America’s Four Gods

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The subtitle of this book, by Baylor professors Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, is “What we say about God—& what that says about us.” The thesis of the book is, in essence, that classifying people according to their religious denomination (or lack thereof) tells you little about, for example, their politics or their views on science. Instead, Froese and Bader classify people according to the kind of God they believe in: authoritative, benevolent, critical, and distant (not to mention none).

Froese and Bader pose 2 questions, “To what extent does God interact with the world? To what extent does God judge the world?” As a result of interviews and surveys, they conclude that

Americans differ radically in their beliefs about how closely God guides and judges their lives. These two dynamic dimensions of belief reveal four distinct images of God:

1. The Authoritative God—one who is both engaged and judgmental [31%]

2. The Benevolent God—one who is engaged but not judgmental [24%]

3. The Critical God—one who is not engaged but judgmental [16%]

4. The Distant God—one who is not engaged or judgmental [24%]

[5. Atheist [5%]]

But most important, do these different Gods matter? Unequivocally, yes. A person’s God is a direct reflection of his level of moral absolutism, his view of science, his understanding of economic justice, his concept of evil, and how he thinks we should respond to it. And these powerful relationships exist regardless of where he lives, the color of his skin, the amount of money he makes, how many years he has spend [sic] in school, or the church he attends.

Simply put, America’s four Gods lie at the heart of our moral, cultural, and political disagreements. … [pp. 143-144.]

ABCD. No doubt, as a colleague of mine remarked, if they had had enough funding they would have ventured into Existential God, Fearful God, Gap-filling God, and so on.

Their definition of an authoritative God, I think, is closer to authoritarian. An authoritative God causes (possibly bad) things to happen, whereas a critical God merely allows them to happen; both Gods are judgmental and may mete out punishment or at least allow it. A benevolent God is a force for good in the world but does not judge or punish. A distant God is disengaged from the universe and closely resembles the God of deism. The authors claim that most people who profess to be agnostics actually believe in a distant or deistic God. Many of the unchurched fit into this category. I may suffer from what Jim Harrison called the Dunning-Kruger effect by proxy, but I am skeptical that only 5 % of the US population are atheists, and I wonder how many agnostics have been wrongly classified as deists. (For whatever it is worth, Table 13 of The Fifth National Survey of Religion and Politics, gives secularists plus atheists as 10.5 %, and that value does not count affiliated nonbelievers.)

Froese and Bader are at pains to point out that what denomination you belong to does not necessarily correlate with what kind of God you believe in. Indeed, only about half the evangelical Protestants surveyed believe in an authoritative God. Another 25 % or so believe in a benevolent God and around 10 % each in a critical and even a distant God. Thus, for example, an evangelical Protestant who believes in an authoritative God may hold very different views from an evangelical Protestant who believes in a benevolent or critical God.

The book is well composed and well prepared (except for the many bar graphs, which should have been annotated more clearly). I found some of the anecdotes interesting, though I was frankly appalled at some of the overtly superstitious beliefs that were expressed by many of the people who were interviewed. I was also somewhat put out by the authors’ casual dismissal of Westboro Baptist Church as “a conspicuous anomaly.” It is that, but by being such conspicuous lunatics, they make other lunatics look comparatively tame. The man who murdered George Tiller was a lunatic, but he was egged on by other lunatics only slightly less extreme.

In a chapter on God and morality, the authors plot what they call the relative morality of certain “hot-button issues” versus the kind of God you believe in: A, B, C, D, and atheist (Figure 3.1). Interestingly, every group rated these issues in the same order: adultery, homosexual marriage, abortion, premarital sex, and stem-cell research. Every group rated adultery wrong or almost always wrong. Similarly, every group rated stem-cell research somewhere between neutral and not wrong at all, with believers in an authoritative God more or less giving it a pass and atheists arguing that it is never wrong. Abortion went more or less the same way, with believers in an authoritative God rejecting what you might call abortion on demand but avowing that abortion is only sometimes wrong when the woman’s health is in danger (Figure 3.3).

The chapter on God and science is more pertinent to readers of the Panda’s Thumb. Believers in authoritative or benevolent Gods are far more likely to believe that God intervenes in the world and that we rely too much on science and not enough on faith. They do not reject science or give up on science but rather ask how science can be made to conform to their religious belief, rather than the other way around. Believers in AB Gods are also apt to be more moralistic than others and to oppose stem-cell research and biological evolution.

Regarding evolution, 60 % of believers in AB Gods think that creationism should be taught in school; only 31 % of believers in CD Gods and 4 % of atheists concur. Consequently, the authors conclude that the controversy (I will not call it a debate) concerning evolution and creationism

is premised not on religious faith but on differences of opinion about the role of God in the world. … some prioritize their preestablished religious beliefs, and others prioritize the claims of professional scientists. Simply put, believers in Authoritative or Benevolent Gods want to temper scientific claims with the wisdom of their religious texts. This is partly because they tend to view God as hands-on. Authoritative and Benevolent Gods have agency and decide how the world will unfold. Believers in Distant or Critical Gods more often temper their interpretation of religious texts with the wisdom of scientists. Distant and Critical Gods are removed from the world. It follows that the world operates via a natural order that was put in place by God. [p. 92.]

