The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘faith’

“Creation Evidence Expo” Exposed

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 3, 2012

Recently, one of my skeptical colleagues – Louise Kellar – attended the Creation Evidence Expo in Indianapolis, IN and she wrote up a guest blog on it over at Freethought Blogs.  I wanted to share it with you here for two reasons: 1) it is a really thorough (and funny!) write-up of the whole event, and 2) Louise must have a much stronger stomach than me, because I don’t think I could have managed to attend this thing without rage-facing my brains out.

The entire post is quite long, but I wanted to emphasize one section which I considered to be very important…

Creation Evidence Expo Report

Louise Kellar – kickin’ it at the Creation Evidence Expo 🙂

… Dye kept putting up slides about education. “The aim of education should be to convert the mind into a living fountain and not a reservoir” and “Education makes a people easy to lead but difficult to drive, easy to govern but impossible to enslave.” After that he went on about how god was taken out of school in 1963 and shared some statistics with us. Now bear in mind these statistics are all the direct result of God being taken out of school. (Also this is the short list)

  • Violent crime up 995%
  • Suicide up 300%
  • Single parent families up 117%
  • STDs up 226%
  • Average SAT score down 80 points
  • Assaults on teachers up 7000%
  • Birth rate of unwed 10-14 year olds up 325% *last year he claimed it was 553%
  • 84% of cities are in financial trouble
  • 4000 churches close annually
  • No new members added to 50% of churches
  • 1400 pastors quit each month.

My mind was reeling from all these phony statistics, and of course he didn’t stop there. I am not even sure how he segued into the next topic. It was all about how evolutionists will try to trick you into not believing and he began explaining all the ways animals try to kill humans. He kept talking about how evolutionists will show up to your events and try to trick you. They will also stalk you and they will try their best to lead you away from god. “They kill, steal, and destroy.” He repeated that phrase about every minute. It appeared very much to be an attack on anyone who didn’t believe in creationism and how evil those people are. At one point he even mentioned that people will write bad things about him on the internet. I wonder if he saw what I said about him last year?

ZOMG – BEST FLOWCHART EVAR!!! Really, you can’t make this stuff up… even though the creationists kind of DID just make it up 🙂

This goofy flowchart (and the meme behind the statistics that Dye quoted above) were what I really wanted to make the focus of my comments in this post.  Those things clearly show what we who call ourselves skeptics and defenders of science are up against when we fight against creationism: namely, we are up against a worldview which is completely devoid of any scientific understanding at all.  Creationists are not only ignorant of scientific facts, they are ignorant of the entire process of science itself; and not only that, in many ways they are outright anti-scientific in their views because they have been convinced (likely through a lifetime of brainwashing in church and at events like the Creation Expo) that to accept evolutionary science will automatically turn one into a raving, immoral, baby-eating, murdering, AIDS-infested atheist intent on destroying all that is good and decent in society.  Hence, stupidity like the flowchart above *facepalm*

And, quite frankly, when you’re up against that kind of crazy, all the science in the world won’t help you win these folks over.

Which is why, in many cases, I don’t try to fight a creationist with whom I’m arguing solely with scientific facts (since they seem to be largely impervious to such facts); instead, while I mention scientific information, I also try to engage them in a bit of a different manner, one which I think is more effective… I use religion.  Specifically, I point out that the “evolution = atheism = evil” argument is completely bogus for one simple reason: there are numerous Christians (and people of other religious faiths) who accept evolution!

That one fact alone destroys their entire argument.  Showing them that people of their own religion (Christianity, usually) disagree with their views on creationism is a killer, and it can lead to – pardon the pun – quite a lot of soul-searching on the part of more thoughtful creationists.  In addition, I also engage them on the entire morality argument by challenging the assertion that atheists are inherently immoral and evil; this can, and often does, lead into deeper philosophical discussions on the nature of good, evil, ethics, etc.  While they may be ignorant of science, they’re all about morals, so why not engage them on those terms using language they can understand?

I’m not saying that it will win them over to the PZ Myers or Richard Dawkins camp of evolution, but one thing it will get them to do is THINK.  And that’s the first step.

