Robin Ince on why we don’t need religion

On his eponymous website, Robin Ince—comedian, writer, and co-host of the popular “The Infinite Monkey Cage”—has a nice piece on “Do we need religion to be a decent society“?  He’s an atheist, so of course the answer is “no!”.  The post is actually Ince’s notes for a debate he had two days ago:

On Saturday, I took part in an Intelligence Squared debate at Wilderness festival. The debate was “The world needs religion, just leave God out of it”. For the motion were Selina  O Grady and Douglas Murray, against, Peter Atkins and Myself. 

I am glad to say we won.

I won’t summarize Ince’s points in detail, but was pleased to see that he agrees with me on two points. The first is that religious societies aren’t the most functional ones, despite the frequent claim that religion brings societal health:

…why does the USA have murder rates five times worse than Japan and Sweden (the Republic of Ireland is only about 40% worse) , incarceration almost 10 times worse than Sweden, a higher suicide rate amongst the young (and as Al Alvarez wrote in his study of suicides, The Savage God, the more religious the nation is the less likely it is to declare suicide as cause of death), The US has Twice the mortality amongst under fives than Japan and Sweden, Rep of Ireland is slightly less than USA on under 5 mortality, and let us not forget the statistics on sexual disease and abortion, number one for gonorrhea, number one for syphilis and number one for abortion, and we are not talking by a little bit, we are talking 40 to 50 times more than Japan and Sweden. Thank goodness the USA has religion, or imagine what state it would be?

If religion has lauded powers of altruism, empathy and community, surely the most religious nation on the rich nation list should not be so low on the successful qualities of life scale?

In fact, as sociologists have demonstrated, there’s a strong negative correlation between societal health and religiosity. Now this is a correlation, not a demonstration of causation, but other studies suggest that it is causal in this way: when people get more disenfranchised and poorer, when income inequality rises and free medical care declines, when incarceration and venereal disease increase, and so on, societies become more religious. And that increase in religiosity follows in time the decrease in societal health, suggesting the direction of causality.

Second, and also like me, Ince sees social reform as the solution to religion:

Before we go running to the advertising agency and ask them to brainstorm this godless religion of delight and get it up on the billboards, we should look at where so much of societies problems may come from, and that seems to be inequality far more than lack of dogma, tribalism or religion.

While Sweden and Japan and are amongst the four nations with lowest income inequality, the USA is the highest. Sweden and Japan are the lowest on the health and social problems list , while the USA is, by some long way, the highest. This is true on child well-being too. Religion sounds like a nice thing for a nice society, but the evidence is just not there. Values can exist without religion as their anchor.

Religion is a much easier answer than the politically and economically difficult issue of creating a more equal society.

Ince ends this way—precisely the way I finish many of my talks on the problem of religion and how to dispel it:

Religion may have once been the opium of the masses, but can’t we build a better world where the opiates and illusions are not required at all.

On that issue Marx had it right. I’d like to see somebody make a tee-shirt that said, “No, religion is not here to stay.”

h/t: several readers who pointed Ince’s piece out to me.

115 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Posted August 12, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    **

  3. peltonrandy
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Improve the world, abandon religion

  4. Posted August 12, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    He’s an atheist, so of course the answer is “no!”.

    Pedantry alert on the “of course”: Karl Rove is an atheist and his answer would be “yes”!

    Anyhow, have you seen this article, Jerry, it touches on theology, evolution, Martin Nowack and his religious beliefs, “selfishness” of genes and evolution, etc?

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      That whole piece is about someone who willfully misunderstands any science she reads and tries to crowbar her god into any gap she imagines she sees.

      And when she announces that for a woman “submission to the right and only and true source of power [i.e. her version of God] empowers you better” I think I can safely say she isn’t even as Sophisticated™ as Sophisticated™ Theologists are.

    • Howard Kornstein
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      The idea that some (divinely inspired???) innate drive toward co-operation is a rebuttal of “Dawkin’s atheistic selfish gene” theory is totally absurd…. and Nowak, far more than others, knows this. His own mathematical work shows that co-operation (as well as spite for that matter) is nothing more than a “higher payoff” strategy, which in itself is still “selfish” in nature.
      It is truly depressing to see (fortunately just a few) scientists of Nowak’s intellectual capabilities so brainwashed by their religious upbringing (Catholic in his case) that they pervert the conclusions of their own scientific work to promote and propagandise their particular religious views. I suppose in Nowak’s case, the added incentive of getting millions from the Templeton Foundation to corrupt his own scientific output is just a further frosting on the cake that sets him out on the path of intellectual dishonesty.

  5. John Hamill
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I’d love to know where Ince got his figures on the murder rates in Ireland … and whether those figures include for example the people that were blown up with the help of the British Army?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dublin_and_Monaghan_bombings

    • Rory
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      Yes, I’m also curious about the references to Ireland. “The Republic of Ireland is only about 40% worse” than what?

      Also, I thought most Japanese people identify themselves as following Shinto, Buddhism, or both. Can they be atheist at the same time?

      • Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        I think it’s 40% higher than Japan or Sweden i.e. The USA is 5 times (500%) worse but Ireland is only 40% worse. That’s how I read it anyhow.

