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Academics and Hostility to Religion:

Rick Hills claims that many academics have an "irrational fear of, or intense discomfort around, theist and, in particular, Christian, beliefs," which he labels "theophobia." I don't doubt that there are some academics who hold such views. But I think that most seeming academic hostility to religion is actually hostility to the association between religiosity and conservatism in current American politics. Academics are overwhelmingly left-liberal and some of them are not particularly tolerant of right of center political views, whether religiously motivated or not.

Certainly, most liberal academics have no objection to religiosity when it is associated with political causes they support. Many liberal and leftist academics are sympathetic to "liberation theology" and other efforts to associate religion with left of center causes. Martin Luther King is a hero to most liberal academics even though he was a Christian minister. Barack Obama's open religiosity doesn't seem to have hurt his image among academics either. The late Robert Drinan was a prominent left-wing law professor and also an ordained Catholic priest. His religion doesn't seem to have attracted any significant academic hostility.

On the other side of the ledger, I know of a considerable number of conservative and libertarian academics - myself included - who are atheists or agnostics. As far as I can tell, the hostility that we sometimes encounter in the academic world because of our political views is not significantly reduced by our lack of religiosity.

While there are probably some academics who are hostile to religion as such independent of its perceived association with political conservatism, this is a relatively minor phenomenon. Certainly, such generalized "theophobia" among academics is far less common than is generalized hostility to atheism in the general public. For example, as I discussed in this article, some 51% of the general public believe that "[i]t is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values" and 50% would refuse to vote for a "well-qualifed" candidate for president nominated by their party if he were an atheist. By contrast, I doubt that more than a tiny fraction of academics believe that you have to be an atheist or agnostic to "be moral" or would refuse to vote for a presidential candidate of their party merely because he was a religious believer. Indeed, the vast majority of academics are going to support Obama this year, apparently unconcerned by his religious beliefs. Admittedly, I don't have systematic survey data on academics' attitudes on these points and so would welcome correction from anyone who does have such data. But these are my impressions on the basis of many years spent in the academic world, and acquaintance with a wide range of left of center academics.

PLR:
Admittedly, I don't have systematic survey data on academics' attitudes on these points and so would welcome correction from anyone who does have such data. But these are my impressions on the basis of many years spent in the academic world, and acquaintance with a wide range of left of center academics.

That's okay, perceived slights that produce distress are per se valid without regard to any objective basis.

I look forward to suggestions on the appropriate compensation for the victims in question.
6.19.2008 4:23pm
theobromophile (www):
As far as I can tell, the hostility that we sometimes encounter in the academic world because of our political views is not significantly reduced by our lack of religiosity.

Are people aware of your lack of religiosity? The hostility may be there even if the religious beliefs are not because you are presumed to be religious.

Alternatively, if you espouse conservative positions that leftists believe are only justified by religious belief, the fact that you are not religious will hardly reduce the animosity towards you and your theistic beliefs.
6.19.2008 4:25pm
Vanceone:
I think this only goes so far, though. While it's true that Senator Reid is of the same religion as Romney and Hatch, you can bet that if Reid went around actually preaching some of the principles of Mormonism--such as self reliance and pro-family values, he'd be roasted over the coals.
6.19.2008 4:30pm
Ilya Somin:
Are people aware of your lack of religiosity? The hostility may be there even if the religious beliefs are not because you are presumed to be religious.

In my case, they often are, because I have written an article and quite a number of blog posts about this subject.
6.19.2008 4:35pm
Ilya Somin:
While it's true that Senator Reid is of the same religion as Romney and Hatch, you can bet that if Reid went around actually preaching some of the principles of Mormonism--such as self reliance and pro-family values, he'd be roasted over the coals.

Maybe, but that would be a case of objections to the substance of his particular religious beliefs (or their political implications) - not to all religion as such.
6.19.2008 4:37pm
Goost:
I would first state that I have nothing but the utmost respect for both Prof. Somin and Prof. Volokh as legal scholars, and I truly enjoy reading their posts.

At the same time, neither is exactly an "unbiased observer" when the subject is the academy's hostility to religion.
6.19.2008 4:45pm
ray_g:
"...academic hostility to religion is actually hostility to the association between religiosity and conservatism in current American politics."

I basically agree, except I would replace "religion" and "religiosity" with "Christianity". BTW, I am no Christian apologist, I'm an atheist. I think this is a subset of their hostility towards anything associated with the dreaded "dead, white European male." I suspect that if you said you were a Wiccan or followed Native American religious practices, they would think that was a very good thing.
6.19.2008 4:47pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
goost: In suggesting that Ilya and Eugene (as conservative/libertarian atheists) aren't unbiased observers, are you thereby suggesting that someone (not Ilya or Eugene) is an unbiased observer?
6.19.2008 4:55pm
Ilya Somin:
At the same time, neither is exactly an "unbiased observer" when the subject is the academy's hostility to religion.