Posted in creationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Clergy Letter Project Adds Buddhists to List of Clergy Asking that Evolution be Taught in Public Schools

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 3, 2012

In a welcome bit of science education news, the Clergy Letter Project has announced that it is expanding its effort to include Buddhist clergy.  In case you don’t know, this is an effort to get clergy men and women to speak out publicly in support of teaching science (specifically, evolutionary science) in the public schools.  These clergy do not see any conflict between their religious beliefs and science, and I think it is an excellent way to counter the blatantly anti-scientific arguments espoused by many creationists.  Read on for more info…

American Buddhists join the Clergy Letter Project asking for the teaching of Evolution in public schools

Clergy who want science, including Evolution in schools, created the Clergy Letter Project and the chosen theme for this years “Evolution Weekend” is “Religion and Science” and marks the seventh year for the gathering of clergy to discuss science.

“Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. An ongoing goal has been to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic, and to show that religion and science are not adversaries. Rather, they look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions.

Religious people from many diverse faith traditions and locations around the world understand that evolution is quite simply sound science; and for them, it does not in any way threaten, demean, or diminish their faith in God. In fact, for many, the wonders of science often enhance and deepen their awe and gratitude towards God.”

They believe that modern science, including Evolution, and religion are in harmony with each other.

To that end, American Buddhist clergy join in the voices of Christian, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist clergy in writing letters supporting the teaching of Evolutions in public schools. …

Click here to read the entire article

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The Dead Sea Scrolls and Biblical “Inerrancy”

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 5, 2012

Recently, while on vacation, my wife and I went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  For those who don’t know, the Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest known writings of the Old Testament of the Bible in existence.  They are roughly 2000+ years old, and written in a variety of languages; plus, the story of their discovery and excavation is quite fascinating.

Image Source

A few things in particular struck me about the entire exhibit, which included some of the actual scroll fragments (and their translations); specifically, these things I observed about the scrolls seemed to come into direct conflict with the notion of Biblical inerrancy espoused by so many religious fundamentalists these days…

First of all, the fragments were just that… fragments.  The scrolls were terribly decayed and incomplete, which is to be expected after over 2000 years of exposure.  Now this wouldn’t seem to be that much of a big deal, were it not for my other observations…

Second, there was a lot of material within the Dead Sea Scrolls which doesn’t appear within the Old Testament Bible.  In other words, the Old Testament Bible seems to be a whittled down version of these more original writings.  Which begs a question: why did some of this original material make it into the Bible and other material was excluded?  The obvious answer is that at some point, someone (that is, people) had to decide what to include and what to exclude.  In other words, even at the very formation of what we call “The Bible”, it was going through a very real editing process by very real human hands.  And this leads me to my third, and probably most damning, point…

The Dead Sea Scrolls themselves give differing, and even contradictory, accounts of various Old Testament Biblical stories.  That is, they are not even consistent within their own writings, and these are the earliest (and therefore most original) Biblical writings we have!  Why would this be, if the Bible is supposed to be error-free?  The answer is simple, yet difficult for some to accept: the scholars who have painstakingly analyzed the scrolls for decades have found that these writings were written in a variety of different communities by a variety of different authors (most likely local priests or community leaders).  As a result, each author had their own “spin” they wanted to place on various stories, which led some accounts to conflict with other accounts.

The conclusion is obvious: far from being inerrant in nature, the Bible is, and apparently always has been – even back unto the days of the Dead Sea Scrolls before “The Bible” even existed – a work of wholly fallible humans.

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

12 Hottest Celebrity Atheists and Agnostics

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 31, 2012

I just wanted to share with you a blog post from my friend Phil over at Skeptic Money titled “12 Hottest Celebrity Atheists and Agnostics” which outlines some really good looking celebrities.  But more important than the sexy pics (rowr) are some of the things they say. Check out Phil’s post; meanwhile, I’ll share my favorite… Mr. George Clooney 🙂

George Clooney on why he's an atheist/agnostic

I don’t believe in heaven and hell. I don’t know if I believe in God. All I know is that as an individual, I won’t allow this life–the only thing I know to exist–to be wasted. (LA times)

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More Twisted Thinking from Shroud of Turin Proponents

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 22, 2011

I shouldn’t be surprised to see this particular headline at this time of the year: The Shroud of Turin Wasn’t Faked, Italian Experts Say.  It’s just too easy, I assume, for the media to take a story like this and run with it during the Christmas season.  Going beyond the headline, I’d like to analyze a couple of specifics from the folks who are behind this latest “research” on the Shroud.

