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From Astrology to Cult Politics—the Many Ways We Try (and Fail) to Replace Religion

If you count yourself among the secularists cheering for the demise of religion, it isn’t hard to find comforting statistics. Nearly every survey of the state of religion in my own country, the United States, presents a similar picture of faith in decline. Compared to their parents and grandparents, Americans are less likely to self-identify as religious, attend religious services, or engage in religious practices such as daily prayer. Full-blown atheism is still a minority position. But the ranks of the “non-religious”—a broad category made up of those who reject traditional conceptions of God and religious doctrines, or who express uncertainty about their beliefs—are growing.

Even those who self-identify as Christians are less inclined to talk publicly about God and their faith than their predecessors. Indeed, many Americans are Christian in name only—using the term more as an indicator of their cultural background than as a declaration of a spiritual life committed to the teachings of Christ. And the rest of the Western world is even farther ahead on this same path.

But secularism advocates should pause before celebrating such trends. A deeper investigation into the religious nature of our species casts doubt on the view that science-centered secular culture can succeed without a space for the sacred.

Scholars have proposed a wide range of theories to explain the persistence of religious faith in all human societies. Many of these theories involve a heavy dose of what may be described as “blank slate” thinking—by which human interests and beliefs are shaped entirely by social influence. Yet such top-down, culturally-driven explanations ignore the possibility that religious faith originates in bottom-up brain-driven cognitive and motivational processes.

Implicit in the blank-slate take on religion is the idea that religious faith may be diminished simply by changing the type of cultural inputs people receive. This would seem to be supported by the gradual replacement of religious doctrines with rationalist, evidence-based methods for explaining the world: The history of science is full of examples of science replacing old superstitions. But explaining the natural world is only one of religion’s functions. Ultimately, religion is about the human need for meaning. This need is inherent, not learned. It is a fundamental component of the human condition.

Indeed, the degree to which humans perceive their lives as meaningful correlates reliably with observable measures of psychological and physical health. A sense of meaning also helps people mobilize toward the pursuit of their goals (persistence), and serves to protect them from the negative effects of stress and trauma (resilience). In short, people who view their lives as full of meaning are more likely to thrive than those who don’t.

When people turn away from one source of meaning, such as religion, they don’t abandon the search for meaning altogether. They simply look for it in different forms. As I discuss in my new book, Supernatural: Death, Meaning and the Power of Invisible World, the decline of traditional religion has been accompanied by a rise in a diverse range of supernatural, paranormal and related beliefs.

Nearly one third of Americans report having felt in contact with someone who has died, feel that they have been in the presence of a ghost, and believe ghosts can interact with and harm humans. These numbers are going up, not down, as more people seek something to fill the religion-shaped hole in their lives. By no coincidence, infrequent church attendees are roughly twice as likely to believe in ghosts as regular churchgoers.

Americans are abandoning the pews, but are increasingly fascinated by astrology, “spiritual” healing practices, and fringe media sources that purport to describe the powers of the supernatural realm. The number of claimed “haunted houses” in the United States is growing. And paranormal tourism centered on such allegedly haunted locales has become a booming business, now accounting for over half a billion dollars in revenue annually.

This trend can be observed on the basis of age cohort: Young adults, being less religious, are more inclined to believe in ghosts, astrology, clairvoyance and spiritual energy. But it also can be observed geographically: The parts of the United States where secular liberals are predominant tend to be the same areas where the market for alternative spiritual experiences and products is most lucrative. Even prominent media outlets such as The New York Times and (in Britain) The Guardian, whose readership consists primarily of secular liberals, frequently publish articles about topics such as witchcraft and astrology—even if they are careful not to legitimize the claims made by proponents of these beliefs.

Polls in Canada and Europe reveal similar patterns. For example, surveys indicate that an increasing number of people in the United Kingdom believe in ghosts; over 50% today, compared to about 40% a decade ago. A survey of Canadian adults found that though Millennials were less likely than older adults to believe in God and Jesus Christ as the son of God, they are equally likely to believe in heaven, and more likely to believe in hell (as well as a range of other supernatural ideas—including the idea that humans can communicate with the spiritual realm).

Some who reject both traditional and non-traditional supernatural beliefs are attracted to what I refer to as “supernatural-lite.” This label encompasses beliefs that require a leap of faith and have characteristics reminiscent of religion, but do not explicitly rely on the idea of supernatural power. And they often are superficially wrapped up in scientific or technological conceits, which make them more palatable to those who do not fancy themselves people of faith (especially men). This includes the belief that intellectually superior aliens are monitoring and even influencing, the lives of humans. Some of these believers have even embraced the idea that extraterrestrials are responsible for human civilization, and will one day welcome us into a larger cosmic community once we reach some baseline level of enlightenment.

In his 2011 book, The Believing Brain, Michael Shermer argues that alien beings are “secular gods—deities for atheists.” And while most hardcore atheists aren’t dedicated UFO conspiracy theorists, the dream of life amid a larger interplanetary community reflects the hunger for collective human meaning that transcends the pedestrian scientific view of human beings as transient organisms inhabiting an inconsequential rock hurtling through an indifferent universe. As with the other patterns described, across the Western world, at the same time as traditional religions are declining, supernatural-lite beliefs are on the rise.

Another doctrine lying within this borderland between science fiction and religion is transhumanism, whose adherents dream of transcending mortality through medicine and bioengineering. The scope of transhumanism ranges from the relatively humble goal of defeating specific terminal diseases such as cancer, to the more ambitious goal of transferring human consciousness to a machine body or uploading it into a supercomputer that would allow people to live indefinitely in cyberspace. Even though many transhumanists do not subscribe to traditional religious beliefs, such beliefs are finding their way into transhumanism. For example, there is a growing Christian transhumanism movement and a Mormon Transhumanist Association.

And if you imagine that secular ideologies and political movements now seem to exhibit faux-religious characteristics, you aren’t alone. “We have the cult of Trump on the right, a demigod who, among his worshippers, can do no wrong,” wrote Andrew Sullivan recently in New York magazine. “And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical. They are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided.”

Some critics have responded to Sullivan’s essay by pointing out that politics and religion have mixed in many ways throughout history. This is true but doesn’t undercut Sullivan’s religious-substitution argument. The more people abandon religious spaces to meet existential needs, the more likely they are to turn to extreme political tribalism, and to blur the lines between spiritual and secular pursuits. Indeed, studies find that it is people who score low on commitment to a religious faith who are most likely to invest in political ideologies to counter threats to meaning in life. Also, the more extreme secular ideologies on both the left and right often involve conspiracy theories, which are cognitively similar to paranormal and supernatural-lite religious substitutes and similarly motivated by the need for meaning.

Importantly, there are reasons to doubt that these various alternatives to religion can successfully meet people’s need for meaning. Modern religious substitutes often reflect the individualism of the West, which is in tension with our species’ inherent social nature. Traditional faiths act as a buffer against the existential threat individualism poses because they activate the social self—the part of us that feels a moral duty to others. And a large body of research indicates it is our deep and enduring connections to others, which traditional religious beliefs and practices help facilitate, that provide meaning.

Traditional religious beliefs are really social beliefs. They are about transcendent connections across space and time. The more these beliefs bind us to family and community, the more they make us feel like we are part of something more enduring and meaningful than our brief mortal lives.

Some people may be disinclined toward religious-like thinking in all respects, but they are likely an extremely small percentage of the population. And I have seen no evidence that the underlying cognitive and motivational psychological characteristics that orient people towards religion and religious substitutes have diminished during the time that the Western world has supposedly become less religious. Instead, most people who imagine themselves as irreligious simply haven’t come to terms with their religious nature. They believe that because they have rejected the faiths of older generations that they have no faith at all. They may simply be unaware of how many leaps of faith they regularly take, and misjudging which ones will allow them to generate meaning in ways that allow humans to maintain a healthy harmony between the secular and the sacred.


Clay Routledge is a Quillette columnist and professor of psychology at North Dakota State University. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, theWall Street Journal, National Review, and Scientific American. You can follow him on Twitter @clayroutledge

Featured image: Book of Planets and Astrology, Nepal, 17th century, Opaque watercolor and ink on paper


  1. Oscar says

    Great Article.

    Although I am very surprised that the author did not mention Rene Girard’s body of work.
    Rene Girard’s Mimetic theory, and his life’s work providing evidence for it provides extremely robust explanatory power for the social and individual mechanics that produces religion and culture.

    Mimetic theory shows powerfully that the sacrificial systems of primitive humanity generated religion to ritually disguise the ‘scapegoating nature’ of the sacrificial system, and generated myths to orally disguise it.

    Rene Girard and those influenced by him show that Hebrew texts begin to unveil the scapegoating nature of religion, and expose the workings of mimetic desire (mimetic theory). They conclude that the Christian texts fully expose the sacrificial systems as scapegoating events, with an innocent victim through the christian claim of ‘God becoming the innocent victim’ sacrificing himself to the victimizers: us.

    This is more of an anthropological explanation of religions that contrasts against the psychological and biological that the IDW is showcasing.

    So doing away with Christianity doesn’t do away the process that generates religions, hence why the political ideologies tend towards scapegoating and tribalism that are themselves very reminiscent of archaic religion.

    That said, there is a painful process of shedding medieval as well as reformation Christian structures to expose the true nature of the Christian revelation: Our victims are innocent, we victimize for social solidarity and claim divine justification, Being itself becomes our victim so that we recognize what we are doing (“Forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”), and we must imitate Christ to prevent us imitating the accusatory and divisive principles, that left to themselves will form religious structures: Astrology, cults, conspiracy theories, ‘New age spiritualities’, political ideologies.

    • Gordon Smith says

      Christ came to expose the scapegoating system by not scapegoating himself. He made no one else a victim and when he re appeared he did not blame anyone for his death – did not transmit his pain but “held it” therefore breaking the cycle of violence.
      The central tenet of forgiveness in the Christian tradition will be tragically missed in a secular state and we can already see how a lack of forgiveness is appearing where a careless word is unforgiveable.
      The bible also describes the way we bond together by having a shared enemy. In Luke 23 after the crucifiction we have these words “That day Herod and Pilate became friends–before this they had been enemies”.
      People miss the “psychology” of the bible and it’s profound understanding of human nature

        • Michael Joseph says

          And the subtleties of stoning and smiting are sublime.

      • Michael Joseph says

        I guess I take exception to the article from its title onward. The ways secular scientific culture tries and fails to replace religion. Yes, I suppose there are those who need religion but I would say there are many who do not. Prisons infamously push the fallen towards religion who then promptly abandon it upon getting freedom. So yes, for the percentage of humans who need religion, there may not be a place for them in secular society but that does not mean secular society is failing humanity.

        The author says secular philosophy must save a space for the sacred. A synonym for sacred is respect. The word respect can include sacred’s spiritual aspect if we just present it as respect for the unknown. I agree, I also think that secular scientific thought does encompass respect for the unknown, maybe more so than religion.

        Meaning to life, according to the author, is the missing element. I believe science has answered this question. When we study cultures where people live long happy lives we find that older members are respected for their wisdom and given prominent roles as guides and teachers. The meaning of life is to be useful to your family and community. Those who accept these roles live long and prosper, those who don’t not so much. I realize Jesus didn’t live that long and had a tremendous effect on the world but I would say he had a lot of help both from those who came before and those who came after.

        The author goes on to list the different ways people search for meaning when religion is no longer sufficient. I propose these other avenues have always been with us and will for quite a while. It might feel like there are more people exploring these avenues, however, formerly they didn’t have the choice. They would be burned or shunned. Remember, for most long ago, banishment was a death sentence. You didn’t need to be murdered by the community holy council to lose your life, just driving you out could accomplish that. Until recently humans have been in a Mendelian experiment that selected for true believers. It’s not surprising that religion is so tenacious. It is surprising that heresy is so ubiquitous.

        • George d. says

          “The meaning of life is to be useful to your family and community. Those who accept these roles live long and prosper, those who don’t not so much. ” So all those who died young, who perished in war, famine, accidents, or from cancer or other diseases did so because they failed to be useful to their family or community?
          “I believe science has answered this question. When we study cultures where people live long happy lives we find that older members are respected for their wisdom and given prominent roles as guides and teachers.” Some older members. but hardly all or even most; just the lucky ones. Moreover, there is a difference between having a purpose in life and having life having a meaning. There are plenty of who seem to be happy and have a sense of purpose pursuing things that most of us would find trivial or even evil.

    • I’m currently in the middle of reading “Things hidden since the foundation of the world”, and so far I’m pretty convinced that this is the only possible way forward. I think the “IDW” would do well to study these ideas more.

    • J.D. Adams says

      Oscar: I have been thinking about the meaning of Christ quite lately,, reading about the Catholic Church, Jordan Peterson videos, CS Lewis, Great Courses (for historic, not faith, perspective). Your last paragraph has created a fresh notion that helps explain why a small Jewish cult caught on and changed the world AND provides a psychological dimension. I’m going to chew on this for a while. Thanks for writing.

    • Roez says

      Have these scholars in these areas approached the many other religions and found consistency? Christianity is only one of many, while successful and influential, it doesn’t seem like a broad enough perspective. Perhaps, characteristics of one don’t necessarily remain throughout all.

      Beyond that, it’s probably a good thing to keep in mind these are very abstract and propositions which can’t be proven right now, regardless of the number of select examples proffered. The advantage the IDW positions sometimes have is their reflection on the growing literature which can specifically point to cause and effect through genetics and biological design.

  2. Exilio says


    As usual I enjoy your writing and view point.

    I think the abandonment of most religion, especially Western religion with a single, omnipotent God, reveals the movement of people towards the new and established Feelings First movement. I don’t know if Feelings First is an actual term but I am using it describe the movement that started 20 or 30 years ago with things like timeouts instead of spankings, trophies for everyone, and as you pointed out, the embracing of enlightenment that made people feel good, not guilty; hence, Feelings First.

    As people gravitated towards deities of comfort, as opposed to a judgemental, sometimes wrathful God, their disdain for Western faith became more and more palpable; which is where we find ourselves today. A society filled with many gods, or no god or gods, that don’t judge or condemn, but offer comfort in the form of unquestionable acceptance.

    So ultimately a person can go to whichever church on Sunday (inconvenient!), and be reminded of their flaws (judgey!), OR, they can believe whatever they believe, attend or NOT attend, anytime they choose, and only hear unrelenting affirmations and adoration. This was a gathering storm (or the opposite of a storm?) that was entirely foreseeable.

    Clay you gave me some great ideas to ruminate on, please keep writing for Quillette!

    • Ray Andrews says


      It’s a very minor point, and of course your ‘feelings first’ is not inaccurate, but I tend to see the genesis of the new religion in Imagination. Think of St. John’s hymn of that name. We can’t have feelings first until we have cleared the deck of reality, and we do that by replacing reality with Imagination. Dunno, it might be too small a difference to even bother with.

      • In my opinion Lennon’s “Imagine ” is a despicable example of a wealthy globalist enticing a generation of those beneath him to reject many aspects of their identity (national identity /religious beliefs, and other aspects of self.) in order to spread his own contempt for western civilization.

        This continues in the twentieth century with the songs association, with the aftermath of European terrorist attacks, with a resultant terrible death count.

        I’m sorry for me the song represents the death of civil society, an ugly dystopian future, along with the physical death of 1000’s of innocent, men, women and children.

        I apologize in advance for errors, I’m typing on my phone

          • Michael Joseph says

            Anita, you are hoping that someday you will be chosen to live in harmony with God in heaven. Right? You’re not expecting any flags or national anthems to be playing are you? You expect to be past the point where you might need to sacrifice yourself for your religion. Right? It’s not a terrible dream to have for the world today.

  3. AC Harper says

    I expect it would help debates such of these very much if ‘belief in a god(s)’ was discussed entirely separately from ‘religions’.

    You get quite a different debate if you talk about belief in the supernatural (its pitfalls and benefits) from the debate about organised social movements (their pitfalls and benefits). So often people get stuck in a ‘My God, my Religion’ pairing, each being used to justify the other.

    • Michael Joseph says

      I don’t see how you can separate the two. When I learned scientists believe that the human species is over 200,000 years old, I got away from the one God theory. Come on, God can’t get everyone behind him in 200,000 years? Just the fact that there are so many different religions belies the fact that an answer resides in one of them. If it did, there would be only one religion. Again, especially if given 200,000 years to propagate. Now we have Jews, Muslims, and Christians fighting not about who God is but which is the correct way to worship. Truly, we need some logical minds in this fray.

  4. decapartisan says

    “In truth, there are only two kinds of
    people; those who accept dogma and
    know it, and those who accept dogma
    and don’t know it.”

    G.K Chesterton

    • Farris says

      Georges Lemaitre “There were two ways of arriving at the truth. I decided to follow them both…”
      “Nothing in my working life, nothing I ever learned in my studies of either science or religion has ever caused me to change that opinion. I have no conflict to reconcile. Science has not shaken my faith in religion and religion has never caused me to question the conclusions I reached by scientific methods.”

      • Michael Joseph says

        Farris, maybe I misunderstand you. Historically, although we owe organized religion a great debt regarding the establishment of educational edifice, there has been great tension between the omniscient gods as they communicate through their mediums and scientific theory. As the years have gone by more and more religious dogma slides off into the realm of fantasy. Yes, there is much science has yet to explain, however, it’s a zero sum game… truly. Every great leap forward made by science is ground that encroaches on religion. In order to reconcile your statement you have really just said to yourself until science gives me a rational explanation I’ll believe religion.

        • Artie11 says

          I think science is the servant of religion, or might I say the servant of God. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” A great discovery that Paul made on the Road to Damascus. Something happened to Paul to make him completely reverse himself after that experience. Might it have been real? “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” The people who have seen that light cannot unsee it, just because you have not seen it as well. “Knock and the door shall be opened.”
          Verses: Acts 17:28
          Isaiah 9:2
          Matthew 7:7 and Luke 11:9

      • You seem a little unbalance, Michael.

        Good luck with that.

  5. “This would seem to be supported by the gradual replacement of religious doctrines with rationalist, evidence-based methods for explaining the world: . . .”

    Here is my argument that while this is true for many aspects of science, the Big Bang Theory is no more scientific than Genesis.

    Physics and cosmology, if they were fully developed, would provide quite a lot of what people seek in religions: an understanding of the here and now – the immediate physical world – and extend this indefinitely in the space and backwards in time to whatever gave rise to it. Ideally, physics and cosmology would also identify and try to explain any other aspects of the Universe which are not so directly accessible to us as the familiar matter, forces, three dimensions and time. If there was a Creator, ideally, science would eventually recognise this as all non-Creator hypotheses were shown to be incompatible with observations.

    Ideally, scientists would respond to persistent but perplexing observations, such as of psychokinesis, ESP, ghosts etc. by admitting that these are unexplained, and potentially very interesting. Instead, with rare exception, the validity of these observations is flat-out denied, because they do not fit into the current paradigm.

