Friday, August 23, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Atheism by the Numbers

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

A short list of statistical data about atheists compiled by Pew Research Center:

94% approve of LGBTQ lifestyles
91% believe in evolution
87% approve of abortion
83% believe ethics are situational
78% are white
78% have no children
69% vote Democrat
68% are men
65% never discuss religion
54% feel wonder at the universe
43% have a college degree (vs. 27% general public)
40% are ages 18-29
40% have never married
  9% proselytize weekly

Tom: Some of these things I knew, some I didn’t. Anything you find surprising there, IC? I’ll admit to raising an eyebrow over the claim that only 9% are out there regularly commending their view of the universe to others. It sure seems higher than that online.

Not-So-Evangelical

Immanuel Can: Well, online … a largely male, single, computer-using demographic would be expected to be online a bit, wouldn’t they? But in my experience, most atheists choose their ideology defensively rather than for offensive purposes. The chief value of that ideology is that it wards off concerns about God, and permits them to justify whatever freedoms and choices they may happen to want to make. In large part, they don’t want to talk about the particulars of their atheism: they want NOT to talk about it. And when they talk, they only want to talk about why God is a “delusion”, not about what other things they are believing in order to get to that conclusion. Self-knowledge is not something they spend much time seeking.

That’s why, for the most part, they are a group characterized by a just-leave-me-alone attitude rather than an evangelizing zeal. Richard Dawkins is an exception in that regard.

Tom: Fair enough. That’s certainly borne out by the 65% of atheists that “never discuss religion”. But I’m pretty sure I run into all 9% of those evangelical atheists on a regular basis.

IC: Yes. The other 9% seems have taken to heart that “the best defense is offense.”

Higher Learning and Atheism

Tom: Is there anything to be made of the fact that atheists generally have more years of higher education? Cause or effect of atheism, do you think?

IC: I’ve noticed that very frequently they have a story that begins, “I was raised Christian ...”

Tom: Certainly online. That’s by far the most common starting point.

IC: And when you probe further, it’s usually, “I was raised in an emotional, superficial, hypocritical or ritualistic group.” Then, usually in the teenage years, they became rebellious to that, for some reason. And afterwards, they channeled their anger into atheism and used it to push the whole idea of God to arm’s length. They felt betrayed, came to feel that denying God would punish those who had failed them, and then “rubber-banded” to the extreme.

You also hear, “When my parents divorced ...” or “My favorite aunt got cancer, and I prayed, and she died.”

Tom: Yes. It’s really more The God Disillusion than The God Delusion ...

IC: Some experience that fits into that pattern is very, very common. Teenage disillusionment. Dawkins himself says he made his great intellectual achievement of discovering there’s no God at the age of 17, long before he reached higher education.

Tom: So then maybe being drawn to higher education is more an indicator that the budding teen atheist is looking for scientific affirmation of his existing instincts. He’s looking for other smart people to tell him he’s being rational in rejecting God.

White, Male and Educated

Does the fact that dogmatic atheism is overwhelmingly white, male and educated suggest anything to you? Those numbers are surprisingly high.

IC: White, middle-class, early-adult, male, single and childless, somewhat educated, computer-involved … these factors all have a high correspondence with atheism, it’s true. There are plenty of exceptions, of course; but we’re only talking averages here. What about intelligence? Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that atheism is not held by the most well-informed or logical people. For one thing, atheism is obviously a bluff — even Dawkins, their chief spokesman these days, it seems — recognizes that fact, and when pressed, he insists he isn’t really an atheist but rather a “strong agnostic”, as he puts it, because he doesn’t want to get caught out on an obvious mistake, the mistake of claiming to have some sort of body of evidence supporting the non-existence of God. He can’t win that one, and he knows it. But less astute skeptics just say, “I’m an atheist, period.”

Tom: So far as IQs go, this guy makes a pretty good case that there is nothing special about atheist intelligence. That’s a myth started by Dawkins and friends. At one point they referred to each other as “brights”. But the evidence doesn’t support their boast. There are fewer atheists than you might expect at both the very high and very low ends of the intelligence spectrum. The vast majority are right in the middle of the pack. They are more educated, to be sure, but not necessarily innately smarter.