Froese and Bader state without apology that the Founding Fathers of the United States believed in a distant God, that is, were deists. They admit, however, that the Founding Fathers were wealthy and well-educated, and therefore were outliers. They note that the number of Americans who are unchurched or believe in a distant God has been increasing and tentatively claim that the population is moving toward the position of the Founding Fathers. If they are right, the fact bodes well for the future of science. But, as they note, there are “strong countertrends”: Americans from many religious traditions strongly identify with evangelicalism, and evangelicalism may well reverse the trend toward being unchurched and hence away from CD Gods. If that is so, then science is in trouble: specifically, evolutionary biology, stem-cell research, and efforts to combat global warming.

Appendix. An appendix is a vestigial part of a book, for which no one has yet identified a function. I did not read the (lengthy) appendixes.

Acknowledgment. Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education recommended this book and read a draft of this review.

59 Comments

These polls always leave out the Olympian gods. I, for one, still respect them.

Re: appendix – According to folks at Duke U. an appendix was a little jump starter bacteria pouch in case you managed to wipe out the good ones eating a tainted saber tooth tiger. http://tinyurl.com/29na99l

This fits with my general impression (technically a testable hypothesis) that many Americans declare religious views that justify and rationalize their pre-existing biases.

Note that I am not saying this to insult religion; although I am not personally religious, I have plenty of subjective biases, and there are, in fact, multiple religions that would fit very nicely with my biases - liberal Protestantism, reform Judaism, most forms of Buddhism, plenty of manifestations of Hinduism, some forms of Suffism (yes, there is liberal Islam and it has often been the dominant form), and more. (When it comes to Catholicism, I agree with the pope on almost every ethical stance that isn’t about sex and disagree with him on almost everything that is about sex.)

Until recently in human history, a ruler or hierarchy told you what to worship, although they often gave some flexibility at the level of details - you could choose gods from a pantheon or particular highly individual saints to especially venerate.

When faced with the literal ability to worship almost anything they want legally, people say a lot about themselves by the choice of religion they make. I think that’s much less true when the choice reflects association with a culture, especially one that has been or felt historically embattled (it’s a lot bigger deal to drop Mormonism than to drop lukewarm Episcopalianism), but still, religious behaviors do say more about the individual than they did in the days when they were more tightly regulated.

Tom -

Completely off topic, but that’s a highly reasonable and testable idea.

It’s not at odds with the idea of the appendix being vestigial - just because something is an anatomic vestige of something prior with a different function doesn’t mean it can’t evolve a new function later.

Note that the existence of even one vestigial structure (and there are many) is deeply problematic to creationism. On the other hand, the theory of evolution predicts but does not require that vestigial structures would be seen. Creationists making arguments about one or another vestigial structure (and many are more clearly vestigial than the vermiform appendix) are just trying to dodge bullets. Desperate, failed attempts at defense are not an offense.

Interesting! I guess it’s no surprise how the four gods don’t line up with any particular denomination, but I think I would have been more interested in a study that determines the difference between professed belief, which this one seems to be concentrating on, and that which actually affects personal decisions. In other words, how many people actually believe, and to what extent is their confidence in this? I have long placed this as much lower than those who profess themselves religious, and tend to think it’s such a small number as to be insignificant.

For instance, the large percentage of people who condemn adultery doesn’t correlate in the slightest with those that actually engage in adultery, which numbers may be all over the place. Is it possible for someone who believes in an authoritative or critical god to cheat? Does the fact that our prisons have rather large numbers of religious people within them indicate a wide disparity between honest belief (not “faith”) and the lip-service that many pay to their religion?

My personal experience has been along the lines of Harold above, where individual concepts of religion are merely the way that people justify their actions. Even more distinct, though, has been the amount of times I’ve seen religion wielded as an authority over others without being used as a personal guideline - do as I say, not as I do. That’s perhaps an even trickier thing to determine, and requires some careful questioning to bring out. Virtually no one will admit that they encourage stronger rules for others than they follow themselves, but it certainly occurs fairly often.

Matt, do they include some of the actual questions that were asked? I’d be interested in seeing how the issues were presented, and how they might have interpreted them. Like you, I find those atheist/agnostic numbers curious in light of the other statistics I’ve seen, and would also like to see how they asked about beliefs in general.

Just Al -

Is it possible for someone who believes in an authoritative or critical god to cheat?

It’s my impression - and I’m far from the only one to have this impression - that professed belief in the authoritarian authoritative god is strongly, if paradoxically, associated with secret breaking of the rules.

Why? I’ll freely speculate now, but I would say that one or more of the following non-mutually exclusive characteristics may apply -

1) Narcissists might not see the rules as applying to them - for example, almost all fundamentalists believe in “magic word” repentance - for themselves. But not for others. If you have a good track record of homophobia, you can “repent” away all those secret trips to the gay brothel, but an honest, open gay person is somehow doomed to hell.