I don't claim to be an "unbiased observer." However, I have criticized academia on a wide range of subjects and do so in this very post for its political intolerance. So I'm certainly not unwilling to criticize academics as such.

More importantly, the question of whether I'm biased says nothing about whether I'm right about this issue or not. I could be unbiased but wrong, or biased but correct.
6.19.2008 4:57pm
Ilya Somin:
I basically agree, except I would replace "religion" and "religiosity" with "Christianity".

They don't seem to mind Christianity when it's associated with left-wing causes. Consider King, Obama, Jesse Jackson, Drinan, and many other left-wing Christians who are quite popular in academia.
6.19.2008 4:58pm
Constructively Reasonable (www):
There is certainly a political undercurrent in the reactions of liberal, atheistic/agnostic academics to religious people. Politics may fuel the fire, but did politics light it?

Those on the left certainly respect and sometimes promote "liberation theology" "religious environmentalism," etc. But I wonder what would happen if all things were equal and there was no "religious right" to serve as a foil. Would religion then be accepted by these same academics? I doubt it. Their whole foundation for their arguments and reactions are based on the "irrationality" inherent in religion. Unless religion becomes some empty shell of itself, that "irrationality" (aka "faith") still exists.

As for evidence debate on whether this theophobia in academia exists or not, I would love to see some empirical data. Everyone (including me in my comment in the previous post) basis his opinion on anecdotal evidence and "gut feelings." I would love for someone to point me to a study or other hard evidence.
6.19.2008 5:12pm
jprapp (www):
Ilya, exactly: that "academics have no objection to religiosity when it is associated with political causes they support." And that's not really Machiavellian.

There's a fine line between theophobia and healthy skepticism. And some shared territory.

For example, the poll data that you cite showing, "51% of the general public believe that "[i]t is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values" (and so on) likely requires interpretation integrated into empirical studies, say in attribution theory, showing a lack of correlation (across a population sample: not for individuals) for even true believers who fail to translate their internal theological convictions into attributions-to-God of external news events (internal theophobia of one's own convictions? or, self-skepticism? both?), and that data needs integration into historical studies, like Kent Greenawalt's, showing a lack of clear and consistent correlation between religious conviction and political choice. More recent studies in psychological priming show that altruistic and pro-social behaviors (arguably, law-abiding behaviors) are moderately increased because of priming via God-concepts, but, are equally increased by priming with other mega-concepts like "state" (or, government), arguably including "law." I'm not up on the current status of First Amendment law, but the Supreme Court itself has admitted to problems mitigating against neatly and categorically defining "religion." Even for purposes of "religious" clause cases. Except by criteria-driven measures. In all, it's hard to separate neatly discrete religious convictions from non-religious convictions (like biological innate sources of law in shared moral sentiments) into differentially weighted categories of "religion" or "non-religious" convictions.

Even in cases where expressly religious reasoning is used to judge legal cases (like in ADR: which allows this), or in legal cultures wherein religious reasoning is a part of the casuistry, even then it's still not always easy to parse out the discretely "religious" from the non-religious (biological empathy, common sense, extra-religious reasoning) mix that goes into a judgment.

We humans labor and strive neatly to define uniquely religious convictions distinct from non-religious ones, and, argue over the appropriate weight owing or not owing to each in our common polis; but, we're weirdly and wonderfully capable of variable degrees of parsimony and generosity in looking for grounds and reasons to join causes with each other despite religious disagreements (agnostics supporting King), much like a trial court can use generous inferences in reading pleadings (at one stage in a court case), while using parsimonious tools later at trial. A sort of context-specific parsimony and generosity gradient which makes us range from theophobia (even internally: phobia toward our own convictions) to healthy skepticism. With the line between phobia and skepticism clearer in print than in practice.

Jim
6.19.2008 5:16pm
TM Lutas (mail) (www):
If I understand the post correctly, you're saying that academics are bigots because they assume an identity between christianity and conservatism that does not actually exist, thus evidencing a prejudice unsupported by reality. The post is criticizing someone else claiming that secular academics are instead phobic, irrationally afraid of theists.

I'm not quite clear why one precludes the other. Is life really that simple? Could somebody explain that?
6.19.2008 5:17pm
jprapp (www):
@

http://www.blogger.com/profile/07674489078935633842
6.19.2008 5:18pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Excellent post, Ilya. Coming at it from the left, I would cite the example of criticism of liberals for opposing John Roberts and Sam Alito, which was claimed to be some sort of anti-Catholic bigotry.

But, of course, it wasn't the justices Catholicism, but their substantive positions on issues which bothered liberals. Liberals would surely love to have a Catholic with William Brennan's positions on issues on the Court.

