Category Archives: Religion

Scientists and Faith

A 2016 Ipsos Mori survey of 3000 scientists in the UK, France, and Germany found that about as many (c.43%) are “spiritual” or “religious” as are non-religious.  Meanwhile, a 2009 Pew survey in the USA found that 41% of chemists, 32% of biologists, 30% of geologists, and 29% of physicists and astronomers are religious, and a worldwide study found that 47% of scientists are “spiritual” or “religious”.

What I find most curious, however, is that the Pew survey demonstrates a greater tendency towards religion amongst young scientists, a tendency which is directly opposite to the trend in the general population worldwide. It is also notable that fewer scientists in the US than in the UK, France, or Germany are religious, and yet the US has by far the most religious general population. In addition, the worldwide study shows that, while 44% of the general population of Taiwan identify as religious, 54% of Taiwanese scientists do. In Hong Kong, those figures are 20% and 39%.
I wonder, then, what the correlation between scientists and cultural divergence is, and whether the probability of a scientist’s being religious is inversely proportional to the probability of the average citizen’s being so.



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The Economics of Sectarianism

Peter Leeson and Jacob Russ (George Mason University, Virginia, USA): “Europe’s witch trials reflected non-price competition between the Catholic and Protestant churches for religious market share in confessionally contested parts of Christendom. By leveraging popular belief in witchcraft, witch-prosecutors advertised their confessional brands’ commitment and power to protect”.

The paper also discusses the difference between “coercive exclusion” (i.e. monopolistic) tactics, and how those are only successful in areas where “brand loyalty is strong”.  In more-contested markets, churches had to “make their brands more attractive to religious consumers”.  That is a lesson which many churches today need to learn, especially the ones who imagine that fear is the only motivator towards religion.

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Endangered Evangelicalism

PRRI have identified the proportion of the US population self-identifying as “Evangelical” as having dropped from 23% to 17%, more than a quarter, from 2006 to 2016.  Much of this change is related to the exodus of white people from the White Evangelical bracket, but the data also show an interesting age/ethnicity trend: while various white religious groups show a skew towards the elderly, amongst the religiously unaffiliated and people of colour, the skew runs in the other direction.  Part of that may reflect different age distributions amongst the ethnicities, but there is a rather inevitable cultural effect around religion being “something which old people do”.

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Atheists more likely to be left-handed, autistic, unhealthy, and asymmetrical?

An article has come out, in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science, connecting atheism with left-handedness and autism.

The article examines four criteria which it describes as “indicators of mutational load” – (1) poor general health, (2) autism, (3) fluctuating asymmetry, and (4) left-handedness – and their correlation with either atheism or paranormal belief.  The thesis is that belief in moral gods is a preferentially-selected trait in evolution, and so post-scarcity societies, having less selection pressure, will show more mutations and thus more of the above criteria and more of both atheism and paranormal belief.

Although it coheres with other research indicating that theism and atheism are biologically-influenced traits, I find that thesis rather dubious first because it presumes that humans are, when faced by scarcity, good selectors of species-improving traits.  I cannot see anything in the historical record which supports this.

Second, I find it curious that the title is so enthusiastically polemic: ‘The Mutant Says in His Heart, “There Is No God”‘.  The replacement of “fool” (from Ps 14:1) with “mutant” makes it sound like atheism is bad – a strange assumption for someone studying religious belief – and the whole abstract suggests that mutation is bad – a strange assumption for someone studying evolution.

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Racial diversity in Evangelical churches

A recent survey, reported in Christianity Today, notes that ‘Major (25%) and other (23%) evangelicals were more likely than mainline Protestants (17%) to have 10 or more close friends at church. They were also more likely to have close black friends (43% major, 45% other, 31% mainline) and close Hispanic friends (26% major, 33% other, 19% mainline).’

That is rather a difference from 91% of the average white American’s social circle being white as opposed to 84% of the average black American’s and 64% of the average Hispanic American’s.

The cause, however, does not seem to be as simple as Evangelicalism.  The surveyors further note that ‘congregations who distance themselves a little from the traditional denominations—such as Mosaic and Saddleback Church, both of which downplay their affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention—tend to be more multiracial […] “major” evangelical denominations look a lot like mainline Protestant denominations, 32 percent of which are racially diverse. And “other” evangelical churches look a lot like Catholic churches, 58 percent of which are racially diverse.’