        John Hamil,

        I imagine it’s an annual average murder rate. And I imagine it’s more recent than 1974; otherwise, it would be a pretty weak point to make.

        • John Hamill
          Posted August 13, 2013 at 2:51 am | Permalink

          Fully agreed Lance. The conflict (or however you would like to describe it) in Ireland has been a lot more recent than 1974. I could have provided many more recent examples of killings in Ireland. It depends how far back the figures go but if they are just for a few short years then they may be vulnerable to statistical fluctuations … and if they go back further then they may be distorted by “the conflict”.

          If Sweden had been engaged in a guerrilla war with Finland for 30+ years then it would be difficult to take their annual number of killings and use those figures to make a point about the morality of atheists.

          Is Robin Ince saying that the British Army killed people in Ireland due to naked religious sectarianism and that they would behave better if their Commander In Chief wasn’t also the head of their state religion? I don’t think so.

          • Posted August 13, 2013 at 3:30 am | Permalink

            Hold on, isn’t Robin talking about Ireland, the republic (Éire), rather than Northern Ireland (part of the UK)?

            No more than 3% of the deaths in the Troubles were in ROI. There were 113 casualties over 30 years, compared to 54 homicides in the last year (for which UNODC statistics are available). So, I doubt the Troubles inflated ROI homicides my more than 10-20% in any year.

            Across all territories, the worst year by far was 1972 with 479 deaths, lower during the remainder of the 1970s and between 8 and 113 since (to 2001). Cf. 722 homicides in the UK in the last year (UNODC).

            [Wikipedia a b]

            /@

            • John Hamill
              Posted August 13, 2013 at 6:40 am | Permalink

              Depends who is compiling the statistics. Just this week the killing of a prison officer in Dublin was ‘reclassified’. Up until a few days ago it was not considered to be related to ‘the conflict’ at all.

              Many of the killings in Ireland took place under disputed circumstances and were carried out by unidentified groups for unknown reasons. If you go by the statistics submitted to UNODC by the British Government then it will likely appear that the British Army were not even protagonists at all and simply tried to keep the peace between the locals. I suppose you can believe that if you wish.

              Anyway, the point is that if you are trying to make a broader argument about how murder rates are related to atheism then Ireland may not provide for the most meaningful comparison with say, Sweden or Japan.

              • Posted August 13, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

                POI, the UNODC statistics are for current homicides only. The deaths during the Troubles were from the Sutton Index, which is compiled from a variety of sources.

                In any case, I doubt the British Government would be providing statistics for Ireland!!

                I’m not sure that was Robin’s point.

                /@

              • John Hamill
                Posted August 14, 2013 at 3:33 am | Permalink

                I didn’t say that the British were compiling statistics on killings in Ireland. I said that allocation of which killings are and are not related to the conflict, is subjective and varies over time, making such statistics unreliable as the basis for the point Ince was trying to make. This is evidenced by the example from Dublin I quoted from the news of just this week. Did the Sutton Index consider this killing of a prison officer in Dublin as related to the conflict or not?

              • Posted August 14, 2013 at 3:56 am | Permalink

                “I didn’t say that the British were compiling statistics on killings in Ireland.” Well, you seemed to be implying that here: “If you go by the statistics submitted to UNODC by the British Government then it will likely appear that the British Army were not even protagonists at all and simply tried to keep the peace between the locals.”

                “Did the Sutton Index consider this killing of a prison officer in Dublin as related to the conflict or not?” I don’t know, perhaps you should ask Malcolm Sutton.

                /@

            • John Hamill
              Posted August 14, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

              That quote does not imply in any way that the British Government is compiling statistics on killings in the Republic of Ireland. You need to read more carefully.

              I have no interest either in Sutton’s view. As I’ve tried to explain to you, his statistics are as subjective as all other statistics in an area with so many disputed circumstances, and so they can’t be used to support Ince’s broader point. It is you who appears to be labouring under the misapprehension that these statistics are objective.

              • Posted August 14, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

                Then I have no idea what you meant by it.

                Then I have no interest in your view.

                /@

              • John Hamill
                Posted August 15, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

                I meant, as I already explained, that the body gathering statistics on killings in Ireland can have an agenda that skews those statistics. It’s really not that difficult to understand that quoting UNODC or Sutton statistics does not solve this problem or prove any argument.

      • Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

        Someone can correct me who would know first hand, but I get the impression many Japanese answer that way in the way that many Scandinavians may reflexively say they are Christian; i.e. they not at all (but may hve been baptized or something) or not very much.

      • Yiam Cross
        Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        I too thought most Japanese were religious in one way or another but Wikipedia begs to differ:

        About 70% of Japanese profess no religious membership,[9][10] according to Johnstone (1993:323), 84% of the Japanese claim no personal religion. In census questionnaires, less than 15% reported any formal religious affiliation by 2000.[11] And according to Demerath (2001:138), 65% do not believe in God, and 55% do not believe in Buddha.[12] According to Edwin Reischauer, and Marius Jansen, some 70–80% of the Japanese regularly tell pollsters they do not consider themselves believers in any religion.[3]

      • Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        Can you be an atheist and a Buddhist? well as it is a godless religion, I would say yes. For anyone who wants to know which statistics I used, you can click on the link on my blog post which leads straight to them.