First, they claim – falsely – that it would have been impossible to fake the Shroud…

… Experts at Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development have concluded in a report that the famed purported burial cloth of Jesus Christ could not have been faked. … [emphasis added]

Which is an interesting claim, based upon the fact that in 2009 researcher Luigi Garlaschelli published his methods for replicating the Shroud using only techniques which would have been available in the 13th and 14th centuries (dates to which all available evidence points as the time of origin of the Shroud).  Here’s what he came up with…

Replications of the Shroud of Turin — So much for the claim that it cannot be replicated (oops)

But the worst part of the analysis by the Shroud proponents comes from the next part of the ABC article:

… According to the Vatican Insider, a project by La Stampa newspaper that closely follows the Catholic church, the experts’ report says, “The double image (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin has many physical and chemical characteristics that are so particular that the staining which is identical in all its facets, would be impossible to obtain today in a laboratory … This inability to repeat (and therefore falsify) the image on the Shroud makes it impossible to formulate a reliable hypothesis on how the impression was made.” … [emphasis added]

Note the last line there.  It is essentially one big argument from ignorance – that’s what this entire “scientific” endeavor basically boils down to: we don’t know whether or not the Shroud is real, so therefore it really was the burial cloth of Jesus Christ!

So because you don’t know, you know???

Seriously?  That’s the argument?  Using such sloppy logic I could just as easily argue that the Shroud was created by invisible leprechauns, but somehow I don’t think the Catholic Church would go with that explanation.  And that’s the silly thing about arguments from ignorance: once you use such thinking as an acceptable method of argumentation, just about any kind of crazy idea (without any evidence to support it whatsoever) becomes fair game.

If this is the best the Shroud proponents can do, color me unimpressed.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Questionnaire from the Clergy Letter Project

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 16, 2011

Many of you have already heard about the Clergy Letter Project, an effort to show that when it comes to the issue of accepting evolutionary science one doesn’t necessarily have to be an atheist.  Just as there is nothing wrong with being an atheist (I’m one), by the same token I don’t see any inherent problem to being religious while also accepting evolutionary science.  As I’ve said before many times, I don’t have a problem with religion, I have a problem with anti-science; and those are different things (though sometimes they do overlap).

As an update, the Clergy Letter Project started back in late 2004 when the latest variant of creationism, so-called “intelligent design”, was coming onto the national scene and causing lots of problems across the country for science education.  To date, the letter (which was originally geared towards Christian clergy but now includes Rabbinical, Islamic and Unitarian versions) has gathered nearly 13,500 signatories! 🙂

Now the Clergy Letter Project is taking part in another kind of outreach: developing a grant proposal designed to help foster discussion and improve understanding between faith communities and scientists.  They want to do this by sending out the following questionnaire to clergy members, so if you are a member of the clergy or know someone who is, please give it a look:

**Send all responses to Michael Zimmerman at mz@theclergyletterproject.org

Read the rest of this entry »

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‘Tis the Season… For the Ultimate Christmas Quiz!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 6, 2011

Well, the traditional Holiday season is upon us, which means that many Christian fundamentalist zealots will no doubt spend considerable time and energy annoying the rest of us with all manner of drivel regarding the “truth” of their beliefs.  But it has been my experience that many of these fundamentalists don’t actually understand their own religion…

For Example: The myth of the Nativity is a big one propagated by too many Christians who are horribly ignorant of the origins of their own religion.

So, in the spirit of addressing many of the misconceptions and false claims espoused by these fundamentalists concerning Christmas and Jesus Christ, I would like to share with you the Ulitmate Christmas Quiz (kudos to my skeptical colleague Phil @ Skeptic Money for passing this along)…

[**Note: to get the answers to the questions, keep checking Phil’s post over at Skeptic Money 🙂 ]

1. What year was Jesus born?
 
a. We don’t know for sure, since the gospels disagree irreconcilably.
b. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was during the reign of Herod the Great (died around 4 B.C.).
c. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was when Quirinius was governor of Syria (6 A.D.).
d. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was the year the moon was in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars.
e. D’uh! The year zero, of course.
 
2. According to the Gospels, what day was Jesus born?
 
a. Dec 25th.
b. Dec 24th.
c. No date is given in any gospel.
d. The day of the Winter Solstice.
e. The third night of Hanukkah.
           