    It is customary to distinguish between scientific and religious beliefs and processes. Ideally, science as an activity would be very different from religion – and in many fields this is so. Observations are made, experiments are conducted, hypotheses are invented, discussed, refined and evaluated, with one or a few hypotheses being regarded as being the best, and many others discarded. The evaluation depends on the hypotheses’ ability to predict observations – especially the results of experiments – and on its ability to elegantly explain the mechanisms which give rise to the observations. In the Popperian view of science, as best I understand it, there are no proofs – only disproofs, and the best hypotheses are those not yet disproven which seem to explain everything and predict observations most accurately.

    Ideally, all hypotheses are regarded as tentative rather than fact – so they can be re-evaluated, refined or rejected. Ideally, no hypothesis is rejected because it is incompatible with some other hypothesis.

    Some aspects of physics and cosmology are highly unscientific and resemble religious beliefs. For almost all participants in these fields, the hypotheses of light quanta (photons, the foundation of quantum mechanics) and of the Big Bang Theory (BBT) are regarded as facts. They are paradigms (Thomas Kuhn) in that almost everyone believes them to be a true account of reality, uses them to interpret all observations, and rejects any hypothesis which is incompatible with them. A physicist who insisted that the photon theory of light, or the BBT, have so many problems that they should not be regarded as facts would find it almost impossible to succeed academically or professionally.

    The foundation of the BBT is the redshift (lengthening of waves, lowering of frequency) of light from distant galaxies and quasars, which no-one can explain with the photon model of electromagnetic radiation. The only remaining explanation is Doppler shift, due to the objects moving away from us (as if in an explosion), though this is often described in terms of “space expanding” – which I think is meaningless and meant to intimidate people who do not accept this doublethink.

    The basis of the photon theory is that no-one has yet devised any explanation other than Einstein’s for Planck’s black body radiation spectrum, and that no-one has yet provided non-photon explanations for observations of electrons ejected from metals by light, and for how X-rays reflect from crystals.

    But the BBT and photon theories have numerous problems. For instance interference between two separate light sources, and the lack of correlation between quasars’ redshift and observed brightness.

    Most people think that it is scientific to believe in the Big Bang. But no astrophysicist has yet been able to explain the heating of the solar corona to a million degrees, 2,000km from the 5700 degree photosphere. They think the 64 megawatt per square metre flux of sunlight couldn’t heat the thin coronal plasma like this, because there is nothing in their photon theory of light which would allow this. According to the photon theory of light the sparse plasma between galaxies could not possibly cause any redshift.

    The heating of the solar corona and the acceleration of the solar wind are two of the best recognised unsolved problems in astrophysics. Almost everyone believes the 13.7 billion year BBT as a fact – yet it is the work of people who cannot explain dramatic processes 8.3 light minutes away.

    The lock-grip of photons and the Big Bang on the thinking of astrophysicists looks to me like a religious fervour.

    The BBT is a creation story, starting from nothing. It satisfies many people’s need for an explanation for everything – which is one of the driving forces behind religious beliefs.

    It is the product of scientists working in ways which I believe are profoundly unscientific. It would be scientific to keep working on the BBT as a hypothesis, while admitting its problems. It would be scientific to admit that we have not the slightest clue what could give rise to the three dimensions, time, electromagnetism and the other forces, let alone matter and energy in prodigious quantities.

    I think it is fair to contrast science and religion in fields such as evolution vs. Biblical accounts of creation. That science is well done.

    However, I think it is a mistake to claim anything scientific about the Big Bang Theory, or photons. Believing in the BBT is no more rational or scientific in the true sense than believing in Genesis or any other creation story.

      • Michael Joseph says

        Yes, David. Robin seems to be using BBT to make the point that much of scientific theory is difficult to prove and therefore equivalent to religion. In other words Robin doesn’t understand the proof so believing in the Bible is okay. Personally I don’t understand how my computer works. My fingers pound on these little buttons and magically letters appear on a screen. I finish my thoughts and press enter. Magically the words appear on the screen again and I know, only from experience, that millions of other people around the world can see my words on screens similar to the one on my computer. I have no idea how it works so I feel that it’s okay for me to believe in the Odyssey, by Homer, as revelation of the true nature of existence. If it sounds like I’m making fun of Robin, I’m not. I’m just making a similar comparison.

        • Micheal Joseph, I have never before been so misunderstood that anyone thought I was promoting belief in the Bible!

          Maths and probably religion works with proof. Popperian science works with disproofs. The BBT and photon hypotheses are highly problematic and it would be fine if everyone regarded them as Joe (below) does. However, as I wrote below, it is a huge mistake to consider them as facts, in part because this blinds most people to alternative interpretations of observations and to considering better hypotheses.

    • Michael says

      We make hypotheses that best fit the data. Some are easily testable others not so much. A singularity that suddenly becomes everything is certainly a weird idea. The Ptolemaic hypothesis with its perfect circles and epicircles upon them fitted until Copernicus gave a better hypothesis. Perhaps we must wait as Copernicus did for better observational methods and more comprehensive data. In the mean time the BBT Is a wondefully weird idea.

    • I think you are elevating the BBT to a level of certainty which it doesn’t have in the mind of most scientists. Yes, it’s the best creation story that science currently has, but no serious scientist would say that makes it “true” or explicitly “valid”. There could well be alternative theories that are slightly or completely different and better. Or maybe not. Let me expand a little.

      People can and do believe all sorts of things under the umbrella of religion but that doesn’t make their beliefs true. Most/all religions claim to know or have the “truth”, whatever that may be, but offer no evidence other than the handed-down words of a long-deceased founder as interpreted by an organised Church. Religious beliefs tend to be static.

      In comparison, science is a semi-organised endeavour run by educated but fallible humans aimed at finding out what is and isn’t true, how things work or have come to be the way they are. Science, because of its methodology and dynamism, enables us to determine which theories or beliefs can be discarded as false. The evidence for, or strength, of some theories is greater than for others.

      The Genesis account of creation is demonstrably false. There are multiple lines of evidence which indicate its falsity, including and especially in my own area – geology/paleontology. No need to expand here.

      As mentioned above, the BBT is the best creation story that science currently has – but that doesn’t make it true either. The key difference between religion and science is that science discards or modifies theories that don’t work optimally. That’s not to say that discredited scientific theories get discarded easily, or that scientists are happy to see their life’s work thrown out by some new paper. But science can and does “progress”. 100 years ago only fringe-dwellers believed the continents could move, now everybody does.

      If the BBT theory collapses in a heap of inconsistencies, so be it. Long live its successor, whatever that may be. OTOH no religion can alter its fundamental beliefs in the same way because they’re fundamental. And so religions eventually collapse in their own inconsistencies, falsities, inabilities to explain what science can explain. That is what is happening as the world (esp the western world) is becoming more educated.

      The BBT is the scientific creation theory du jour, nothing more nothing less. I currently support it but am not wedded to it. I do not believe in the Genesis creation story because it is false.

      (The question asked in the main article – why religions still persist – is a discussion for another day. The answer, I suspect, lies deep in human psychology and societal considerations, all of which are outside my comfort zone.)

      • In my experience (which may differ in other countries of course) very few Christians, literally believe the early books of the Old Testament . People don’t seek science in religion.
        Nor are they mutually exclusive – in a private Christian secondary school I was still taught evolutionary science, geology physics etc.

        Jesus even acknowledged the differences between church and state, faith and science, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s ”

        Rather religion is the search for the things science doesn’t offer, ethics ,comfort in times of sorrow etc. The western world is increasingly atheist, and yet still chugging along on the fumes of Christianity.

        • The 17th C. English calvinists read the Old Testament as something like a sociology and political science text. They focused on the passages that provided the justification for overthrowing kings and establishing republics based on popular sovereignty. See: Concerning England; “The Hebrew Republic” by Eric Nelson (2010) and; concerning the settlement of New England, “Godly Republicanism” by Michael Winship (2012).

      • Stoic Realist says

        And yet you neglect the ‘religious belief’ that seems to be in vogue among some scientists these days. The assertion that we are all living in some kind of ultra tech simulation universe. We have seen plenty of secular science types debate their belief in the notion despite the fact that there is not one iota of evidence to support it. I am surprised the author did not include it in this piece. I seem to recall seeing both Elon Musk and Neil Degrasse Tyson espouse their ‘rational’ belief in it.

    • Farris says

      Stephen Hawking:
      “The big question in cosmology in the early 60’s was, did the universe have a beginning? Many scientists were instinctively opposed to the idea, because they felt that a point of creation would be a place where science broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God, to determine how the universe would start off.”

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Robin Whittle

      Thanks, that was a nice little physics lesson.

    • Stephanie says

      @ Robin, careful, I think you’re desire for equivalency between science and religion is blinding you to a whole lot of evidence for the Big Bang, photons, ect. If you look at the evidence hostly, you will learn this.

      There is no evidence for the Biblical account, and the way it is written it is clear it was not meant to be taken literally.

    • Michael Joseph says

      Stopped reading at Equivocation of Big Bang / Genesis.

    • Michael Joseph says

      Robin, I figured there would be lots of comments. The main difference between BB and Big G is BB is presented as a theory the will change with the introduction of new evidence. Big G is the absolute immutable truth to some.

    • SCWillson says

      Except, in contrast to religions, the BBG and photons are falsifiable. Astrophysicists have rejected alternate theories because no proposed theory explains the universe better. That of course doesn’t mean the current paradigm correct, it merely illustrates the fact that alternative/new theories have an uphill climb.

  6. Florentine says

    Humans are irrational, prone to magical thinking, susceptible to emotive follies? No freakin kidding. The important thing is to not pander to those follies.

    You could write a similar article about the “need” to be tribal, replacing “religious” with “racist”.

    If you can’t find meaning without pandering to fantasies… you’re not trying hard enough.

  7. As a kid, we were told there were 3 types of religions.
    1) animist and nature religion (ghosts and spirits all around, everything has a soul)
    2) polytheism (every sector, tribe or class its own God, to whom you pray if something was required or had to be conquered)
    3) monotheism
    No need to say here that this last one was taught to us being the superior one, the last step in the human development.
    But, it is also the most authoritarian , hierarchical,the most organisational,mandatory, and exactly this is what we don’t seem to like anymore. So, I wouldn’t be surprised that we are going back to that first one again, the animist, because it is so much more individual and sensual, personal experience comes first here, religion not in church, but behind the front door and on nature walks. Politics, technology and science are good for the outside ,the cold society, the economic world, in animism we can keep loneliness and meaningless at bay, and feel part of the universe again.

  8. Eugene says

    Have to say, the Guardian writing about the occult proving their liberal faithless readers are seeking to replace the meaning to their lives religion once provided is a little tenuous. Not sure that the ghost seeking liberals of America are really part of the rationalist cabal either. The article is for the converted. To me it sounds like a whistle in the dark.

  9. Let’s face it. People are mostly incapable of what we might call rationality. People innately do rhetoric, not logic, hence logically fallacies are incredibly potent tools (of rhetoric). Most people do not try to educate themselves with the conclusions of empirical studies, they want beliefs that make them feel good about themselves. That is to say, most people lack the cognitive and volitional capacity to be fully “rational”. The world runs on rhetoric and political interests, not logic and concern for the common wealth.

    On the other hand, its not exactly like there is an “organized religious-sized hole” in people’s hearts, that they seek to fill with wu or space aliens. Certain formerly important traditions are no longer viewed as attractive by people. This may be a good thing or a bad thing: if people are rejecting a tradition, it may mean something is wrong with the tradition. There is a down-side to declining organized religion: the inability of religious actors to impose political costs on politicians seeking to undermine their interests–just like declining organized labor. Of course, whether this is a “down-side” or “up-side” depends on who you are working for.

    Yet, while the world will not become filled with Voltaire-type atheists, it will be different if everyone resorts to crystals and eclecticism, and the churches remain closed. This is along the lines of the emergence of the “Last Man”.

    • Nietzsche’s Last Man is supposed to believe in just thriving and surviving, not even religion, as I recall. Is that why you mentioned that idea?
      Also, syncretism is the phenomenon where religious change by merging or incorporating other traditions. The Christian Transhumanists may be an example of that.

    • Its not so much that people are incapable of rationality, but rather that political belief systems are incapable of being fully rational, in the sense that all ideologies are underpinned by fundamental articles of faith, which they are unwilling and unable to resile from even in the face of contrary evidence.

      For example, the notion that people have inalienable natural rights such as freedom of speech, irrespective of what the law might say. Or that people living in a certain country are qualitatively different to people living in another country (“Country X is the greatest country in the world”). Or that unregulated free markets are capable of being perfectly functional in a long term sense. Or that, if there are certain classes in a society, then the relationships between them must be characterised by exploitation.

      This is what Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt called “political theology”, and what the Greeks called “noble lies”. Such lies are necessary, because if you try and ground a belief system in mere rational expediency (utilitarianism is one example) then there is potentially no rule that can’t be broken were it useful to do so. This introduces a level of ambiguity that is very hard to resolve in a functional sense when you have societies of large numbers of people living together.

      • Michael Joseph says

        Obviously most people are irrational. Think of our ability to order society to be as safe as possible. The main draw of religion is what happens after death. We have big promises yet no evidence of heaven. Regardless, we live in a society that takes life for granted. We lose our lives, especially in America, randomly. Our culture favors thrill seeking and convenience over safety. It’s completely irrational. We have the possibility of living long lives full of leisure and comfort yet the very structure of our society leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths from cars, guns, eating habits, and other completely controllable factors. What if everybody accepted that we have this one life and it’s all we will ever know? Would we change the way we think about the cars and the bars and the wars?

  10. When it comes to meaning, don’t most people have their hands full raising their kids? I know there is the empty nest syndrome afterwards, but many people help with the grandkids, too. I think survival is an adequate meaning for most.

    • DeplorableDude says

      If survival was adequate for most you wouldn’t see people saying the don’t believe in God but they do believe in ghosts. As if one unseen spirit is different from another.

      • Michael Joseph says

        Oh right, the almighty God who can smite your enemies with a lightning bolt is different from a spirit who doesn’t know he’s dead and scurries away in the dark.

  11. Anybody can believe in anything. “Believing” is as valuable to understanding as “wanting” or “preferring.” Even “wondering” is more valuable as it may lead to seeking what is true as best our human minds can understand.
    Science does not disprove gods, ghosts, ETs, magic; it just demands evidence before considering a thought to be worthy of more than musings. After all, humans experience compassion, love, hatred, envy, greed, logic, reason, faith, confusion, joy, sadness, wishfulness, fear, consciousness…in which science has yet to uncover their details, but they are real enough to those who experience them.

  12. Gene McPhail says

    This article is just another “religion is good therefore we should ignore that fact that it is nonsense” argument we have heard before.
    His main argument is that other nonsense beliefs are nonsense (UFOs and astrology) therefore we should be happy to stick with our nonsense belief (religion).

    To paraphrase R Dawkins “I just recognize one more nonsense belief than you – religion”.

    When asked about religion (what church do you go to?) I tell people I am not superstitious.
    They look funny at me – but I don’t care. Yes, I am a scientist and prefer celebrating winter solstice with all the Christmas trimmings.

    I agree we can get some meaning and life lessons out of some stories from The Bible and The Dhammapada but we can do the same from Star Wars and Casablanca.
    I recognize many people seem to need this crutch and I wouldn’t legislate against their beliefs.
    What I hate about the people with religious beliefs is their willingness to legislate against other beliefs and real knowledge that contradicts their beliefs.

    • Heike says

      A lot of what people can’t stand about atheists is their need to look down on others and take a crap on their punchbowl. Tolerance goes a long way – but of course any atheist will tell you Christians don’t deserve tolerance.

      The only place on the internet I have ever seen atheists and Christians behaving kindly to one another is on pro-Trump discussions.

      • dellingdog says

        @Heike, I recommend the “Unbelievable” podcast; it regularly features atheists in civil conversation with theists. Most atheists are perfectly willing tolerate theists as long as they (theists) don’t seek to impose their beliefs on the rest of society.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Gene McPhail

      Funny, I have not noticed religious people doing any legislating lately, but PC zealots certainly do. Essentially any disagreement with them on any point is Hate, and Hate is a crime.

      • dellingdog says

        @Ray, it depends on whether you regard anti-abortion laws as religiously motivated. Although it’s possible to make a secular case against abortion, most arguments rely on the claim that human life is “sacred” from the moment of conception. This kind of reasoning seems theological to me, as does opposition to assisted suicide. The same is true of opposition to laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Over half the states in the U.S. do not include gays and lesbians as a legally protected class, and attempts to include gays and lesbians in federal statutes have been repeatedly blocked by religiously motivated legislators.

        • Ray Andrews says


          But there is a double standard. If one is, say, pro-abortion, that is a supposedly not religiously motivated view, so it gets automatic preference. If one is anti-abortion, that’s ‘religious’ so automatically suspect. If believers are automatically forbidden to advocate for laws that are in keeping with their views, then why are unbelievers not automatically the same? It would seem to me that both sets of motivations should be treated the same way. Giving the moral precepts of unbelievers preference over the moral precepts of believers is plain discrimination.

          • Ray Andrews says

            … there is also the problem you mention, that one might take a moral stand on some issue that is not religiously motivated but is suspected of being so. Should such views not be given equal validity? My best friend’s wife is an atheist, but staunchly opposed to abortion. We should understand that atheism is a ‘religion’ too — a fundamental view of the essential reality behind the universe, and IMHO it should neither be privileged nor penalized over other views.

          • Michael Joseph says

            Ray, you went from not noticing that religious factions are legislating to giving abortionists and antiabortionists equivalency on moral grounds.

          • Michael Joseph says

            About the moral equivalency between believers and nonbelievers. You have this evidence and logic problem. You can compare a nonbeliever’s position backed up by evidence and logic with a believer’s rationalization of “cause God said so.” But it’s not going to hold water. The abortion debate is a great example. The pro abortion side maintains that a developing fetus is part of the mother’s body and as such the mother has discretion over how her body should be used to carry or terminate its development. The anti abortion side believes the fetus has a fully developed soul and the rights of an independent human being from the moment of conception. The argument needs a leap of faith to get it off the ground. Well we have had thousands of years of God’s representatives telling us what to do and I prefer a secular, logical approach to the rule of law. No, you may not legislate based on your belief of what you think your non existent God wants.

          • X. Citoyen says

            Michael Joseph,

            Your characterization of the anti-abortion position is a strawman. The argument is based on the right to life, which either extends to conception or isn’t a right. It’s also not exclusively religious; some atheists accept this reasoning (e.g., Secular Prolife). Second, laws depend on values, about which logic has no more to say than mathematics. Your beliefs are therefore no more logical than anyone else’s.

          • Michael Joseph says

            X, my characterization of the anti abortion philosophy comes from their rhetoric. Are you trying to use a gas light here?