        • Posted August 13, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          Buddhism is an interesting case.

          Officially, the Buddha isn’t a god.

          But, from an objective anthropological perspective, there’s really no other suitable term for him.

          We see the same thing in Christianity. Officially, angels and demons and the Biblical patriarchs and what-not aren’t gods. But indistinguishable characters in other religions are practically instinctively referred to as gods. According to Christian theology, they only have one (triune?) god, but any anthropologist from an outside perspective would have to conclude that they’re as polytheistic as any other Mediterranean Classic-era Pagan religion.

          So, I’d say that the only way to be an atheist and a Buddhist would be the same way that Jerry can be an atheist and a Jew or Richard can be an atheist and a Christian: if the religious half is strictly cultural.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 13, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

            I’d see the Buddha as more of an exemplum. The idea is to become a buddha.

            • Posted August 13, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

              Exactly like how Christians describe Christ, Muslims describe Muhammad, Orphists describe Orpheus….

              b&

          • teacupoftheapocalypse
            Posted August 13, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

            If you were to suggest to any Buddhist that I know that they were a theist, they would engage you in lively and friendly debate as to why this not the case; that they have no god or gods. ‘Buddha’ means ‘enlightened one’ and as such, he is revered – not worshipped – as one who is qualified to teach followers how to best relate to the World about them through following the ‘middle way’ – the path between severe indulgence and total asceticism.

            There are no miracles, no magic, no worship; just inward reflection on one’s outward relationships and interactions, and in so doing, become enlightened oneself; in other words, to achieve Buddhahood. Some branches of Buddhism, such as the Nichiren schools, do not even have the Buddha as a central point of focus, but the Gohonzon – ‘object of fundamental respect’.

            It is, therefore, possible to be both Buddhist and atheist without any conflict whatsoever.

            • Posted August 13, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

              Everything you describe is certainly what one would expect from a Buddhist.

              But, you see…when you objectively compare everything about Buddhism with Christianity, you find very close to a one-to-one correspondence.

              Jesus was the enlightened one, the Son of Man, and the ultimate role model. Prayer is the pathway to peace. Jesus taught that one should sell all one’s possessions to attain grace in heaven, but he also taught that one should render unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s. And many Christians focus much more on “good works” than on worshipping Jesus.

              When I hear Buddhist proclaim that they’re not really religious, that Buddha isn’t really a god, that it’s really just a way of life…I hear them saying the exact same thing more than one of my Moron (especially) acquaintances have told me, as well as at least a couple Witlesses. And I’m sure I’ve head it from at least one Muslim as well.

              In other words, it’s just bog-standard religious propaganda from the Buddhists, no different from the exact same propaganda in the exact same words from anybody else.

              It’s extremely unwise to take the religious at their word at face value. Do that, and, before you know it, you’re eating crackers that aren’t really the flesh of an ancient zombie…they’re just substantially the body of Christ Jesus, amen.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • teacupoftheapocalypse
                Posted August 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

                There are, however, significant differences between the teachings of Buddhism and the theistic belief systems, and between Buddha and JC, Mohammad, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, et al. The bible and qu’ran recommend much smiting and cleaving of heads, and proclaim death to be the only fair treatment for non-belief. Their gods are cruel, jealous and vengeful gods. Modern interpretations of theistic belief systems, and the teachings of their central figures, also lead their adherents to think that because one or two aspects of physical and social science seem to conflict with certain interpretations of their teachings, then all science must be wrong, if you encounter a non-believer (or a wrong-way-believer), tell them that they are wrong and must convert – or else. Such interpretations allow the theistic to do whatever they like as long as it as a result of reflection on scripture; deny a pregnant woman life-saving treatment or blow up a busload of Sunnis, because god told you to do it.

                Buddhist teachings, however, say that if you encounter someone with a different set of beliefs or a new scientific discovery, then enter into a discourse and see what you can learn. There isn’t any ‘do what you like as long as god told you to do it’, instead it’s ‘do what you like, but make sure that there is no malign influence or harmful action’.

                I went to a catholic school and ate the crackers until I was about 8 (they are actually pretty awful slivers of rice-cardboard that stick to the roof of your mouth) and there is nothing in what I have learned about Buddhism that has any parallels with what I learned about Christianity. They actually teach 5 year-old kids, “if you don’t think you have sinned today, then you haven’t thought hard enough.”

                Let’s face it, if the theists accepted science in general and the Theory of Evolution specifically, this blog, sorry, website, probably wouldn’t exist.

              • Posted August 13, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                And, yet, many liberal Christian denominations are a perfect fit for your description of Buddhism. And many Buddhists borrow heavily from the Hindu pantheon from which Buddhism sprang. I suspect the sermons of a great many Christian and Buddhist services are interchangeable, if only you change the names of the characters and are careful to match up the denominations appropriately.