2) If the objective, consciously or unconsciously, is manipulation and gaining a privileged position for yourself, threatening people with a nasty god is the most logical. You can promise miracles for a little while, but they’re hard to deliver, and you might end up crucified if the pace slows down. But you can threaten people with torture after death constantly, with no risk to yourself - how can they ever prove you’re wrong? Better to take the standard approach of telling people that they’ll be horribly punished by the gods if they don’t submit to you. I don’t mean to imply that those who do so don’t believe themselves at a conscious level, but they do unconsciously choose the most logical authoritarian strategy.

I want to emphasize that I am not trying to express any sort of general antagonism toward religion (a characteristic aspect of human behavior except under rare circumstances), or disrespect of honest faith, which some pro-science posters here express. That simply isn’t my position. However, I do feel free to speculate about the religious choices people make in American society, and what some of them may mean.

… do they include some of the actual questions that were asked?

Yes, they are in the appendix. It looks like they were borrowed from the Baylor Religion Survey. There are 2 questions on God’s judgment and 2 on God’s engagement. Each question is followed by some descriptors that you rank on a scale from 1 to 5.

On God’s judgment, “How well do you feel that each of the following words describes God?” The descriptors are loving, critical, punishing, severe, wrathful.

“Even if you might not believe in God, based on your personal understanding, what do you think God is like?” Angered by human sin, angered by my sins.

On God’s engagement, “How well do you feel that each of the following words describes God?” Distant, ever-present.

“Even if you might not believe in God, based on your personal understanding, what do you think God is like?” Removed from worldly affairs, removed from my personal affairs, concerned with the well-being of the world, concerned with my personal well-being, directly involved in worldly affairs, directly involved in my affairs.

I should have looked at the questions more closely; how on earth can you expect to get meaningful statistics when you ask agnostics what is the God that you do not believe in like? It reminds me of a comment by a friend of mine, a lapsed Orthodox Jew: “The denomination I do not practice is Orthodox Judaism.” All the respondents can say is what they think their neighbor’s God is like.

The rest of the conclusions are drawn from the Baylor Religion Survey. If I skim the table titles, I find captions like “Faith and science & faith in science.” The column headings are, we rely too much on science and not enough on faith, science will eventually provide solutions to most of our problems, science and religion are incompatible, science helps to reveal God’s glory. Responses to these questions are correlated with demographics such as sex and age, and with professed religion. There are a zillion such tables, and I assure you, you do not want me to present all the captions, but I think that one gives you the gist.

Thought for sure this was going to be a post on the Mt Rushmore carvings. I visited it for the first time 3 years ago. If a civilization digs it all up 5000 years from now they’d conclude it was a temple of devotion to four deities, complete with long majestic hallway lined with ‘altars’, leading to an amphitheater where the faithful congregated before the gods and sang praises to their name (or perhaps sacrificed some of the local mountain goats that feed around the theater).

If they had access to historical literature, all they’d have to do is read the hagiographies people write about their presidents centuries after the fact.

“It reminds me of a comment by a friend of mine, a lapsed Orthodox Jew: “The denomination I do not practice is Orthodox Judaism.” All the respondents can say is what they think their neighbor’s God is like.”

One quibble. When it comes to religion, “Recovering” is a more accurate term than “lapsed”.

This just goes to show that man creates god in his own image.

My perceptions of the Four Gods:

1. The Authoritative God—a tyrant who no one should worship.….unless they wish to worship Satan. 2. The Benevolent God—Since he created all, then he is responsible for all. Evil is based on human biases, not objective reality. In nature, there is no evil. 3. The Critical God—The very definition of a hypocrite, since he cannot be harmed by anything man does. Therefore, judging is pointless. 4. The Distant God—Realistic and logical.

William Young said:

This just goes to show that man creates god in his own image.

Looking at those questions Matt Young just posted, I get the impression they are probing to find out if the respondents have the “proper” image.

One often encounters this kind of probing in various fundamentalist churches, and even occasionally here on Panda’s Thumb.

And it often happens that, if one doesn’t give quite the “correct” answers, one begins to encounter subtle and not-so-subtle “encouragements” to start correcting those thoughts.

One of the terms that describes this kind of probing and coercion is called “mounting.” Most of the leaders in these cult-like fundamentalist churches do this kind of thing routinely.

They do not reject science or give up on science but rather ask how science can be made to conform to their religious belief, rather than the other way around.

Making science conform to religious belief is rejecting science. If you make science conform to religious belief, rather than to the evidence, what you have left over is not science, but pseudo-science.

Matt Young said: …how on earth can you expect to get meaningful statistics when you ask agnostics what is the God that you do not believe in.

A visitor to Ireland during a time of active religious warfare was stopped on the street and asked if he was a Protestant or a Catholic - he replied he was an atheist. “But,” he was asked, “are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?”

Mike Elzinga said: And it often happens that, if one doesn’t give quite the “correct” answers, one begins to encounter subtle and not-so-subtle “encouragements” to start correcting those thoughts.

