasBaum

    CARSTONIOYou wrote, “If an object cannot be detected empirically, how would one get the idea that such an object exists?”I would say that there are many, many ways that one could get such an idea.You also wrote, “Anyone can make any sort of claim about objects that exist beyond sensory perception or empirical detection.”This is true.It is also true that God revealed to me that He is a Trinity and that He is Love and that the Catholic Eucharist is Jesus and I have also said that God is not a He, a She or an It, even tho God-Incarnate is a Male. I have also mentioned that I use the masculine pronoun because it is handy but that it is not accurate.I have been given a speaking part, so to speak, and I am counting on God to see me thru on the “job” He has given me.God is not even close to being like what some of the people that know His Name think that He is, at least according to what some write about Him, so it would be wise not to believe everything that people say or write concerning God and for that matter about other things too.One of the things that Jesus attempted to teach us was to think, of course thinking will only take one so far. Jesus did more than just try to teach us, much, much more.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • ThomasBaum

    CARSTONIOYou wrote, “These laws don’t constitute an outside force since they were created by humans. We have no evidence for any laws originating outside of humanity.”I am not talking about laws being made outside of humanity, I am talking about laws being made outside of a person, to control people’s behaviour.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • hyjanks

    On a related topic . . . Before I became convinced that phantasmagoria and religion have a great deal in common, one of the things that really bothered me was going to hell.

  • stadtbear

    There is no god. There has never been a god. There will never be a god. Religion is merely palliative for those who cannot stand the thought that life is accidental and, like the universe, cannot be explained. God, in short, is Santa Claus for adults. There is not one shred of evidence for his existence.Take care, be real.

  • marcedward1

    Fascinating. through most of American history, bad economies lead to hightened church going. When money fails us, people torn back to God (and vice versa). But a growing increase in peeps with NO organized religion? That’s new, interesting and promising. What a great world it’d be if people just sought their own ‘relationship with God’ without making themselves subservient to organized religion! Here’s hoping!

  • free9604

    A major problem with religions and the ‘gods’ they foist on us is that buying into this or that religion and this and that ‘god’ requires limitations on the use of our brains. We espouse education which opens brains, then embrace religions which close brains. And the notion that there exists a unitary discrete entity–’god’–especially one that is burdened with something so prosaic as gender–male–is just too absurd. I don’t pretend to have ‘the answer’ for a nanosecond, but I am determined to keep my eyes and ears and senses and brain OPEN to all the possibilities that are literally without limit. I try to live by the principle that anything is possible–but I demand proof. And religion, by definition, rejects proof. So I reject religion. Whatever ‘the truth’ turns out to be, it is more awesome and wonderful than any of our temporal religions could ever hope to dream up.

  • dotellen

    Seems to me all this obfuscation can be summarized by the pithy statement “I have no problem with God, it’s his fan club[s] I can’t stand.”Also, the tag line “One Nation, Under No Particular God,” is misleading. I thought this article was going to discuss the current version of the American pledge to the flag. That’s a different subject. Why don’t we pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the US?

  • tacoburrito

    There is no more or less evidence that God exists than there is that God does not exist. Anyone who strongly believes God does not exist is subject to the same challenges as one who purports that God does exist. The question of “god,” however conceived, is proof yet again of the accuracy of Goedel’s incompleteness theorem and frankly is silly to debate. Either one believes or one doesn’t, but it is by definition unprovable either way.Turning to Christianity in particular, anyone reading the Gospels, or the account of the life of Jesus, is likely to find that he was repeatedly rebuked for his disdain for religious orthodoxy and instead was prone to saying controversial things such as one should do unto others as one wished done unto oneself.All of which is to say that there is a good reason for the axiom that one doesn’t discuss religion in polite company, and it would be far easier on all of us were we to commit ourselves to being respectful towards one another.

  • John1263

    The Framers of the Constitution knew the very real danger to faith and to government when the two are unduly comingled. You deny my faith when you use the state to promote faith contrary to my beliefs. Period. No matter who you are that is truth. SO if we are to retain religious freedom in it’s fullest extent we must retain as high a wall of separation between government and religion as possible. Ironicall, until the politicization of the evangelical movement by unscrupulous leaders and the republicon party, who was a way to get just enough votes to win despite policies that clearly harm most Americans, it was religious leaders and churches who were the stuanchest advocates of maintaining a high wall of separation. The Baptists sent Jefferson an enormous whell of cheese as a thnak you for his support in favor of keeping government and religion spearated. We would do well to return to the wisdom of that ealier day, and keep our political struggles focused on politics, and our religious faith a matter of faith for ourselves, in the private sphere.