          • Michael Joseph says

            Right to life? You surely don’t believe a fertilized egg has civil rights!

          • Michael Joseph says

            A fertilized egg has the potential to become a human being. If we extend rights to potential out comes there will be no end to organic flotsam and jetsam that will come under protection. And this is very odd because many of the same people who will fight tooth and nail to ensure that a fertilized egg ends in live birth feel no obligation to provide for the child or the mother during pregnancy. This is the epitome of hypocrisy. This kind of disconnected logic can only happen with believers. The fervency they bring to the cause is also religious.

            Second, laws should be grounded in scientific and logical processes that promote the health and welfare of the community first and the individual second. We have a history of encoding morality into community regulations and it wasn’t pretty. I disagree agree whole heartedly about the logical reasoning needed to create good legal canon.

          • Evander says

            A zygote is a human life, albeit in nascent form – not an octopus or a watermelon. Without intervention, it will develop into a mature human being, all the data for which exists in the individual life the moment it originates. The argument against abortion at any stage is that we’re talking about human life, no matter how basic the stage of development.

            I don’t quite follow your slippery-slope claim about other organic matter. Could you expand?

            Your criticism about follow-up support is well-made. It’s one that I’ve voiced previously. Groups in favour of preserving the life of unborn children should be just as vocal about their willingness to support expecting women. There should be no limit on compassionate mercy in this respect.

            Your point about laws is sloppy and partisan. Firstly, law is community-approved enforceable morality. Whether or not a law is scientific or logical is irrelevant, though important for obvious reasons. Secondly, how isn’t the pro-life position supporting the health of the community? Millions of unborn lives are lost through abortion with concomitant trauma. Your position unpersons humans. Laws shouldn’t focus on individuals? The pro-abortion position is based on an individual woman’s private choice to kill an unborn human life.

          • Michael Joseph says

            Charles, I wonder why SCOTUS wrote their decision to find that the plaintiff falls into a narrow category of “artist” who may appeal to the right of free speech. The “unbiased” majority had to vote pro religion but couldn’t bring themselves to allow open discrimination of homosexuals. What a bunch of spineless A holes.

          • Stoic Realist says

            Apparently we are not only tolerant we are also a big fan of central planning. Laws grounded in scientific and logical processes focused first on the good of the community over the good/rights of the individual is a nicely authoritarian stance. ‘You can do what I tell you is good for you based on my justified belief system. But you can’t use your justified belief system because I define it as incorrect.’ FYI these systems had tragic consequences for tens and maybe hundreds or thousands of millions of people in the 20th Century.

            Was a wholly religious based system perfect? No. But our supposedly wholly rational systems didn’t manage a net improvement. But I know. That wasn’t a REAL rationalist system. This new version that ignores the human drive to power will be SO much better.

    • Tome708 says

      Do you believe in catastrophic man caused global warming?

      • @Tome708
        What a wonderful and truthful, if ironic, comment on the world today.

        I’m amazed at those who despise religion in order to sacrifice at the alter of a dogma of global wealth redistribution.

    • Stephanie says

      @Gene McPhil, I don’t think acknowledging the central role faith plays in our psyches necessarily means blindly accepting religious dogma. If you read the Bible, you’ll find that thoughts on God and what he wants evolve through time. New generations aren’t supposed to adhere strictly to the scripture, they are supposed to wrestle with it, sort out the good from the bad based on new information, and accept a religious mindframe based firmly in the old ideas but adapted for our time. Alchemy, then science, are natural products of this evolution. The point of the article is that if you reject your religious roots, something else, likely much less meaningful, will fill the gap.

      As a scientist, perhaps you think science can fill that role, but explaining the natural world is the least important thing religion does. Science answers “how,” and religion answers “why.” The “how” can be useful in resolving a clear picture, but you still need the “why.”

      For a scientific-friendly answer to why, how about this: Humans exist because the Earth was tired of a 33 million year long winter. An intelligent creature was required to liberate stored carbon and return the Earth to balance.

      • Michael Joseph says

        Stephanie, your impression of the Bible is correct but it belies the idea that an omniscient God directed its creation.

    • Without religious experience and religious practice by our prehistoric ancestors, you would not be here making this simplistic argument. Remember causal chains? Dawkins in his echo chamber doesnt understand or willfully neglects to mention that religions were a way of organizing socities larger than your hunter gatherer socities. Socio biologists have a more coherent picture on anchient religions and their function in society, even today. Dawkins should leave this to the experts and not to his biases.

      • Michael Joseph says

        JB, I think religions, mainly the cult of the king as a God, allowed primitive societies to be coerced into building pyramids and staffing up armies. We might have done better without them.

        • You are indeed poorly read on the subject of religion if you think the cult of the king is mainly what it is all about.

    • Might I be so bold as to point out that those “life lessons that we can also get from Star Wars and Casablanca” are actually life lessons that have already been cribbed from Judeo-Christian beliefs i.e. the Bible et al. Your analogy therefore does not work.

      It is genetically inbuilt in humans to seek meaning. Religion is simply a manifestation of the search for meaning. Calling that a “crutch” is quite telling.

      Perhaps it help some to feel superior to those who don’t (think they) need such a “crutch”?

      • Michael Joseph says

        Many of your Judeo-Christian teachings appear earlier in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

        • Indeed, they are almost universal and have persisted for as long as there is a written record. What does that suggest? Or is it just Jews and Christians you have a beef with?

  13. AZBill says

    I wonder whether politics as a substitute for religion isn’t more a matter of bringing religious framing or thinking to secular pursuits. It’s not so much an abandonment of religious belief but expanding the domain of dogmatic belief, faith, irrationality and martyrdom. The US is especially susceptible to this kind of transference given our history of Great Awakenings and mass evangelical movements.

    It doesn’t need mentioning that some of the most extreme and dedicated political activists are people of faith. It may be that the religious impulse like addiction gets transferred from one object to the next. This is not to say that religion doesn’t provide some very necessary social, cultural and psychological benefits only that is a kind of category error to bring a religious mind-set to secular pursuits.

    • Michael Joseph says

      I was waiting for the politics vs religion comments. Religion without power is entertainment. As someone said the biggest religion in America worships every Sunday by the millions in giant stadiums watching their demigods move a piece of pig skin back and forth across a field.

    • Michael Joseph says

      Religion ceased to be relevant as soon as society separated it from government. To the extent it produces and influences political leaders, it is significant but the separation of church and state was the last nail in the coffin.

      • As I mentioned earlier, Christianity is based on separation of church from state, Jesus said “Render unto Caesar that which is Cesar’s ”

        The “Tower of Babal ” may also be interpreted as an explanation of the danger of a powerful state religion.

        Centuries later the church used Christianity (as many other political powers had done since time/immortal with all religions ) to empower the State.

  14. Why did we develop religion? The evolutionary argument put forth by people like David Sloan Wilson (and popularized by Jonathan Haidt) suggests that it came from tribalism. It’s an explanation I find persuasive. To compete effectively as a tribe we needed to be united around some sort of sacred value, principle, or concept. This moral instinct, developed over hundreds of thousands of years as hunter-gatherers, eventually manifested as religion when we moved to larger scale societies.

    So I think we understand religion best not as a way to explain things (like our origins), but as moral meaning systems that allow us to unite around some abstractly defined “good.” That process is made much more effective when that “good” happens to explain everything in according to some sort of compelling master narrative.

    So religion is a form of psychological experience that we are all born with. I agree, thus, with the writer of this article that if this instinct is not manifested according to a dirty-based theology it will take some other form. I am arguing here that politics is a better place to look for that alternative structure (compared to ghosts, etc.) because it manifests a moral meaning system defined around sacred values.

    It seems to me that the predominant secular moral meaning system is roughly defined around “equality”. This has been true of the political left for at least a century, but it now seems to increasingly concern itself with group identity (race and gender), which is why the most powerful contemporary taboos are those which involve some transgression of these concepts, a.k.a political correctness. As Jonathan Haidt notes, “follow the sacred” and to find the sacred, find the taboos.

    I am probably in agreement with many Quillette readers that while I am technically an atheist, I believe that Christianity is ultimately a better vehicle for our moral meaning making urge than this newer moral meaning system, in part because it’s less divisive. Anybody can become a Christian, and we are all united in our original sin. Whereas the identity religion situates people upon permanently disparate moral planes.

    • dellingdog says

      @Mike, I don’t think history (including recent history) supports the view that Christianity is not divisive. I agree that the iteration of identity politics which is currently in vogue is deeply divisive, but Haidt differentiates between “common-humanity” and “common-enemy” versions of identity politics. The latter makes a fetish out of difference and demonizes straight white men. The former embodies the universalist principles of Secular Humanism, which (in my view) provides a better moral basis for society to flourish than Christianity.

      • I share your preference for a “common humanity” secular humanism, @dellingdog, but I would argue that it remains to be seen how effective this framework is at channeling our innate compulsion for some tribally organized meaning system. The “sacred” may be too amorphous and diffuse in this framework as it currently stands to compete with more tribally-defined systems. Take Scandinavia–one might posit Sweden as one of the most triumphal embodiments of secular humanism, but along comes identity politics and suddenly they’re in a feminism fever dream. This is partly my issue with New Atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins . . . they can point out the ridiculousness of traditional religions with rationalist glee, but they turn around and bow before identity politics orthodoxy (see Harris’s invective against Trump’s misogyny or Dawkins’ response to the Kavanaugh hearings). I feel that Jordan Peterson’s case, regarding the capacity for Biblical-based traditions to support human flourishing, is very compelling, and again, I am a longtime atheist. Certainly Christianity has been divisive in numerous respects, both with respect to conflict between those within the faith and outsiders, as well as inter-sect conflict, but I believe that overall, this moral meaning system has fostered a greater degree of human flourishing within the civilizations that have embraced it than any other, and I am unsure whether “common-humanity” secular humanism will outperform it.

        • dellingdog says

          @Mike, Sam Harris has been extremely critical of identity politics. Although believes (rightly, in my view) that Trump is an unqualified ignoramus who lacks any moral or intellectual virtue, he unambiguously rejects the SJW ideology.

          I don’t think that Christianity is necessary or sufficient for a civilization for flourish. Although I’m glad I live in the modern West and acknowledge that Christianity was an influence on its development, there are many other Christian cultures that were and are far less enlightened. Personally, I wouldn’t want to live in pre-Renaissance Europe or in the Christianized countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Other civilizations have been relatively humane and intellectually advanced on the basis of different religious worldviews, including Japan, China, India, and the Islamic world at different points during their histories.

          • Stephanie says

            @dellingdog, none of us could tolerate living in anything but the western world of today. Other places have been good relative to their time, but by a relatively small margin.

            You cannot segregate the western world today from its roots in Christianity. What you can do is separate out those who built from it from those who didn’t.

          • Stoic Realist says


            These same religions and civilizations have also had their periods of violence, repression, and brutality. Is there a reason we emphasize mainly the vices in christianity and ignore them in favor of the virtues in other religions? As noted before even the ‘religion’ of atheism had its body count and inflicted tragedies to account for. The simple fact is that religion is not inherently bad. It is, though, a power structure and therefore it attracts a certain element of human nature that sees the possibility for repressive control and personal influence in it.

            Harris and Dawkins both like to dance around that by making a pretense to some intent instinct for ‘good behavior’ as they choose to define it. It is more probable that a selfish instinct is inherent and it has in the past been suppressed by the self interest of greater safety, comfort, and affluence accorded by community living. A situation where the supposed instinct took a different form rather than die out. Look at the community for any modern video game and it is easy to find examples of such altered selfish behaviors in the cheating, hacking, and rules exploiting behaviors that go on.

            Until the animal that is man improves such things will continue to happen. This the old chestnut of ‘off yout want a better class of politics you need a better class of people.’

        • Good post!

          I am still working my way through Jordan Peterson’s voluminous output, but I have to say that so far I am finding that he articulates his beliefs, thoughts and ideas in a manner that most closely corresponds with my own 50 year search for “truth” or “meaning”.

          It’s quite disconcerting.

      • X. Citoyen says

        Your remark about secular humanism being more universal reminds me of an old joke about how to tell moderate Muslims from extremists: The moderates are the ones chanting “Death to extremists!” The lesson here is that every creed with universal aspirations asserts its own rationality, liberality, and moderation against the irrationality, illiberality, and immoderation of other creeds.

        Hothouses—e.g., universities, media—make it possible to believe in the moral superiority of your creed because you can pick and choose bits of the real world to confront. But you can’t avoid the collapse of your pretensions to purity if you leap fully into wild world. Recall, for example, how one your prophets declared religion the source of evil in the world, and then appointed himself chief propagandist for a decade-long secular crusade in the Middle East. It seems war isn’t an evil in the world if it serves secular humanist ends—Progress le volt! Progress le volt! Progress le volt!

        Your creed differs only in that its adherents lack self-awareness of their religion as a religion, which leads to all the cant about secular humanism being universal. Indeed, it’s embarrassing to see people claiming that all religions are false because they all pretend to universal truth, and then in their next breath asserting the universality of their own religion.

        The only way out of this self-contradiction is to admit yours is a religion. Of course it comes at the cost of rationality and universalism, which are its chief marketing points.

        • dellingdog says

          @X., we’re clearly using words in different ways. Your definition of “religion” must be very broad to encompass Secular Humanism. I accept the Center for Inquiry’s summary:

          “Secular humanism is nonreligious, espousing no belief in a realm or beings imagined to transcend ordinary experience …. Secular humanism is … a secular lifestance [that] incorporates the Enlightenment principle of individualism.” It is “philosophically naturalistic. It holds that nature (the world of everyday physical experience) is all there is, and that reliable knowledge is best obtained when we query nature using the scientific method. Naturalism asserts that supernatural entities like God do not exist.”

          We’re also using the word “rationality” in different ways if you think Christianity (or any revealed religion) can make an equal claim to being reasonable. There’s probably not much more to say since I think we’d be talking past one another.

          • Farris says


            “Secular humanism is … a secular lifestance [that] incorporates the Enlightenment principle of individualism.” It is “philosophically naturalistic. It holds that nature (the world of everyday physical experience) is all there is, and that reliable knowledge is best obtained when we query nature using the scientific method. Naturalism asserts that supernatural entities like God do not exist.”

            The definition you provided above qualifies as a religion. It has a set of codified beliefs which people practice or have faith in. The fact that it is not theistic or does not posess a deity does not disqualify it as a religion. Atheists are opposed to theism not religion. Atheism is also a nontheistic religion.

          • X. Citoyen says

            “Talking past each other” isn’t the best idiom here. I’d say I’m talking in logical patterns and you’re talking in circular ones. Non-belief in other people’s religious beliefs does make your own beliefs non-religious.

            Anyway, you said above that secular humanism was a better moral basis for human flourishing. Moral bases are made from, well, moral principles. With a few exceptions, moral principles are axiomatic: You must simply accept them as self-evident. It does not matter what reasons you adduce to support your belief in them—all such claims are circular. You must simply believe them. And this is your religion—religio in the original sense of the word, the things that bind you. QED.

          • X. Citoyen says


            It’s not about religion; it’s about philosophy. There are no true and justifiable values. It doesn’t matter where you get them or what they are. Let’s simplify with two statements by two different entities:

            “Human flourishing is a fundamental good,” says God.
            “Human flourishing is a fundamental good,” says secular humanism.

            The second is not more or less true than the first because any statement cited in support would be another value. And then another value to support that—it’s values and turtles all the way down. This is why religion is at the bottom of everything.

            Plato offered an answer to the “Why be moral?” question, which hasn’t really been topped. The natural law tradition from Aristotle onward is a variation on it. Kant’s solution depends on the good will, which makes it (in my opinion) parasitic on natural law. But cannot prove these things; we can only come to see the sense in them.

            Of course, we can also consider internal consistency. The ancient philosophers and theologians understood the connection between cosmology and values. They talked of a rational, human-centred, cosmos in which human flourishing, for example, was possible, along with all the other human goods.

            Secular humanist theologians, by contrast, continually cut off the branch they stand on. The cosmos is just an empty universe expanding into nothing. Humans are just talking chimps with no telos governed by selfish genes. And, of course, they also tell us that religion (which must include their own) is a means of social control by elites. After we take all this in, you and they would have us believe in your squishy little values about human flourishing and equality and all the other lovely feels of upper-middle class Western humans? Please tell me why, in light of all this, I should give two sweet fucks about your “secular humanist lifestance”?

          • Michael Joseph says

            Wow X, you seem to have lost your big words and ideas there. There is a pretty simple answer. I don’t think I’m religious, therefore I’m not.

          • Michael Joseph says

            Evander, sorry I not a philosopher. I think they do the same thing physicists do regarding the complexity of the math. Philosophy that is to complex for average people to comprehend leaves them judging the ends while leaving the means to the experts. I have read a fair amount on a variety of topics a base my views on this information. I am interested in what others think and open to changing my opinion if convinced by evidence.

            My statement about kids being able to tell the difference between right and wrong was a response to your statement that Secular Humanism piggy backed off Christianity. I was trying to make the point that much of any philosophy that describes how communities should be organized can be independently formed and appropriating good ideas from previous traditions is not a bad thing.

            Regarding the Nordic countries. Yeah right, it was posed that we’re a brotherhood of man long ago by many a dude but really only the Nordic countries treat all the children with in their borders like they are truly children of the country. Everywhere else has it’s strata of privilege and the bottom rungs are complete out casts. It’s one thing to write a Bible that advocates man’s kinship with man but it’s another to provide food, shelter, supervision, and education for each an every child in your society regardless of cultural and religious background. This is what I mean when I say average people will judge your philosophy by its ends when they can’t understand the means.

            No I am not reflective of the moral assumptions behind human decisions. I know that the people involved in separating families on the border are morally bankrupt. No reflection needed. Yes, I am curious about the origin of the universe but whether your imaginary friend invented it or BBT math proves to be correct, it was before my time and not my expertise.

            According to physicists, the universe is expanding and as it expands it creates matter. No that doesn’t sound logical to me but if they get together and agree and their theory still allows gay people to marry I’m okay with it. Gay mart is going to affect your marriage? You know how logic works right?

        • Tome708 says

          Dellingdog has it all figured out based on his regular comments. He has the one “non divisive” world view. As long as you accept his belief system and accept as good what he believes is good, and accept as wrong what he sais is wrong.

          • dellingdog says

            Farris and X.: Although you’re entitled to stipulate any definition of “religion” you like, your usage is extraordinarily expansive. If any set of codified beliefs or moral principles are “religious,” then virtually everything is religious and the distinction becomes meaningless. l assume you’re both religious and are trying to place atheism on equal epistemological footing with faith-based belief in the supernatural. We’d need to have a much longer conversation to adequately address that issue.

            Tome: I’m sorry you don’t appreciate my comments and find me to be arrogant and intolerant. That’s certainly not my intention.