As has just happened to Billy Dembski here: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/201[…]all-abo.html

The percentage of Americans who identify as atheist is around 13%, from what I’ve heard, and I think this number has been stable for quite a while. If I’m wrong, please correct me.

Matt Young said: I should have looked at the questions more closely; how on earth can you expect to get meaningful statistics when you ask agnostics what is the God that you do not believe in like?

Well, you can still gather meaningful statstics…but only about respondent’s understanding of the cultural concept. For example, you could meaningfully ask this question on a survey:

“Even if you might not believe in Sherlock Holmes, based on your personal understanding, what do you think Holmes is like?”

The answer could be “meaningful.” It wouldn’t tell you squat about Holmes, but it might tell you what the the average person on the street knows/thinks about the literary character Holmes.

****

I’m underwhelmed by the survey as you’ve presented it. It seems they gave the public four subtle choices, and discovered each choice was selected by ~16-30% of the population. You’d probably get the same distribution from random answers.

There are a zillion such tables, and I assure you, you do not want me to present all the captions, but I think that one gives you the gist.

Having a zillion tables is another clue of a bad study. Its extremely tempting to take your data and keep slicing it in different ways until you find some significant correlation. But statistics tells us you will randomly find some correlations in a large enough data set. So, the more slicing someone does, the more skeptical we (the readers) should be of any correlation they find.

I find this entire approach to be very interesting. Considering the importance of religious thought in modern society, it is imperative that we begin to understand how religious views develop ands what factors encourage what types of views.

The break-down of types of gods is an interesting angle. It certainly explains the psychology of many of the trolls we have here on PT. Some are moral absolutist and will defend that position rigorously despite any evidence to the contrary. Others seem to so afraid of god that they are willing to deny any reality in order to please her, no matter what the consequences. And no doubt many think that the rules apply to others, but that they can easily fool god and get away with all sorts of things that they believe she disapproves of, preferably in her name.

Some questions remain of course, such as the causes of these different beliefs. Is there a genetic disposition to belief in a god and if so, is there any genetic disposition to belief in any particular type of god? Is culture or upbringing more important in determining what type of god you profess to believe in? Are your actions more indicative of your true beliefs, or should your professions be trusted as more reliable? Perhaps the book addressed some of these issues. Undoubtedly they concluded that more studies are needed.

DS said:

Is there a genetic disposition to belief in a god and if so, is there any genetic disposition to belief in any particular type of god? Is culture or upbringing more important in determining what type of god you profess to believe in?

One or more studies* have been published recently showing that being a liberal is genetic, so it is certainly plausible that some aspects of theology are also genetic.

* See, for example, http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010[…]cs-politics/

jkc said:

DS said:

Is there a genetic disposition to belief in a god and if so, is there any genetic disposition to belief in any particular type of god? Is culture or upbringing more important in determining what type of god you profess to believe in?

One or more studies* have been published recently showing that being a liberal is genetic, so it is certainly plausible that some aspects of theology are also genetic.

* See, for example, http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010[…]cs-politics/

What ever you do, Do Not read the comments on this article at Faux News (Faux news - Copyright me, right now).

Matt Young Wrote:

They note that the number of Americans who are unchurched or believe in a distant God has been increasing and tentatively claim that the population is moving toward the position of the Founding Fathers. If they are right, the fact bodes well for the future of science.

If my decades of casual observations are any indication, then this “moving toward the position of the Founding Fathers,” even neglecting any evangelical countertrends, will not necessarily bode well for the future of science. The FFs had a healthy respect for science, wheres today’s nonscientists are increasingly disinterested and distrusting of science, and increasingly attracted to all kinds of pseudoscience and superstition, and sympathetic to “underdogs” who prefer to whine about being “expelled” than to test their alternate ideas.

eric Wrote:

I’m underwhelmed by the survey as you’ve presented it. It seems they gave the public four subtle choices, and discovered each choice was selected by ~16-30% of the population. You’d probably get the same distribution from random answers.

The 5% “atheists” looks like it was calculated as the remainder from the sum of the other choices. A recent issue of RNCSE shows some major effects on the %s depending on how the question is phrased. To the point where a sizable % of respondents appear to hold mutually-contradictory views.

For this question, apparently the other 8% who would have selected “atheist” if asked specifically, answered the question as if it were prefaced with “if there was a God.”

Frank J said:

Matt Young Wrote:

They note that the number of Americans who are unchurched or believe in a distant God has been increasing and tentatively claim that the population is moving toward the position of the Founding Fathers. If they are right, the fact bodes well for the future of science.

If my decades of casual observations are any indication, then this “moving toward the position of the Founding Fathers,” even neglecting any evangelical countertrends, will not necessarily bode well for the future of science. The FFs had a healthy respect for science, wheres today’s nonscientists are increasingly disinterested and distrusting of science, and increasingly attracted to all kinds of pseudoscience and superstition, and sympathetic to “underdogs” who prefer to whine about being “expelled” than to test their alternate ideas.