  • 360degreevisionspherically

    ok, enough! google Antares- look at the graphic (it’s 2D) in Wikipedia. Antares vs. the Sun- one fills nearly 3/4 of the screen while the SUN is a dot. Antares is 35 Quintillion miles from the Sun. The Earth doesn’t even fit on the head of a pin here. The entire population of earth wouldn’t even crowd out the angels fitting the head of that pin. YOU are even less of a lesser, even lesser,lesser, lesser, non-existent pin-point or pin-prick- . How PREPOSTEROUS and DELUSIONAL are we that we CLAIM TO HAVE A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with a Diety that has CREATED this 1,zillion googles X zillion googles,000 size cosmos, that is expanding at the speed of light?Our ZOOMING KNOWLEDGE and technology is EXPONENTIALLY antiquating the human masochism of bowing to Divinities, which of course, have ALWAYS been Political, and Politically employed. Imagine for an instant looking at your world WITHOUT the Christian (or any of the other religious)coloured glasses.

  • 360degreevisionspherically

    further inclusion:ok, enough! google Antares- look at the graphic (it’s 2D) in Wikipedia. Antares vs. the Sun- one fills nearly 3/4 of the screen while the SUN is a dot. Antares is 35 Quintillion miles from the Sun. The Earth doesn’t even fit on the head of a pin here. The entire population of earth wouldn’t even crowd out the angels fitting the head of that pin. YOU are even less of a lesser, even lesser,lesser, lesser, non-existent pin-point or pin-prick- . How PREPOSTEROUS and DELUSIONAL are we that we CLAIM TO HAVE A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with a Diety (that walked among us) that has CREATED this 1,zillion googles X zillion googles,000 size cosmos, that is expanding at the speed of light?Our ZOOMING KNOWLEDGE and technology is EXPONENTIALLY antiquating the human masochism of bowing to Divinities, which of course, have ALWAYS been Political, and Politically employed. Imagine for an instant looking at your world WITHOUT the Christian (or any of the other religious)coloured glasses.

  • Chaotician

    I am getting very sick and tired, actually angry, at that old bromide: I can’t prove God exists and you can’t prove God does not exist; therefore each view is equally valid!NO, if you have no proof; then you are imagining some wishful hope! Period!!

  • aredant

    Paganplace has some very good points. Like Atheists, Pagans and others outside the beltway faiths (Atheism is not a faith) are systematically looked over due to inherent bias in society. It is a challenge to get a good description of the religious and nonreligious landscape of the country outside traditional definitions. Non-belief may indeed be growing, but it seems many heads have been hidden because they haven’t been asked the right questions. Particularly with those who do not care or adopt a facade due to familial or societal pressure.

  • aredant

    Csintala79: “While it is true that all atheists are non-religious (maybe, as you say, most are), the converse is not, i.e., all non-religious are atheists; one can be a non-religious believer in a personal God.”The definition of religion is belief in a god. So how is a personal god not a god and thus not religion? Non-religious is synonymous with non-believer and if you are non believer you are Atheist. You may mean to say non-observant instead. 9 out of 10 Atheists either don’t know they are or don’t want to identify with the term.

  • tacoburrito

    Chaotician, notwithstanding your frustration at the claim that failure to disprove God is no different from failure to prove God, the fact remains that these claims both reside outside the realm of empirical based argument. For materialists, there is very good reason not to disbelieve. Unfortunately scientific materialism has its own drawbacks, such as acceptance of the fact that all human thought is the by-product of a pre-determined genetic code which outlines the very architecture of the brain in an exclusively physical manner that precludes the possibility of free will. In which case having any discussion on the topic of God (or anything else, for that matter) is pointless as all conclusions of the human mind are predetermined and incapable of change.To 360vision, no doubt the universe is incredibly impressive but some might say the very fact of our self aware existence in it precisely identifies why one should believe. Once again, while fascinating it is not evidence either way. The truth is no one knows in an empirically-provable way whether or not God exists. The best one can rely on is William James’ test of pragmatism: the proof or disproof lies in the effect the belief has on the believer. This is true both for believers in God and believers in nothingness; if your belief has the effect of making you a happier, better person, that is the strongest evidence you personally are likely to encounter. Towards that end I say try Christ, but the choice is solely yours.

