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REPLY #66a TO
"RELIGION"



Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the first of a two-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of this part to read the last part of the reply.

(R) Why do I consider it a tactic of desperation that you dismiss this Newsweek article as filler?
(MB) Because you don't know what "filler" is? Because you consider any statement of fact to be a "tactic of desperation"? Because you must automatically dispute anything that doesn't unquestioningly agree with your religion and its dogma? Oops! I see you have your own list...


(R) Because the assumption that nearly all scientist are non-religious and don't believe in God is crucial to your system of beliefs.
(MB) Not at all. My beliefs aren't dependent upon who else might share them. On the other hand, it would seem to be the Christians who are desperate to show that scientists believe in God. They must place a lot of stock in what scientists think, eh?


(R) Because you can't allow anything which postulates otherwise to be given serious consideration.
(MB) Not at all. I just can't allow obvious nonsense and inaccurate claims to be given serious consideration. This is not exclusive to claims about religion. It's just that religion seems to supply the lion's share of nonsensical claims.


(R) Because you protest too much.
(MB) How so? You began this particular discussion by touting the Newsweek article as some sort of proof of your religion. I'm just pointing out the numerous errors in your arguments. This article must have serious importance for you. Otherwise, I can't fathom why you defend it so adamantly and don't seem to care how many more inaccuracies are heaped atop it.


(R) If the article had been just one of many in the issue, without special mention and buried somewhere in the back of the magazine, your argument might have some merit.
(MB) If it had been so, I doubt that you would have brought it up in the first place. After all, one of your major arguments is that this article is so important that it merited the cover. Of course, the article would still have contained the same information whether or not it was the cover story for that issue. If you had still deigned to bring it up, my arguments against it would have been unchanged.


(R) But it was the cover story and lead article of its issue.
(MB) So? Does that automatically give it more authority?


(R) Newsweek's staff considered it worthy of this special status.
(MB) More likely, it was Newsweek's marketing department deciding which cover story would help sell more magazines. After all, that *is* what keeps them in business.


(R) Arguing it was nothing but filler only shows how desperate you are that it be unimportant and untrue.
(MB) How is acknowledging the truth to be considered any form of "desperation"? After all, the story would be just as full of inaccuracies whether or not we were discussing it.


(R) You'd have been better off simply sticking to the argument it was inaccurate.
(MB) The story would be just as inaccurate whether or not it was the cover story and whether or not it could be classified as "filler". The inaccuracies are what's ultimately important. Why is the distinction so important to you?


(R) Check out the websites of Time and Newsweek and note the wide variations in their cover stories over the last couple of years. Many, if not most, of the cover stories would be called filler by your standards.
(MB) I already know that. What's your point?


(R) (What, exactly, is "hard news?")
(MB) How can you ask a question like that and still argue about whether or not a story is "filler"?


(R) Weekly news magazines are different from daily newspapers. They put less emphasis on breaking news and more on in depth coverage of developing trends.
(MB) If that is so, why don't they call it "Trendweek" instead of "Newsweek"? In any case, there is the same difference between hard news and filler.


(R) Immediate political and economic events aren't the only things which qualify as news.
(MB) Quite correct. But, the article in question doesn't even qualify as a "current event" since there's nothing in it that isn't over a year old.


(R) Social trends of all types receive coverage, and articles on religion are no more filler than articles on any other subject.
(MB) Nor are they any less. I suspect that if the article was not one concerned with religion, that you would have no problem accepting that it is filler and not hard news.


(R) Now, let's move on to the "blatant lie" of which you've accused Newsweek. Let me quote it here: "According to a study released last year, 40 percent of American scientists believe in a personnel God - not merely an ineffable power and presence in the world, but a deity to whom they can pray." You have called this a blatant lie and derided it as an unattributed statement, and further stated that there is a journalistic standard to report the source of such a statistic.
(MB) That's correct. But, I suspect that the demands of religious faith will require this all to be disputed, right? Let's see...


(R) Well, the source of the figure was stated as "a study released last year," which seems as good as the sources cited for other polls reported daily in newspapers (which are generally identified merely as "a poll," perhaps with Gallop or Reuters inserted.)
(MB) Oh, please. Anybody can take (or claim to take) a poll. For example, let's assume that the Institute for Creation Research polled its membership on their beliefs in God. Since ICR membership requires a degree in some field of science along with a stated belief in the absolute accuracy of the Bible, the poll would undoubtedly report that 100% of polled scientists believe in God. If a news magazine was to pick up on the poll results and report them without proper attribution, they would cause their readers to incorrectly assume that 100% of *all* scientists believe in God. That's why it is necessary to cite the source of the poll. Readers must be able to determine whether or not there are hidden agendas being promoted by that poll.


(R) In all cases, the sources are not footnoted nor are any specifics given.
(MB) I can see that you either don't read very much or you don't pay attention to what's being read. Just sticking with Newsweek, any given issue normally contains results of polls (usually about recent political events or Presidential approval ratings). When's the last time that the source of the poll was not given?