                For that matter, I expect that Rabbi Barton Lee at Arizona State University’s Hillel chapter would be perfectly at home in an exchange program with a Buddhist temple such as the one you describe.

                b&

              • teacupoftheapocalypse
                Posted August 13, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

                Most of the Buddhists that I know are Nichiren, which is specifically Japanese, so I couldn’t comment on borrowings from Hinduism. I also couldn’t comment on Buddhist sermons, so I’ll have to take your word for it. Did I describe a Buddhist temple? I was trying to take a much more outline perspective.

              • Posted August 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

                Sorry — I’m using generic terms. Temple, congregation, sermon, koan, service, sermon, ritual, lesson, meditation…they’re all the same.

                And that’s my point.

                The only difference between the religions is the names of their gods and their political leanings. Aside from that, they’re all the same, even to the point of protesting that they’re not religions and they don’t worship gods…they’re personal / spiritual / meditative relationships with certain individuals who just happen to be special (in addition to not actually being alive).

                Same shit, different ladles.

                b&

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    A nice way to end is to say, I am right because I have the statistics, nah nah nah nah nah. Which is how I like to end things when I present stats :)

  7. Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    The 20th Century was the deadliest in human history. More than 100 million people were slaughtered by their own governments, all of which were explicitly secular. Materialism is a closed system that leaves no place for morality or reason.

    • Andrew B.
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      snore…

    • Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      In terms of deaths per fraction of the population, most previous centuries were worse.

      And Nazi Germany, for example, was not “explicitly secular”, it was explicitly religious, and many of their crimes were done for religious reasons.

      And, yes, a materialist outlook leaves plenty of room for both morality and reason.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      You should really read Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature then see if your thoughts have changed somewhat.

    • Gary W
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      In terms of the rate of violence, the 20th century does not seem to be even close the most violent in history. And the causes of 20th century violence don’t seem to have had anything to do with secularism or materialism. Steven Pinker has discussed this in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature. See this interview for more information.

    • Posted August 12, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Too true! Had only the tyrants of the 20th century abandoned their materialistic atheism and embraced the gods Quetzalcoatl or Ares or Sekmeht, we would have been spared those terrible atrocities.

      Wait. What?

      b&

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

        Or Yahweh. Or Allah.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Your 1st sentence is a claim in need of reference.

      I think the already mentioned analysis of Pinker is now required due diligence in this topic. Because it is the first thorough one, I think.

      And he claims exactly the reverse of what you do, humanity is less deadly than ever before. So: no.

      Your 3d sentence doesn’t make sense. What is “a closed system” in society? E.g. the population grows and its markets, the basic form of materialism, grows faster yet. And such forms of materialism as well as more specific such as science are _based_ on reason and moral behavior (or they wouldn’t work).

    • Matt D
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      You may choose to ignore the extensive violence in human history (when theism was in charge), as well as all the atrocities and horrors various dieties have committed that outstrip anything humans have done (such as drowing the entire world out of spite), but you will look like a fool for doing so.

    • Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      The 20th century saw the development of far more effective killing tools, In what previous century could a few guys in a plane (which they didn’t have) have dropped bombs that could kill hundreds, or hundreds of thousands.

    • Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      I once saw a news story about a man with an absence of hair on his head who murdered a couple, kidnapped their daughter and raped her.

      I think we should crack down on all the bald men of the world. This guy was awful, and he was explicitly bald.

  8. kehindeelegba@yahoo.com
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I think you are right once on this piece. But remember that most Japanese are Buddhists!
    May be the problem is not Religions but the type of Religions.
    Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone provided by Airtel Nigeria.

    • John Taylor
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      What’s with all these comments on BlackBerry’s provided by Airtel Nigeria lately?

      • Posted August 12, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        You can add a comment by replying to an email notification of a comment by email. In which case, your email signature (which usually defaults to “Sent from my Blackberry/iPad/&c.” on a mobile) is automatically appended.

        /@

        • Posted August 12, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

          Of course, real signatures (GPG, S/MIME, etc) get stripped away along with all other attachments. Haven’t tried a cleartext signature, though….

          b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 12, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

            Like a schmuck I just go to the Web both on my phone and computer.

            • Posted August 12, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

              You might find replying to posts via email from your phone a bit easier than navigating the horrid interface of mobile WordPress.

              b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 12, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                Yes mobile Word Press is sucky. I think you can force it to show you the full version but I’ve had limited success that way.

              • Posted August 12, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                My own success on that front has been less than limited…but maybe my tolerance threshold is different from yours….

                b&

  9. steve oberski
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Religion may have once been the opium of the masses but now it’s more like the crack cocaine of the masses.

    • Cliff Melick
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      Hah!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      +1 hilarious. Or the meth of the masses – you get the fun alliteration and you imagine the toothless meth addict. Also, you think of Walter White and Heisenberg. :D

      • Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

        I’ll up-vote “meth of the masses.”

        b&

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

          It is too late to nominate “the cyanide of the masses’ intellect”?

  10. Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Since Christianity teaches “Thou shalt not murder,” a high US murderer rate obviously indicates an abandonment of Christian values.

    The highest murder rates are in black ghettos were the government subsidizes life and makes fatherhood unnecessary.

    Since Christianity puts great value on fatherhood and healthy family life, it is obvious that Christian values have been abandoned in the ghetto.