3. What pagan holiday did later Christians “borrow” to celebrate Jesus’ birthday?
 
a. The Greek Brumalia festival
b. The Roman feast of Saturnalia
c. Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (“the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun”)
d. All of the above
e. None of the above
 
4. So what day was Jesus really born? 
 
a. Jan 6
b. Feb 2 (Groundhog Day)
c. March 25
d. We can’t be certain.
e. Sometime during Sukkoth, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles
 
5. According to Mark (the oldest gospel) where was Jesus born?
 
a. He doesn’t say.
b. By the chimney, with care.
c. In his parent’s house in Nazareth.
d. A manger in Bethlehem.
e. A cave in Bethlehem.
 
6. According to Luke, who were the Wise Men?
 
a. A group of 2 – 12 Zoroastrian astrologers from Persia.
b. Three kings of orient bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh from afar.
c. There were no Wise Men.
d. Cupid, Donder and Blitzen.
e. Melchior of Persia, Caspar (or Gaspar) of India, and Balthazar of Arabia.
 
7. According to Matthew, who showed up on the night of Jesus’ birth?
 
a. Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night
b. An angel and a multitude of the heavenly host
c. The prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna
d. Ten lords a-leaping
e. No one.

8. What happened after Jesus’ birth?
 
a. Impossible to say for sure – two of the gospels tell completely contradictory stories, and the other two say nothing.
b.  Good tidings were brought for him and his kin; and then figgy pudding, for they would not go until they get some.
c. Scary stuff: An angel warns Joseph via a dream to flee their home in Bethlehem for Egypt. Herod kills all the baby boys in the region. After Herod’s death, they return to Judea but are afraid of Herod’s son, so they move to Nazareth in Galilee instead (evidently, Matthew forgot that Galilee was ruled by Herod’s other son!).
d. Happy stuff: The shepherds spread the good news to all, baby Jesus is circumcised, and after the obligatory 40 days for ritual purity, brought to the temple in Jerusalem where prophets hail him as the Christ. They return home to Nazareth and go back to Jerusalem every year for Passover until Jesus is twelve.
e. We aren’t told, the gospels immediately cut to his adulthood.
 
9. Which of these traditional Christmas elements were originally pagan?
 
a. Christmas Trees
b. Yule Logs
c. The Birth of the Savior
d. Boughs of Holly and Sprigs of Mistletoe
e. All of the above
 
10. Where does the word “Yuletide” come from?
        
a. It’s an abbreviation of the Latin ultimus ides, “last holiday of the year.”
b. From Germanic/Old Norse “Jul-time” or “Jól-time” (the midwinter fest).
c. Named after Julius Caesar, who invented Sanctus Clausius, the Roman Santa Claus.
d. Named in honor of Hywll Tydd, ancient Welsh god of reindeer and socks.
e. Nordic priests copied the name from the Christian Christmastide.
 
11. Who started the War on Christmas?
        
a. True American Christian Fundamentalists and the Founding Fathers
b. Richard Dawkins
c. Godless atheists, the liberal media, gays and lesbians, activist judges, science teachers, lawyers, the ACLU, democrats and everyone else we hate.
d. The Jews
e. Al Qaida
 
12. Our familiar modern American “Santa Claus” is based on all these earlier figures, EXCEPT for:
 
 a. The English Father Christmas, Charles Dickens’ characters and the Victorian cartoons of Thomas Nast.
b. The Dutch Santa, Sinterklaas or Goedheiligman
c. A de-horned, sanitized, anagram of Satan.
d. Mighty Norse thunder god Thor’s father, Odin
e. St. Nikolaos, 4th-century Greek bishop and patron saint of children.
        
Bonus Question! (re-gifted from the Ultimate Easter Quiz)
 
13. Who wrote these gospels, anyway?
a. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – I mean, come on, it says so right there.
b. Actually, none of the gospels even claim to be written by eyewitnesses -all were originally anonymous and written at least a generation later.
c. Well, it’s more like the end of first century for Mark and sometime in the early to mid 2nd century for the others, if you must know.
d. Hold on – Not only that, but Matthew and Luke just reworked Mark gospel, adding their own material and tweaking Mark’s text to better fit what they thought it should say.
 