What has happened is that conservatives are trying to rule out ordinary expression of political views by liberals from the discourse on the ground that at least some conservatives believe what they believe for religious reasons.
6.19.2008 5:19pm
L.A. Brave:
Sasha Volokh:
Clearly, the only person that could be unbiased in an discussion about religion and atheism is a solipsist.
6.19.2008 5:19pm
Ilya Somin:
If I understand the post correctly, you're saying that academics are bigots because they assume an identity between christianity and conservatism that does not actually exist, thus evidencing a prejudice unsupported by reality.

No, I'm saying that liberal academics dislike religious positions associated with conservative political views, but that most have no problem with religion as such, and indeed welcome it when associated with political agendas that they support.
6.19.2008 5:22pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):

and 50% would refuse to vote for a "well-qualifed" candidate for president nominated by their party if he were an atheist


This is probably simply because right now, any politician who feels the need to declare he's an atheist is usually on a crusade to purge religion. Among politicians, the agnostics and atheists who don't want to go after religious folk just say they believe in god and make a couple token visits to church, or attend one of the newer kinds of church that is less about god and more about politics.

It is self-perpetuating: because the only politicians who dare to reject christianity have an axe to grind with it, you get people who (gasp!) recognize the pattern and provide a further disincentive for any politician to admit he's an atheist.

It doesn't mean that people are hostile to non-atheists, it just means that in the political sphere, atheist is a code word for people out to tear down christians.
6.19.2008 5:32pm
Federal Dog:
"Their whole foundation for their arguments and reactions are based on the "irrationality" inherent in religion."

Arationality is more like it: Faith does not involve questions of reason. It stands as an experience apart from reason. It is, therefore, neither rational nor irrational.

Further, given all the irrational beliefs that motivate academics (e.g., I run into a surprising number of people in academic circles who explain everything they don't like in life in terms of secret evil conspiracies), academics have no problem with irrationality that supports their desires and beliefs. So even if they conceive of faith as "irrational," that does not explain their animus against religion.
6.19.2008 5:39pm
TM Lutas (mail) (www):
Ilya Somin - I think that this is largely unsupported by evidence. Do left wing academics like MLK? Sure, but you won't find too many people in academia emphasizing his christian roots or on the left in general.

Here's an easy exercise, do an image search for MLK and you find little pictorial support of him being a christian pastor on the first few pages of Google. All the pictures I found in the first few pages were of him in suit and tie making secular speeches or behind a podium stripped of any possible religious context. If you didn't already know that he was a pastor, you wouldn't find out about it until page 9 where I find the first cross in a background with MLK in the foreground.

The left has recently tried to follow Howard Dean and claim God back but it's pretty obviously an uncomfortable fit for many, especially the intellectual portions of the Democrat party coalition.
6.19.2008 5:47pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

Indeed, the vast majority of academics are going to support Obama this year, apparently unconcerned by his religious beliefs.



I can think of at least a couple of reasons for this. One is that Obama's "church" is more political than religious in nature and has political views that might be shared with those same academics even if they don't buy the "religious" aspect of it.

Another reason is that they figure that Obama only joined the "church" out of political necessity and doesn't really believe any of it, he just joined to advance his political career. Just as he abandoned it when it became a political liability.

The other (less politically correct) reason may be that most of the leftist academics supporting Obama are white and see the religious beliefs of non-whites as more of an anthropological curiosity and view Obama's religion just part of his "culture" as a black person. If he were white, they would probably be less "understanding."
6.19.2008 5:48pm
Constructively Reasonable (www):
Federal Dog: In my comment to the first post in this string, I also argued that "irrational" is improper. I suggested "non-rational" instead, arguing that issues of faith cannot be proven and disproven solely on logic alone. One can have evidence and arguments, but they cannot lead you totally to faith. Therefore, we are in agreement that "irrational" is incorrect.

As for your conspiracy quip: I had a liberal history professor in college who tried to convince me that: 1) Bush and Rumsfeld allowed the 9/11 attacks so they could go to war (any war would do) and 2) LBJ wanted the presidency so bad, he was in on the assassination plot against JFK. At least he entertained me…
6.19.2008 5:52pm
Orielbean (mail):
"not consistent with or using reason" = irrational. Faith is not consistent with or uses reason as its fountdation. It is irrational.
6.19.2008 5:55pm
Guest101:
Educated people hostile to pervasive irrational superstition? I can't imagine why.
6.19.2008 5:57pm
CJColucci:
While it's true that Senator Reid is of the same religion as Romney and Hatch, you can bet that if Reid went around actually preaching some of the principles of Mormonism--such as self reliance and pro-family values, he'd be roasted over the coals.

Do we actually know he doesn't?
6.19.2008 5:57pm
EH (mail):
some 51% of the general public believe that "[i]t is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values"

This is a tautology, "morals" are religion's stock in trade. Morality = group ethics = religion. It would have a different result if it were asked, "Is it necessary to believe in God in order to have good ethics?"
6.19.2008 6:04pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
I strongly suspect that what's really going on here is that people are trying to conflate hostility toward theologically conservative Christians with hostility towards "religion," or just against "Christians." Are academics really that hostile towards liberal Protestants, reform Jews, Unitarians, and Buddhists? Color me skeptical.
6.19.2008 6:04pm
TM Lutas (mail) (www):
Orielbean - Nothing uses reason as its foundation. If you dig enough, you will eventually come to a point where something is taken on faith. That does not mean that said worldview is irrational or that it does not use reason. You're misusing the english language to attach bad memes to your theological opponents.

