Saturday, May 26, 2007


Battling Gods

Razib at Gene Expression has a most useful article for countering the triumphalists among both religionists and atheists. The situation, as always, is more complex than the passionate partisans will admit. The facts surrounding the state of religious belief today and the trends that can be discerned in the data stubbornly refuse to be cast in black or white. Razib presents a sober view that will make neither side happy and, therefore, is almost certainly closer to the truth than either.

Just for an example, ask yourself if the fact that only 60% of South Koreans believe in God is good news for atheism. If you think it is or you are not sure, then you need to read this article.

As far as the notion that whatever decline there may be in religion constitutes good news for science, I think Razib is right:

There's a lot of nuance here, it isn't as if most religions are literalist about geocentrism. Religion adapts to the world as it is, engaging in dynamic processes of retrofitting. If supernaturalism is the cognitive default in many then the details of the religious narrative are of only proximate importance. But, I also think it is important to note that the decline of organized religion does not imply a concomitant decline in supernaturalistic or non-scientific thinking per se.
I also agree with John Wilkins when he says:

Humans have all kinds of default "wild type" programs in their psyche and cognition which in a high density population will tend to fall out as religion. Does this mean that atheism is doomed? Or that secularism (which is a different thing) is doomed? I think there will be more atheists than before simply because any increase over nearly none is an increase in absolute terms, but I doubt we will ever see Lennon's society without religion.

But secularism - social organisations in which religion does not have undue privileges in setting the policy and law - is, I think, something that not only should be expanded, but can be.

While it not entirely clear what, in a democracy, is "undue" privilege in the context of a strongly held belief by a majority, or how to remove such privilege and remain a democracy, John's is, nonetheless, a program I can enthusiastically give an "Amen."
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