    Further, comparing the US with backwater European and Asian countries that are culturally homogeneous is using the logical flaw of comparing apples and oranges.

    Concluding, this post is based on overlooking the obvious and on logically flawed thinking.

    • eric
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Good to see the No True Scotsman argument out in force.

      Now, do you have a non-fallacious argument explaining why the most religious 1st world western nation is also the most violent?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        Removing the NTS fallacy, the bigoted silenceoflambs would have to explain why his “ghettos” and his prisons are filled with more christianists than many other areas.

    • Posted August 12, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Well,let’s not forget that your god in his Yahweh guise obliterated the earth with a flood then set Joshua against Canaan and a multitude of other rather nasty endeavors. So, hot shot, I wouldn’t hold him, or Christianity up as the bastion of morality.

    • aljones909
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      ‘Since Christianity teaches “Thou shalt not murder,” a high US murderer rate obviously indicates an abandonment of Christian values.’. Doesn’t really explain why the most religious developed nation has a killing rate 5 times that of the states that have abandoned christianity to a far greater extent.

      • Posted August 12, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        I already explained the obvious: the murder rate has increased because people are abandoning Christian values.

        Europe can be secular and still adhere to the Christian values that were established there during the Middle Ages.

        And the culture of Imperial Japan was completely destroyed by the US during WWII and completely rebuilt according the specifications set down by American general and Christian Douglas MacArthur.

        The rapid degeneration of America’s once Christian culture also creates upheaval and crisis that exacerbates social ills.

        So it follows that atheism is part of America’s decline.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

          It appears you and I differ on the definition of “obvious”. Statistics and history tell me that crime rates dropped and punishments no longer involved torture, especially for small crimes that today would see a fine at best when people became enlightened, began relying on reason and increased their literacy and started empathizing with one another. The facts seem to contradict your assertions.

        • Posted August 12, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

          People in the US aren’t real christians, and people in predominantly unbelieving populations secretly are. Soooo…not only do you pull the No True Scotsman with xians in the US, but you get to tell Swedish atheists they’re actually de facto xians. Mmkay.

          But you know, those arguments aren’t even relevant. You theists insist that the simple act of quarantining religion to private lives will result in pandemonium (literally). That’s manifestly false, as demonstrated by the examples given: Sweden, where religion is not widespread and is kept private; and the US, where the opposite is the case.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

          I already explained the obvious: the murder rate has increased because people are abandoning Christian values.

          Even if your “facts” are correct, this is a simple post hoc fallacy.

          Just adding my two cents to the list of fallacies that others have already pointed out in your argument.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Since your comment is fractally wrong (but not the first one in this thread), I will just respond on the first claim as example of total wrongness: statistics says christianism and so its morals is still pervasive in US.

      And that fromsomeone who complains on “on overlooking the obvious and on logically flawed thinking”? Trolling, surely.

      • Posted August 12, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        Where Christian values prevail, there is peace and prosperity.

        The problem is the huge population of Americans who have been put into concentration camps called inner city ghettos.

        Ghettos dehumanize even the most civilized human beings.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

          You agree that Europe was a Christian culture in during the Middle Ages here when you say, “Europe can be secular and still adhere to the Christian values that were established there during the Middle Ages”; you then post that, “Where Christian values prevail, there is peace and prosperity.”

          These two statements appear to be at odds with one another. During the Christian Middle ages, Europe was hardly at peace. In addition to many brutal and bloody wars Europe took part in, the life of many non soldiers was violent indeed. Mediaeval torture is well documented, trials were hardly fair and severe punishments were given for the smallest of infractions

          • Cliff Melick
            Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

            Point, set and game.

        • Marella
          Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

          The fascinating thing about “Christian values” is that they are so much more popular with atheists than Christians!! How would you explain that?

          • Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

            +1

            (well, only for certain “xian values”)

          • Posted August 13, 2013 at 12:42 am | Permalink

            Quite. What are general touted as “Christian values” are essentially humanist values that have been smelted from the ore of the Bible by the crucible of the Enlightenment.

            (Not forgetting that these nuggets had been lying around for millennia without any need for the matrix of Christianity.)

            /@

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 13, 2013 at 5:38 am | Permalink

              Ahhh nice imagery. Well done!

        • Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

          Oh, what bullshit.

          Christianity is evil.

          Pure, unadulterated, unabashed evil.

          Let’s have a look at some red-letter text, shall we?

          Luke 19:27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

          Matthew 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

          35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

          36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

          37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

          Matthew 5:28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

          29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

          30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

          Hell, it doesn’t even pretend to be righteous. The Christ is depicted as a walking corpse, unrecognizable even by his closest friends — and a corpse who gets his jollies by commanding his thralls to thrust their hands in his gaping chest wound.

          I really doubt even Hollywood could come up with a more evil villain than Jesus.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

          Where Christian values prevail, there is peace and prosperity.

          This may be the single most ludicrous thing I’ve read all day–and I’ve been following the Ray Comfort video and Eric Hedin case.

          But, congratulations on pulling off the relatively difficult feat of combining historical and statistical ignorance with a non sequitur in a single short sentence. I don’t think I could do that.