Guest101 - Educated people are hostile to unpopular irrational superstition. The irrational superstitions of the day are always popular with the educated class. How often has the educated class of a generation thought of its predecessors of previous generations and thought "what were they thinking?" I would suggest that in some respects, that's true of every generation.
6.19.2008 6:04pm
EH (mail):
Also, why not ask if the voter would choose to elect a candidate if they didn't know what religion (if any) they were a member of? That is, what if the candidate said "None of your business?"
6.19.2008 6:05pm
L.A. Brave:
Federal Dog:
That is all well and good as long as the religious do not make testable claims about the universe (e.g., Genesis, Virgin Birth, Angels, Resurrection) or base policy decisions on religious faith (e.g., abstinence only sex education, intelligent design). Of course, they do. At that point, religion is fully in the rational sphere and should be subject to rebuke.
6.19.2008 6:10pm
Guest101:

Nothing uses reason as its foundation. If you dig enough, you will eventually come to a point where something is taken on faith. That does not mean that said worldview is irrational or that it does not use reason. You're misusing the english language to attach bad memes to your theological opponents.

It may be the case that all knowledge rests ultimately on some unprovable axioms-- e.g., the uniformity of nature, the reality of the external universe, and the assumption that our sense impressions are in some way an accurate representation of that universe-- but that's a far cry from belief in a specific invisible man in the sky who sees and knows everything. If an adult human being persisted in believing in unicorns or fairies despite the complete lack of evidence for the existence of those beings no one would have the slightest hesitation in labeling those beliefs irrational. For some reason religious believers demand, and are inexplicably granted, a general exception from that standard.
6.19.2008 6:13pm
LM (mail):
Vanceone:

I think this only goes so far, though. While it's true that Senator Reid is of the same religion as Romney and Hatch, you can bet that if Reid went around actually preaching some of the principles of Mormonism--such as self reliance and pro-family values, he'd be roasted over the coals.

You mean other than his being pro-gun and pro-life?
6.19.2008 6:14pm
Orielbean (mail):
Lutas, I disagree. Federal Dog stated that faith was arational vs irrational as it lies outside of reason. The definition of the word irrational is that it means something is not consistent with or uses reason. That's it. Not trying to make some clever argument, or make a reductionist philosophical argument either. Reason and rationality are on or off, one or the other. Something either supports using reason, and is thus rational - or it does not support using reason, and is thus irrational.
6.19.2008 6:15pm
L.A. Brave:
TM Lutas:
What's the difference between academics believing in "irrational superstitions of the day" and Christians believing in a 4,000 year old irrational superstition? Some sort of Bad Idea Grandfather Clause? Or maybe Bad Idea Adverse Possession?
6.19.2008 6:18pm
Jerry F:
What Professor Somin really means to say, of course, is that Leftist, atheist academics who generally despise religion are nonetheless quite comfortable with atheists who (despite having the same feelings about religion as the Leftist, atheist academics in question) masquerade as Christians in order to get votes and public support. Neither Obama nor Clinton holds Christian *beliefs*, but what do you think Obama's odds at the Presidency would be if he were to present himself as an atheist?

This brings back the point that atheists are by far the most overrepresented minority in Congress -- not open atheists, of course, but politicians who consider themselves atheists (and probably admit as such to their close friends and family, who knows) but proclaim otherwise in public. It is thus not surprising that our government policies, especially on social issues, are so hostile to traditional values.
6.19.2008 6:25pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Educated people hostile to pervasive irrational superstition? I can't imagine why.


But that's the thing; educated people *aren't* hostile to a pervasive irrational superstition. Gun control proponents have no problem treating weapons like some sort of motived force in popular fiction or non-fiction documents and video. String theory fanatics are treated like real scientists. The autism-vaccine link is still floating around and being advocated by 'real' doctors. Anti-nuke advocates claiming that a nuclear power plant could go up like an atomic bomb.

There are a lot of stupid, falsified, or unfalsifiable ideas going on out there, whose advocates aren't believed to be so fundamentally screwed in the head to be dangerous or untrustable.
6.19.2008 6:34pm
EPluribusMoney (mail):
As an atheist I think religion is foolish but as a libertarian I find religious people much more reasonable in fiscal matters than those foolish leftists who happen to also be atheists.
6.19.2008 6:34pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
What's the difference between academics believing in "irrational superstitions of the day" and Christians believing in a 4,000 year old irrational superstition? Some sort of Bad Idea Grandfather Clause? Or maybe Bad Idea Adverse Possession?