I am inclined to share Matt’s optimism. Why? America at the time of the American Revolution was far more influenced by the Scottish and French Enlightenments than by any strong adherence to Theistic faith. There was far greater acceptance of rational thinking, even amongst the masses. That changed with the onset of the “Great Awakening” in the 1830s which saw the rise of Methodism and, in general, of Evangelical Protestant Christianity.

This one puzzled me (from the post):

60 % of believers in AB Gods think that creationism should be taught in school; only 31 % of believers in CD Gods and 4 % of atheists concur.

It is hard to conceive of an atheist who argues for creationism. However there may be an explanation. Perhaps these are people who want stern, and off-putting sales pitches for creationism in the schools – so that kids will rebel against them.

Ntrsvic said:

What ever you do, Do Not read the comments on this article at Faux News

Sorry, that’s the best I could come up with on the fly, there are lots of other sources, just Google “genetic liberal” or similar.

Frank J -

The 5% “atheists” looks like it was calculated as the remainder from the sum of the other choices. A recent issue of RNCSE shows some major effects on the %s depending on how the question is phrased. To the point where a sizable % of respondents appear to hold mutually-contradictory views.

And this is true of all poll and survey questions, and a major reason why people who actually try to design correct, scientific, polls or surveys take this very seriously.

And a major reason why blatantly biased and leading questions in “surveys” are a major tool of those who wish to reinforce their own biases, or defraud.

I have never seen a poll about human evolution that did not present the scientific answers as being in implied contrast with religious beliefs, for example. In almost all such polls, “God created Man” is listed as an alternate answer. The respondents can’t agree that humans evolved without having a “confrontation” with a religious attitude. This is clearly biasing compared with simply asking a question about whether or not humans evolved from earlier ancestors, without feeding religious cues. An ideal poll would ask about evolution and God in separate questions. And some respondents would get the questions in one order, and some in the other order.

Unfortunately, many Americans want to exaggerate the extent of science denial among their fellow Americans. Anyone who has read this blog more than once knows that I am outraged by the level of science denial in the US, but there are still biases that cause people to exaggerate it. The desire of denialists to exaggerate the popularity of their position is obvious. Unfortunately, there can sometimes be a class-based bias against rural or working class people that leads the educated to try to exaggerate the level of science denial in the US as well.

Reality may tell a different story. Smoking/health denial failed despite incredibly powerful financial support. Human contribution to climate change denial is going strong and well-funded, but we’ll see what the future holds. ID/creationism has never even come close to succeeding in being legally taught in public schools. While there may be thousands of uncaught Freshwaters out there, every attempt has been defeated in court and at that ballot box. Popular culture is full of implied acceptance of the universe science describes.

I don’t mean to understate the problem of ignorance and denialism. My take is that a good solid 25% or so of Americans will get everything wrong deliberately or accidentally, from the moon revolving around the earth on up. But it is possible to exaggerate it.

Joe Felsenstein said:

This one puzzled me (from the post):

60 % of believers in AB Gods think that creationism should be taught in school; only 31 % of believers in CD Gods and 4 % of atheists concur.

It is hard to conceive of an atheist who argues for creationism. However there may be an explanation. Perhaps these are people who want stern, and off-putting sales pitches for creationism in the schools – so that kids will rebel against them.

Maybe. Or maybe they represent the UFO crowd. You know, there is no god, but aliens designed life on earth. That type of thing. After all, not believing in god doesn’t necessarily translate into believing in evolution. One would expect a pretty high correlation, since demanding evidence usually leads to certain conclusions. But who knows? There are all kinds of nuts in the world, probably with every combination of beliefs.

Joe Felsenstein Wrote:

Perhaps these are people who want stern, and off-putting sales pitches for creationism in the schools – so that kids will rebel against them.

I was one of them in the ’90s. In fact I still want students to hear those “off-putting sales pitches”, as long as they’re not in science class, and as long as mainstream science rebuttal is included. Some of those sales pitches, especially if they emphasize “weaknesses” of evolution and conveniently omit easily-refutable alternate “what happened when” claims, can be very persuasive and misleading to non-science-major students.

Joe Felsenstein -

Perhaps these are people who want stern, and off-putting sales pitches for creationism in the schools – so that kids will rebel against them.

I’m surprised it wasn’t higher than 4%.

There is a very strong correlation between self-definition as an “atheist” and being informed with regard to science and science denialism.

But it isn’t 100%.

Almost all atheists are going to quickly see that ID is thinly disguised religious dogma, if they bother to learn about it, but I said “almost”, and I said “if they bother to learn about it”.

And it’s very easy to bias people of any religion or no religion by using language like “teach both sides of the controversy”.

DS said:

Joe Felsenstein said: It is hard to conceive of an atheist who argues for creationism. However there may be an explanation. Perhaps these are people who want stern, and off-putting sales pitches for creationism in the schools…

Maybe. Or maybe they represent the UFO crowd…

Or maybe about 4% of the 5% atheist respondents just gave bad responses. Seriously guys, not every survey result has to have deep meaning. Beware of attempts to find an adaptational value for the second left hair on my middle finger…or the equivalent in survey results.