    • Notagod
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      It is an indication that christianity isn’t doing any good for society in general.

    • Gary Hill
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      “comparing the US with backwater European and Asian countries that are culturally homogeneous”

      Sweden is a backwater??? And homogenous???

      1 in 6 of the Swedish population were born outside Sweden.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        First Europe is peaceful and secular (because of God) then back water….inconsistent much?

    • Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      I think it shows the true value of ‘Christian values’ – i.e. all talk and no practice. It’s easy to be pious in word and not in deed. The Bible is also a convenient manual for bigotry, prejudice, persecution.

      There are one or two ‘Christian values’ that sound OK – love thy neighbour, for example. But that seems to apply only to your nearest neighbour, that doesn’t tick you off, that isn’t so poor it makes you uncomfortable to walk past them, or so gay that it threatens your masculinity.

      I know a few ‘real Christians’. What they believe in is nonsense, but they are really nice people who do good. But they are not the majority of Christians I know. The rest are just as fallible as us atheist sinners, plus they have the bigotry, prejudice, persecution to add to their sins – you know, the stuff that the nice fictional Jesus would reject.

    • gbjames
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Oh, Jeebus. A live one!

    • gbjames
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      One thinks fondly of those centuries of peaceful Christian rule of Europe. Those were the days, before those godless heathens took over and made it all so violent.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        Ah yes, the peaceful times where we could see a good breaking on the wheel for stealing bread or a nice mutilation for lying.

        • Ben Branson
          Posted August 12, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          So, that guy thinks the best way to progress as a society is to go back to the middle ages?

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted August 13, 2013 at 3:46 am | Permalink

            Well, if you execute everybody who breaks the law then you’ll have no lawbreakers, will you?

            Oops, that’s Texas…

            • Gary W
              Posted August 13, 2013 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

              Oops, that’s Texas…

              Wacky Things Foreigners Believe About America #237

              • Posted August 13, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

                Dude, what misconceptions? Every year Texas officially murders more people than have been executed in total in all of Europe since, like, the days when Thatcher and Chirac where in office.

                Every year!

                b&

              • Gary W
                Posted August 13, 2013 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

                Dude, what misconceptions?

                The insanely wacky misconception that Texas executes everybody who breaks the law.

              • teacupoftheapocalypse
                Posted August 14, 2013 at 4:46 am | Permalink

                Calm down – it’s safe to go to Texas again: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-23544131

              • Gary W
                Posted August 14, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

                Thank goodness, teacup. So you foreigners can finally visit Texas without worrying about being executed for jaywalking.

  11. Gary W
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Income inequality has been growing in the United States and other developed nations for several decades, but religiosity has been in decline. Religiosity may be positively correlated with poverty and other measures of societal dysfunction, but that’s not the same thing as income inequality.

    • Notagod
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Which “other developed nations”? Are you including all other developed nations?

      Also, although religiosity in the United States has been in decline recently it hasn’t been that way over “several decades”, especially in any significant way.

      Income inequality is a function of economic policy which is controlled by politicians and the ones pushing for more income inequality are those in the political party most supported by christians.

      • Gary W
        Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        Which “other developed nations”?

        Most of them. See this report, for example.

        Also, although religiosity in the United States has been in decline recently it hasn’t been that way over “several decades”, especially in any significant way.

        Yes it has. Various measures of religiosity indicate that it has been declining for decades at least.

        Income inequality is a function of economic policy

        Income inequality is a function of many variables. One important driver of increases in income inequality in recent decades is skill-biased technological change. Changes in technology have increased the productivity of higher-skilled workers more than lower-skilled workers. The result is that wages for higher-skilled workers have tended to rise faster, increasing inequality.

        • Notagod
          Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

          According to the report you linked to, income inequality has gone up in some developed countries over two decades. The trend in the United States has been more consistently toward more inequality than most of the other countries. In other countries the increases and declines are varied with the net result often much less than the income inequality in the United States.

          If you look at the graph on this Gallup page, you will see that religiosity in the United States has been fairly stable over the last few decades. The trend is toward less religiosity but, it isn’t the kind of decline you seem to be implying.

          Comparing skilled and unskilled labor is a lot smaller difference than when comparing the percent of total income given to the very wealthy as compared to income obtained by the vast majority in the United States. See this article It’s the Inequality, Stupid at Mother Jones which shows that the income of the top 10% is increasing exponentially while the income of the “bottom” 90% has been relatively static or declining. That is, the profits from the increase in productivity of the workers in the United States have been accruing to the 10% of the most wealthy. A lot of that increase in inequality can be traced to policies that gave greater advantages to the most wealthy, as if they needed it.

        • Gary W
          Posted August 12, 2013 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

          According to the report you linked to, income inequality has gone up in some developed countries over two decades

          The report states that income inequality has increased in “a large majority” of the OECD nations over the past two decades. This suggests that the basic drivers of the growth in inequality are independent of the policies of any particular nation. I already mentioned one such driver — skill-biased technological change. Basically, technological advances such as greater computerization have increased the value of skilled labor more than unskilled labor. That translates into higher wage growth for skilled workers, and higher income inequality.