I don't think anyone implied there was a significant difference, at least from the viewpoint of age providing inherent veracity. People thinking string theory is actually meaningful aren't much more or less harmful than people who believe in a generic invisible man in the clouds.
6.19.2008 6:37pm
Gringo (mail):
Where do you all place the tendency of many on the left, academics included, to claim that "Christian fundamentalists" are as bad as Wahabis? As an agnostic, I have often run across this.
6.19.2008 6:43pm
L.A. Brave:
gattsuru:
String theory may yet turn out to be science. The are hoping to test some experiments at the LHC. Theoretical physics is not fantasy in the same way that religion is. Often it is used as a bootstrap to better scientific understanding. String theorists deserve a shot to test their theories, and it looks like they are going to get it. I would be shocked if there were string theorists that wouldn't admit that they would give up the theory if the experiments fail to pan out.

In contrast, Christianity is still no closer to being true or untrue as it was 3,500 years ago.
6.19.2008 6:48pm
L.A. Brave:
gattsuru:
People thinking string theory is actually meaningful aren't much more or less harmful than people who believe in a generic invisible man in the clouds.

That is patently false. String theorist do not stand in the way of scientific progress; they are part of the process. The do not stand in the way of stem cell research. They do not advocate the teaching of pseudo-science in public schools. They do no advocate abstinence-only sex education, which is, empirically, a complete and utter failure.
6.19.2008 6:55pm
Arkady:

But I think that most seeming academic hostility to religion is actually hostility to the association between religiosity and conservatism in current American politics.


That's the crux. (Pun intended.)
6.19.2008 6:57pm
PersonFromPorlock:
I suspect there's a certain natural stiffness between those whose purpose is to understand the world and those whose purpose is to celebrate the fact that it can't be understood.
6.19.2008 7:02pm
Dave N (mail):
In contrast, Christianity is still no closer to being true or untrue as it was 3,500 years ago.

Christianity as a religion did not exist prior to the death of Jesus and Paul's evangelism all circa 35-50 AD (at the earliest). Thus, Christianity being more than 2000 years old is clearly untrue.

I am also curious as to why string theory, if proven untrue, would cause its adherents to lose faith in their theory rather than attempt to refine it.
6.19.2008 7:06pm
Federal Dog:
"That is all well and good as long as the religious do not make testable claims about the universe (e.g., Genesis, Virgin Birth, Angels, Resurrection) or base policy decisions on religious faith (e.g., abstinence only sex education, intelligent design). Of course, they do. At that point, religion is fully in the rational sphere and should be subject to rebuke."


This simply posits that because people can logically experience the world and subject it to "testable claims," that experience properly "rebukes" all others. That itself is a declaration of faith. Religion and religious lore are not fully in the sphere of anything but religion.

It's beyond me, that's for sure. I am agnostic. I base my observations on the experiences of thoughtful and wise people of faith who have a completely different experience of the world than anything knowable through logic or empirical observation.
6.19.2008 7:17pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
Speaking as an academic I think that in the sciences most hostility towards religion is, as Ilya suggested, the same kind of hostility you would have toward people who believed in a flat earth despite the obvious evidence if they were in power and there view was predominant. Religiously motivated attempts to discredit evolution or attack stem cell research just add fuel to the fire.

I mean academics hostility to religion is often rooted in the hostility, or at least refusal to listen to them, they experienced from the outside world when they became atheists.
6.19.2008 7:21pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
LA Brave, the problem is, neither do Christians as a group. Some Christians, of some particular beliefs, may.
6.19.2008 7:38pm
Renato Drumond (mail):
"Academics are overwhelmingly left-liberal"

I don't have the exact numbers, so correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't Academics, even if we consider only the conservatives/libertarians, overwhelmingly non-religious(or at leat more than non-academics)?

So even if hostility to religion is partially explained by political connections, it would remain a general rejection of religion as something true.
6.19.2008 8:06pm
Latinist:
Certainly, most liberal academics have no objection to religiosity when it is associated with political causes they support.

This seems pretty silly to me. Liberal academics really don't all swear to some unified set of principles: there are certainly plenty of generally anti-religious academics, and plenty of academics who like, e.g., liberation theology, but probably not a whole lot of overlap between the two groups. Of course, an atheist liberal academic will probably approve more of a liberal Christian politician than of a conservative one: conservative atheists, I would assume, generally feel the reverse.

Of course, most people would like to support politicians who agree with them about everything; but most people are reasonable enough to make common cause with people who only partly agree with them. Is this really a surprise to anyone?
6.19.2008 8:42pm
EH (mail):
L.A. Brave:
What's the difference between academics believing in "irrational superstitions of the day" and Christians believing in a 4,000 year old irrational superstition?