(R) It doesn't appear the journalistic standard you refer to exists.
(MB) You may wish to revise that claim.


(R) Are you saying there is some kind of journalistic "moral absolute?" Perhaps you can tell me where it's written down?
(MB) Why don't you write another letter to Newsweek and ask them whether or not they have any journalistic standards? Listen to the advertising for news programs. They almost always contain language touting how "trustworthy" and "accurate" their reporting is.


(R) Anyway, as I told you, I wrote Newsweek and asked for their source. They replied they receive hundreds of emails everyday and therefore couldn't give me a specific answer, but recommended several websites, among which were these:
(MB) How can they provide specific web site URLs if they "can't give you a specific answer" in response to a question about their source(s)? In any case, let's take a look at the URLs that were provided...


(R) http://www.origins.org/real/ri9501/bigbang2.html, ...
(MB) This is a proponent site for the Creationist idea known as the "Theory of Intelligent Design". It's self-description says that "this site features scholarly and popular resources concerning intelligent design and philosophical theism". You have claimed that the Newsweek article was "even-handed and unbiased" in its treatment of science. Does this web site sound like a place where one would find such information?


(R) ... http://www.discovery.org/chapman/godnews.html ...
(MB) This site is the home of the Discovery Institute and the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture. It's self-description says that it's purpose is to "make a positive vision of the future practical". Most of the articles on this site are concerned with the harmonization of Christian doctrine with the findings of science. On the surface, it might seem like a reasonable place to find even-handed information, but, if one digs deep into the site, you come across a page which lists the CRSC fellows. The list of names almost entirely consists of well-known Christian apologist writers and Creationists. Once again, this indicates that the site is not one which could be trusted to provide even-handed information about science.


(R) ... and http://zebu.uoregon.edu/~js/ast123/science_god.html
(MB) This page contains the text of an article from Academe Today which reports the poll that was referenced in the Newsweek article. Following up on the info it contains led me to the original source of the poll. It was written by Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham and published in the leading British science journal "Nature" in the July 23, 1998 issue on page 313. Now, here's something for you to explain. The article in Nature is entitled "Leading Scientists Still Reject God". How can an "even-handed and unbiased" article in Newsweek take this and convert it into an article entitled "Science Finds God"?


(R) The first website contains this quote:
"....Alan Lightman, a MIT professor, said in his book Origins: The Lives and Worlds of Modern Cosmologists (Harvard University Press, 1990), 'Contrary to popular myths, scientists appear to have the same range of attitudes about religious matters as does the general public.'

(MB) "Popular myths"? The article from Academe Today that you referenced earlier states that 39.3% of scientists have some sort of religious beliefs while 93% of the general population has them. Does this sound like "the same range of attitudes about religious matters" to you?


(R) (quote continues...)
This fact can be established either from anecdote or from statistical data. Sigma Xi, the scientific honorary society, ran a large poll a few years ago which showed that, on any given Sunday, around 46 percent of all Ph.D. scientists are in church; for the general population the figure is 47 percent. So, whatever influences people in their beliefs about God, it doesn't appear to have much to do with having a Ph.D. in science.

    Of course, this doesn't provide any information about the Sigma Xi poll. Maybe you'd be interested in finding out more and sharing the information.

(MB) I did just that and the results may be difficult for you to explain. First, I checked out the Sigma Xi web site and there is no mention whatsoever of this poll. Furthermore, there is not a single word anywhere on the site which indicates that they have any interest in religious matters. I've also been unable to find this poll result anywhere else.
    Next, how can 46% of scientists be in church on any given Sunday if only 39.3% have any religious beliefs? For that matter, why would only 47% of the general public be in church if fully 93% had religious beliefs? Even that 47% figure is questionable. Are there really 75 million Americans in church on any given Sunday? You may be interested to know that there is additional research available to answer that question.
    In 1992, The United Church of Christ counted actual butts which were in pews in Ohio and found that only 20% of the adult membership was in church on any given Sunday. Further studies published in 1993 by C. Kirk Hadaway, Penny Long Marler, and Mark Chaves continued to show that actual church attendance is around the 20% level.
    A study conducted by Stanley Presser of the University of Maryland and Linda Stinson of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that church attendance has dropped from 40% in 1965 to a current figure of 26%.
    In the National Opinion Research Center's General Social Survey (1996), church attendance was reported at only between 29 and 30.5% of Americans.
    It would seem that there is precious little support for the figures given by those who have a vested interest in promoting religion.



(R) By the way, this webpage is the second page of two which provide a lot of interesting information about Stephen Hawking and his theories. I bought a copy of "A Brief History of Time" a couple years ago and liked it very much, but I didn't know much about Hawking himself and this website fills in the gaps.
(MB) In his brilliant book, Hawking coins the phrase "the mind of God" to describe the understanding of the processes by which the universe was created. Even though Hawking is an atheist and uses the phrase metaphorically, many apologists have seized upon that phrase to formulate arguments that Hawking's theories prove the existence of God. Funny how those same apologists seem to ignore Hawking's statement that if his no-boundary universe theory is correct, there would be nothing for any Creator to do.