          If you look at the graph on this Gallup page, you will see that religiosity in the United States has been fairly stable over the last few decades. The trend is toward less religiosity

          That graph shows only one measure of religiosity (self-reports of the importance of religion in people’s lives), but as you say even that one measure shows a decline. All other measures of religiosity I have seen also show a decline. And religion has also been declining in other developed countries. This is not consistent with the hypothesis that increasing inequality causes increasing religiosity, at least among developed nations.

          Comparing skilled and unskilled labor is a lot smaller difference than when comparing the percent of total income given to the very wealthy as compared to income obtained by the vast majority in the United States.

          I can’t make sense of this statement at all.

          See this article It’s the Inequality, Stupid at Mother Jones which shows that the income of the top 10% is increasing exponentially while the income of the “bottom” 90% has been relatively static or declining.

          It certainly does not show that.

          • Notagod
            Posted August 13, 2013 at 5:55 am | Permalink

            In looking at the OECD report it shows that income inequality in the United states is higher than in almost any other country.

            When income inequality within the United States is examined (see the link I provided for you), it is shown that the bulk of the inequality lies between the tiny fraction of the population receiving almost all of the resources of the country and the vast majority of the population receiving a small portion.

            As I have previously stated and supported, the decline in religiosity in the United States has been very small, a couple of percent. It is likely to be more encouraging in the future because the younger generations are tending to see the fraud of christianity while a majority of the older generations wallow in it.

            The graph certainly does show that a hugely disproportionate amount of the wealth of the United States is being taken (with the help of republican policy) by a very small number of people.

          • Gary W
            Posted August 13, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

            In looking at the OECD report it shows that income inequality in the United states is higher than in almost any other country.

            Than in almost any other OECD country, yes. But the point is that inequality has been rising in almost all OECD countries. It’s a global phenomenon. At the same time, religiosity has been falling. This is inconsistent with the claim that inequality causes inequality.

            When income inequality within the United States is examined (see the link I provided for you), it is shown that the bulk of the inequality lies between the tiny fraction of the population receiving almost all of the resources of the country and the vast majority of the population receiving a small portion.

            Your link doesn’t show that at all. I don’t know what you even mean by “the bulk of the inequality.” What measure of inequality is this claim based on?

            The graph certainly does show that a hugely disproportionate amount of the wealth of the United States is being taken (with the help of republican policy) by a very small number of people.

            The graph shows absolutely nothing about “Republican policy.” You keep making claims that are not supported by the evidence. And obviously the wealthy have a “disproportionate” amount of the total wealth. That’s why they’re wealthy. You’re not saying anything relevant here.

            • Notagod
              Posted August 13, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

              There’s no need to pretend that you don’t understand. The information that I have provided paints the problem that the republican is exacerbating cleanly and clearly. Just because the wealthy are taking more than they are worth to society doesn’t mean that the rest of use should sit back and allow that to happen.

              That is obviously why I put the reference to the republican in parentheses, it was in addition to what is shown in the graph.

              You are the only one stating that inequality causes inequality. Don’t look to me to help you explain because I have no idea where you get it.

  12. Jonathan Smith
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    silenceofmind

    Thanks for your mindless racists comments.
    Since when have Japan and Sweden been “backwater” countries?

  13. teacupoftheapocalypse
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    sub

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Speaking of societal statistics on religion, a comprehensive meta-analysis confirms that religiosity is negatively correlated with intelligence.

    From the ars technica article that tipped me off (since the article is paywalled):

    “This is the first systematic meta-analysis of 63 studies conducted in between 1928 and 2012.”

    “Out of 63 studies, 53 showed a negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity, while 10 showed a positive one. Significant negative correlations were seen in 35 studies, whereas only two studies showed significant positive correlations.”

    “Overall, Zuckerman, Silberman, and Hall conclude that, according to their meta-analysis, there is little doubt a significant negative correlation exists (i.e. people who are more religious score worse on varying measures of intelligence). The correlation is more negative when religiosity measures beliefs rather than behavior. That may be because religious behavior may be used to help someone appear to be part of a group even though they may not believe in the supernatural.”

    Don’t I feel smart now! =D

    • Larry Gay
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Torbjoern, being so open and forthright in stating actual facts can get you into deep trouble. See Richard Dawkins’s recent dust-up with the PC crowd over Trinity College’s achievements.

  15. Notagod
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    And that increase in religiosity follows in time the decrease in societal health, suggesting the direction of causality.

    What about going the other way though? Does a religiously entrenched society, such as the US and others, have a more difficult time addressing the causes of societal illness? It seems that in the US at least, the christians are more inclined to support policies that keep the US in its relatively depressed social condition. If true, the influence of christianity would still need to be diminished first or in conjunction with working to change the social problems.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      It would also make christianity “evil” by their own standards. :-/

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if becoming a more, dare I say it, socialist country, if that would the poor become healthier and less disenfranchised and more educated which would move them away from religion naturally. It also would bust the church monopoly on giving aid and spreading its poison to the disenfranchised.

      May be as hard a sell as eliminating religion though.