          • Evander says


            Quibbling about ill-usage of the term ‘religion’ doesn’t extricate you from the fact that Secular Humanism shares a common characteristic with many religions: axiomatic moral precepts. Your commitment to principles of human dignity and rights, as well as practices such as tolerance and scientific inquiry isn’t value-neutral. Secular Humanism doesn’t offer a vision of being based on matter, but on dreamt-up ideas of human flourishing. On your view, the natural world keeps its mouth shut; it has nothing to say about how humans should live. So, where does Secular Humanism derive its principles from? Piggy-backing off the West’s Christian heritage in large part, with the God part knocked off.

            Of course, the way out of this intractable problem is to claim a Might is Right creed. That’s consistent with naturalism, a world where there’s only predator and prey. In a way, this view is quite persuasive. Observably, the natural world doesn’t recognise dignity, rights or valued ways of being in the world. You don’t pays your money and takes your choice – you receive the hand you’ve been dealt and feed, kill, breed then die, without any notice being taken. The problem is that this view forces you to concede the Hannibal Lecter has got a formidable argument for his dining habits. But at least he’s transparent about the arbitrariness of decisions and the values behind them.

            Why are atheists so reluctant to own this fact? Is it because openly admitting the irrational axioms of your system ruins your self-perception – to say nothing of the social dimension – as a ‘rational person’? Is it the taint of having overlap with a religious system of belief? Whatever the cause, by the emphases of your own system, it’s intellectual dishonest and vain.

          • Evander says

            A few more misconceptions in the atheist mind that need weeding out:

            i) Appeal to Scandinavia as a happy, atheist utopia is retarded. Pillage, rape, internecine tribalism and human sacrifice were phased out by Christian civilisation, not an avant-garde of proto-sceptics. The countries were steeped in faith and owe their prosperity to participation in the faith-based enterprise known as Europe.

            Methodologically, if you wanted to create the Scandinavian experience, shouldn’t you build a society on Christianity for 900 years, and then in the last 50 adopt secularism as a principle?

            This point, unless heavily nuanced, which it never is, should be discarded in all future debate.

            ii) Atheism isn’t prima facie more epistemologically grounded than religion. First, you beg the question by assuming a rift between empiricism and rationalism on the one side, and religion on the other. Religion (and fyi throughout I’m defending Christian theism) coheres with science and reason. Religious people go to the dentist, not the witch doctor for healing. Similarly, I use reason in my daily intercourse with the world. But to scale things up: when confronting the big questions, atheism comes unstuck, i.e. on morality and the origin of the universe. Remember this corker from scientific titan Stephen Hawking in 2010?

            “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”

            Formally stated: because there is X, X can and will create itself from nothing.

            With this quotation set alongside Genesis 1:1, you might be unintentionally right to think that the two belief-systems aren’t on an equal intellectual footing.

          • Michael Joseph says

            Evander, I’m not going to defend secular humanism. Sounds to me like they are going down the road organized religion paved. I would say that it doesn’t hurt to take what you like from old philosophies but I have worked with kids and although they can’t quote Plato they can tell the difference between right and wrong. You seem to be worried about living, breeding, and dying with out anyone noticing. Well God sure hasn’t come around handing out the merit badges lately. If you’re religious that’s an odd thing to say as if you could prove your vision of cosmology.

            You go on to trash Scandinavia. Christianity promised everyone a lot more than previous traditions and quickly became a military hegemony. What you said about Scandinavia happened all over Christendom except for the recent advances in organizing a more “enlightened” community. Face it you’re bagging on them cause they got there first. My theory of why they are ahead of the game is that as a heterogeneous society they have realized that we’re all family.

            Next you go after atheists. The problem with your argument is that atheists are atheists because of your in ability to prove the veracity of your cosmological story. I personally don’t need to prove anything. The universe is just here. I got born into it, have been lucky to lead an awesome life, and will go out happy that it was my luck. After I’m dead my life will still have happened. Thanks to physics, the time I spent on Earth is as solid as granite for another trillion years. You could come back and say you will be in heaven forever but I would reply that you must not know how long a trillion years is.

            As for the universe creating itself cause of gravity, I think it’s an interesting theory but I don’t believe it like you believe Genesis.

          • Evander says

            Michael, you’ve waded into a debate – which admittedly I’ve waded into also – on the moral basis of Secular Humanism which therefore qualifies it religious in a way. The contention of a few people is that atheists who advocate some systematisation of atheism for society run into the problem of arbitrary axioms – a staple of religious systems which they criticise and often fear will be ‘imposed’ on society, albeit through democratic means.

            ‘Kids can tell the difference between right and wrong.’ How do you rationalise that common sense observation within the naturalistic framework? By virtue of naturalism, right and wrong are labels for individual and societal preferences. You can’t justify a system of morality based on a lightweight sociological observation; that doesn’t cut in philosophically in the wake of Nietzsche. Do you need me to expand?

            Re the Nordic countries: I’m merely pointing out that their Christian heritage is a crucial factor in their development as prosperous, happy societies. The talking point that atheism-secularism is largely responsible is historically ignorant; civilisation is painstakingly built up over centuries. And the suggestion that they arrived at an understanding of the brotherhood of man atheistically is ridiculous; the abolitionists in 18th century Britain and the pro-Aboriginal activists in 19th century Australia based their humanitarian advocacy in the biblical idea of man’s kinship with man (Genesis 1; Acts 17). The pedigree of the idea of universal humanity is biblical.

            I think you’ve missed the point of this discussion. I’m pointing out which I perceive to be flaws in Secular Humanism, held out by DD as superior intellectually and morally than, for example, Christianity. From your response I’ve gathered that you’re unreflective about the moral assumptions behind human decisions, suppose happiness can be achieved through short-term secular social organisation, and lack curiosity regarding the origins of the universe.

            “As for the universe creating itself cause of gravity, I think it’s an interesting theory.”

            You know how logic works, right?

        • Michael Joseph says

          Evander, my reply is above and begins sorry I’m not s philosopher. I never got into philosophy because establishing the base line about what we mean when we say, what I mean, seems to take us out of the realm of common human experience.

          Basically, the Bible and other religious texts proclaim we are a brotherhood but but the Nordic countries have brought it from idea to reality. What ever the cause, what ever the philosophy, it’s a step forward. You can quote dead white guys, you can argue the future but statistics on the success of a society to lower poverty and increase educational opportunity and mitigate addiction and crime is what I pay attention when deciding policy for my society. I apologize for grammar and syntax when typing with one finger.

          • Evander says

            Michael, I’ll drop the polemic for a moment and explain what I’m trying to do.

            My comments have been largely in response to chest-thumping atheists, such as bubblecar, who’ve stated multiple times that religion is stupid and irrational; who, like DD, think Secular Humanism is unproblematic and plainly superior as a system to societies where civic Christianity was generally valued and practised; who think that morality is straightforward for the modern naturalist.

            The two big blindspots in many atheists that I’ve encountered are i) ignorance of the West’s heritage and ii) a lack of self-scrutiny of their own position.

            With the atheists, I value scientific enquiry, the use of reason, liberal democracy, human rights, technology and the university. I also value Christianity because I believe it’s true.

            What I don’t value is vainglorious rhetoric about Christianity being a fantasy. I tolerate it but I confront it. And when I do, pointing out the historical nature of my religious belief, the atheist I’m engaging with, usually with no training, or even reading interest, in history shuts the conversation down because it involves a suspension of a priori commitments.

            I’m not out to score points. There’s good reason to be an atheist. There’s good reason to be a Christian. I’m into critical dialogue.

            I look forward to future engagement.

        • Michael Joseph says

          This odd chat board requires careful replies to the right post.

          • Michael Joseph says

            So Evander, I am just a guy who’s read his Bible, enjoyed the Bhagavad Gita, Story of Buddha, lots of layman’s astronomy and scientific cosmology and much of the Western Canon of literature to include lots of history. More well read than most but not expert in a single field. I don’t discuss the existence of God with religious people who need to believe and not with anyone very long once they start using “faith” as evidence.

            When I listen to physicists talk it seems more concrete because they can show me pages of equations that explain their position. They are also willing to change an opinion after new evidence is presented. This idea that the metaphysical can coexist with the physical seems plausible until you realize that scientists constantly expand into the clerics realm and it’s okay with the cleric because so much is unknown. Eventually, the cleric and the scientist will be the same. Understanding this inexorable evolution, I don’t let the cleric leap frog over proofs, especially after historical blunders that shouldn’t happen if clerics are to be believed.

          • Evander says

            Faith is so often an unhelpful word. Nowadays it’s commonly understood to mean ‘belief in the spiritual’, irrespective of evidence. Of course, what matters isn’t so much the volume or intensity of your belief as what you believe in. Adducing faith – the human act of crediting something or someone – as evidence for a metaphysical position is nonsensical. We agree on this point.

            That’s why I’ll always point out my faith is grounded in biblical text, which itself points to a historically unfolding story, culminating in the person of Jesus. Text can be scrutinised; history can be investigated. The object and basis of my faith is susceptible to criticism, into which I gladly invite dialogue partners to participate.

            Francis Bacon, pioneer of the scientific method, subscribed to the Christian notion of God’s two books of revelation: Scripture and Creation. The latter could be penetrated through inquiry and experiment, being an objective, discoverable realm of facts. At the same time, Bacon, somewhat atheistically, lopped off the Aristotelian notion of telos or causes from objects in the material world. For Aristotle, things both exist and exist for something. For Bacon, scientific treatment doesn’t regard phenomena as existing for something ultimately; it is simply the discovery of the matter and the relations between matter. Science tells us what is; whereas Scripture, and the moral sciences, i.e. Philosophy, were concerned with ethics and moral inquiry; with telos and causes.

            Science cannot be used to deduce morality. It was never conceived that way, and it can’t be retooled for that. Yet so often I hear atheists talk about how science can be used for ethics. They have nought to do with each other, save for science informing us about material realities that are considerations in moral debates.

            This is a problem for advocates of thoroughgoing secularism, and needs to be more widely acknowledged if we’re going to have intelligent and successful conversations about how to live harmoniously in pluralistic societies.

    • @Mike
      Very well said!
      Douglas Murray argues this well in “The Strange Death of Europe ”
      He discusses how the west is still “dreaming Christian dreams, ” and that the west would do well to protect its Christian culture, even if in hearts people may be atheist, lest they vacuum be filled by something more destructive than we currently envisage .

      I strongly recommend his book and would suggest Quillette interview him.

      • Yes, @Anita, I did read Douglas Murray’s book and thought his disquisitions upon Christianity and Europe exceptionally eloquent and wise — you summarize them well. Agreed also that his ideas are right up Quilette’s alley.

  15. I would make a distinction between spirituality and religion. Spirituality is innate and should not be thought of as something to get rid of. You never want to go on the warpath against the human spirit! Religion is just a conceptual framework for spirituality. You don’t have believe in anything to be spiritual, but spiritual feelings do require an explanation which is where it bleeds into religion.

    I’ve been reading “Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought ” by Pascal Boyer which offers interesting theories on why we are prone to believe in the supernatural. But this book fails to take the unconscious mind into consideration so it does not address the matter of
    spirituality. You will not find the origins of religious thought in the conscious mind, entirely based on what is consciously believed. You really need to dive into the unconscious mind to begin to grapple with spirituality.

    Regarding transhumanism, if you want to understand why we are trying to create a software God then read “Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality” by Robert M. Geraci. That book reveals the spiritual aspirations which are fueling the craze for artificial intelligence research.

    The human mind did not evolve to be strictly rational and anyone who thinks they can rid themselves of spirituality and religion is kidding himself.

    • Stephanie says

      @Robert S Robbins, I agree with your statement on the innateness of spirituality and religion, but I’m not sure spirituality can suffice without religion. Spirituality tends to be very personal, and is thus difficult to work into a communal framework. I tried to keep a Pagan Club at my college based on the principle of eclectic spirituality and a community of sharing, but it ultimately broke down because of a lack of unified vision.

      • Harari even thinks that spirituality and religion are two different, even opposite things. If I think about all those mystics and monks with visions or a special message, in the history of my catholic church community, I can agree, there was always misunderstanding, and often even threat of excommunication between the two parties (the official church, and the solitary monks or others). But even now, I wonder whether spirituality can go much beyond the personal, so I,m not surprised at all Stephanie! The official Islam also has big problems with mystics and Sufis, at least, that’s what I understand of it.

  16. Don’t you find it strange that most human being suffer from the dis-ease of Meaningless-less. That most people have to invent themselves some noble cause to justify their existence. That survival, in the most basic sense, is there reason to get up in the morning.

  17. Many times in my interactions with people who are drug addicted, I get the impression that the problem started as a way to mask a lack of meaning in their lives. Also, I would add the really zealous gay-lesbian, transgender people as ones that have substituted that for religion in their lives.

    Important topic. I’ve had a couple conversations with people from Communist countries about the hole left in their lives when the govt has taken religion away from them.

    • dellingdog says

      ” I’ve had a couple conversations with people from Communist countries about the hole left in their lives when the govt has taken religion away from them.” That’s a good point. There’s a significant difference between coerced secularism (when religion is persecuted in pursuit of ideological goal) and emergent secularism, when religious belief declines more naturally. Countries in Northern Europe like Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands provide examples of the latter. According to most measurements, they’re among the happiest and healthiest societies on the planet. This may suggest that religion becomes less necessary when people feel satisfied, safe and secure. Of course, the influx of devoutly religious immigrants to these formerly homogeneous societies may change that equation …

      • Tome708 says

        Oh here we go again, the “Scandinavian Countries” worship He applies it to every subject. I think it is an obvious tenant in his religious system. No after life, Dellingdogs’ heaven is Sweden.

      • Stephanie says

        @dellingdog, are they really the happiest and healthiest countries? Their use of antidepressants is extraordinary, their (natal) population is declining, and they are committing cultural suicide. Doesn’t strike me as overly happy or healthy.

        • Tome708 says

          Thanks again Stephanie. Max there is your cogent argument that I failed at.

          • dellingdog says

            @Stephanie, no country is perfect. Thanks for pointing out the high use of antidepressants — I wasn’t aware of that statistic. However, that’s one data point which needs to be considered in the context of a lot of other evidence. I don’t find your other arguments compelling. Populations can decline because couples choose to have fewer children for perfectly legitimate reasons. Higher levels of immigration present serious challenges, but claiming that these countries are committing “cultural suicide” is unhelpful hyperbole.

            @Tome, l think you need a hug. If it helps, I think New Zealand is pretty great too.

        • Michael Joseph says

          Stephanie, the greater the social safety net and the more progressive a country’s justice system the better all the stats are around quality of life. Scandinavia is high on the scale. They may use a lot of antidepressants but I bet their opioid mortality rate is quite low. They have a lot going for them. Wouldn’t it be better to emulate something that works than spend energy justifying a less desirable status quo? I believe Churchill is credited with saying that Americans will do the right thing after they have exhausted every other possibility. The older I get the more I see that proven in the flesh.

          • Artie11 says

            “The fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
            Proverbs 9:10

  18. dellingdog says

    If the author is arguing that people have a deep need for a sense of meaning and purpose along with connection to a community, I agree. Historically, these needs have usually been met via religious traditions. However, I’m not sure it follows that we should call this our “religious nature” (“most people who imagine themselves as irreligious simply haven’t come to terms with their religious nature”). I would refer to this as human nature. I think Routledge is defining “religious” in an extremely broad way. I may be biased because I’m part of the “extremely small percentage of the population” who are “disinclined toward religious-like thinking in all respects,” but I believe it’s possible for humans to flourish without belief in the supernatural. While it’s true that many Nones (individuals who don’t identify with any organized religion) express belief in ghosts, aliens, healing crystals, etc. in surveys, I’m not sure we can conclude that these beliefs provide a substitute source of meaning for them. Perhaps Routledge is right that a Roddenberry-style, post-religious, Secular Humanist paradise is impossible, but I think it’s too soon to tell.

    It’s undeniably true that the world is becoming more religious, not less, but this is almost entirely due to demographic trends — i.e., growth rates in India and Africa and stable or declining populations in more secular countries. Again, I don’t think this provides evidence that humans are “naturally” religious.

  19. There’s no greater zealot than a fresh convert. Atheists who hail from a religious background often go through a period of strident evangelism, for lack of a better word, upon leaving the fold. And atheists living somewhere with a high baseline level of religiosity — say Salt Lake City — will be likewise inclined to define their position in opposition to the default majority position. In the US, the stridency of atheists is directly correlated to the political ascendancy of Evangelical Christians. This is exacerbated by the fact that the most reactionary strains of Christianity in the US are also biblical literalists and Dominionists, creating a potent cocktail of risible beliefs (“every animal on Earth descends from a breeding pair preserved on a Bronze Age boat!”) and theocratic impulses (“people who believe in the Giant Boat Theory should be in charge of making laws!”)

    But people do seem to need stories, not just data, to make sense of the world and their place in it. A lot of the brainier atheists I’ve met seem to have landed on science fiction as the meaning-generating milieu of choice, and one need only look at the wildly successful quest to create a real-life Tricorder to see how enough people taking their cues from popular sci-fi can have an effect in the world.

    The buffet-style, roll-your-own school of myth-making that replaces institutionalized religious belief has its own pitfalls, mostly stemming from the fact that humans are prone to magical thinking to such an extent that, even when they wrest themselves free from one set of magical beliefs, they easily fall back into others. I’ve found a good precaution against this tendency is to not leave a void where the Central Animating Myth of my life used to go.

    Be aware that if you are starved for meaning in your life, you are easy prey for nonsense-peddlers of all stripes. Figure out a mythology you can live with, and inoculate yourself against opportunistic messiahs.

  20. TwinkleToez says

    Interesting article, if not a little narrow in terms of exemplifying Christianity as the only cultural and social belief that Westerners are moving beyond and replacing with their own, less structured beliefs about divinity. It seems incomplete to talk about how people are moving away from Christianity, without acknowledging other monotheistic religions, or the patriarchal structure that made them so successful in a per-equality seeking world.

    As Westerners, especially liberal and social justice minded individuals, strive for individualism and freedom for women, and people of various gender spectrum and sexual orientations, doesn’t it make sense that they would begin to engage in spiritual narrative that are more inclusive and accessible? As apposed to patriarchal structure that focuses around familial units and “the couple form”?

    I agree that by and large people seek meaning in their lives, and the majority exemplify a spiritual-self that resonates with ideas about religion and the divine that, in some way matches their upbringing. However, there are plenty of packages to fill the “religion sized hole in your life”, and most folks today, including young parents, are not looking for a judgmental patriarch to discern the worth of their soul.

    • Artie11 says

      Except for one thing. What if God (who created all things) knows that the “familial or couple structure” is the one that provides the most benefit to all, including individuals, children and society? Maybe that is why he advocated for it?