The article in RNCSE that Frank J. mentions is available on-line here.

The Curmudgeon said:

These polls always leave out the Olympian gods. I, for one, still respect them.

I’m guessing you’re joking, but there are plenty of Americans who do worship the Olympians, or those deities in other pantheons. We polytheists probably don’t make up enough of the population to figure into this sort of thing; still, it makes us feel bad to always be left out.

For the record, then, I fall into ABCD. All the polytheists I know would be on the pro-science side, although many of them would have a trend towards woo-woo as well.

Glenn Branch said:

The article in RNCSE that Frank J. mentions is available on-line here.

Thanks for referring to it Glenn. I find that study far more interesting and useful than Allan Mazur’s paper in the latest issue of E cubed in attempting to understand public familiarity with biological science and their understanding of key concepts in evolution such as speciation.

eric said:

DS said:

Joe Felsenstein said: It is hard to conceive of an atheist who argues for creationism. However there may be an explanation. Perhaps these are people who want stern, and off-putting sales pitches for creationism in the schools…

Maybe. Or maybe they represent the UFO crowd…

Or maybe about 4% of the 5% atheist respondents just gave bad responses. Seriously guys, not every survey result has to have deep meaning. Beware of attempts to find an adaptational value for the second left hair on my middle finger…or the equivalent in survey results.

Perhaps, although a simpler explanation would be that these are people who feel that it would be helpful to actively debate creationism versus evolution in the classroom. But you can never rule out that 4% of people polled about anything end up choosing a response that they didn’t mean to choose.

And it often happens that, if one doesn’t give quite the “correct” answers, one begins to encounter subtle and not-so-subtle “encouragements” to start correcting those thoughts.

Nothing like standing tied to a stake on a stack of firewood while some wild eyed religious maniac waves a torch around with one hand while waving an old book around in the other.

A rope noose around the neck works well too.

Matt G:

The percentage of Americans who identify as atheist is around 13%, from what I’ve heard, and I think this number has been stable for quite a while. If I’m wrong, please correct me.

Not quite. US xianity is in decline and is losing about 1 million members a year.

The best data on Nones is probably ARIS. I added up the atheists, agnostics, and Deists and the No Religions run about 24%. This makes them one of the three largest denominations if they were a denomination. I don’t have a problem with Deists. Some days I am a Deist. They aren’t going to slaughter anyone based on a book that they don’t have in the name of a god, hmmmm, well what is Deos name anyway.

In the survey above, add up the atheists with The Distant God and you get 29%.

The whole survey methodology is a pretty blunt instrument. How many xians are just box checkers? Who knows, but only half of them even bother going to church.

Matt Young: ”..but I am skeptical that only 5 % of the US population are atheists,”

Cathy Grossman in USA TODAY viewed 4 Gods: “About one in nine (10.8%) respondents have no religious ties at all; previous national surveys found 14%. The Baylor survey, unlike others, asked people to write in the names and addresses of where they worship, and many who said “none” or “don’t know” when asked about their religious identity named a church they occasionally attend.”

http://www.usatoday.com/news/religi[…]survey_x.htm

Paul Burnett said:

A visitor to Ireland during a time of active religious warfare was stopped on the street and asked if he was a Protestant or a Catholic - he replied he was an atheist. “But,” he was asked, “are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?”

My joke is similar: “ Oi you , what are you ? A catholic or a protestant ???”

“Ah, Sir, I’m the same as the big bloke over there with the club”

I’ve long thought the Olympian pantheon best explained observed facts: everything is run by committee, and the members are working a cross-purposes.

MrrKAT, I’m not religious but I could easily write down the name of a church “I occasionally attend,” because I go to my parents’ church for Xmas, Easter, and to help out with their charity functions. I show up for my mom and dad, and I’m perfectly happy to admit it.

I guess my point is, the Baylor count is not necessarily more accurate just because it discounts from the number of atheists those people who write down the name of a church they occasionally attend.

I have a few friends who are militantly atheist, and at the same time equally absolutists regarding moral, economic, and political judgements. My suspician is that atheists can have a fundamentist orientation - not common but possible.

It would not surprise me that hard-core non-believers are only 5-10% of population. Most “atheists”, if pressed, fall back to deism or agnosticism.

It’s tough being an atheist. It is a belief, held as dearly as a theist holds hers. It is a lot easier to be unsure, to doubt, and to succumb to societal pressure.

Even though I vehemently disagree with them, I have a great deal of respect for people with atheist beliefs, especially in our culture. The badgering and hectoring that atheists go through makes the so-called “persecution” of Christianity look feeble. You really have to Believe to be an atheist.

Oh, and the vermiform appendix was put into man by Satan just to annoy God (it’s somewhere in Leviticus, trust me). Note that “vermiform” means worm-shaped, a worm looks like a snake, Satan was a snake, the conclusion is obvious. AND, if you get an apple seed in your appendix, it will get all icky and you will die. See? No evolution needed, it’s all Satan and apples.