Empiricism as a sense-making apparatus.
6.19.2008 8:43pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
A cleric like Drinan is/was acceptable in left-wing academia in the same way a dirty cop is accepted among organized crime. He might still wear the badge and make an occasional arrest, but everyone knows he's not serious about enforcing the law.

Indeed, one of the marks of "modern", "sophisticated clergy is their tacit but clear dismissal of actual religious doctrine as embarrassing baggage, and their substituted enthusiasm for left-wing political causes.
6.19.2008 8:43pm
MarkField (mail):

I am also curious as to why string theory, if proven untrue, would cause its adherents to lose faith in their theory rather than attempt to refine it.


Depends on what you mean by "proven untrue". Experiments generally impose constraints on what a theory can say about the real world. String theorists have to meet those constraints (generally speaking; there are exceptions). At some point in the process, modifying the theory won't work any more and the theory would be abandoned.
6.19.2008 8:51pm
Random Academic Reader:
Over the last few months, I've had opportunity to talk with many of my colleagues in academia about their support of Senator Obama. As Thorley Winston suggests... they don't think he actually believes in God at all. They are, to a man and a woman, convinced that he is simply saying the right noises to appease the superstitious and ignorant American mob.
6.19.2008 9:05pm
Goost:

goost: In suggesting that Ilya and Eugene (as conservative/libertarian atheists) aren't unbiased observers, are you thereby suggesting that someone (not Ilya or Eugene) is an unbiased observer?

Well, we are discussing the Unmoved Mover...

But even if there is no truly "unbiased observer," it seems from reading their blog posts that the good professors are clearly among the "hostile to religion" portion of the academy. I mean, I read Prof. Somin's argument as basically saying that the academy isn't hostile enough to religion, as it should be equally hostile to both conservative Christians and to liberal Christians. Which is at least an intellectually honest approach.
6.19.2008 9:09pm
Bad (mail) (www):
"Jerry F: This brings back the point that atheists are by far the most overrepresented minority in Congress -- not open atheists, of course, but politicians who consider themselves atheists (and probably admit as such to their close friends and family, who knows) but proclaim otherwise in public."

It must be nice to be able to make up self-aggrandizing falsehoods about other people's inner beliefs at the drop of a hat, whenever its convenient for your arguments.
6.19.2008 9:15pm
Moneyrunner43 (www):
The "religion" threads on this blog are really amazing examples of the self identification of academic bigotry. If they were not so obviously earnest, I would swear some of the militant atheists here are imposters really trying to discredit academia.
6.19.2008 9:25pm
LM (mail):
Jerry F:

Neither Obama nor Clinton holds Christian *beliefs*, but what do you think Obama's odds at the Presidency would be if he were to present himself as an atheist?

[...]

It is thus not surprising that our government policies, especially on social issues, are so hostile to traditional values.

You mean like the one about not bearing false witness?
6.19.2008 9:37pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
String theorist do not stand in the way of scientific progress; they are part of the process... They do not advocate the teaching of pseudo-science in public schools


Riiiiight.

That's why string theory isn't discussed in text books, television shows, and news articles, wasting time and money to discuss a model that can not be falsified nor can meaningfully predict a given result. That's why PhDs haven't been passed out on a matter that has never been seen in a laboratory session, and has only been mathematically modeled through a series of approximations. That's why teachers never mention it.

Sorry to burst the people of any stringist around here, but there is no current experimental evidence suggesting string theory is right in the first place, the Large Hadron Collider experiment's purported possible results fall within the range of several dozen viable theories, there's no result from the Large Hadron Collider which would demonstrate falsifiability of superstring theory, and there's not even a single solution string theorists are trying to claim. The LHC could produce strong evidence of supersymmetry, and that would not prove or assist string theory. The LHC could produce nothing, or a black hole, or a string of philotes, or a Cessna 207 with full gas tanks, and that would not disprove any single string theory.

That's not some horrible and fatal cancer that should prevent any real study. Neither Copernicus, Oresme, nor Galileo had the mathematical skill nor experimental capability to test their theory of a heliocentric universe (and the few individuals who could test it would have gotten the 'wrong' answer, albeit one less wrong than the Earth-centric one).

But it makes the theory about as much a scientific theory as claiming there's a big invisible *thing*, that did some invisible and undetectable *stuff* *sometime* that we might see *some stupid amount of time in the future*, but not seeing it won't mean the big invisible *thing* doesn't exist. Add in a bunch of people talking about the big invisible *thing* for their own, largely incorrect, purposes, and you've got something just as frustrating to scientific progress and just as much of a superstition as religious thought.
6.19.2008 9:43pm
Smokey:
In other words, string theory is the devil?
6.19.2008 9:55pm
Smokey:
gattsuru,

I was just having some fun at your expense. It's one of my faults. Sorry.

BTW, string theory should be properly called the string hypothesis, shouldn't it?
6.19.2008 10:00pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
In other words, string theory is the devil?