  21. lloydr56 says

    Great article and discussion. One argument for religion for “us” is that we have evolved to have it, and we will miss it if we try to live without it. Having some kind of stable community presumably brought great advances to our species–language, reasoning, specific inventions. I’m reading Sandeep Jauhar’s book “Health,” in which he summarizes research suggesting that it is bad for our health, including especially the heart, to be removed from a supportive community, so one is forced to deal with unforeseen misfortunes on one’s own.There was probably always a religious component to communities, and then to small communities with their beliefs forming big communities, with some new beliefs emerging. Community teaches us to sacrifice for a community; it’s hard to believe there can be a deep-seated commitment to sacrifice without religion. The greens trying to make us suffer for their agenda certainly have a certain amount of religious and pseudo-religious talk to make this work.
    Another argument is that religion reminds us of possible sources of truth that may not be testable by objective evidence or reason. For boomers drugs seem to have become an “alternative source.” I love the examples of “religion lite.”
    Modern life makes it difficult to believe in some specific religious teachings. Not only do we seem to learn “explanations of natural phenomena” that were unknown before, but as Jonathan Kay wrote recently, we seem to learn that humans collectively, or among a few geniuses, have powers over nature that in ancient texts are ascribed exclusively to gods. Drug-takers sometimes talk as though achieving the wisdom of a shaman is not difficult–just take the same drugs they take. That there actually might be an alternative source of wisdom is more of a challenge.

  22. E. Olson says

    If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him – Voltaire.

    Religion exists because most people in good mental health and/or with a positive disposition openly or secretly have at least some of the following hopes:
    – to see again a now deceased friend or family member.
    – that evil people will get their just dessert in Hell or similar.
    – their own good acts will be rewarded in Heaven or similar.
    – that they were put on this planet to do something meaningful.
    – for some sort of divine intervention during times of crisis or challenge.
    – for something beyond decay into dust after death.

    • X. Citoyen says

      It’s odd how there are only ever good or neutral consequences from such beliefs or hopes being dashed. Apparently, when people lose faith in the belief that baddies get their just desserts in the next life, they’re just as content as before with suspended sentences with time served for murderers. I wonder whether that’s the case.

    • E. Olsen: I like your list.

      Ideally, fully developed science would enquire into “life after death” and any other aspects of the Universe which are different from, and tenuously connected to, our familiar physical world. Even if it did all this, morality and existential questions are beyond the scope of science. So it makes no sense to me that science (“evidence based” formulation of explanatory hypotheses) could properly do all the things which religion does, however imperfectly.

      I don’t know of any reliable framework, paradigm or whatever within which to develop moral and existential frameworks. But every person needs these frameworks and gets them by adoption, invention or some mix of the two.

      • E. Olson says

        Robin – thank you and you raise a very good point. Religion is largely about providing answers to questions that are beyond our understanding or science, and a code of conduct/ethics for the successful promulgation of the individual, tribe, or humanity.

      • Michael Joseph says

        And if you need them you should have them. The Buddhist tradition is interesting. You get to progress through life after life until you become one with the universe. Basically you cease to exist as an individual. Atheists just cut out all the mucking around.

        The “list” is almost like the stages of acceptance of a terminal disease. Once you get past the last one you’re ready for atheism. I love those mediums who tell us our loved ones are happy and looking forward to reconnecting. They never seem to know what color the wall paper is or what the next arts and crafts project is.

  23. At the end of the year, it’s good to look back. My compliments to the illustrator of Quillette, I wonder where he/she finds all the time such appropriate and less known scenes or pictures or paintings, sometimes I find out who or what the artist is/was, sometimes not, in this case, I won’t find out, I fear. But it is again mind boggling. At first, I thought, ah, yes, a Maya king, look at the obese body, the pontifical way he is sitting there, the finger play, well known from Palenque and Bonampak, but then I realised, no it’s a Buddhist of course, but the strange thing here is: how the hell is this possible, the resemblance of the Maya kings (=priests, not yet the separation of our Western world) with those Nepalese monks or what, even the bird underneath, a pheasant with long tail, exactly the quetzal (bush bird of Guatemala and Mexico), with its long tail, so often surrounding the Maya kings, is this just coincidence? How is this possible??? After so many 1000s of years of separation of human tribes in different continents? The images, ritual presentation, the same, but the writings and texts (=rational) quite different of course, I,ve always been rather critical of Jungian philosophy, but of late? After Peterson? And this again? Maybe, religion, and myth, and all that metaphysical stuff, tens and tens of thousand years with us, humans, is much more important, and innate, real substance, than all that modern science, enlightenment, technology, traffic rules and what not all! Important for a comfortale life of course, and for material well being, but not more than that!

  24. Farris says

    Good article. Its one weakness is the failure to acknowledge that religion often ebbs and flows in peoples’ lives.

    There are no atheists in foxholes.

    • R Henry says

      Well stated. My experience indicates that those with the strongest Faith have often endured long periods of faithlessness and uncertainty.

    • tjsamp says

      there have been millions of atheists in foxholes. why is quillette attracting such a shitty rw crowd

    • Bubblecar says

      “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

      As has often been pointed out, this claim makes no sense at all.

      Why do soldiers take refuge in foxholes? Because they know they can’t rely on a god or a miracle to keep them safe.

      The very existence of foxholes tells us that even for the supposedly religious, their “faith” tends to be paper-thin when confronted with the harsher aspects of reality.

      Soldiers are in foxholes because deep down, they don’t believe in god. Some of the superstitious ones may pray, but they nonetheless know the foxhole is a lot more use than prayer.

      • Michael Joseph says

        True Christians wouldn’t enlist in the military. Christ wasn’t kidding when he said turn the other cheek. The best way to stop a fight is to not fight. Another reason his philosophy is a bad way to run a country. I agree with its purpose in pacifism but I am not willing for generations of my family to live in slavery either. We have an example in the US of this.

        • Michael Joseph, as a Christian and a veteran, I take great offense with your idea of what serving in the military is and what the definition of what a Christian is. The turn the other cheek stuff never applies to war. Nope. Human nature is a vile thing. And there is great suffering when men of means choose to stand by and allow evil to it’s work on earth.

      • Bubblecar, what a specious argument. As if , left to their own devices, soldiers dig foxholes. Nope. They are/were forced to, by doctrine. The normal person would RUN AWAY, not dig in. Once you are facing danger, beyond your control, as arty is raining in around you, …. that is the basis for the saying. You pray you aren’t the next one… you pray when you cannot control your fate. Most do…. and most did.

  25. Carl Geier says

    I have gradually become both more religious and spiritual over the past few years. I don’t think any of E. Olson’s motivations apply to me. I found that by making a concious decision to live my life as if I believed and at the same time trying to actually believe despite deep seated doubts, I discovered a transfomative force within myself that feels more like a gift than anything I ever could have deserved.

    • As a child I was catechized as a Catholic but stained glass, incense and mystery left me cold and I was unchurched decades.

      Like you, I began, and still am, faking it hoping to make it. I’ve found a couple of things useful. It occurred to me that Kurt Gödel’s First Incompleteness Theorem in mathematics [i.e.; In any consistent formal system of mathematics, there will always be statements about the natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system] could easily be extended to any internally consistent axiomatic system of ethics or values. So, if mathematicians and physicists cannot formally prove 1+1=2 and agree that logical and internally consistent systems must rest on at least one unprovable axiom, I feel no need prove God exists. Aristotle had a proof God exists but his proof required he deny that both the ideas of nothing and infinity are possible.

      I also find the ideas that God calls to each of us individually; that we answer as individuals; that God’s laws are written on our hearts, memorialized in the Ten Commandments and further expanded upon in the Bible of real comfort.

      By definition, we can have no idea what God is up. But almost 6 thousand years of recorded experience seem to show that people who at least pretend to follow the theology and set of moral values we borrowed from the Jews tend to do much better in life than those who don’t. I think that is what Jordan Peterson has been dancing around in his ruminations on the Bible – we know God by examining our collective experience.

      • X. Citoyen says

        Incidentally, Godel also composed a proof of God’s existence.

      • Michael Joseph says

        We know God by examining our collective experience. What does that mean? You have come to believe God exists from examining the collective human experience of war and atrocity since humans learned to write? People started farming, then they started fighting over the land, then they kept records of who owned what, then they wrote their histories and epics. Not only is the history full of bloodshed and violence but so are the epics. Our collective experience proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that God either doesn’t exist or takes no part in our affairs, and so may as well not exist. We take our place in a universe of forces and counter forces only we have the power of thought and foresight. Such as we are, we are the gods. The only reason we have it so good now is because a while ago some folks quit dreaming of the after life and seriously thought about how to organize a society that benefits everyone equally. You’re not typing on a computer because some religious cleric commanded people to innovate and invent. You’re typing on a computer and your doctor easily cures you of simple diseases because as a society we did away with the necessity of complete meltdowns in the Church every Tim a new principle of physics disagreed with dogma. God died a long time ago but feel free to carry on with the shouting as long as it comforts you.

        • My read is that longitudinally, God fearing tribes just do better than tribes led by fools who think that they are a god.

  26. R Henry says

    “many Americans are Christian in name only—using the term more as an indicator of their cultural background”

    The same can be said for Jews too.

  27. R Henry says

    “the gradual replacement of religious doctrines with rationalist, evidence-based methods for explaining the world: The history of science is full of examples of science replacing old superstitions.”

    Science address the “how.” Faith addresses “Why?”

    • Farris says

      Personally, I reject the notion that religion and science are mutually exclusive.

        • Farris says

          Definitely. Debating science or religion is apples and oranges.

          • The big idea of Averroes, Farris, and of the Averroist school, Middle Ages, but I wonder how long it took before this also became common knowledge in the West. Aquinas (see below) was still looking for hard proofs of the existence of God, as if the metaphysical and the natural world were simply made up by the same kind of stuff and responding to logical order.

          • Michael Joseph says

            No it’s not or you would have no problem with atheists. Everything from comforting sad friends to explaining the nature of the universe can be improved with the scientific method. Religion creates a paradigm and encrusts it in ritual preventing evolution. Why do you think society and technology are moving faster than ever before to improve lives and communities? We don’t have to worry, in most places, about retribution if we anger religious leaders. We are free from religion so technology and sociology is improving in leaps and bounds. It is the vestiges of religion that are slowing us down. Maybe it is a giant leap towards oblivion but there’s no stopping it.

      • Both St. Augustine (Platonist) subscribed to the belief that matter was eternal, and St. Thomas Aquinas (scholastic Aristotilian) laid out an argument that the idea of the eternity of matter did not conflict with the concept of creation. Any paradoxes are ours by our nature and abilities. We understand eternity only by our experience of the temporal, infinity by our experience with the finite. A wonderful quote:

        “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”
        —- Werner Heisenberg, Nobel Prize in Physics for creation of quantum mechanics

  28. Deserttrek says

    Regarding the unexplained, I have seen some strange things
    Maybe better we don’t know

  29. Moogle says

    Clay doesn’t provide evidential statements, instead choosing to use “theories” and “facts” without providing any proof for his claims. This article seems pretty similar to undergrad papers written at 4 in the morning, with disjointed thoughts and weird analogies. WHO cares about the Mormon transhumanist movement? WHO is Andrew Sullivan? Oh, that’s right. No one cares about this janky author/editor who gained a cult following because he writes the same way as Clay. Let’s shake off the initial reaction of saying “yeah, that makes sense” for just a second.

    Transhumanism goes way deeper than Clay’s perceived “intersection” of science fiction and religion. The entire point of transhumanist theory is to transcend “humanity.” It’s why people argue whether or not it should be considered an offshoot of posthumanist theory (which funnily enough has academics all in a huffy right now because it threatens their little post-structuralist society they’ve built.) Mormon transhumanism as a result is an oxymoron. Transhumanism suggests that to transcend humanity, you stop living by precepts that have been applied by humanity previously, which guess what? Also includes religion. Do we have a working model/framework for that? No! It’s why transhumanism hasn’t taken the world by storm. But look at these random examples; they’re so fancy! They’re combining religion and science fiction… I like that!

    Did you know that the “Mormon Tranhumanist Association” recently stated that they’re not actually affiliated with the Mormon Church? No, probably not.

    Then again, maybe everything I just stated isn’t true. How would you know unless you did your research? My claims are pretty much equivalent to the ones made in Clay’s article, if only less so because I didn’t write an entire post about them.

    This is a biased and unsubstantiated piece. Cool ideas, but come on Quillete, is this really worthy of a spotlight?

    • Tome708 says

      Moogle, sometimes people write to exchange ideas, ponder things, offer suggestions. It’s easy to demand “proof” and “evidence”. I see that a lot in the more snarky comments. (ie YOURS) Seems like it can be a lazy criticism.
      I don’t think this was meant to be a research paper or a “study”. Lighten up, contemplate, you are free to reject the premise.

    • You are deeply incorrect to suppose Mormon Transhumanism is an oxymoron. To the contrary, it’s not at all difficult to make the case that Mormonism mandates Transhumanism. A similar case for Christianity-in-general mandating Transhumanism is also not much harder to make. Also, MTA has never been affiliated with any religious organization, but about 75% are also members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  30. codadmin says

    God only reveals himself to those with IQ’S under 90 and over 175.

  31. Christina Arasmo Beymer says

    A lot of people leave traditional religion because if you really think about it, there are some psychopathic concepts that people reject even if they can’t quite put their finger on it. Let’s take for example God’s Grace. If you look at the disparity across the globe, the slums of Calcutta versus the opulence of Marin county, it’s arrogance to think ‘God’s grace is on me but not on them’. The apparent stinginess of God’s grace is hard to dismiss. Another idea is karma, which is also quite arrogant when you think about it. That is that suffering that everyone gets is due to their previous actions. That the little girl getting her clitoris cut off is deserved because in a previous incarnation she did it to others. There’s some horrible shit happening to beings, and particularly in the case of children or animals, you can’t say they were all Mengele in a previous life. If you take either one of these concepts and think about them, they are exceptionally unbecoming of a wholesome individual. People want a God concept that reflects how they are, so they are going to move out the book, naturally, and perhaps get lost, but I don’t blame them.

    Semi-related: The rise in nationalism in India appears to be the result of the selective murdering of girls (abortion or just abandoning to the elements), so there is vast number of men who will never be married and have zilch in the way of such as family and responsibility which provides a wholesome meaning for many people.

    • Christina Arasmo Beymer says

      And the last paragraph sucked. Re-write:

      Semi-related: The rise in nationalism in India appears to be the result of the selective murdering of girls (abortion or just abandoning to the elements), so there is vast number of men who will never be married or have family responsibility, which provides a wholesome meaning for many people.

      Eh. Off the cuff for a non-writer.

  32. William says

    Even assuming humans have “hunger for collective human meaning that transcends the pedestrian scientific view of human beings as transient organisms inhabiting an inconsequential rock hurtling through an indifferent universe.” how does that justify a delusional system?

  33. markbul says

    Given that the 20th Century – the post-‘God is dead’ century – gave us Marxism-Leninism and National Socialism, I’d say we could use a little Spanish Inquisition about now. It would be an improvement

  34. Stephanie says

    Great article, important subject matter.

    I’m sure there exist Trump fanatics, but conservatives being more religious people, I think a little more depth of what the mainstream left has replaced religion with might be appropriate. Particularly since Obama has much more of a cult following than Trump. Social justice certainly acts like a religion, but Obama’s place in that as a religious icon is iinteresting.

    Obama was viewed as a Messiah in a way I don’t think any other president was. That “change” poster is no different than the Che icon Quillette discussed last week. People on the left (myself at the time included) were swept up in religious fervour, projecting all our hopes and dreams onto one man we believed would bring heaven on Earth. It didn’t matter that he thought marriage was between a man and a woman, because if you believed in gay marriage, Obama did too.

    Social justice represents the failure of the Obama religion. When you have a black president, a black attorney general, a black mayor and a black police chief, and that isn’t sufficient to stop police shootings, there were two approaches they could have taken: follow in Obama’s footsteps such that you never get into a situation where the police are after you, or blame the system. If Obama had the moral courage, he would have lead his people to aim upward, but instead he fed the victimhood narrative. The religion transitioned from an inspirational Messianic one to a rigid, comprehensive doctrine that inspires nothing but resentment and is harsh in punishing non-believers.

    • Tome708 says

      Thanks again Stephanie, nailed it. Jesse Lee Peterson calls Obama “The Fallen Messiah”. I laugh when I hear it.

      The religion of leftism. Dogma, child sacrafice, ie abortion. The science has caught up on this one, yet they refuse to budge in their RELIGIOUS conviction.

  35. kafkaberry says

    Where this is going is Plato’s Noble Lie:

    Basically, we elites all know that gods are ridiculous. But we are discovering that without gods, the great unwashed get antsy, first misbehaving in their own milieu, and pretty soon threatening us in ours. So we need to give them back their silly gods.

    Nietzsche was with it, too. His “God is Dead”, invariably quoted out of his context, originally meant that gods have lost their usefulness due to the overall persuasiveness of modern science. So somebody needs to invent a new noble lie, to keep the proles happy.

    Similarly Marx, with “religion is the opiate of the masses”. Except, he foolishly wanted to reform the people, by getting them to abandon their old gods, in favor of his. But Marx’s gods are not so good for us elites: their plan is to at least knock us down, and preferably kill us, So we elites desperately need a replacement opiate for the people, to save our asses. The question is, what?

    TV showed a lot of promise; it worked damn well for a few decades. The Web and Social Media looked great, very briefly, but they turned out to have big problems. They are the best tool ever invented for assembling mobs from masses, but that’s not quite what us elites had in mind. Actual opiates are useful here and there, but if all the workers are junkies, who’s going to do the dirty work? Surely, not us elites.

    So we have a problem. The big meme going around the “intellectual web”, like all over Quillette and kin, for example above, is to give the masses back their original gods, and keep the obsurdity to ourselves. Sure, I’m with that.

    But what happens when the masses figure out that they are being ridiculed, patronized, fooled and used, more and better than ever? Will they get pissed, elect noisy idiots, raise up demagogues, and load their weapons? Yeah, it’s looking like they might. Plato worried about that: me too.

    • X. Citoyen says

      I probably agree with your overall sentiment, but that version of the noble lie is Popper’s. The point of Plato’s noble lie is that the best regime is founded on true opinion, not knowledge. Few non-fanatics would find it all that surprising that we don’t know what the perfect set of laws and perfect institutions are. Nor can we demonstrate (i.e., deductively) that our institutions are the best. But we can have true opinion, a weaker sense of knowing, about such things.

    • “Will they get pissed, elect noisy idiots, raise up demagogues, and load their weapons?”

      If this is a knock on Trump, then perhaps you ought to consider that the foremost Western experts on China (Gordon Chang and Michael Pillsbury) have both indicated that the Chinese powers-that-be consider Trump by far the smartest President that the US has had in the last 50 years.