  • williams1

    This trend toward lower religiosity corresponds to an increase in church being injected into the state. Compare that to Britain, where the state goes so far to have an official church and according to the 2001 census there, 66% had no religious affiliation at all, and by 2007 only 35% stated they believed at all in any supreme being. Religion has overreached in the U.S. and is now mimicking the widespread decline in Europe where it overreached centuries ago. While many religious scholars in the past have warned about this, U.S. evangelicals have yet too learn that mixing church and state is just as harmful to the church as it is to the state, if not more so.

  • Independent109

    When inside the walls of whatever church, group think sets in. It all makes perfect sense but if you’re flipping channels on the TV, many of the pastors and priests look more like charlatans, wizards and the poorly educated. In the effort to evangalize the world, TV telecasts may be turning more people away from religion than drawing them in.

  • chkpointe

    One nation under no particular god, I disagree. Americans along with other consumer societies share one GOD that is unshakeable to them and it’s green. Giving a pittance here and there is fine but living the austere life is not. I really don’t understand why American churches just don’t hang a facsimile of the dollar pillar over their pulpits.

  • colinnicholas

    Tacoburrito;Interesting post. I believe in a Giant Pink Unicorn myself.It lives in the great beyond, and controls all life on earth. I was raised to believe this by my parents.You may smirk at my belief but I challenge you to prove to me that the GPU does not exist. It does exist, I have seen it and I don’t think I was dreaming. Friends say I’m deluded – that there’s NO chance that such a creature exists…I tell them that they can’t prove the GPU does not exist. That shuts them up pretty quick. But they get angry when I point out that there’s as much chance of the GPU’s existence as there is of its nonexistence.Or would you say – in this instance – the odds are more like 100 to 1 against? That’s what my my smart friends say.

  • aredant

    “Anyone who strongly believes God does not exist is subject to the same challenges as one who purports that God does exist” Tacoburrito, you are taking this thing too literally. I have met a LOT of Atheists and no one has ever said “I KNOW there is no god”. This is a straw man built by believers.You can’t go through life reserving a place for everything you don’t see any evidence for – you simply have to say “it isn’t there”. That’s NOT the same as a philosophical rejection. How stupid would I sound if I were to say “I see no evidence of an invisible rabbit following me, but that doesn’t mean that there couldn’t BE one” Chaotician is correct. “NO, if you have no proof; then you are imagining some wishful hope! Period!!”

  • tacoburrito

    Hi Colinnicholas-Although I might find your belief in the GPU strange, I would be in no position to refute it were that truly your belief. Of course I suspect that’s not your belief, so that would fail William James’ test in the first instance, but your point is an important one: the “rationality” of a belief is not necessarily determinant of its validity. Efforts to prove or disprove a particular religious view with an appeal to rationality are no doubt as old as belief itself, but they fail for the same reason empirical efforts to prove/disprove God fail. The question is one of human belief, not susceptible to empirical verification. However from my perspective the interesting thing is the fact that so few people are actually agnostic, which strikes me as the most intellectually honest stance to take. Instead people feel the need to either believe in some sort of supernatural force, or not to believe. I think this underlying drive for certainty is a hallmark of human existence though it is not entirely clear why that should be: it is not self-evidently indispensable to our ancestor’s survival, at the very least.As for my personal belief in Christ, I fully acknowledge the irrationality and lack of provability of the position. However I also know the effect the belief has had on my own life, and the difference holding the belief has made compared to when I did not. This certainly does not create a great deal of empirical evidence for the existence or non-existence of God. Nevertheless as the belief has had a very real impact on my life I know from personal experience the power of the claim. In reality that’s all most Christians are saying: give Christ a try- if he exists your life will be changed and if he doesn’t it won’t. But again it is wholly a matter of personal choice.

  • Carstonio

    “I am talking about laws being made outside of a person, to control people’s behaviour.”We must not assume that an individual needs outside control in the first place. Humans are capable of making moral decisions that balance their own interests with the well-being of others. “I would say there are many, many ways that one could get such an idea.”Can you provide examples?Would you explain what you mean by “revelation”? My point is that if one is going to assert that the existence of gods is an incontrovertible fact, then one must present evidence that can be tested. Anyone can claim to have any sort of revelation, whatever that is.