(R) The other websites I listed above were much more interesting. They give precise information on the study in question, which was conducted by Edward Larson of the University of Georgia along with writer Larry Witham, and replicated a survey carried out in 1916 by James Leuba, a psychologist. I'll let you read through them yourself. Read'em and weep, that is.
(MB) As stated above, I've looked at those sites closely. They certainly didn't cause me to shed any tears -- except tears of laughter, of course. They do contain precise information, as you say. They just don't contain *complete* information on the survey in question. For example, did you know that Leuba was an atheist and that the purpose of his 1916 poll was to demonstrate that only a minority of scientists had religious beliefs and that belief declined as intelligence increased? His findings were considered scandalous in 1916. In addition, Leuba conducted *two* studies. The first was a general polling of scientists and is the one which produced the 40% figure for belief. The other one was a more specific polling of scientists in the physical sciences and this produced a 27.7% figure for belief. Larson and Witham duplicated Leuba's survey and methods and found similar results. They also found that the percentage of believers in the physical sciences has shown a dramatic decline since Leuba's initial survey (from 27.7% to 7.0%). Funny how this web site conveniently ignored that fact, eh? Isn't it also funny how Newsweek's "even-handed and accurate" article didn't include it either?
    Another thing that neither Newsweek nor your web site references reports is that there are dozens of other studies which verify Leuba's finding that belief declines as intelligence increases and none which have found otherwise. Details on many of these studies can be found in "The Effect of Intelligence on Religious Faith" (1986) by Burnham P. Beckwith. I'll be happy to give some of those details upon request.



(R) One thing everyone should know about the survey conduct by Larson and Witham, and similarly by Leuba before them, is the wording of one of the primary questions, which asks, does one, "believe in a God in intellectual and affective communication with humankind." This question excludes anyone who believes in God, but one who doesn't intervene in human affairs. Buddhists, deists, true agnostics (which you are not) and many others would answer "no" to this question, thereby placing themselves in the ranks of non-believers.
(MB) Once again, you try to expand your definition of "God" from its Christian version to include mutually-exclusive versions of deities from other belief systems. What you fail to realize is that, if your expansion is true, that the percentage figures are even stronger proof that a much smaller percentage of scientists are Christians than is the general population. You may wish to rethink this argument.


(R) I suspect if such respondents were grouped with those who directly believe in a personal God, we'd find roughly 85 percent of American scientists believe in God in some form or another.
(MB) Are you trying to claim that, in an overwhelmingly Christian nation, that anywhere from 2 to 14 times more of its scientists who have religious beliefs believe in something other than the Christian God? I think you will find it extremely difficult to support such a claim. In addition, none of those who are touting a high percentage of belief among scientists are promoting any non-Judeo-Christian version of God.


(R) Another contact I discovered through Newsweek was Ms. Gina Moore at the University of Cincinnati. She was kind enough to mail me a copy of a scholarly article, "The Religious Worldview and American Beliefs About Human Origins," by George Bishop, which appeared in The Public Perspective in the August/September issue.
(MB) In case somebody reading this may not be familiar with that publication, The Public Perspective is published by the institute that conducts the Roper polls.


(R) He quotes the Larson/Witham survey as revealing that 40 percent of scientists believe in "directed evolution" and another 5 percent hold to the strict creationist position. The other 55 percent felt God had little or nothing to do with the process.
(MB) This is an indication of either serious ignorance or deliberate distortion on the part of the author. "Directed evolution" has nothing to do with belief in God. It is the term used to describe the old notion that evolution is a progressive process in which Homo sapiens is its apex. It also says that if evolution started all over again from the same initial organism, that Man would still eventually appear and be the same as he is now. Some apologists like to use this in their harmonizations that claim that directed evolution is the process that God used to create Man. Unfortunately for the apologists, it is now universally understood that evolution is a random process and is not "directed" in any way.


(R) This does represent a dichotomy between the beliefs of scientists and the general public.
(MB) It also represents a dichotomy between reality and what apologists want to believe.


(R) Bishop states half of Americans overall hold to the literal, creationist viewpoint, and another 31 percent believe in some form of directed evolution.
(MB) This shouldn't be a surprising conclusion in a country where only a single-digit percentage of the population is scientifically literate.


(R) But still, the overall difference (81 percent who believe in God's participation in creation/evolution among the general public vs. only 45 percent who do among scientists) is proportionately roughly 2 to 1, not the 10 or 15 to 1 you would have us believe.
(MB) Since your claim is based upon an incorrect understanding of directed evolution, your figures have no validity.


(R) It is 10 to 1 on creationism, though, which surprises me. I wouldn't have thought that many people believed in strict creationism.
(MB) Methinks that the author has inflated the figures a bit for the general population (and for scientists, too).



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