Indeed, putting together the surveyors’ comment that ‘some congregations, especially evangelical ones, promote a pan-racial, religiously-based identity … and actively recruit members of different races’ with the youth and relative smallness of the churches in question, it’s worth asking a) whether the motivating value might be a larger income base, and b) what is going to happen to the diversity of these groups over time.

Why am I so sceptical?  Well, first there are the experiments conducted by a couple of researchers on the racial attitudes of Evangelicals, who found that ‘social actors in white evangelical churches play a central role in continuing racial segregation by executing what we term ‘race tests, on incoming people of color”.  Then, in 2016, 74% of non-white voters (and 89% of black voters) said that Trump was a bad idea, but 80% of Evangelicals ignored their concerns.  In Alabama in 2017, 88% of non-white voters (96% of black voters and a stunning 98% of black women voters) said that Trump’s man, Roy Moore, was a bad idea, but again 80% of Evangelicals ignored their concerns.

Now, maybe the white Evangelicals just imagine that they know better – in which case, they are racists.  ‘Only half (50%) of white Americans believe blacks face a lot of discrimination, while roughly as many (47%) say this is not the case’, in the face of the testimony of 85% of black Americans.  Similarly, 66% of white Evangelicals think that black people are treated fairly by the US criminal justice system, a belief contradicted by 82% of black Protestants.

Or perhaps they just don’t care about non-white people’s concerns – in which case, they are racists.

Or possibly the 43% of Evangelicals who claim to have black friends map perfectly onto the 11% of black voters who didn’t realise that Trump would be a bad idea, but they would still have to ignore the concerns of every other black person in the country, in which case, they might just be sectarian bigots instead: believing that only Evangelicals – and particularly members of their church, regardless of colour – know what is right.

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Biblical socialism

The Law commands centralised, mandatory charity:
“And it shall be, when you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, 
that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground, which you shall bring from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide.
When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year—the year of tithing—and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, then you shall say before the Lord your God: ‘I have removed the holy tithe from my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them.
‘Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law by observing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’”
 – Deuteronomy 26:1-2, 12-13, 27:26

The earliest church was communist:
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” – Acts 2:44-45

“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” – Acts 4:32

The Bible praises giving:
He who has a generous eye will be blessed,
For he gives of his bread to the poor.”Proverbs 22:9

The Bible promises a reward for giving:
He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord,
And He will pay back what he has given.” – Proverbs 19:17

Jesus commands giving:
“Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” – Matthew 5:42

“Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”” – Mark 10:21

Jesus rewards giving:
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ […] ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” – Matthew 25:34-36, 40

The Bible asserts the necessity of giving:
“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” – 1 John 3:17



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Impending Anglican Schism

I commented a while ago on Most Rev Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, having fiercely condemned the divisive conservative movement in the Communion. He just did it again.

In a post for the Anglican News Service entitled “The ties that bind our Anglican Communion family”, he flatly contradicts a statement by Abp Nicholas Okoh, Chairman of GAFCON and Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Idowu-Fearon’s homeland. Responding to Adp Okoh’s statement that “the Anglican Communion is not determined simply by relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury”, Bp Idowu-Fearon replies, “the relationship with the See of Canterbury is essential for Anglicans. You cannot be in the Anglican Communion without it.” Then, in regard to Abp Nicholas Okoh’s particular comment “we recognise AMiE as fully part of the Anglican Communion”, Bp Idowu-Fearon explicitly names both the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), and the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) in saying, “it’s not correct to say that they are part of the Anglican Communion if they are not in communion with the See of Canterbury.”

To put that in slightly more lay-accessible terms, they are drawing battle lines: GAFCON are claiming the right not merely to be in relationship with AMiE but to identify who is in the Communion; the Anglican Communion Secretariat is rejecting that claim. As a political analogy, it is rather like GAFCON have just announced that Taiwan, not the PRC, is the “real China” and should hold the Chinese seat in the UN.

Meanwhile, the Anglican Mainstream, Christian Conservative Daily, and Christian Today have all run the same story on it, under the title “Anglican Communion head slaps down rebel bishops”. Somehow, I cannot see GAFCON appreciating being called “rebels”.

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