  • nunivek

    It is impossible to prove that anything exists. I cannot with certainty know that anyone else exists or that I my senses aptly portray the world around me. You ask for empirical proof for the existence of God, well what makes empiricism the standard we should use? Why should I trust in faith that my senses of this apparent world are true? Even the experiments that we use and the mathematics that we employ are all theories that can never be proven or tested since we have no means of removing ourselves from the system we so desire to test. All we are left with is models of reality, and a true FAITH that what I see, taste, touch, smell, hear is real. And even if it was, the kicker is that our senses are so terribly incapable of percieving the vastness and intricacy of the world around that we must rely on intermediating devices to interact with objects at a deeper level. Yet another thing we must rely and trust in, we can never fully know the intricacies of just a simple piece of paper firsthand, and even with the aid of instrumentation we even still are presently incapable of full knowledge and likely will be so forever.

  • Maryann261

    Religion is nonsense, nothing more than superstition. There is no rational reason to believe in any religion. Nobody can prove any of it. There are a couple of things that come immediately to my mind regarding what all religions seem to have in common. All of them want to control those who believe and are more interested in how much money they make than anything else. .

  • mkern1

    God exists.God doesn’t exist. Some believe this some believe that. And some are humble enough to know that they don’t know.I think we can all agree that in discussing “God” we are talking about infifitude ie; God is not a being who happens to be a much greater being than the rest of us. We are talking infinite.If we seek to come to know more toward an infinite scale we must acknowledge our finitude and therefore the inadequacy of our incomplete answers along the way. As we expand we must be willing to see our old answers distroyed by our newer and greater awarenesses. Let the sacred cows die.So, what you “know” about “God” (be you atheist, agnostic, or religious believer) is by deffinition true only in the small sense as a stepping stone on the way to “knowing” more and each time you advance you opperate from greater perspective and distroy your old “knowledge” and arrive at newer and greater yet tentative “knowledge” only to find it dismantled at the next level. So, in disscovering “God” or the universe or what ever is, our knowledge is always tentative and incomplete and vaguely inaccurate.

  • Carstonio

    “I cannot with certainty know that anyone else exists or that I my senses aptly portray the world around me.”That’s the old “brain in a jar” scenario. There’s no way to prove or disprove that speculation. If that scenario were true, there would be nothing we could do about it anyway. So the logical course is to live one’s life as if sensory input is real. This isn’t the same as “faith” that the input is real, merely a recognition that the alternative is not worth worrying about. Whether the scenario is true or false, our observations remain the same. Your argument appears to suggest that we should simlpy refuse to investigate what we observe, like we should all just all choose to live inside our heads. I don’t know if that’s your intention.”You ask for empirical proof for the existence of God, well what makes empiricism the standard we should use?”What would be an alternative? “I think we can all agree that in discussing “God” we are talking about infifitude ie; God is not a being who happens to be a much greater being than the rest of us. We are talking infinite.”It’s a mistake to use the word that way. “God” is a proper name used by monotheistic religions to designate a being, and without your attempt at clarification, most members of those religions would misread your references to “God” as an endorsement of their faith. Would you explain what you mean by the infinite as a noun? That sounds vague. Infinite in the area of what? I know about the concept as it applies to mathematics.

  • adrienne_najjar

    There is no god. As soon as you a$$hats get that through your thick neanderthal skulls, the faster you’ll join the Ranks of the rational humans. Religion is nothing more that a bunch of hokus pokus created by early humans to explain the inexplicable. The universe is a marvelous thing. Why do some insist an finding a divine cause. Just accept it and marvel at its mere existence. Don’t try to understand it – you’ll just end up with a big headache at best, or signing on to some lame religion just to be able to feel like you belong. Get real you morons.

  • jaxas

    Look. For most of America’s history we had no loyalty oath of any kind. Tthe Founding Fathers were wary of such oaths because they smacked of the same sort of authorianism their own forefathers had escaped from to the New World.The phrase “under God” was added into the Pledge of Allegiance in the fear and partisanship of the 1950s during the heat of the McCarthy hearings. The sort of mentality that insists on an oath of allegiance is a suspicious mentality that likes to enforce their own beliefs upon others.The Pledge of Allegiance is only a step away from “Heil Hitler!”

  • nunivek

    Actually I have no intention of suggesting that we abandon observation of the world around us, just that we accept that limits of our assertions. Empiricism is a system developed during the Enlightenment period (not the only one for that matter), there are a variety of ways of looking at the world and empiricism generally demands a materialist approach. I am merely suggesting that perhaps our senses are not capable of describing the entirity of reality, which is why questions about spirituality and deity may require a proof in the negative case if you want to assert that there is nothing more than what my senses can experience.