      Noisy Idiot, or Very Special Genius?

      A flawed vehicle no doubt. Trump is at best an agnostic, probably an atheist, but he understands the importance of religion and is clearly trying to prop up the Judeo-Christian ethic and culture in preference to the god-awful alternative that the progressives are pushing.

      Personally, I find it particularly ironic that a “sinner” should lead the way.

      Cometh the hour, cometh the man?

      • Michael Joseph says

        Trump is a con man and an idiot. We know he doesn’t care about anything outside himself cause he never has. That’s the con man part. He could have lived out his years as an iconic con man but he chose the mess with the Federal Government. He may live out his years in prison. That’s the idiot part.

  36. Lloyd says

    Interesting to me that I’ve met several ‘atheists’ who believe in reincarnation. And they’ll say that Buddhism “is a philosophy, not a religion.” What does that even mean?

    Also, secularists believe in Global Warming with the passion of evangelicals – if you doubt it/even question it you’re not just a stupid person, you’re also a bad person. THE TRUTH IS SETTLED! YOU MUST BELIEVE.

    Ask an atheist if anything existed before the Big Bang, or if a man says he’s a woman, what is he?

    • dellingdog says

      An honest atheist will acknowledge that we don’t yet know what preceded the Big Bang, and we may never find out. In the absence of evidence we should remain agnostic, not attach the label of “God” to our ignorance.

      If you’re convinced that the evidence in favor of anthropogenic climate change is equivalent to the evidence that Jesus died for our sins, I don’t think you understand science or religion very well.

  37. ” the decline of traditional religion has been accompanied by a rise in a diverse range of supernatural, paranormal and related beliefs.”
    This is clealry false on anything but a very short timescale. Priot to teh last two centuries religion was close to universal and superstition was ubiquitous. The modern age is not only an all time low in religous belief it is close to an all time low in superstition.

    There may or may not be an innate need or tendancy for religuous thinking but even if there is then we have learned what are good and bad ways of reasoning and the power of the scientific method over the long term. There is no going back.

  38. rickoxo says

    For much longer in evolutionary history, males of most species have used the strategy of inseminate as widely and frequently as possible, often by force–much longer than humans have had religious beliefs. But unsurprisingly, we don’t have people writing articles about ways people try (and fail) to maintain those tendencies.

    It’s a good thing that some tendencies that worked for periods of time during our evolutionary history get jettisoned when we either find better replacements or realize they’re wrong and we need to come up with a better option. That’s part of what makes humans the dominant species, that we are not only able to adapt more quickly to changes in the environment, but we’re also able to reflect on the environment, reflect on our beliefs and make changes based on new ideas.

  39. The author raises some interesting issues but gets bogged down by accepting and repeating conventional definitions and polarities like “religion/science”, “sacred/secular” etc. For example, there is a world of difference between how a religion originates what a religion may become. Virtually all religions begin as empirical and poetic events which generate myths, stories and images of how reality works. A religion represents a unified form of knowledge about how reality works and how we fit into the whole process. A religion provides meaning.

    However, over time, as William Blake once described, what began as “poetic tales” end as “mental dieties”. Thus the “priesthood” is born and the “vulgar are enslav’d”. What we call a religion is a process which begins in experiential reality and may end in dogma, superstition and a seemingly irrational need for belief.

    Science is also a form of knowledge which as a social phenomenon can also be understood as a process. Modern science is a set of procedures which “reveals” reality. This revealing is what Martin Heidegger called “Enframing”. Science transforms reality into some kind of usable information which in turn allows us to manipulate and control nature. Science, in effect, objectifies nature and we are enveloped by this radically new kind of reality. Ultimately, not unlike all humans from all times, we take our world for the one true world.

    Science, no less than religion, is prone to its own dogmas and superstitions not the least of which is the very notion that science actually is an adequate way of understanding reality. Science operates on the assumption that reality can be known by scientific procedures. Reality can be understood by taking it apart. As Nietzsche once observed of modern science, “they worship their methodologies like little gods”. Thus scientists are prone to turn their “poetic tales” into their own kind of “mental dieties”

    Science, as a set of procedures and methods, does not provide meaning – it doesn’t in itself provide a comprehensive unified understanding of reality. Not surprisingly, enveloped by a reality generated by scientific procedures, modern secular man, in his own search for meaning, ends up as superstitious and deranged as ever. We have our secular superstitions, our secular priesthoods and, again, “the vulgar are enslaved”.

  40. More about cosmology’s currently bungled attempt to answer questions about the nature of the Universe, which are important for existential and perhaps moral frameworks. Also why science can’t develop or evaluate such frameworks.

    Stephanie, I was not suggesting that religion and science are or should be equivalent. When done properly, science is a totally different form of enquiry from religion, which will improve on whatever limitations are inherent in today’s best regarded hypotheses.

    Joe, if most or all scientists – and people who take an interest in science – regarded the BBT as you do, there would be no problem. However, it is routine to see the BBT assumed as fact. For instance, here are the first sentences of “The Nearest Star”, 2001 (Harvard UP), by leading scholars Leon Golub and Jay M. Passachoff is written as if the BBT is a fact:

    “About 15 billion years ago, for reasons we do not yet understand, the Universe came into existence. Matter as we know it did not exist and even the forces by which bits of matter and radiation interact with each other were different than they are today. Our knowledge of physics is good enough now to calculate the conditions prevailing back to and incredible 10^-45 seconds (a decimal point followed by a string of zeros with a 1 in the 45th place) after it all started. Of course, this does not get us all the way back to zero, or before (if the word “before” has a meaning in this context), but we can speak with a fair degree of confidence about how things proceeded thereafter.

    “By 0.000000000001 seconds of age [RW: light travels 0.3mm in this 10^-11 seconds], the four forces of nature that now exist – gravity, strong and weak nuclear and electromagnetic – were in place, and by the age of several hundred seconds the Universe contained the familiar, so-called baryonic, matter that continues to exist today, the stuff of which ordinary atoms are made.”

    They are skipping over the inflationary epoch, which is a central part of the BBT: between 10^-36 to 10^-32 seconds (during which light would travel 1/100th of a millionth of a millionth of the diameter of an atom) the Universe doubled in size 100,000 times. Inflation was added to the BBT in the 1980s in an effort to resolve some of its problems.

    It is profoundly anti-scientific (in the Popperian ideal of science) to ascribe such certainty to any hypothesis with such problems. A true scientist would regard the BBT tentatively, and take great interest in every observation which it has difficulty explaining. The list is too long to go into here, but includes the observations that quasars vary their light output far too rapidly for objects which must be so big as to be bright enough to us from their BBT redshift-implied distances. If quasar light redshift occurs partly or largely in the locally concentrated intergalactic medium they are are sucking in, then there’s no problem with such rapid fluctuations, since the high redshift quasars are not at the extreme distances the BBT assumes, and therefore are not so intrinsically bright and need not be so big. If such “tired light” plasma redshift exists, then there’s no reason to assume that the redshift of light from distant galaxies is caused by them moving away from us. (There is no accepted “tired light” hypothesis. I am on the case.)

    Likewise the failure to find time dilation (as predicted by the BBT: we should observe distant variations taking much longer than the times they actually took) in the gravitationally lensed variations in brightness of high redshift quasars. (Time Dilation and Quasar Variability, M.R.S. Hawkins, 2001, Observational Evidence Favors a Static Universe Part I, David F. Crawford 2011).

    Generally I think scientists do good work. False paradigms are eventually replaced with better ones.

    Physicists, astrophysicists and cosmologists are, ideally, today’s secular high priests in that they seek fundamental knowledge about all aspects of reality, present and past – including whatever non-physical aspects of the universe we might be able to observe with greater difficulty than the matter and dimensions we currently accept as physical and real.

    It is difficult work.

    My first point is that the way Big Bang cosmology is generally regarded as a fact is completely unscientific, because there are too many problems with it for it to be a true account of reality. So assuming that all knowledge produced by professional scientists is “evidence based” ignores some important exceptions to this general principle.

    My second point is that if physicists had not accepted the photon paradigm in the 1920s, they would be thinking of light etc. as waves, not particles – and that there are ways of imagining sunlight heating the solar corona, and of light being redshifted by the sparse plasmas of space – in which case there would be no problem explaining the redshift of light from distant galaxies, and the erratic and frequently high redshifts of quasars. With such an understanding, there would be no justification for the Big Bang Theory.

    Non-scientists probably assume that professional scientists do good work, with all that study, brainpower, equipment and funding. In many cases they do. But in cosmology and in some aspects of fundamental physics (thinking of electromagnetic waves as photon particles, and thermal vibrations likewise as phonon particles), I think the prevailing hypotheses are completely incorrect, whilst being believed as facts in a way which stultifies the imagination and discussion which would be required to replace them with something better.

    It is this elevation of the problematic hypothesis to imagination-limiting fact which is so unscientific – and so much like religion.

    Science, done properly, is great stuff. But its hypotheses are limited to explaining the world in which we live. These say nothing about morality and many aspects of life which we feel and which have no direct observable existence in the physical world. Religion and philosophy deal with those things and as far as I know, its not possible to apply scientific principles to those fields in order to sort the true from the false. “True” and “false” are not attributes of morality. The choice between competing moral frameworks, and between courses of action involving moral questions, does not involve truth or falsity. We can judge the principles and likely outcomes as good or bad, but science has nothing to say about “good” or “bad”.

    If there were agreed axiomatic definitions of “good” and “bad”, principles then maths and logic might be employed to evaluate various moral frameworks according to these. If tests for “good” and “bad” outcomes were agreed upon, then scientific experimentation or surveys of human activities might determine which moral frameworks tended to produce most “good” outcomes.

    Science should be able to tell us reliably what is, and how we got to this point – in the physical world and any other planes of existence to which we are more tenuously connected. That would be a great partial basis on which to build a moral framework and likewise “spiritual” frameworks concerning the full nature and potential meaning of life, not just for humans.

    In the meantime, we need to devise our own moral and existential frameworks. Humans have been doing this for millennia, with little or no understanding of physics, so there’s plenty of prior work to study and adapt. Stephanie wrote: “The point of the article is that if you reject your religious roots, something else, likely much less meaningful, will fill the gap.” For instance, postmodernism or New Age “my every thought is a tool for manifesting things in the outside world”.

    Science has done well with evolution, biology, continental drift and the structure of planets and the solar system. I think it will be a generation or two before it properly accounts for electromagnetic radiation and whatever it is we can discern about the nature and history of the Universe. It will take even longer before professional scientists are funded to investigate the intriguing observations which, if real, indicate limitations of the current paradigm: ESP, psychokinesis and other things which go bump in the night.

    • Farris says

      @ Robin Whittle

      You appear to very learned in areas of physics, astrophysics and cosmology. Therefore I have question I hope you will answer:
      Didn’t Big Bang become the standard model in 1965, when radiation from the “primordial fireball” was observed by Bell Labs engineers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson?
      This is not intended to be an argumentative question.

      • Farris, my answer about the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is too long to insert into the middle of this discussion, so I will add it at the end.

  41. Fickle Pickle says

    Why does everything always have to turn out to be Christian!

    Everyone already has an intuitive sense of Truth because it is the native state or true condition or everyone and everything. Yet the true nature of Truth remains only an intuition, rather than a full realization in almost everyone’s case.
    The fullest Realization of Truth is absolutely uncommon and most people are unaware of even the possibility of it.
    If you examine the cultural, religious and social forces that have shaped humanity’s presumptions about Truth & Reality these thought-patterns actually work to hide the nature of Reality and even actively work against its Realization.
    The actual Realization of Truth is not even considered to be possible by the normal dreadfully sane Christian.(full of their spirit-killing “religious” psycho-babble). Western culture, including institutional religiosity is full of taboos against anyone becoming too “mystical”.

    The Process that is True Spiritual Religion is not a matter of uninspected belief, or fanatical adherence to an historical system of objective beliefs that excludes all other systems of belief from the right to Truth.
    True Religion is a higher human process. It is a process enacted in the body-mind-complex of the individual and in communities of all individuals who are consciously involved in that same process. It is a process than can only begin if it is founded on profound self-critical consideration and insight, followed by conversion, or release, of the entire body-mind-complex into the Life-Power, the All-Pervading Divine Energy that may be directly and bodily experienced and also clearly revealed and felt by the intuitive mind.

    True Religion is the mechanism intrinsic in Reality (or Nature) whereby Man transcends himself, both individually and collectively (as a species and as a cultural and social order. Such transcendence can only be occur one at a time by each individual.
    The culture promoted by both scientism and conventional institutional religion actively work against and prevent such a “mystical” possibility,

  42. Scott C Domianus says

    Clay Routledge, how dare you infer that “religious faith originates in bottom-up brain-driven cognitive and motivational processes” first of all, no negotiated construct is bottom up, it’s outward-in, it’s negotiated. That infers a black slate begin. Religious faith as a construct is a system for ordering the collective, that’s all any religion is, a collection of processes when practiced collectively that unify a given species. The problem isn’t that, it’s the idea that “faith” a “belief” in what can’t be objectively varied is what should bind us. If you insist on a faith based narrative, it should be a belief in the social architecture (the collection of negotiated norms and a reasoned balance of all norms of all cultures to surmise a system of social agreement that encompasses the entirety of the human gene pool) that binds our conscious species if anything but even the notion of educating children to “believe” in anything is a restriction on their development as conscious autonomous embodied agents seeking their survival now, tomorrow, next week, next year and in the conscious autonomous embodiments of future generations of whom owe their environmental conceptualizations and the negotiated social architecture – so far – to their ancestors – what is evolution. Darwin would have never come to grasp the idea that we are evolving – getting smarter, what the Flynn Effect proves if he was not first given the religious framework (a collection of generally accurate but poorly defined intimations of who we are and how we got here) to juxtapose his hypothesis against. This is how cognitive evolution works. Right now our species is abandoning a bunch of old definitional truths while trying to produce the same social results “beliefs” once made true. Religion isn’t dying, the belief architecture is because our species is losing “faith” in the systems that order it. Having “faith” is simply too old an idea, too unfounded, too unsophisticated, too out of the control of the individual for them to trust a religion or a government with handling the political problems (the future speciel negotiations) that face our globalizing humanity.

    Humans are complex environmental surveyors that communicate their variable understandings to their allies (other humans). Long before humans were human, on a cellular level, autonomous clusters of matter attributed value to an assortment of material forms, this allowed said matter to hierarchically order and align each corollary component to manifest an expression of existence that can multiple. The multiplicity of matter is what gave the universe similarity – what is a framework for teamwork, for splitting up and populating with a collective goal – survival above all else and procreation second. You see, religiosity has nothing to do with some absurd notion that faith originates in bottom-up brain-driven cognitive and motivational processes because we aren’t motivated to do anything but survive and that mean constructs are an attempt to do just that – survive, selfishly we must. You seem to think we need to “believe” in something before we can objectively prove it exists definitionally but that is simply lunacy, “belief” is a secondary step that is unessicary to seek the true nature of socio-environmental reality. You don’t need to “believe” in anything while you are surviving your environment and the conclusions of your fellow conscious autonomous agents – the variables that manifest everything – you just need to agree that the more variables we have the great the danger and the greater potential there will be. The only question left to answer is: does our species want to survive at all costs, by that I mean sacrifice at all costs with the only reward being that our future generations will have it better than we did? There is no meaning unless you derive it from that and I don’t know about you, but because it was done for me I will gladly do it for the unborn version of who can be if I do my best to manifest collective prosperity today, not for me, not as an individual but as a member of an endless collective potential. In fact, that’s the very reason I care enough to tell you, you’re wrong, because if I don’t I’m doing the future you the greatest disservice I can.

    The relationship between autonomous embodied consciousnesses existing in the same environment constructs our genome. This is hard for neuroscientists to grapple with but it is what it is. Genetics are the product of socio-environmental interactions beginning with matter and pertaining to our present subcultures. Our socio-environmental habits are encoded in our genome because that is how evolutionary adaptation works. This in super simply and it’s quite accurately an embarrassment that this understanding isn’t more commonly grasped.

    Our social constructionism has to evolve in complexity along with the population (the number of conscious variables), and religious constructionism has no written means to alter itself to serve this purpose. Well, Judaism does but the they don’t let everyone join their club… I guess “chosen people” is how they like to refer to themselves? That’s not very inviting, maybe that should be the next passage they rewrite, and that’s just an observation of how problematic multiple religions are, as well as how problematic the religious can be if they assert the claim that they are more valuable than the collective social order that constructed their ability to draw a contrast.

    Let’s recap, we’re surveyors for the survival of the collective and the only reason individual sovereignty is a construct is because our consciousness (our ability to justify our personal survival and that of our families over that of others) coupled with the Flynn Effect gave us credence to linguistically manipulate others, further giving us the freedom to start ascribing value to varying interpretations that all happen to be built on the idea that some individuals are better than others, what is the postmodern critique of western philosophy. This is an unfinished school of thought considering what’s best for the collective isn’t equality of outcome, not even close, but that doesn’t mean the intelligent don’t owe the ignorant because they most certainly do. You first have to understand that we owe our intelligence to the ignorant because we base the validity of our constructs on the contrast between us. If we’re to say we’re more valuable, of which we are because intelligence is grounded in social-environmental survival, we’re required to form a system that rewards their sacrifice for our cognitive supremacy with the possible of their future them’s being the future us’s. This is the one thing America got right in the 50s – before Welfare.

    So what? Does god exist, fuck no, should a guy in the sky exist because you need a bedtime story for the ignorant? Well, if you want to stagnate their evolution than yes but I think we owe them more than our connivance. It’s certainly the best way to order the species though, make it difficult for the less educated to outsmart the constructs that constrain them. So, what kind of person are you? A selfish individualist, or a collectivist that strives for the betterment of the entire species?

    The smarter you are the more responsibility you have because you’re inventing the future systems considering you’re of the few who can understand how to negotiate the outcomes of these complex debates. You better not put yourself first because of your ideological biases.

    • X. Citoyen says

      Whew! Good thing evolution has a plan and that it looks just like the one we had before, only more sophisticated. Imagine what would happen if evolution didn’t have a plan for us!

  43. Bazza64 says

    I think i’ll go with Irish comedian Dave Allen who said “I’m not a religious person, but I recommend a deathbed conversion. Nothing like a little insurance on the way out.”

    • dellingdog says

      Right, but what if you convert to the wrong religion? Remember Homer’s Wager: “Suppose we’ve chosen the wrong god. Every time we go to church we’re just making him madder and madder!”

  44. Cornfed says

    ” Modern religious substitutes often reflect the individualism of the West, which is in tension with our species’ inherent social nature.”

    Certainly some truth to this, but I think a more fundamental problem (and I do think it’s a problem) is the narcissism inherent in modern spiritualism. It is whatever you want it to be, and if you don’t like it anymore, go find a new shiny thing. The ultimate judge of its worth is simply how nice it feels. It is self-centered. Traditional religions rely on external authority to enforce rules, which are needed for the harder things, e.g. helping others.