  16. Gary W
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    US in its relatively depressed social condition

    In the most recent Human Development Index, the U.S. is ranked #3, behind only Norway and Australia. I wouldn’t call that “relatively depressed.” And Norway would probably be lower if not for its exceptional oil and gas wealth.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      Sure, if you use the HDI, without adjustment for inequality, the US is #3. That’s not too surprising, since the GDP/GNI component of the index takes no account of the fact the a hugely disproportionate of income (and even more so, wealth) goes into the pockets of those at the top, the US looks pretty good. When inequality and it effects are accounted for, the US drops many places – Norway and Australia don’t.

      • Gary W
        Posted August 12, 2013 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

        Even using inequality-adjusted HDI (IHDI), the U.S. ranks fairly highly. But IHDI isn’t very meaningful anyway. The adjustment simply assumes that reducing inequality would have no effect on total wealth, education, etc.

        • Timothy Hughbanks
          Posted August 12, 2013 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

          But IHDI isn’t very meaningful anyway.

          Ince (and JAC and other commenters) implicate inequality as the source of much of American social dysfunction and you reply that the HDI is great – except that for the poor in the US it isn’t great – and if the adjusted HDI knocks the score down seversl pegs, – voilà! – you simply declare it to be “[not] very meaningful anyway”. But the post is all about social dysfunction – higher murder rates, higher infant mortality, higher abortion rates, higher STD infection rates, and so on. And then there is this:

          The adjustment simply assumes that reducing inequality would have no effect on total wealth, education, etc.

          Are we supposed to keep on believing that if the rich keeping taking all the gains that accrue from higher overall economic productivity that – someday – it’ll finally trickle down? I’m not at all convinced thst inequality on the scale we now have doesn’t actually lower the rate of growth – but even if it doesn’t, what good does it do for the overwhelming majority of people of the country if all the gains go to the top?

        • Gary W
          Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

          you reply that the HDI is great – except that for the poor in the US it isn’t great

          I didn’t say that the HDI is “great.” I cited it because it’s a widely-used and respected measure of societal well-being. The very high HDI ranking of the U.S. strongly conflicts with Notagod’s claim that the U.S. is in a “relatively depressed social condition.”

          you simply declare [IHDI] to be “[not] very meaningful anyway”.

          No, I didn’t simply “declare” that. I explained why it’s not very meaningful, but I guess you didn’t understand it. Interpreting the difference between HDI and IHDI as the loss of potential human development attributable to inequality rests on the assumption that HDI would be unchanged if inequality were zero. That is, if everyone in the country had exactly the same share of GDP, etc. But that assumption is absurd. Reducing inequality to zero would completely destroy the incentive structure to engage in economically productive activity in the first place.

          But the post is all about social dysfunction – higher murder rates, higher infant mortality, higher abortion rates, higher STD infection rates, and so on

          The problem is that your handful of cherry-picked statistics (murder rates, etc.) do not provide a good measure of the overall well-being of a society. That’s why social scientists use broad measures like GDP per capita or HDI.

          what good does it do for the overwhelming majority of people of the country if all the gains go to the top?

          All the gains do not go to the top. The standard of living has improved enormously over the past few decades for all income groups in the U.S.

          • Notagod
            Posted August 14, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

            Dr. Coyne has wtitten on measures of life satisfaction before. See Does insecurity promote faith? as an example.

            Paul constructed what he called a “successful societies” scale, incorporating many of the same factors Rees used, as well as others (his 25 factors included prevalance of homicides and suicides, life expectancy, duration of marriage, measurements of life satisfaction, indices of corruption and so on). He showed that, among 17 developed Western countries, and Japan, there was a strong negative correlation between societal health and religiosity; in other words, less successful societies were more religious. Here’s Paul’s plot, with the countries labelled as initials (“U” = US, “J” = Japan, “H” = Holland, “T” = Italy, “N” = Norway, and so on).

            The plot is included within the WEIT article link above. All of those 25 factors are of course important to happiness and well being. The United States, Gary W., doesn’t fair well at all coming in as the most dysfunctional along with the highest absolute belief in god-ideas.

          • Gary W
            Posted August 14, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

            “Insecurity” is not the same thing as either “inequality” or “societal health.” By the statistics most often cited as measures of the broad level of social well-being in a country (GDP per capita and HDI), the United States is a very healthy society.

            And again, the claim that higher income inequality causes higher religiosity is contradicted by the experience of the United States and numerous other nations, where rising inequality has been accompanied by falling religiosity.

  17. Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Actually, atheists are generally (though, certainly not always) significantly more versed in scripture than believers.

    It’s also worth noting that seminaries are often described as atheist-creating factories — and for good reason.

    b&

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 13, 2013 at 3:50 am | Permalink

      Yup, it has not escaped our notice that if we want a *real* hatchet job done on the Bible, backed up by extensive verbatim quotes from same, we can rely on Ben to come up with the goods… ;)

  18. john Q
    Posted August 13, 2013 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    « On that issue Marx had it right.»

    You need to read more Marx ,Jerry.( a lot of right issues there :) )

  19. Tom
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 4:50 am | Permalink

    I was at the debate; it wasn’t very good (though Robin was the best).

    Main problem was that none of the participants (even when asked by “The Angry Lady”) would actually give a definition of what they thought religion was.


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