  • ThomasBaum

    HYJANKSI am not a religious fanatic but I am a messenger and you asked about hell.It seems that there are some that seem to think that hell is some kind of monolithic place where God slings people.Actually, if one were to wake up in hell, so to speak, one may not know it at first but will come to the conclusion that they built it themself.God knew that not all would repent or ,if you will, take responsibility for what they have done and so God’s Plan, which He has had since before creation and is unfolding before our very eyes, is for, ultimately, ALL to be with Him in His Kingdom.God looks at the person, not the label.What I am saying is, if one wakes up in hell, so to speak, one will realize that they have no one to blame but themself.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • ThomasBaum

    FREE9604You wrote, “And the notion that there exists a unitary discrete entity–’god’–especially one that is burdened with something so prosaic as gender–male–is just too absurd.”I have said many times that God is not a He, a She or an It, even tho God-Incarnate was a Male, but is a Being of Pure Love.I have also said that I use the masculine pronoun because it is handy even tho it is inaccurate unless speaking of God-Incarnate.Since there is male and female in the human race when God became One of Us, He had to become one or the other. An interesting fact, when God became One of Us, He asked permission from a Lady and She said YES.Since we have free will, Mary had to freely accept.You also wrote, “Whatever ‘the truth’ turns out to be, it is more awesome and wonderful than any of our temporal religions could ever hope to dream up.”Not only is it “more awesome” but it is also so simple, GOD IS LOVE, Love is not an attribute of God but is His Very Being.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • ThomasBaum

    CHAOTICIANYou wrote, “NO, if you have no proof; then you are imagining some wishful hope! Period!!”.Actually, God “proved” to me that He is Real and one day He will “prove” it to the whole world.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Carstonio

    “if you want to assert that there is nothing more than what my senses can experience.”I’ve made no such assertion myself. I’ve acknowledged the possibility of objects existing beyond human sensory perception. The point I’m making is that the existence of such objects is not likely because of the lack of sensory data. My criticism is directed at assertions that such objects exist in fact. The burden of proof rests on that assertion and not on the assertion of non-existence, because of the fantastic nature of the former. Here’s what I don’t understand – if such objects cannot be detected with the senses, that would seem to rule out any possibility of humans even knowing about them. That seems to be a circular concept. At the least, the concept of such objects seems to be indistinguishable from mere speculation.”there are a variety of ways of looking at the world “Would you explain what those other ways would be?

  • TomBishop1

    Baum”GOD IS LOVE, Love is not an attribute of God but is His Very Being.”Well then what’s the controversy? I believe in love, so do most “nonbelievers” that I talk to, hang out with, was born from and am married to. If “God” is just love then you should just stop calling it God, because that confuses us and makes us think you disagree with us.That interpretation can’t come from the Bible, though. Even with all the power of love, I don’t think we can say it created the world, then killed all the people in it a few times, hates when people of the same sex love each other and doesn’t have a problem with slavery. You said you’re a messenger, are you planning to write your own holy book, where God as love actually does work as a metaphor?

  • nunivek

    Well first of all, in the last several thousand years philosophy has generated reems of different approaches, from nativism to scientific realism, rationalism. Gnostic thought as well as Christian, Jewish, Eastern, and Islamic thought have all espoused differnt understandings of how to interact with and define the world. Each of these approaches have even helped to shape normative Western thought. Plato and Aristotle of course had very unique approaches to understanding the world around us. Even Aristotle had ideas that approached empiricism but rejected many of its precepts. There are even Empirical type positions that reject the ability to have full understanding of the world around us (as you have explained to some degree) though not all possess this quality. As for how to interact with said entities, each of these systems that purport the existence of a diety or supernatural have ways in which this occur, and uncomfortable it may feel for Western thought, some include elements of mystery, events or experiences that go beyond our description or comprehension, which require not proof since that would be no longer mystery. What is fantasy in your system is distinct metaphysical and sometimes mystical reality in other systems.