    “And I have seen no evidence that the underlying cognitive and motivational psychological characteristics that orient people towards religion and religious substitutes have diminished during the time that the Western world has supposedly become less religious. ”

    Incredibly important point. Those who reject religion invariably find something else to to believe with irrational orthodoxy. Explains a lot these days.

    While these are not new observations, I commend the author for diving into a critically important question and offering some very useful discussion.

  45. Solomon Kleinsmith says

    Almost was a good post. Made some good points, then fell on lazy thinking – as per usual at Quillette, with this nugget of willful ignorance (among others – an illustrative example):

    “Importantly, there are reasons to doubt that these various alternatives to religion can successfully meet people’s need for meaning.”

    People are leaving religion in large part precisely because it does not provide reliable meaning, most who do so don’t fall prey to fringe quackery, religious belief often correlates with extreme politics and a great many religious people believe in the same nonsense this article talks about – not to mention the fact that all of the biggest religions stand on foundations of fairy tales that are no less ridiculous than things like astrology and belief in ghosts.

    • Steve says

      “the biggest religions stand on foundations of fairy tales that are no less ridiculous than things like astrology and belief in ghosts”

      Well actually they stand upon the most profound metaphysical reflection our species has mustered through the centuries.

      There is no surer indication of an impoverished mind than the moment “fairy tales” dribbles out in connection with theology. Many such shallow minds are still very young, and there is hope for them! Read David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss”. If you are a) reasonably intelligent and b) honest (especially with yourself) it is virtually impossible to remain a materialist/atheist after reading that book. If you cannot comprehend the arguments therein, or are a volitional atheist (you simply do not wish for theism to be true) then, well, these Quillette articles are appropriate, I suppose. At least give yourself a chance, and avoid embarrassing yourself in future with such puerile nonsense. Your opinion (that you came up with all by yourself!) on theological matters is no more valid or interesting than that of someone utterly lacking in mathematical or physics education on the topic of quantum chromodynamics.

  46. Marx: “Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes” , “religion is the opiate of the masses.” and I suspect many think such today even if they can’t express their thought.

    On the other hand I am not sure a little mental opium is a bad thing, nor is a strong addiction to such as “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

  47. Capt. Obvious says

    Not sure I understand the compliments being directed at this article, which it seems to me is little more than a plug for the author’s new book. I’d be more inclined to buy into what the author is saying (and maybe his book) if the content of the article were suggestive of someone who has taken a serious look at this topic and not overlooked some of the most obvious reasons for religion. But when I see that three or four of his half dozen books center around pop psychology / the psychology of speific television shows and movies… I can’t avoid wondering if the author is really qualified to expound on these things.

    While it is an interesting topic (people’s need for religion and/or search for meaning), the inferred conclusions are overly simplistic and ignore the obvious in my opinion. Case in point: the author talks about religion being really a “search for meaning,” which itself is innate to human psychology and/or physiology, and that getting rid of religion doesn’t stop the search for meaning, etc. That may all be true on one level but the reality is the search for meaning is simply a symptom of every human’s fear of their own mortality and shortness of life.

    If you’re a devout Christian / Jew / Muslim, there’s a good chance you believe what you believe and do what you do, to secure some piece of mind that despite the inevitabilty of your death, you achieve some peace of mind that afterward some part of you lives on in a conscious way.

    If you’re a cyber groupie, you want to believe it’s possible to upload your “consciousness” (i.e. your personality and collective experience) into some sort of non-mortal hardware. Which itself is pretty absurd when you consider the frailty of many of our computing systems.

    But the point is, it’s the fear of death that drives people’s desire to have their (short) lives “mean something,” whether it be through religion or something else. And no that won’t go away, because humans won’t stop being mortal. The other thing being overlooked is, isn’t it possible that Americans’ increasing interest in ghosts, numerology and other scientifically debunked crapola is not a symptom of filling the “vacuum” let by a religious faith that’s been abandoned, but by simple ignorance. Here’s another stat for you: likely no generation of Americans in the last 150 years has read less (and less critically) than Gens, X, Y, and Z. And reading Twitter and Facebook posts doesn’t count.

    You stop reading newspapers, stop reading long-form periodicals, stop reading books… the inevitable result is an ignorant fool who believes in boogie men and mystical numerical patterns and faked moon landings.

  48. Jezza says

    Yes, well, I’ve read all your opinions and counter-opinions and I am sorry to have to tell you, you’re all wrong. However, philosophical discussions are an amusing way to pass the time but they are essentially ineffective against the inevitable end of all things. Let’s face it: we’re all going to die, but, as Monty Python said, ” Look on the bright side.” I have died a couple of times ( I was resuscitated – yes I was) and I say with absolute certainty, there is bugger all you can do about it. The fact is, when you relinquish your urge to survive it becomes quite delightful. Right at the end there is a moment of absolute euphoria – I wonder if that is where the idea of heaven arose – and the great thing is it costs nothing, you don’t have to plan for it, and you don’t have to clean up the mess afterwards. Cheers.

  49. mitchellporter says

    For those who don’t read Nepali, the image at the top of the page says, “After the curse of Gorakhnath is fulfilled, in the age of Luju Ojha, the mleccha will hang these words on a banner of air and metal, and beneath it debate the causes of their own decline, but they will understand nothing.”

  50. Altair says

    HoHum.. another phony intellectual who wants to pontificate. Stay away form the arts & sciences, you lack the mental capacity.

  51. Fickle Pickle says

    I find the this essay and the brief excerpt from the book on Amazon reviews by Clay to be painfully superficial. He doesn’t even begin to deal with anything profound.

    But what more could you expect from someone who is sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, and especially the Koch Foundation the “philosophy” and politics of which is inspired by the benighted Ayn Rand

    What if our True Condition prior to our fearful indentification with the obviously mortal body-mind-complex is Sat-Chit-Ananda (Being-Consciousness-Bliss)?

    Has anyone ever noticed that apart from the recent book by David Bentley-Hart the usual dreadfully sane Christian propagandists seldom if ever even write about Consciousness with a capital C. Nor do they write about Bliss or Ecstasy.

    In our dreadful sanity the death of bodies is a philosophical matter that causes untrust, distrust, and hell-deep-fear, a matter that fills us with philosophical and “theological” propositions that are Godless, Ecstasyless, Blissless.
    As a matter of fact, the cosmic domain is just like Mother Kali. Exactly so. It is full of death, full of process, full of changes.
    Ecstasy or Real Life requires trust and the utter acceptance of death!

  52. Bubblecar says

    “the decline of traditional religion has been accompanied by a rise in a diverse range of supernatural, paranormal and related beliefs.”

    So the claim goes, but I see little hard evidence. I would say the opposite is more obviously true – a widespread belief in the supernatural is symptomatic of traditionally religious cultures.

    As Western culture has become less religious, belief in the supernatural is declining amongst the most intelligent section of the population. What remains is simply more obvious, because of its incongruity in a scientific age, and its ubiquity due to the internet – and because as always, there is a lot of money to be made from stupid people.

    “Some people may be disinclined toward religious-like thinking in all respects, but they are likely an extremely small percentage of the population.”

    They are a growing proportion of the section of the population that matters – the educated, intelligent and creative people who fuel human progress.

    Perhaps it’s true that a profound cultural gap is growing between the intelligent and the unintelligent, reflecting fundamental cognitive differences that were bound to become more stark as civilization progresses.

    In which case we should hope that either the intelligent prevail, or that we find a way to extricate ourselves from involvement with the superstitious portion of the species.

  53. There’s a reason why events like burning man have grown in popularity. When documentaries like zeitgeist came out it caused a shift in those ungrounded in doctrine but rightly sensed something amiss. Occultism is admittedly fascinating and very real. Blavatsky, Crowley, etc will lead them down dark but very spiritually real paths.

  54. Bubblecar says

    “When people turn away from one source of meaning, such as religion, they don’t abandon the search for meaning altogether.”

    Religion as a “source of meaning” is a comforting cliche to the minority of believers who want to sound “grown up”, but is there really any truth in this claim?

    I would suggest that religion is more about avoiding responsibility for finding meaning in one’s life, or in the fate of the species in general.

    Meaning is a property of cognition, of the process of perceiving and experiencing one’s world in human terms. It’s not an objective property of the world outside the minds of observers.

    By pretending that supernatural beings like deities are objective properties of the world itself, and that it is they who assign (inscrutable) purpose and meaning to the world, the believer avoids the problem of having to find meaning within his own life – “God’s mysterious plan” takes the place of any genuine engagement and reflection on why one is here and what one should do to make the most of life.

    Thus religion for modern Western believers is essentially about escapist fantasy. This wasn’t always the case – in the past, religion was often focused on social control through terror, and not just through the inculcation of horrific fantasy (demons, hellfire, wrathful gods) but through the more practical medium of the torture chamber, or the beating heart ripped out on the sacrificial altar.

    Fortunately within Western culture at least, those days are largely gone. And even as escapist fantasy, religion is on the wane, partly because its crudely fabricated nature is all too apparent to the educated, and partly because reliance on fantasy and escapism is quite rightly seen as a refuge for the emotionally and intellectually weak, who benefit more from an avoidance of meaning in their lives, rather than an embrace of the meaning they may find in a more realistic engagement with the world.

    • First question of our catechismus, and first you had to learn (by heart) on the early age of 6.
      – What are we living for on earth? Answer:
      – We are on this earth to serve (God, and by doing that, earning happines on earth and in heaven).

      Quite a difference of what kids these days grow up for, I fear. And of what they feel and go for. The meaning of serving goes diametrically versus self fulfilling.

    • Evander says

      Bubblecar / emotionally and intellectually strong, educated atheist

      Your contention that atheism unshackles the previously religious homo sapiens to pursue a noble quest of meaning is saturated in ideological assumptions, some of them ironically Christian, such as the notion of vocation or calling, i.e. seeking meaning for one’s own life.

      You assume that the religious, among whom as a Christian I count myself, are less engaged in reflecting on the meaning of life, because revelation is a key component of our epistemology. Yes, I believe that God determines ultimate meaning for humanity – relationship with our Creator as the goal of human life – but I also believe that God has given me a mind to exercise in living my life as a follower of Jesus. Christians are constantly analysing the broader culture, asking serious questions and seeking to put biblical ethics into practice. Compared with our rampantly materialistic peers, I’d say our credentials as inquiring minds is well-established. So, your caricature of the religious must either stem from ignorance or a deliberate refusal to represent people of faith as reflective individuals.

      Let’s reflect, then. Did your education help you realise that atheism isn’t actionable? You reject theism, but how do you live? Under the guidance of which system? Perhaps some form of liberal humanism, the assumptions of which are that humans are dignified and reason is a useful tool for navigating life. Why are humans dignified? Why value reason? Can you justify it, as Nietzsche pointed out, without recourse to reason? To paraphrase the Bloodhound Gang, ‘You and me, baby, ain’t nothing but matter.’

      Keen to hear how you build a non crudely fabricated worldview on that premise.

      • Bubblecar says

        “Perhaps some form of liberal humanism”

        I regard myself as a transhumanist rather than merely humanist. Human nature is a grab-bag of characteristics from our evolutionary past, some worthy, some regrettable. I believe we need to take increasing responsibility for our evolutionary destiny via scientific knowledge and biotechnology, and improve human nature in accord with our most rationally defensible ideals.

        Unlike the author of this piece, I see nothing “religious” about transhumanism. Religion is centrally concerned with replacing honest perception and experience of the world – including the useful work of an honest imagination – with supernaturalist fantasy, while denying the fictional nature of such fantasy. I see no worthwhile role for religion in the future of humanity.

        “Under the guidance of which system?”

        My only “system” of intellectual analysis and ethical decision-making is the same blend of empirical enquiry and rationally critical thought that most intelligent people employ, combined with my pro-social and kindly nature, a product of my evolutionary past and humane upbringing.

        • Michael Joseph says

          You’re both right. Many believers fall into those categories but there are also some who have plenty of meaning in family and simply go the church to be together. The philosophy is something they don’t even try to understand or know well. Come on, you’ve met them. I have met so believers so fearful of death at the end that I can’t believe they really believe the fantasy. They should be happy. They are not.

          • Evander says

            Humans vary in their commitment to reflection and inquiry. Claiming that people are religious because they’re irrationally fearful of death, or that they don’t want to ‘honestly engage’ with the world is lazy, smug atheistic rhetoric. My Christian peers throughout my life have been mostly thoughtful and conscientious people. Some have struggled with despair and doubt, yes – a very human struggle. But most rejoice in hope, not retire in fear, because of Jesus.

        • Evander says

          “Religion is centrally concerned with replacing honest perception and experience of the world – including the useful work of an honest imagination – with supernaturalist fantasy.”

          I get that you’re bugged by metaphysics, but I’m surprised at your persistent straw-manning of the religious. Sensory experience and logical thinking aren’t the exclusive property of your so-called intelligent people. The religious contention is that we were given eyes and a mind to interact profitably with the world. Magnificently equipped as humans are, the question becomes “How should we live?”, for which Christianity offers a robust worldview: relationship with our Creator. The purpose of human life on your view is…? To keep improving ourselves as a species?

          “I see no worthwhile role for religion in the future of humanity.”

          Transhumanism possesses ideals which are arbitrarily constructed, a characteristic it shares with religion. Improving human nature, i.e. increasing our utility (longevity of life, resistance to sickness, physiological strength), is one moral program among many. So, conversely, if enough human pursued a course of self-annihilation of the species, the naturalistic argument against it would essentially be, ”I don’t like that.’ because there’s nothing inherently ‘wrong’ in eliminating homo sapiens from the earth.

          So, reason, pro-sociality and kindness form the grid for your ethics. They feature in mine, along with humility, service, self-sacrifice and charity, to name a few virtues. I only imperfectly embody these in my living, but they are nonetheless grounded in my faith. What is the ground for your valuing of reason and kindness? On the naturalist view, the only answer I can see is ‘utility’ which as I’ve already pointed out is arbitrary.

          • Bubblecar says

            “relationship with our Creator”

            You’re still evading the fact that your “system” is based on fantasy. There is no supernatural realm, there is no Creator. These are obvious inventions of the human imagination. Your entire worldview depends on denying that make-believe is make-believe.

            “Transhumanism possesses ideals which are arbitrarily constructed”

            By their very nature, humanist/transhumanist “ideals” are certainly not arbitrary. They represent a distillation of the peaceful, co-operative and creative tendencies that are already present in human social instincts, deliberately chosen in preference to our more destructive and selfish tendencies.

            To the rational mind, the ethical difference between “good and bad” relate to these psychological and social realities and the evolutionary contexts in which they arose, whereas in the context of religion, “good and bad” are often indeed arbitrary and determined by tribalism and superstitious prejudice.

            Transhumanism is not just about pursuing greater longevity and resistance to sickness. It’s also about improving our intelligence, creativity and ability to get along together without needless conflict. Improving our ability to live sustainably within our environment, and freeing ourselves from various genetically determined tendencies tied to biological processes that are no longer relevant to our species.

          • Evander says

            My entire worldview is founded on the historical event of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, which authenticates His own claims and by extension the claims of canonical scripture. Christianity is grounded in a textual tradition throughout history that tells a unified story of God’s dealings with humanity. Attack the texts and the history successfully and I’ll recant. I suggest you account for the empty tomb to begin with.

            Great, so you’ve conceded that your morality is a preference based on its utility. But even if your vision for human development was the most successful in Darwinian terms, it’s still arbitrary: there’s no external moral compulsion to preserve individual members of the species or the species in toto. You’re just saying ‘Yes’ to an idea that we should preserve humanity into the future; saying ‘No’ is morally equivalent.

    • Ron Gaul says

      There’s a lot about which I don’t agree with John Gray. But his critique of “New Atheism”, and their dismissal of philosophic/theological search for meaning is spot on. These matters are beyond the pale of explaining the natural world.

      “For example, there are still people who treat the myths of religion, like the Genesis story, as some kind of literal truth, even though they were understood by Jewish thinkers and theologians of the time as parables.

      Genesis is not a theory of the origins of the world. It’s not obsolete, primitive science. It’s not a solution to the problem of knowledge. Religion isn’t like that. Religion is a body of practices, of stories and images, whereby humans create or find meanings in their lives.

      In other words, it’s not a search for explanation. Even if everything in the world were suddenly explained by science, we would still be asking what it all means.

      That’s where religion steps in.”

      • Bubblecar says

        “Religion is a body of practices, of stories and images, whereby humans create or find meanings in their lives.”

        This definition ignores the central concern of religion – which as I’ve pointed out, is to replace an honest apprehension and experience of the world with supernaturalist fantasy, while denying the fictional nature of that fantasy. It’s this crucial factor that separates religion from an honest search for meaning.

        • Bubblecar says

          “For example, there are still people who treat the myths of religion, like the Genesis story, as some kind of literal truth”

          Um, yeah. These are the people known as “religious believers”. The very term “believer”, in the context of religion, means someone who treats the myths of religion as literal truth, and the gods and miracles as objective properties of the world, rather than products of the human imagination.

          The very term “faith” – central to religious belief – means “faith that the supernatural claims of religion are objectively true”, and not just stories.

          How John Gray managed to avoid this basic understanding is a mystery.

          It’s also telling that he talks only of “the Genesis story” and not the supernaturalist fantasies of the New Testament and the Islamic texts etc. These too, are expected to be believed as literal truths by the faithful – it’s this belief that makes them “faithful”.

          • Bubblecar says

            Evander: “I suggest you account for the empty tomb to begin with”

            Well I think we can terminate the discussion at this point, since you are merely confirming that your entire worldview is based on childish fantasy.

          • Evander says

            You call my worldview a fantasy. I reply that its based on a historically investigable fact. You tap out.

            Bubblecar: Christianity is a fantasy because it’s a fantasy because God doesn’t exist. History doesn’t matter.

            Did you say you’re intelligent? Not in this instance.

            If you were bored of our exchange, just say so.

            But if you change – open – your mind to a discussion about the entry point of Christian faith, let me know. Otherwise, you must be another one of those atheists who cocoon themselves in a priori assumptions and reckon they’re intellectual.

        • Ron Gaul says

          You missed the point. It’s not supposed to be an explanation of the natural world

  55. Ron Gaul says

    I don’t see secular liberals celebrating any decline in traditional religion. I see only right wing “New Atheists” doing it. It’s very telling that Prof Routledge is hands off the anti-theist and scientismist atheists.

  56. Bubblecar says

    “I don’t see secular liberals celebrating any decline in traditional religion”

    Then you are obviously completely unfamiliar with secular liberalism. Look up some ordinary humanist and secularist sources and forget your prejudices regarding “New Atheists”.