Women Need Not Apply

Why so many men, IC? It’s 68/32 for men over women. That’s very high. Do you have a theory there?

IC: Yes, I think so. On average, men are more willing to be seen as openly disagreeable than are women. But also, women have a higher interest in retaining social cohesion in groups … they tend not to be so willing to fracture relationships over issues. So there may be women who feel as strongly about their atheism as the men, but they’re somewhat less likely to voice it, if that’s the case. In fact, even superficial religiosity seems to have some attractions for women who want social connections, even if they dislike the beliefs involved; men seem somewhat more willing to engage in conflict at the expense of those bonds, or simply to opt out of the whole situation altogether.

Tom: I suspect women care less about theoretical arguments than men too. And the non-existence of God is all theory/no substance.

If They Had Only Turned Out in 2016 ...

Hmm. Seven in ten atheists vote Democrat. There’s an interesting correlation between that and the top four items on the list: 94% approve of LGBTQ lifestyles, 91% believe in evolution, 87% approve abortion and 83% believe in situational ethics. One and three are planks in the Democrat platform; the second undergirds the entire progressive philosophy. As to situational ethics, the Dem willingness to argue self-contradictory points — or to argue anything at all that even temporarily seems to support their goals, no matter how incoherent — has never been more glaring than during this last election cycle. Many Democrats now behave as if the end justifies the means no matter how morally repugnant the means may be. There really is no dialogue to be had with them currently; they are operating on pure will-to-power. Maybe an active disbelief in God plays into that.

IC: I don’t think most people understand what “situational ethics” means. What I find when I ask them is they have no idea of the theory, or even of who Joseph Fletcher was, let alone what he said: they just think that whatever it is, it allows them to do as they please, and still claim to be “ethical” in doing it. And they like that a lot. As for homosexuality, abortion and so on, all of that is a matter of indifference there is no God. It’s all a shrug and a “whaddever”.

Pure Negativity

Ironically, though, atheists are likely to affirm the right of people to do those things and not to be challenged on them, as if the freedom not to be told what to do had some sort of sacredness to it. Of course, on atheism, it does not … nothing does.

Tom: Right. Atheists have no problem telling the rest of us exactly what we should believe.

IC: There’s another thing too. Atheism, as its proponents never tire of telling us, means no more than the rejection of God. It implies no positive claims at all. It gives no direction, provides no ethics, gives no ground for duties, and provides reason for nothing. It’s pure negativity.

But people cannot build anything out of pure negativity. And that’s why atheism invariably gets coupled with another secular ideology, which provides the ethics, the purpose, the direction and the power atheism completely lacks. You can’t just stop living, and you can’t go on living without some basis of direction and purpose. So you can’t just be an atheist … with it, you’ve got to be a Marxist or a Randian or a socialist or a Nietzschean or an anarchist or nihilist ... you need something else on top of the atheism. And that makes atheism the gateway to all sorts of bad ideas. It creates an existential vacuum into which something more, something worse, will inevitably be sucked.

Be Fruitless and Divisive

Tom: Next ... okay. Here’s a weird one. 78% of atheists have no kids. Four in five. This is in a country in which more than sixty percent of adult males have fathered a child. The disparity could not be more glaring. Something is at work there.

Is that chicken or egg, IC? Is it easier to be an atheist when there are few practical consequences to any of your choices because you have nobody in your life who depends on you? Or do atheists consciously avoid procreating? Is it possible atheism makes them so unlikable they are unsuccessful in pairing up? Or, on the other hand, is it possible they are so bitter about their failures in love that they reject the possibility of a loving God? I can’t make head or tail of that statistic, but there seems to be a significant correlation between rejecting God and rejecting (or being rejected from participating in) a fairly normal human experience.

IC: Heh. Is this where I make a joke about “the ugly atheist”?

Tom: I’m just thrashing around trying to explain numbers that make absolutely no sense to me. That’s a lot of people departing significantly from the norm.