  • Carstonio

    “differnt understandings of how to interact with and define the world.”My larger point is that humans perceive two separate “universes,” one of the senses and one of the mind. The former is the realm of “physicality” (admittedly an imprecise word here) and the other is the realm of concepts, thoughts, ideas, and emotions. A neat way of telling the difference between the two is this – if something would continue to exist if humans didn’t exist, it belongs in the first realm. The result is that the nature of the “physical” universe and the nature of human existence are separate questions. The first is objective and the second is subjective. Putting aside the question of whether humans can objectively perceive objects without their emotions getting in the way, the objects themselves have no inherent meaning. The only meanings they have are the ones humans create in their own minds. Ideas and meanings have no physical existence except as electrons along neural pathways.The error that religion and philosophy make is to address questions about human existence by postulating or asserting beings beyond sensory detection. This ignores the possibility that such beings may have no role or interest in humans. The concept of the metaphysical is really a tautology – it defines such beings as beyond sensory detection, and then categorizes the beings as ineffable based on its own definition. That’s circular, like the porcine Napoleon in “Animal Farm” awarding himself medals. I propose that any questions about human existence be addressed in a way that preserves the integrity of science, by making no assertions about the universe at all.

  • nunivek

    What I am contending though, is that your realm of physicality may not account for a variety of things that we cannot directly experience. You cannot directly experience things that we consider to be material even such as an atom for instance, and in your system they exist even if we do not. One could reasonably deny the Holocaust (i.e. anything outside of my present) happened, and that anything larger or smaller than one’s sense can interact with doesn’t exist. I would like to know how you know that “Ideas and meanings have no physical existence except as electrons along neural pathways.” Have you ever seen the creation of an idea or meaning physically?

  • ThomasBaum

    CCNLYou asked, “Hmmm, so who did Mary really say yes to???Mary said YES to God thru Gabriel, seems to be presented pretty straight forward to me, whether someone believes it or not, doesn’t it?Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Freestinker

    CCNL,When did God ask Mary for permission to impregnate her? I missed that part of the story ….

  • ThomasBaum

    FREESTINKERYou asked CCNL, “When did God ask Mary for permission to impregnate her? I missed that part of the story ….”I am the one that mentioned that God asked permission from Mary to become One of Us.When Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”God gave us free will and if it is not totally free than it is not free at all.Mary said YES.I believe, firmly believe, that God knew that Mary would say YES but she had to be the one who answered in the affirmative of her own free will.Some people seem to think that predestination means that we are just no more that puppets on a string, preprogrammed automaton, or something to that effect whereas, it means that God is much more than some think that He can be by knowing everything as in Omniscient.Since God knows and knew that not all would accept responsibility for their actions, He came up with His Plan which is unfolding before our very eyes and which He has had since before creation.God cares for All of His Creation and that includes us, much more than some who know His Name have any idea about.See you and the rest of humanity in the Kingdom. Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • CCNL

    Queer sex is defined by any standards as “mutual masturbation”. No added details needed!!!

  • mkern1

    CARSTONIOI failed to make the point that all concepts of “God” are nessecarily ultimately false. If God is “a” being then God is only a larger being that the rest of us. If God “is” at all then God is being itself, not a being separate from other beings. Some theologian call it the ground of all being.

  • Carstonio

    “your realm of physicality may not account for a variety of things that we cannot directly experience. “Can you give examples?”You cannot directly experience things that we consider to be material even such as an atom for instance.”We can indirectly experience atoms and subatomic particles through their effects on matter, such as in supercolliders. Atomic theory originated as an attempt to explain the properties of matter. That’s far different from religion and philosophy’s unfortunate tendency to postulate certain properties of matter to try to explain the nature of human existence.”One could reasonably deny the Holocaust (i.e. anything outside of my present) happened, and that anything larger or smaller than one’s sense can interact with doesn’t exist.”We’re talking about natural phenomena and not human-cased events.”Have you ever seen the creation of an idea or meaning physically?”I should have clarified that I was making an assertion of likelihood and not of incontrovertible fact. The burden of proof is on any religion’s claim that meaning has existence independent of the human mind.”Well this statement in itself doesn’t suggest that these entities do not exist, in fact it seems to suggest that they very well may exist just have no relationship with us”My point is that it’s a possibility that religions ignore because religions are more interested in relationships. That’s not a scientific approach.”Science at least asserts that the world exists, why? Perhaps because it gives meaning and innately makes sense to us. “Science is about knowledge for its own sake. Individual scientists may still seek knowledge for reasons such as you suggest, but those reasons are not part of the scientific concept itself.”But even there science abandons the senses and grasps at the arbitrary yardstick of reason and logic. “How are they arbitrary? I suppose you could argue that units of measurement were arbitrarily chosen. But they are really references to physical quantities, to codify our observations. Whether one measures a distance in inches or centimeters, the distance still exists. “We still must choose what or whom we want to be in relationship with”That has nothing to do with science. The issue here is whether the beings exist or not, and relationship has nothing to do with that question. Deists believe in higher powers but don’t claim to have relationships with them.”which standard we want to rule our lives.”That’s not a scientific concept either. From an ethical perspectives, that misses the point since morality is about balancing one’s interests with the well-being of others. It’s about adhering to principles, not about following rules or controlling our behavior. Two people can value that same moral principle and still come up with different answers to the same difficult moral question.