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Clergy Letter Project to Fight Creationism Now Has Muslim Imam Letter

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 18, 2011

I write a lot of posts about creationists and creationism, and in most cases I’m talking specifically about Young-Earth Creationism – that particular brand of creationism which is described as a kind of Biblical literalism often espoused by fundamentalist Christians in the United States (it is also the most common form of creationism in the U.S.).  Of course, there are many different kinds of Christian creationism – as evidenced in my post “Creationism is True!” – Okay, Which Version of Creationism?  But beyond that, there are versions of creationism which are rooted in Jewish and Islamic beliefs as well.

And it is on that last point that I wish to focus the rest of this blog entry.  The now famous Clergy Letter Project, started back in 2005-2006 by Michael Zimmerman, has as its explicit goal to show that religious believers don’t necessarily have to choose between their religion and an acceptance of modern evolutionary science (and, hence, science in general).  Since that time, the famous letter has garnered over 12,700 signatories, but these are all from Christian denominations, and a single-minded focus upon Christianity seemed to be a bit at odds with the broader message of the CLP.  So Zimmerman added a letter for Rabbinical leaders (which has gained 470+ signatures) and Unitarian Universalists (230+ signatures), both of which have enjoyed just as much success as the letter for Christian clergy.

Now Zimmerman has added a letter for Islamic Imams, because it is an unfortunate fact that creationism and the rejection of evolutionary science runs rampant in Islamic cultures.  This will fill a hole in addressing the issue of creationism, but doing so from a religious perspective.  Here is the text of the Imam Letter…

The Clergy Letter – from American Imams
– An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science

Literalists of various religious traditions who perceive the science of evolution to be in conflict with their personal religious beliefs are seeking to influence public school boards to authorize the teaching of creationism.  We, the Imams of the mosques, see this as a breach in the separation of church and state.  Those who believe in a literal interpretation of scriptural account of creation are free to teach their perspective in their homes, religious institutions and parochial schools.  To teach it in the public schools would be indoctrinating a particular religious point of view in an environment that is supposed to be free of such indoctrination.

We, the undersigned Imams of the mosques, assert that the Qur’an is the primary source of spiritual inspiration and of values for us, though not for everyone, in our country.  We believe that the timeless truths of the Qur’an may comfortably coexist with the discoveries of modern science.  As Imams we urge public school boards to affirm their commitment to the teaching of the science of evolution.  We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

Once again, let me say that despite my personal philosophical outlook of naturalism and atheism, I am more than happy to have religious allies in the fight against those who would distort and damage the teaching of science for their own ideological ends.  I think that a member of a religious community who accepts evolutionary science is a far better ambassador to that community on these issues than an atheist like me.  And my general goal as a science teacher and skeptic is to get people to think more critically in all aspects of their lives, and both religious and non-religious people can contribute constructively towards that goal.  But it will only work if we work together.

So, if you are religious, please pass along this news about the expansion of the Clergy Letter Project.  Even if you aren’t religious, pass along the word!

Posted in creationism, religion, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What is the Physical Evidence for the Existence of Jesus?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 21, 2011

The Easter season is upon us, and members of the world’s most populace religion – Christianity – will be celebrating the traditional event that serves as the foundation of their beliefs: the supposed death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Now, I’m not really interested in getting into all the philosophical & metaphysical questions regarding the beliefs of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus Christ here.  Rather, I am more interested in asking a much more direct question: did Jesus actually exist as a historical figure?

To address this question, and the related issues which are presented in a (pardon the pun) newly risen branch of theological discourse called the Jesus/Christ myth theory, we must take into account the physical evidence (or lack thereof) for the existence of Jesus.

To address these questions, I would like to reference this excellent article from LiveScience.com:

Jesus Christ the Man: Does the Physical Evidence Hold Up?

Jesus Christ may be the most famous man who ever lived. But how do we know he did?

Most theological historians, Christian and non-Christian alike, believe that Jesus really did walk the Earth. They draw that conclusion from textual evidence in the Bible, however, rather than from the odd assortment of relics parading as physical evidence in churches all over Europe.