Nah, it's a rather cool and really interesting theory, and it's brought a lot of attention to theoretical physics that even more testable and potentially more productive theories would never have been able to get. I do wish the modified Heim theories were getting their own giant experimental array, but I do recognize that no matter how attractive the theory is or how good it's been at predictions, it's pretty much protoscience.

I've got no problem with things that don't fit the scientific method particularly well, it's just important to know what can and can't be done with a given concept.
6.19.2008 10:49pm
Eli Rabett (www):
The post confuses religion and proselytization. Your religion, or lack of it is your business. If you start telling me that I am damned or not morally fit for the office of dog catcher for not following your path don't complain when I object. If you tell me that your religion requires you to believe the world was created 10000 years ago and I am a cruel cad for not teaching this, forgive my laughter.

In an academic setting proselytization is anathema and, for better or worse, Christianity and Islam are all about proselytization although a small number of believers have learned to control themselves.
6.19.2008 11:01pm
DangerMouse:
Atheists are pathetic. They spend all this time arguing with people about something that they don't think exists, trying to convince the people of the world to give up on religion. And they're not arguing with people whose religion says "kill the infidel," but rather the people who believe "love your enemies."

Attacking Christianity is so easy for those cowards. What's a Christian going to do, forgive you? Oooh scary! But somehow, atheists never seem to get around to criticizing a religion that's violent and pathological.

The strange thing is that atheists don't seem to have given up on faith. They have a pathetic faith in the idea that their grand arguments will matter, that eventually they'll convince the world to give up on God. Morons. The world will never give up on God. It may give up on a specific religion, but not on God. Even Europe, post-Christian, won't give up on God, because it will be conquered by Islam. In the meantime, the billions of people among the earth will go one believing in their religion, hoping and praying and treating as odd the lunatic corner-ranters who want all of us to accept that there's nothing more to life than the dirt of the universe. Even official atheists Russia couldn't stomp out Orthodoxy among its people.

So people who think their arguments matter, when in reality they don't, and who spend all their time attacking a religion who forgives them instead of one who's really deadly, and who waste their effort and time on something they say shouldn't matter - they have the gall to call themselves rational?

Pathetic. Get a life, you wine-sipping elitist losers.
6.19.2008 11:19pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
Oops in my earlier comment I meant as Eugene suggested not Ilya.
6.19.2008 11:30pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
And they're not arguing with people whose religion says "kill the infidel," but rather the people who believe "love your enemies."

Attacking Christianity is so easy for those cowards. What's a Christian going to do, forgive you? Oooh scary!
Unfortunately, those Christians who most loudly proclaim their piety so that everyone can see them tend to be the least interested in the enemy-loving and forgiveness stuff. You seem to be a case in point.
6.19.2008 11:41pm
MQuinn:
DangerMouse,

If you have a second, it may help for you to read the following, taken from the Comment Policy:

"So please, also avoid rants, invective, substantial and repeated exaggeration, and radical departures from the topic of the thread. Sticking with substance -- and staying on-topic -- will make the comments more helpful to other readers, and more pleasant. . . . Here's a tip: Reread your post, and think of what people would think if you said this over dinner. If you think people would view you as a crank, a blowhard, or as someone who vastly overdoes it on the hyperbole, rewrite your post before hitting enter."
6.19.2008 11:47pm
MQuinn:
Now that I reread my previous post, I realize that it makes me sound like I want commenters to be censored. I don't. Actually, I wish that commenters were never edited. I was just so struck by the applicability of the above-quoted portion of the Comment Policy to DangerMouse's post that I had to respond.
6.19.2008 11:58pm
TGGP (mail) (www):
Obama is rather revealingly agnostic. He's also a fan of Nietzche.
6.20.2008 12:04am
TGGP (mail) (www):
Also, many Objectivist-type libertarians are very hostile towards religion. If you read the Reason blog you'll often see ads for the Great American God-Out, Rational Responders, The God Who Wasn't There and similar stuff.
6.20.2008 12:05am
Michael B (mail):
"Unfortunately, those Christians who most loudly proclaim their piety so that everyone can see them tend to be the least interested in the enemy-loving and forgiveness stuff. You seem to be a case in point." Elliott Reed

Oh, harrumph, harrumph, harrumph.

As if so many so suddenly becoming tolerant of "religion" once Islamists began sawing off peoples' heads and flying planes into buildings and bombing subway systems in the west was merely a coincidence. As long as people could sneer, including with public funds, via the Piss Christ, via the Cow Dung Madonna and any number of other ideologically based artistic acts, those "brave" transgressivists were often enough feted, precisely for their pseudo bravery.

Offer your harrumphs and moralizing sermonettes where there's a market for it. Oh wait, what am I saying ...
6.20.2008 12:08am
Ken Arromdee:
Atheists are pathetic. They spend all this time arguing with people about something that they don't think exists, trying to convince the people of the world to give up on religion. And they're not arguing with people whose religion says "kill the infidel," but rather the people who believe "love your enemies."