    • Ron Gaul says

      I have and I did, not there, they are “classical liberal” posers like Jerry Coyne who are rightists IRL

  57. In this issue:

    Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB); photon theory lock-in seems complete, yet Einstein did not know what a photon was, and thought no-one else did either.

    Fundamental physics and cosmology have some difficulties in common with religion/theology and philosophy: the work materials are not concrete and depend very much on how we already conceive of the world, yet we are trying to develop the best framework for such conception.

    Science and religion are often contrasted, for good reason. Yet some aspects of science (the Big Bang Theory) which are most important to each person’s existential quest, if they turn from religion, are at present early works, mistakenly thought to be really true – in contrast to the robust work done in other such fields, such as evolution.

    Farris asked about the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) which is interpreted within the BBT as the highly redshifted heat radiation originally generated at much shorter wavelengths by the initial Big Bang. (“Heat radiation” means “black body radiation”, since carbon black objects are the best solid emitters and absorbers of thermally generated electromagnetic radiation.)

    The argument is something like “we are now moving away from the centre of the Big Bang so fast that its radiation has been stretched out in time (Doppler shift) so that its original sub-micron wavelengths are now millimetres or centimetres.” However, the CMB is coming from all directions (not perfectly evenly), so the BBT argument is along the lines of this radiation bouncing around by reflecting from various objects in the Universe as they fly apart. For a good account of the BBT-compatible explanation of the CMB, please read an account of it by someone who believes it, which I don’t.

    This interpretation of the CMB and the lack of any widely accepted alternative explanation for it is one of the pillars on which the BBT rests.

    However, if you regard the BBT as problematic and potentially wrong, then it is easy to contemplate the Universe being much older than the BBT’s 13.7 billion years. Then there’s plenty of time for vast numbers of stars to burn out, leaving behind, in many cases, molten rocky cores (also some neutron stars and black holes), which over very long periods would cool down to the average temperature of space, which is a few degrees Kelvin. This is also the temperature at which, a solid “black body” radiator would generate the CMB’s spectrum.

    (I have no idea how old galaxies are, or how they or any other aspect of the Universe came into being. Such hypotheses would be nice, but it is perfectly scientific to acknowledge that we have no idea what is going on in certain respects, while debating the validity of various hypotheses about things we do seem to have a chance of understanding.)

    The “average temperature of space” is the temperature of a few degrees above zero (about -270.15C = 3 Kelvin) to which a solid (ideally black) object 10cm or so or larger would settle down to, due to this temperature being the one at which it radiates as much electromagnetic radiation due to its own temperature as the amount it receives from space in all directions. This incoming radiation is partly visible, infrared, ultraviolet etc. light from the stars, which form a very small fraction of the “sky” (looking in all directions) but also includes X-rays, gamma rays and CMB microwaves. Most of the absorbed radiation is visible, or near visible (IR & UV), since this is the part of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum in which stars radiate most of their energy. However, in most directions, we see no stars, so the total quantity of energy is about enough to raise the solid object to a few degrees K, at which point its microwave black body radiation gets rid of as much energy as it is absorbing. So it remains at this temperature indefinitely. If it was initially hotter, it would radiate more energy than it receives, and over time would cool down to the “average temperature of space”. That temperature would be a little higher near or within galaxies, compared to being far away from them in the voids between galaxy clusters.

    Inter-galactic space is a very sparse plasma, with something like one electron and one proton per cubic metre. No-one really knows the density or the temperature (random velocity) of these, but it is in the order of 100 million K. The cause of this temperature is as much of an unsloved problem in astrophysics as the 1 million K of the somewhat denser solar corona. (Sparse plasmas find it harder to radiate their thermal energy than denser plasmas. The question is what is heating these plasmas. Photon theory says it can’t be light.)

    These rocky cores wouldn’t remain indefinitely as large planet-sized blobs. They would fracture into smaller blobs when impacted by other such solid or molten objects, and these smaller objects have a greater ratio of surface area to mass, so they would radiate their heat away much faster. Being more numerous, more collisions would occur than if the cores remained intact. These collision byproducts would range from fine grains of dust, to pebbles, asteroid and planet sized objects, and would, at their largest, be around the same size as the original solid cores. There might also be some agglomeration into larger solid objects, and some of these objects would hit stars. The larger objects would either either pass through the outer parts of the star (and be melted on the outside) or would become part of the star. (This explanation is quick and dirty, since this is not an astrophysics forum.)

    Given vast amounts of time, it is possible to imagine this leading to a huge amount of generally solid collision byproducts floating around in wider orbits than most of the stars of galaxies. If the mass of this was high enough – such as the dead star collision fragments weighing something like 10 times more than the currently active stars, then this wold be a perfectly good explanation for the “dark matter” “halos” (really clouds, bigger than the visible star parts of the galaxies) which have been (I think reliably) inferred to exist around galaxies and in the vicinity of galaxy clusters.

    These “dark matter” clouds have been inferred to exist in considerable detail, based on the rotation of stars in the galaxies and, by a completely different set of observations: the way the total mass of galaxies and clusters drive gravitational lensing (bending light from more distant objects).

    Recently, some researchers quantified the faint glow around galaxies and clusters and found a very close match between their maps of this glow and the maps developed from galaxy rotation curves (patterns of velocity with which stars orbit the centre) and the gravitational lensing observations. (Mireia Montes et al, Intracluster light: a luminous tracer for dark matter in clusters of galaxies, MNRAS.)

    These researchers assume that the light comes from stars, and perhaps some, most or almost all of it does. However, in the “fractured dead star core” hypothesis of dark matter (which I have never read anywhere – I made it up, but perhaps some other people have proposed the same thing), we would expect this Matter formerly known as Dark, to be potentially observable since it will reflect light from the stars of the nearby galaxies. The fragmentation process I proposed is apparently not particularly obvious to some people – but I argue rocky and molten objects will generally fracture and sometimes go into radically different trajectories during close gravitational encounters, whereas stars never fracture, often coalesce or lose matter to other stars, and would generally lose some kinetic energy in close gravitational encounters and not have their trajectories changed so radically as those of dense, solid or molten objects.

    In a recent forum discussion I tried to explain my hypothesis:

    The CMB might be the redshifted flash of light (and microwaves, infra-red, UV etc.) from the Big Bang or it might be something completely different. I propose it is the black body radiation of the Matter formerly known as Dark – ordinary rocky material from dust to planet-sized objects, at ~3K. I also propose these larger cold objects create quite a lot of the gravitational lensing, such as of stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which are attributed to currently not understood MACHOS (Massive Compact Halo Objects).

    It is necessary to forget about the constraints of the BBT in order to properly imagine and evaluate alternative explanations for the CMB. However, almost no-one in the field can do this because they accept the BBT as fact. If they seriously thought the BBT was probably wrong, they would find it very hard to gain academic qualifications and be employed in astrophysics at all.

    If astrophysicists generally regarded the the BBT tentatively, as does Joe (above), this would be perfectly scientific, and not at all like religion (or politics). If this had been the case since 1905 then by now we would probably have alternative hypotheses for the CMB and many other aspects of the Universe, with fewer problems than the BBT. One day, this will happen. Science, properly done, will lead to long-term improvement in knowledge.

    I think a big part of the grip the BBT has on astrophysicists is their inability to imagine an alternative to Doppler shift as the cause of most or all of the redshift of light from distant galaxies and quasars. I think this is due to them accepting the photon theory of light, which originated with Albert Einstein’s 1905 “photoelectric” paper, for which he won a Nobel prize in 1921. In 1905, no-one knew what atoms, electrons or thermal motion really consisted of. Even now, I think thermal motion in solids and liquids is misunderstood.

    There is no other hypothesis, paradigm or whatever preventing anyone from thinking of alternative explanations for the black body spectrum and the photoelectric effect. I think that the barriers are solely the mistaken acceptance of the photon hypothesis as fact. How could a physicist support their family, pay their mortgage etc. while spending years developing a theory which would disprove the most celebrated physics paper of all time? To do so would be to undercut the validity of Quantum Mechanics – which seems to be attractive to many people because even the experts (Richard Feynman) attest that they don’t understand it. Unfortunately the “if I don’t understand it, it must be profound” crowd includes quite a few scientists. This attraction to the nebulous, perplexing and impossible-to-understand unless one is a high priest strikes me as wholly unbecoming of a scientist.

    There are lots of “physics cranks” arguing against Relativity. No professional scientist wants to be associated with that way of thinking. Arguing against Einstein’s 1905 “photoelectric, photon, light quanta” paper would look just as cranky. It would be tantamount to chopping down the entire tree you and all your colleagues live in with the intention of planting a new one – its not like just trying to remodel one of the branches.

    Fundamental physics and cosmology share some goals and difficulties with religion and philosophy. The questions raised are profound and have boundless reach. The actual stuff to research is not ordinary tactile material you can put in a test tube or sit on a desk. We can’t visit far beyond our planet and we can’t see exactly what is happening with atoms, their outer electrons and electromagnetic radiation. All four fields are very difficult and the whole conception of the problems to be solved, and the understanding of the evidence or observations on which this work depends, is almost entirely a function of the researcher’s beliefs. Collectively, such beliefs, if reasonably unified and widely regarded to be true, constitute a paradigm. This may later be found to be completely untrue (in science at least), but as long as everyone regards it as true, this falseness seriously limit’s everyone’s ability to do the work.

    People turn to scientists for better answers to cosmological questions than they get from religions. Such answers are an important input to each person’s existential quest. The current best hypothesis – the Big Bang Theory – are far more problematic than most people outside the field recognise.

    Einstein, writing to his patent office buddy Michele Besso in 1951 wrote what is arguably a sharp critique of his photon hypothesis:

    “A total of fifty years of conscious brooding did not get me any nearer to answering the question: what are light quanta? Of course today every rascal [jeder Lump] believes he knows the answer, but he is wrong . . .”

    • mitchellporter says

      Let me try to summarize your ideas…

      The universe is not actually expanding. Galactic redshifts have some other cause. Galaxies may therefore be much older than presently believed.

      The cosmic microwave background does not consist of redshifted photons left over from a primordial plasma. Instead, it is an equilibrium of thermal radiation among vast numbers of fragments of dead stars, which absorb CMB radiation and then re-radiate it. These fragments are the dark matter.

      Is that accurate?

    • Ron Gaul says

      So trans people aren’t murdered at disproportionately higher rates. Got it

  58. Jezza says

    Hey, Bubblecar. . Christianity is based on observed events of such compelling magnitude that thousands at that time were stunned by the revelations. Hundreds died because they were unable to not believe what they had witnessed. The first witnesses were Jews, a people with a long history of inquiry and reflection, a people not easily swayed by balderdash. The Old Testament is the history of those people; the New Testament is a combination of eyewitness accounts of the events and subsequent actions arising therefrom. Of course you should approach Christianity ready to test the veracity of its claims. Do so in a spirit of honest inquiry and you may be fortunate enough to arrive at a RATIONAL belief and experience the lifting of whatever burden you carry. It may require a conscious suspension of disbelief before the light goes on, a courageous step off the precipice into the unknown, an acceptance of profound change in yourself. It’s a bit scary but the benefits are huge. Don’t stop asking questions, though. Revelation is often less like a blinding flash and more like a slow sunrise. You may even begin to understand why Christianity has been such a powerful moral force for the past two thousand years.

  59. Bubblecar says

    No Jezza, Christianity is based on the same childish fantasies as the other religions of its stable, and all religion in general.

    Magic and miracles are not real. There are no ghosts, no angels, no gods, no demons. The man with a jackal head is wearing a mask, the four-armed elephant god is just a statue, and the Christian God peeping out from the clouds is merely painted on the chapel ceiling.

    These facts are obvious to rational people.

    It’s you who carry the burden – you are saddled with primitive self-delusion and I hope that one day you’ll be able to enjoy the world as it really is.

  60. Evander says

    Bubblecar, as a believer I’m actually thrilled to be alive and feel blessed in many ways. On the Christian view, we enjoy the world as it really is, mourn for it as it really is, and look forward to a new heaven and a new earth. It’s a worldview that is radically honest in its appraisal of the human condition, emphasises the primacy of love, forgiveness and joy, and looks forward with hope to a world in which all that is good and beautiful reigns supreme, and all that is evil and harmful is eliminated, with Jesus as king at the centre.

    “Christianity is based on the same childish fantasies”

    If you’re so confident in your position, venture out and engage with Christianity as we’re presenting it. I’m an adult claiming that my belief in Jesus is grounded in text and history. Ironically, your response is the childish one, insisting on an interpretation of Christianity exclusively on your own terms, an example of close-mindedness that very often leads to – guess what? – fantasy and self-delusion.

  61. Bubblecar says

    Enjoy your religion Evander, nobody’s going to take it away from you. Only you can do that 🙂

    I’m a firm believer that each individual should be free to believe what they wish, but I’m nonetheless glad that fewer and fewer intelligent people are prepared to believe in the literal truth of primitive supernatural theatre.

    You talk a lot about Christianity but I would suggest you have very little understanding of what it really is. To attain that understanding you need to step back and look at it from the point of view of anthropology, psychology and the history of religion in general.

    You’ll find that like other religions, Christianity offers a ready-packaged, human-centred cosmos whose function is to replace the real world with a fantasy world that appears more humanly meaningful (socially anthropomorphic) than the natural world studied by science.

    This would be fine if it were presented as a work of art – the world transformed by the imagination via symbolism and metaphor etc, to offer insights into human experience – but it isn’t. The supernatural realm it depicts is presented as “objectively real” and requires its followers to agree that the god and his son and the angels and miracles etc are “historical facts”, as indeed you interpret them.

    But it’s not possible to do that without a very hefty dose of self-delusion, which must be burdensome to have to maintain, day in, day out, unless you are particularly gullible or actually prone to hallucinations etc.

    Anyway, good luck with your adventures.

    • Evander says

      Just one question in closing, Bubblecar.

      As an adult, have you ever sat down, read and evaluated one of the Gospel accounts in the New Testament?

      This isn’t an attempted gotcha; I’m just curious.

    • X. Citoyen says

      My dear Bubblecar, you make the author’s point about the strange stuff that fills the God-shaped hole. You dismiss religions as fantasies, and then turn around and regale us with fantasies about transhumanism, civilizational progress, evolutionary just-so stories, and, of course, the claim that your values are firmly rooted in nature—the naturalistic fallacy being something other people commit. It’s remarkable how predictable this dialogue is. Crack the shell of a New Atheist and out pops a New Age fundamentalist.

      I can’t overlook the precious irony in all this either. You boast about your “pro-social and kindly nature, a product of my evolutionary past and humane upbringing” and how you value our “ability to get along together without needless conflict.” Yet every one of your comments here deprecates the vast majority of people as deluded, uneducated fools whom you hope to see disappear as soon as possible. It’s amazing how contemptuous humanitarians can be about the vast majority of humans.

      • Ron Gaul says

        New Atheism is not dogmatic in the same way you may think in some areas. Never fear, communism actually defends religion in the face of their fury.

        In the mid-2000s, a new form of atheistic polemic hit the world stage. It came by way of the works of the scientists Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, social and political critic Christopher Hitchens, and many others. I come to this topic as a layman, and a longtime student of Marx’s materialist philosophy as outlined in his writings in the 1840s. I will also apply scientific skepticism, as defined by scientist and humanist advocate, Carl Sagan, who coined the term, yet its methodology predates him.
        The critique will center on three aspects of New Atheism: idealism, scientism, and pseudo-science. The scope of this paper, while broad, doesn’t touch on the political questions that that often get embroiled with New Atheism. There are arguments that can be made from a leftist perspective against New Atheism’s pro-capitalist, racist, and misogynist characteristics. These debates are best handled in political fora. Using Marx as a philosophical guide certainly touches a political nerve, but no specific invocations on class struggle are needed in this article to make use of his historical materialism. New Atheism also introduces scientism into its debate with religion. It takes the form of dismissing philosophy as a serious intellectual pursuit. The third component of my argument concludes that New Atheists engage in science denialism. This especially egregious New Atheism purports to excel in scientific analysis.
        This paper is not meant to deny, apologize for, belittle, or otherwise delegitimize those who suffer from, or have survived, physical and/or emotional abuses in any religious institution, or from any extremist theology. Examples of this dominate our news on nearly a daily basis. My point is to show that belief in a deity, or any supernatural force alone, does not ordain any crimes and travesties from the get go. Any closed organization or society runs this danger, (e.g., the military, penal institutions, etc.), and a separate social-psychological phenomenon is at play in that instance.

  62. Jezza says

    Hey Bub
    I recognize your position. I was once there myself. I too was an arrogant fool believing I was ‘the Captain of my Soul’ as the poem has it. Then came a ‘road to Damascus’ conversion. When the impossibility of not believing became obvious to me my grateful response was ” Oh, no! Not me! Christians are such a bunch of pricks!” I have since learned how wrong that is. Most Christians I have met are kind, generous, sincere and humble people. I have been taken down a peg or two (I love these old clichés – so useful) and I certainly don’t consider myself better than you, just luckier. You shouldn’t confuse our clumsy attempts to describe the ineffable as a childish belief in the old man in the sky. Take the metaphor for what it is.

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  64. rod magner says

    What was this doing in the middle of the piece? amzn_assoc_tracking_id = “quillette-20”; amzn_assoc_ad_mode = “manual”; amzn_assoc_ad_type = “smart”; amzn_assoc_marketplace = “amazon”; amzn_assoc_region = “US”; amzn_assoc_title = “”; amzn_assoc_linkid = “295a0a13496b4868f428aaae4c1e85ef”; amzn_assoc_asins = “0393337170,0195374614,1250183863,B0082Z8X2C”;

  65. There’s a subset of Christianity that seems to fit in these developments: extreme charismatic believers such as Bethel Church. They are very focused on the supernatural, the demonic, ghosts, healings and all that. See for instance

    Many of their followers come from more traditional backgrounds. Maybe these people have abandoned the traditional faith but instead of leaving the church, they found this? More research would definitely be needed to make any firm claims, but I find the similarities striking.

  66. @Evander I have a MDiv and your series of comments and replies are the best case for Christ I have read in a very long time. As a side note, my own journey of faith was from Jewish to “angry at an angry God” to “Jewish in name only” to “angry at a God I didn’t believe in” to finally reconcilliation & peace with God as a follower of Christ at age 36. @Bumblecar, Evander is the real deal, keep engaging.

    @Evander would you mind sharing your recent book list?

    • Evander says

      Zia, a useful book I read recently is called Thinking Through Creation by Christopher Watkin, an academic who specialises in modern French thought. He’s good at competing different systems of thought at the axiomatic level, showing how the Christian worldview very often cuts across otherwise irresolvable dilemmas or secular thought, e.g the fact-value distinction. This book explores how the doctrine of Creation and the doctrine of the Trinity offers a bold – and better – alternative to materialist accounts of the universe and ethics.

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