Definitional issues

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A recent Harris Poll found that 4% of atheists/agnostics are absolutely certain that there is a God. What about the term atheist or agnostic don’t they get? Of course, 4% of Catholics and 2% of Protestants are certain that there is no God. Please read The Nicene Creed.

12 Comments

  1. Of course, you have the old saying about the atheist who doesn’t so much not beleive in God as personally dislike Him…

  2. What Jimbo said. Some atheists are motivated more by anger than by skepticism. More power to them!

  3. I wonder how much of this is survey error (people mistakenly check the wrong box, misunderstand questions or options, etc). Usually survey margins of error are cited as somewhere around +/- 2%.

    This survey found that 79% of Americans believe there is a God, and that 66% are absolutely certain this is true.

    Why does this depress me? Because it really does. I guess it’s the “absolutely certain” part.

  4. From the poll: {
    Americans are far more likely to believe in God and to attend religious services than people in most other developed countries – particularly countries in Europe where philosophers have written that “God is dead.” }

    I’m sure there is plenty of theories that try to explain this. I would guess it’s the tradition of the religious groups that escaped persecution to america etc.

    But still, this proves that the material advancedness of a nation doesn’t quarantee intellectual development. Ok to be fair, maybe belif in God is not the right indicator. But those who believe, also often hold really irrational beliefs like ‘jesus was the son of god because the holy spirit from the skies landed on him’ or something weird like that.

    WHY. Why do people need to believe in miracles?? Please can anyone just give me a small hint? I think I have missed something about mankind.

  5. Most of the European countries still have state support for religion, producing a compromised and empaired church in which few believe very strongly. I’m not kidding. Some of the biggest church/state spearationists are conservative Christian groups (Baptists) who don’t want the taint.

    Solution: make the Episcopal church the state church.

  6. Most of the European countries still have state support for religion, producing a compromised and impaired church in which few believe very strongly.

    Very true. And many of the former Soviet countries, where Christianity was once forcibly discouraged, saw a huge resurgence in religiosity in the nineties. In religion, whatever the government touches — whether atheism or Christianity — seems to become repellent.

  7. Why does this depress me? Because it really does. I guess it’s the “absolutely certain” part.

    Really, why is that figure depressing? I can understand the problems with being “absolutely certain” about any religious belief on a scientific level (i.e. there is no way to PROVE that there is or is not a God in the sense one can PROVE that force is equal to mass times acceleration, or that the speed of light is 2.999… * 10^8 meters per second). But I still don’t see the harm in being “absolutely certain” that there is a God. What is the harm in believing in God, assuming one is not going around pushing Creationism in the schools or trying to enact a blanket ban on abortion? Also, religion can help nudge people in the right direction on moral issues that affect the public at large(i.e. avoiding having an illegitimate kid and stealing through welfare to support the kid).

    As for the unscientific “absolute certainty” about religious issues, such scientific illiteracy is far less harmful than other forms of scientific/mathematical illiteracy (ie dogmatic belief in the ‘axiom of equality’, having a hard time distinguishing a $30 million recall election from a $30+ billion deficit in CA, not realizing what it really means to bring 1.3 million people EVERY YEAR into the U.S. through legal and illegal immigration, not seeing the near constant inflation-adjusted per capita increases in government expenditures, even during the Reagan administration). Moreover, I would see the “absolute certainty” about the existence/non-existence of God as more a SYMPTOM of scientific illiteracy than a cause of it.

  8. Moreover, I would see the “absolute certainty” about the existence/non-existence of God as more a SYMPTOM of scientific illiteracy than a cause of it.

    there is something to what you say-but note that strictly speaking theism/atheism is not a scientific issue in its broadest sketches-as god is generally easy to define so as to be outside the realm of empirical exploration. though the end-point conclusions are very interesting quite often, we should work hard to put the spotlight on process. from my perspective, i have more in common with a theist who reaches that conclusion through reason (though i disagree with the conclusion) than an atheist who does not believe in god based on faith (though i agree with the conclusion). the problem of course is in the real world certain outcomes tend to correlate with certain methodologies, ergo, the conventional conflations….

  9. I meant the “why does this depress me” as an actual question. Meaning, your visceral reactions tell you a lot about your beliefs. I’d like to think I’m tolerant, but am I really? To what extent am I viscerally repelled by a certain kind of faith? Can I justify it?

    When I read the 66% statistic, it depresses me — not the “God” part, but the absolute certainty. The capacity to make a statement like that, of absolute certainty about anything, implies a way of thinking about the world I find problematic and anti-scientific. You can say that you “absolutely believe” in something — but “absolute certainty” is, to me, quite different. Oddly, I’m okay with faith, even complete and total faith — but not with this expression of “certainty.” It seems diagnostic of a way of thinking I have had bad encounters with, rather than being a problem in and of itself where religion is concerned. I would probably feel the same (I would hope) about an atheist who expressed absolute certainty that there is no God.

    As for the point about harm — I certainly see your point, there have been discussions on this issue before on this site. I do think there’s harm in scientific ignorance, because everyone gets one vote in this country, both at the national and local level. Everyone is subject to jury duty, no matter how scientifically illiterate. People’s understanding of science and “certainty” affects what gets taught in our schools, what kind of technology is legal, and who is condemned and acquitted in court.

  10. From my own experience, however reliable that may be, I think there is a lot of social pressure to not say anything against religion. This makes surveys pointless. Peoples gut response to a direct question is “Oh, yeah, of course I do. Uh, no I don’t go to church.” Closet atheists/agnostics.
    I’ve picked enough peoples brains, in and out of the church, to answer the question for myself- people say what they think is acceptable.

    Isn’t surveying “degrees of religiosity” while not even defining the gods in question sorta moronic anyway?
    “Do you like soup?”
    “What kind?”
    “Just answer the question.”
    “I guess so”
    “Well, would you rather live without it?”
    “I guess not……”
    “I’ll mark that as absolutley yes for soup. Thanks.”

  11. From my own experience, however reliable that may be, I think there is a lot of social pressure to not say anything against religion. This makes surveys pointless.

    Excellent point — according to the link, this study was done specifically to get around the social pressure bias, by administering the survey via computer rather than over the phone or in person. Whether that accomplished the goal or not, I don’t know, but usually this method does increase reporting of “undesirable” activities/beliefs.

  12. I prefer the Latin version. I’m old school like that:

    Et in unum Dominum Iesum Christum, Filium Dei unigenitum, et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula.

    Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero, genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri; per quem omnia facta sunt.

    Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de caelis. Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.

    Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, passus et sepultus est, et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas, et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris. Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, iudicare vivos et mortuos, cuius regni non erit finis.

    Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem, qui ex Patre [Filioque] procedit. Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur: qui locutus est per prophetas. Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam. Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum. Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.

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