  • Carstonio

    Mkern1, thanks for the clarification. My question is what is meant by “infinite”? What quantity or quality is described as either finite or infinite?Also, what purpose does the “ground of all being” concept serve? What is the objective of describing “God” as being itself? What aspect of human existence is that intended to explain? From my standpoint, theology seems to be about interior logic, where the system seems to make sense as long as one doesn’t test it against observable phenomena.

  • Freestinker

    Thomas,An omnipotent god could have easily controlled Mary’s free will by planting the idea in her head. What assurance do we have that an omnipotent god was not controlling Mary’s answer without her consent?Are you saying that Mary implied consent just by freely believing in the Christian God? If so, does that mean that anyone who freely believes in the Christian God has given consent to be impregnated by this god?

  • ThomasBaum

    FREESTINKERYou wrote, “An omnipotent god could have easily controlled Mary’s free will by planting the idea in her head. What assurance do we have that an omnipotent god was not controlling Mary’s answer without her consent?”If Mary’s free will was “controlled” then it would not be free will, would it? We either have free will or we don’t.You also wrote, “Are you saying that Mary implied consent just by freely believing in the Christian God?”God is God, He is not the “Christian” God, He is the God of All. Mary was a Jew, a member of the people that were not only chosen by God but also formed by God. Mary did not “imply consent”, she gave her consent when she said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”, or words to that effect.You then wrote, ” If so, does that mean that anyone who freely believes in the Christian God has given consent to be impregnated by this god?”Mary answered for Mary, she did not answer for anyone else.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • colinnicholas

    Hi Tacoburrito;I enjoyed your very decent response.Perhaps the bottom line is Lennon’s ‘Whatever gets you through the night is alright.’ Can’t argue with that I suppose.Except some of us feel better without the cognitive dissonance necessary to actually believe in something that our brains reject. Please – that is not meant as an insult – but as a kind of truth.I can’t just close my eyes and persuade myself that there’s an invisible skygod up there somewhere – my brain won’t let me. Maybe it’s easy to believe it if one has been raised to believe it. but I wasn’t, so I don’t.Sam Harris argues that a person might be really happy to believe that there’s an enormous chunk of gold (big as a fridge) buried in his backyard, and one day he will locate it and live happily ever after, even though his neighbors know better and think he’s a lunatic. If such a belief keeps him and his family very happy and optimistic about their future good fortune…well does that justify believing in the unlikely? Maybe for some.A very persuasive argument against gods is that the thousands of ancient gods are now accepted as myths; and there is no reason to think that the Christian God is any less mythical. And surely, while I respect your beliefs, it seems to me that reality is quite awesome and exciting and mysterious enough without religion dragging in a supernatural dimension. Let’s be amazed at the reality of existence, and the little blue dot we live on in this incredible infinite universe.Regards.CN

  • Carstonio

    Colinnicholas, excellent post. My own position is that the existence of “metaphysical” and “supernatural” entities is unlikely but not impossible. That’s different from agnosticism, which treats both existence and non-existence as equally likely, and different from atheism, which flatly rejects the possibility of existence. Part of my goal here is to separate the natural world from human belief. Or more correctly, our sensory perception from human belief. That’s in the interest in preserving the integrity of science. Referencing Lennon, one might believe that he was the best or most talented Beatle. That’s really a subjective value judgment, and there’s nothing wrong with that in this context. The problem arises when one applies belief to sensory perception. It’s the difference between perceiving a rock in one’s yard and one’s emotional reaction to the rock. One might regard the rock as beautiful, or one might regard it as an inconvenience. One might rub the surface of the rock and be pleased or displeased with the texture. But neither of those changes what we perceive with our senses about the rock. We perceive nothing that would indicate that the rock has any interest in our emotional reactions to it. Those reactions may have value, but they’re not part of the rock itself.

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