Attacking Christianity is so easy for those cowards.


Calling someone a pathetic coward isn't "love your enemies". It's hatred and contempt.
6.20.2008 12:22am
Suzy (mail):
Why not look for some better evidence about what academics believe? This study http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/soc/faculty/gross/religions.pdf indicates that the number of atheists and agnostics is much higher among faculty members than in the general population. Science faculty also report being atheist or agnostic at a much higher rate (one such study http://www.buffalo.edu/news/8732).

However, a majority of faculty members do believe in God. Only at elite PhD institutions are the believers not a majority, which may explain some of the anecdotal experiences people have had. It's unreasonable to generalize from those experiences to conclusions about whether academics are hostile to religion, though. Perhaps the reason why liberal faculty don't object to religiosity when it's associated with political causes they favor is because the majority of faculty are themselves religious believers.
6.20.2008 1:57am
Colin (mail):
Oh wait, what am I saying ...

It's almost impossible to discern any real substance, but I'd say it's a nasty sneer expressed through excessive subordinate clauses and onomatopoeia.
6.20.2008 2:07pm
ejo:
hatred and contempt-well, most christians realize we come up short. he was a bit of a meanie in making his entirely accurate point-christianist is an easy target as its adherents tend not to kill you. islam, far more backward, is not going to be subjected to the same contempt as it is primarily practiced by "brown" people and its adherents just might kill. cowardice was a mean word, very unchristian, but entirely accurate.
6.20.2008 2:07pm
James McGrath (mail) (www):
This cartoon seems to me to sum up well what often happens when Christians perceive hostility from atheists. There are, of course, many 'angry atheists' out there. But there are at least as many 'angry Christians' who will use bully pulpits to which they have access in the same way.
6.20.2008 2:33pm
Seamus (mail):
In an academic setting proselytization is anathema

You mean that academics never try to persuade people that what they believe is right and that what the others believe is wrong? If so, that must be because everyone they run into already believes the "right" things already, and if they don't, make damn sure to keep quiet about it.
6.20.2008 2:48pm
ejo:
academics only want to persuade you about important things-like voting democratic and making sure that, once you get tenure, you never have to worry about your job again. next to abortion, this is probably the fundamental constitutional right most highly regarded in academia.
6.20.2008 3:00pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):
James McGrath:

Humor usually works best if there's at least a kernel of truth in it. Your cartoon fails that test. Note that in the example which is the subject of this discussion, the bigot was surprised to find out that his associate was a christian. Therefore it is exceedingly unlikely the christian had been figuratively beating people over the head with a cross.

But your caricature is impeccably politically correct. I have to give you that much credit.
6.20.2008 3:05pm
Thoughtful (mail):
"It's the difference between academics believing in 'irrational superstitions of the day' and Christians believing in a 4,000 year old irrational superstition?"

Not keeping up with the latest fads?
6.20.2008 3:28pm
Federal Dog:
"In an academic setting proselytization is anathema"


Having spent decades as an academic, I am completely busting a gut.
6.20.2008 3:42pm
Thoughtful (mail):
DangerMouse,

How did you know I enjoy wine...?
6.20.2008 3:45pm
TM Lutas (mail) (www):
Orielbean - You live in a very simplistic world if you can't conceive of supporting an idea through both rational and faith based appeals. A clear example is the story of doubting Thomas. Jesus blessed Thomas because he had seen (investigated rationally by sticking his hand in Jesus' wounds) and believed. But then Jesus says blessed even more who do not see (take on faith) and yet still believe. This duality of reason and faith has been in christianity since the beginning and lives on through today.

L.A. Brave - You ask what's the difference between holding on to a faith that draws back to the beginning of Judaism (4000 years ago) and flitting from fashionable faiths that are disproved in succession several times in one lifetime? Do you really see no difference in an idea that has stood the test of time and one that has not?

Thoughtful - There aren't a lot of alchemists or phrenologists left in academia but at a certain time there were. These theories were debunked and they died out. Christianity never did, though people are always claiming that they've managed it.
6.20.2008 5:39pm
Michael B (mail):
As if so many so suddenly becoming tolerant of "religion" once Islamists began sawing off peoples' heads and flying planes into buildings and bombing subway systems in the west was merely a coincidence. As long as people could sneer, including with public funds, via the Piss Christ, via the Cow Dung Madonna and any number of other ideologically based artistic acts, those "brave" transgressivists were often enough feted, precisely for their pseudo bravery.

Offer your harrumphs and moralizing sermonettes where there's a market for it. Oh wait, what am I saying ...
"It's almost impossible to discern any real substance, but I'd say it's a nasty sneer expressed through excessive subordinate clauses and onomatopoeia." Colin
It certainly reveals a certain nastiness or, minimally, a certain abject pettiness. Hence you sneer and dismiss in lieu of acknowledging yourself in the mirror and facing up to what you see.
6.22.2008 1:21pm