That’s because, from fragments of text written on bits of parchment to overly abundant chips of wood allegedly salvaged from his crucifix, none of the physical evidence of Jesus’ life and death hold up to scientific scrutiny.  [Who Was Jesus, the Man?]…

This is a particularly interesting point that I think some Christians need to address.  Many insist that the world around us provides evidence for their beliefs: that God is real, and Jesus died for our sins to save us, etc.  However, when we really analyze the world around us to address questions such as “Did Jesus really exist?” the evidence seems lacking; and then those same believers dismiss this lack of evidence and then proceed to point to the Bible as “evidence”.  People who argue in such a manner are not being consistent in their argument nor are they being intellectually honest, because they want to stack the deck of evidence, so to speak.

[**Addendum (4-22-11): Even for those who wish to try gathering all of their “evidence” for the historical reality of Jesus from the Bible, there are very troublesome inconsistencies.  To see why, try taking this Easter Quiz on the Biblical account of Jesus’s death & resurrection over at Skeptic Money]

So let’s talk about the supposed physical evidence for the existence of Jesus, and see just why it is that it doesn’t pass muster.  For example, a recent “documentary” claimed that the original nails used to crucify Jesus on the cross could have been found, but according to the LiveScience.com article…

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Religious in the United States… Aren’t So Religious, After All

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 4, 2011

To conclude my marathon posting of religious matters (see the first two posts here and here), I wanted to share with you something very revealing about religion in the United States.  By now, I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard that the U.S. is the most overtly religious country in all of the industrialized, Western nations.  You hear this claim repeated long & loud, on both the right and left; it is a constant drumbeat which goes on and on… except, as I have long suspected, it may not be true at all.

In a recent article on the Slate website, a detailed analysis of various polls & surveys on this question is broken down, and it makes a key distinction: what is it that people say they do/believe versus what is people’s actual behavior/beliefs?  The results are very revealing, and seem to indicate that the U.S. probably isn’t as overtly religious as previously thought…

Walking Santa, Talking Christ

Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are?

By Shankar VedantamPosted Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010, at 5:13 PM ET

Two in five Americans say they regularly attend religious services. Upward of 90 percent of all Americans believe in God, pollsters report, and more than 70 percent have absolutely no doubt that God exists. The patron saint of Christmas, Americans insist, is the emaciated hero on the Cross, not the obese fellow in the overstuffed costume.

There is only one conclusion to draw from these numbers: Americans are significantly more religious than the citizens of other industrialized nations.

Except they are not.

Beyond the polls, social scientists have conducted more rigorous analyses of religious behavior. Rather than ask people how often they attend church, the better studies measure what people actually do. The results are surprising. Americans are hardly more religious than people living in other industrialized countries. Yet they consistently—and more or less uniquely—want others to believe they are more religious than they really are. …

The bottom line is that church attendance in the U.S. may be drastically over-reported, by as much as twice the actual attendance rate!  This basically means that while about 40% of people in the United States claim they attend church weekly, only about 20% actually do so…

… Hadaway and his colleagues compared actual attendance counts with church members’ reports about their attendance in 18 Catholic dioceses across the country and Protestants in a rural Ohio county.* They found that actual “church attendance rates for Protestants and Catholics are approximately one half” of what people reported.

A few years later, another study estimated how often Americans attended church by asking them to minutely document how they spent their time on Sundays. Without revealing that they were interested in religious practices, researchers Stanley Presser and Linda Stinson asked questions along these lines: “I would like to ask you about the things you did yesterday from midnight Saturday to midnight last night. Let’s start with midnight Saturday. What were you doing? What time did you finish? Where were you? What did you do next?”

This neutral interviewing method produced far fewer professions of church attendance. Compared to the “time-use” technique, Presser and Stinson found that nearly 50 percent more people claimed they attended services when asked the type of question that pollsters ask: “Did you attend religious services in the last week?”

In a more recent study, Hadaway estimated that if the number of Americans who told Gallup pollsters that they attended church in the last week were accurate, about 118 million Americans would be at houses of worship each week. By calculating the number of congregations (including non-Christian congregations) and their average attendance, Hadaway estimated that in reality about 21 percent of Americans attended religious services weekly—exactly half the number who told pollsters they did. …

So, to the confirmation of many a non-believer (such as myself), it seems that there are a LOT of people out there who – for some reason – want to have people believe they are more religious than they really are, despite their actual beliefs (or non-belief).  This seems to indicate that the level of religiosity in the U.S. which has been so widely reported in the past is likely a convenient fiction, which activists of all stripes like to use to whip people up into a frenzy regarding issues of faith & politics.

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