Blessings to all… -*Zortag*-

Zortag said:

It would not surprise me that hard-core non-believers are only 5-10% of population. Most “atheists”, if pressed, fall back to deism or agnosticism.

Evidence?

It’s tough being an atheist. It is a belief, held as dearly as a theist holds hers. It is a lot easier to be unsure, to doubt, and to succumb to societal pressure. (snip) -*Zortag*-

Um, no. Atheism is a lack of belief. We don’t cling to something we don’t actually have to cling to. As far as succumbing to societal pressure, many atheist conversion stories focus on the nonbeliever’s inability to succumb in spite of their best efforts to do so.

Zortag said:

Most “atheists”, if pressed, fall back to deism or agnosticism.

It is a belief, held as dearly as a theist holds hers. You really have to Believe to be an atheist.

It’s amazing that someone could cram so much ignorance into three short sentences.

Did the book set out what the “official line” on what the type of god was for the various religions surveyed and how this compared to the responses?

I’d be curious to see whether this differs across religions. I suspect the evangelicals would be more closely aligned to the official line but it would be interesting if this is not the case.

The Curmudgeon said:

These polls always leave out the Olympian gods. I, for one, still respect them.

Not to mention the Norse gods.

Did the book set out what the “official line” on what the type of god was for the various religions surveyed and how this compared to the responses?

I’d be curious to see whether this differs across religions. I suspect the evangelicals would be more closely aligned to the official line but it would be interesting if this is not the case.

Official line, no, but but their Figure 2.5 plots “Distribution of God types within religious traditions.” Let’s just take authoritative God, which you might surmise to be the official line of certain evangelical religions. It goes roughly like this:

Black Protestant, 68 %

Evangelical Protestant, 52 %

Mainline Protestant, 23 %

Roman Catholic, 23 %

Jewish, 20 %

Other, 15 %

No religion, 3 %

Around 40 % of those with no religion professed atheism, and another 35 % believed in a distant God. In addition, 1-2 % of mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics professed atheism, as did perhaps 8 % of Jews. The numbers are very approximate - I am just eyeballing the graph and not bothering with a ruler.

Zortag said:

It would not surprise me that hard-core non-believers are only 5-10% of population. Most “atheists”, if pressed, fall back to deism or agnosticism.

It’s tough being an atheist. It is a belief, held as dearly as a theist holds hers. It is a lot easier to be unsure, to doubt, and to succumb to societal pressure.

Even though I vehemently disagree with them, I have a great deal of respect for people with atheist beliefs, especially in our culture. The badgering and hectoring that atheists go through makes the so-called “persecution” of Christianity look feeble. You really have to Believe to be an atheist.

Oh, and the vermiform appendix was put into man by Satan just to annoy God (it’s somewhere in Leviticus, trust me). Note that “vermiform” means worm-shaped, a worm looks like a snake, Satan was a snake, the conclusion is obvious. AND, if you get an apple seed in your appendix, it will get all icky and you will die. See? No evolution needed, it’s all Satan and apples.

Blessings to all… -*Zortag*-

tresmal said:

Um, no. Atheism is a lack of belief. We don’t cling to something we don’t actually have to cling to. As far as succumbing to societal pressure, many atheist conversion stories focus on the nonbeliever’s inability to succumb in spite of their best efforts to do so.

tomh said:

It’s amazing that someone could cram so much ignorance into three short sentences.

You others can denounce Zortag’s observations all you want, but the behavior of some atheist fanatics right here on the Panda’s Thumb convinced me long ago that he is telling the truth. So stop being in denial about your own shortcomings. Atheism is as much a dogma as anything in religion, because you must ASSUME there is no God to be an atheist. Merely lacking belief in God is actually non-theism, which includes atheism (denial of God’s existence) and agnosticism (claiming that God’s existence is unknowable) as sub-divisions within it.

Dale Husband said:

Merely lacking belief in God is actually non-theism, which includes atheism (denial of God’s existence) and agnosticism (claiming that God’s existence is unknowable) as sub-divisions within it.

According to you.

Where’s Ray Martinez? He thinks that anyone who’s not an evolution-denier is an atheist. That’s a slight majority if you go by 30 years of Gallup polls. The running joke on Talk.Origins is that Ray’s the only one who’s not an atheist.

Please do not feed the trolls – either in advance or in arrears.

Atheism is as much a dogma as anything in religion, because you must ASSUME there is no God to be an atheist. Merely lacking belief in God is actually non-theism, which includes atheism (denial of God’s existence) and agnosticism (claiming that God’s existence is unknowable) as sub-divisions within it.

If I were inclined to be technical about it, I’d divide all beliefs about theism into the following categories: I. God’s Existence is Knowable (for normal values of “knowable”) A. He necessarily exists B. He necessarily does not exist C. His existence is not necessary and 1. He nevertheless exists 2. He nevertheless does not exist 3. Though it is possible to know whether he exists, it is not now known II. God’s Existence is Not Knowable A. But there are sufficient reasons to believe that he probably exists B. There are sufficient reasons to believe that he probably does not exist C. The reasons for belief or disbelief are insufficient to support either belief or disbelief as a probability.