IC: Naw, just kidding. There’s an old axiom, “Correlation is not causality.” We don’t know if singleness causes atheism or atheism causes singleness, or something else causes both, or just one, and the other’s an independent factor. But it’s interesting.

Tom: That’s my feeling. Something is happening there. From a Christian perspective, rejecting God promotes nothing useful either in the spirit world or in the realm of human relationships.

IC: Maybe (and this is just a guess) having no responsibility for anyone else makes one more likely to embrace atheism. Maybe it’s a belief that works better when you’re on a solo mission. I have no doubt that that much is true, because it gives you no basis for providing moral guidance to anyone else.

Young and Restless

Tom: Indeed. Did you notice the age at which atheism is most likely to be the dominant ideological viewpoint?

IC: Yes. The single years.

Tom: 18-29. Bingo. Atheism is most prominent in white males with no responsibilities and nothing to think about beyond the fulfillment of their own desires. It is not showing up at anywhere near the same level in men (or women) anywhere else in the world.

Can we sum all this up, IC?

IC: It’s interesting to see these specific demographic markers, like maleness, youth, resentment, disconnectedness, attraction to Leftist ideology, and so on, tied to atheism. It would seem atheism is not quite what atheists would have us believe — a sort of inevitable place for the rational mind to come to rest — but rather a sort of limited and intellectually adolescent taste. And I doubt that many atheists themselves would like us to think that.

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Original photo courtesy Mike Cornwell [CC BY-SA 2.0]

1 comment :

  1. God cannot be directly shown to exist. Note that we have equivalent situations with physical science. If you see your doctor and he asks you to tell him on a scale of 1 to 10 what pain you are in, he cannot see or measure your pain in any concrete way and has to rely on your judgment, integrity and accuracy. Nevertheless, he could prepare a very formal and publishable scientific study of his patients pain level and threshold based on the 1 to 10 scale he introduced and the estimates passed on by his patients concerning a particular illness. In other words, we, the world, consistently accept this type of approach except, as it seems, as long as we are not dealing with God and the potentially supernatural.

    Richard Dawkins, or anyone else like him, is highly disingenuous in his arguments, especially since he has a science background, because he deliberately chooses to ignore his scientific training in regard to the God argument in order to buttress his own point of view. As a scientist he knows that if his experiment calls for measuring wind speed, e.g., that he has to use the right equipment and methods to accomplish that. As a practicing scientist he knows that there are laboratory and field manuals written outlining the procedure for taking wind speed measurement to get correct results and that results will be incorrect if he does not utilize that knowledge. He is disingenuous because, as an informed and educated person, he knows very well, but will not admit to it, that with regard to religion and God there are also field manuals available with procedures and steps that need to be followed in order to obtain correct and concrete results in the religious sphere of investigation. These manuals are of course the Bible, scriptural teaching, religious and oral tradition, etc..

    Now, the manuals clearly provide several ground rules and procedures about taking God's temperature, i.e., getting to know him so well that you know he exists even on a personal level and is therefore measurable by you with a degree of probability that you are satisfied with. Some of these ground rules are, follow the ten commandments, study and abide by Christ's teaching, attempt to communicate with your test subject (God) on a personal and private basis through the techniques of prayer, church attendance and worship, integrate into a living religious community, and conduct information gathering and logging from fellow researchers (members and leaders of the community). If you follow these test procedures earnestly and sincerely with an open mind (which are also important field manual instructions), as you would pursue any other experiment for a test period of, let's say, one year, you should then have gathered enough information to allow some valid conclusions for yourself.

    God has thus given us an indirect way of measuring his presence by instructing us in the lab manual to learn to believe in him and by encouraging us to enter into a personal relationship with him. Thus, how can you claim to make any statement about God, or the idea of God, if you refuse to follow the lab test protocols and procedures, or even outright refuse to engage in the requisite experiments in order to obtain any insight and results? You, like Richard Dawkins, are then simply not qualified and entitled to say anything valid about the topic, and if you do, it is simply no more than uninformed speculation. Unfortunately, that is very often sufficient for likeminded people.

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