But technical distinctions, while valuable in some contexts, don’t control ordinary usage or social reality. In normal social and political contexts, just about any view other than IA, IC1, or IIA lands you among the “atheists.” While for technical reasons, it might be useful to confine “atheist” to IB or IC2, the larger world has a different view of the matter, and, for its purposes, is right to.

Oops. I meant to include IIB among the views that might, in a more technical discussion, count as “atheist.”

CJColucci said:

Atheism is as much a dogma as anything in religion, because you must ASSUME there is no God to be an atheist. Merely lacking belief in God is actually non-theism, which includes atheism (denial of God’s existence) and agnosticism (claiming that God’s existence is unknowable) as sub-divisions within it.

If I were inclined to be technical about it, I’d divide all beliefs about theism into the following categories: I. God’s Existence is Knowable (for normal values of “knowable”) A. He necessarily exists B. He necessarily does not exist C. His existence is not necessary and 1. He nevertheless exists 2. He nevertheless does not exist 3. Though it is possible to know whether he exists, it is not now known II. God’s Existence is Not Knowable A. But there are sufficient reasons to believe that he probably exists B. There are sufficient reasons to believe that he probably does not exist C. The reasons for belief or disbelief are insufficient to support either belief or disbelief as a probability.

But technical distinctions, while valuable in some contexts, don’t control ordinary usage or social reality. In normal social and political contexts, just about any view other than IA, IC1, or IIA lands you among the “atheists.” While for technical reasons, it might be useful to confine “atheist” to IB or IC2, the larger world has a different view of the matter, and, for its purposes, is right to.

You left out this - C.His existence is not necessary and It is possible to know whether he exist, and by current evidence there’s enough reason to believe he doesn’t.

How about these three categories:

1) Assumes that god(s) exists.

2) Assumes no god exists.

3) Doesn’t make either assumption.

(With varying level of confidence or tentativeness in each category.)

Henry J: My list is a list of what positions one can hold. Yours is about how they come to hold them. Some people may work off assumptions, but most people I know anything about have what seem to them to be reasons for what they believe, not assumptions.

I am curious as to where this author received his data. I know statistics are hard to get accurately, or fairly, but I wonder who he surveyed? Women, men, different religious groups, who? I don’t discredit what he has stated but I always ask these questions when faced with statistics.

I am actually surprise to see that 24% of people do not believe that God is evolved or judgmental. Why wouldn’t those people be classified as atheists? Perhaps they are agnostic but I don’t see how a person who believes in God can believe these things.

With these statistics, we can see that America has a split decision on who God is. This is a good representation, in my opinion, about how America’s demographics are in the context of how they feel about God. However, I would like to know where these statistics came from to bring more credibility to them.

I am curious as to where this author received his data. I know statistics are hard to get accurately, or fairly, but I wonder who he surveyed? Women, men, different religious groups, who? I don’t discredit what he has stated but I always ask these questions when faced with statistics.

I am sorry, but I have returned the book to the library, so I can’t immediately give you the exact name of the poll, but they used a comparatively well-known poll administered by people at Baylor University for much of their data. They supplemented the Baylor data, if I remember correctly, with a poll of their own, in which they asked the 2 questions I cited above. Then they and a few trained graduate students interviewed a number of individuals and ask them a set of specific questions. I am sure they took pains to get a representative sample.

I am actually surprise to see that 24% of people do not believe that God is evolved [benevolent?] or judgmental. Why wouldn’t those people be classified as atheists? Perhaps they are agnostic but I don’t see how a person who believes in God can believe these things.

Around a quarter of the population, according to this book, believe in a “distant” God, that is, a God who, they think, set the world in motion and then left it alone. People who hold such a belief are traditionally called deists. They are not atheists or agnostics, even though they do not believe in a God who is active today, as apparently you do. Depending on whom you talk to, an atheist either does not believe in God or believes that there is no God (a subtle difference, I will grant you). An atheist is therefore very different from a deist.

This may be completely irrelevant and completely off track. But lets consider the fundamentalists Christians claim that the second coming of a Christ Conscience Man (woman don’t count, of course) is coming or is already here. How would he show himself? Jesus the man two thousand years ago would not be saying, I, Jesus (EGO) have returned. A Christ Conscience individual would not process the 2000 year old Ego, of Me, Myself or I. “Christians” did not exist when “Jesus” lived 2000 years ago. Christ was a conscience being of pure love. Not labels of identities. There is only one individual I have witness that shows a true Christ Conscience. After watching his beloved country men, women and children being massacred by the Chinese, He has NEVER showed any hatred, revenge or retaliation against the Chinese. These fundamentalists in their total ignorance, intolerance and hatred cannot even recognized a man that processes Christ Conscience. Their holy book is full of holes. p.s Love your site. Thank You!

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