Friday, September 25, 2020
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Science as a Religion : Strange Notions

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This essay is drawn from Dr. Logan Gage’s new video course, How Science Became a Religion, available at NewPolity.com—and free for a limited time!


Christians and non-Christians alike tend to value the language of natural science as the most appropriate and authoritative language to speak within the “public square” of liberal nation states. An argument from theology will get you nowhere; an argument from one’s personal experience is moot; but an argument of science stirs us to assent. Nowhere is this more clear than during an election, in which the degree to which a candidate “believes in science” is seen as a crucial marker of his ability to lead the country toward good ends.

This makes sense, because liberalism (often considered Classical Liberalism, which is the reigning modern worldview and not another term for Democrat), is predicated on neutrality. Liberal states have no state churches, official belief systems, philosophies or theologies. Such opinions are the private quirks of individual minds, the truth or falsity of which is irrelevant to a primary “public” knowledge about matters of law, policy, public interest, and the like. This public knowledge is neutral, in the sense that it is objective, applying to everyone, and if one is going to make headway in a liberal state, one must check one’s private, opinionated language at the door.  

The language of science fits well into this schema, because it has, likewise, taken up what appears to be a neutral, objective, dispassionate stance of determining the cold, hard facts. The person who speaks from the perspective of science is able to speak apart from any merely private opinion, club, faction or denomination of belief. He speaks as a qualified expert, a position which indicates his disinterested removal from the moods and paradigms of the moment, and his unique ability to access the objective, unvarnished truth.  

But is this really how the scientific community operates? In 1962, Thomas Kuhn wrote his ground-breaking book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he argues that scientific consensus is not neutral and disinterested, but emerges out of paradigms held by factions and in-groups devoted to their own survival. It is, hands down, the single most influential work of philosophy of science in the last century.  It’s core message, however, has not filtered down to popular culture, because questioning the disinterested status of science is, peripherally, to question the disinterested neutrality of liberal nation states. The rest of the essay proceeds from his insights.

Science Textbooks

Think about the textbooks from which we all learn about science and how they form our minds. The image of science they present is as glossed over as a tourist brochure. Textbooks tend to praise the achievements of great lone scientists and downplay science as a communal, cultural enterprise.  Perhaps most perniciously, because of their aim of getting novices up to speed so that they can understand (and even practice in) today’s scientific landscape, they select episodes in the history of science and arrange them in a seamless narrative all leading to…us, scientific modernity.  Inevitably, it makes science look like a straight line of progress, only opposed by the forces of superstition.

If you look at the actual revolutions of thought in the history of science this isn’t what you’ll see.  Science is done by real human beings.  Its history is a history of fights between groups of scientists not only over particular facts but over method and what counts as science at all.  There is a historical and sociological aspect to science that is essential to seeing what this modern project really is.

The history of science is more than the history of ideas; it is also a history of real people, with all their flaws and foibles. There is more to science than facts simply presenting themselves to great minds. It is a history of genius and innovation, sure. But it is also a history of cliques defending theories despite counter-evidence, scientists hitting dead-end after dead-end. But these never make it into the textbooks, both because it would undermine the progressive, liberal narrative that is meant to attract new scientists to the discipline, and also because stories of dead ends don’t help students learn current scientific theories. Any history that includes successes but never failures is bound to look linear and progressive.  Yet the effect is painting a picture of science that is pure science fiction.

Normal vs. Revolutionary Science

Most science is not revolutionary. That is, it doesn’t set out to answer groundbreaking questions but to slightly extend our knowledge in some very limited domain.  Normal science doesn’t question its foundations but, rather, works within a paradigm or large set of settled assumptions about its subject matter.  Now, paradigms can sound very negative, because their job is to be settled and dogmatic, to force us to view nature in preconceived categories and rigidly indoctrinate students. However, the advantage of paradigms is that the scientist doesn’t have to constantly justify her basic outlook but can treat some things as settled and dive deeper into nature on those assumptions.  Kuhn likens it to a settled judicial decision.  In this way, real but limited progress is made.

But there are also periods of science where there is a sense of unease and dissatisfaction with the reigning paradigm – particularly the baroque Ptolemaic model of the solar system.  In these revolutionary periods, fundamental assumptions are challenged. 

Importantly, this is not a dispassionate process by which the evidence is obvious to all and the best theory automatically wins out. New paradigms are created not by seasoned veterans of the field but by the young or those new to the field who haven’t had their minds ossified by years of thinking in the old paradigm. Instead of convincing the old guard, advocates of the new paradigm simply attract more young scientists to their research program (e.g., they attract more graduate students with an exciting new way of thinking).

And the minute the new paradigm wins out, say, the Copernican model, its rivals are ridiculed as “non-scientific.”  The old guard is shunned, their work ignored.  The revolution does not take place because the old guard become convinced by overwhelming evidence, see the light, and recant. (That is to say, the scientists do not actually behave scientifically, disinterestedly following the evidence wherever it leads.)  Rather, the revolution happens when they die off.  The historical record challenges the positivist narrative of science as uniquely rational and automatically progressive.  Science isn’t populated by Spock-like, neutral, open-minded observers following the evidence wherever it leads.  It is populated by actual humans.

There is a chaotic and competitive pre-paradigm period where the field has no consensus and competing theories jockey for dominance; then a breakthrough that establishes a new paradigm; followed by a long period of normal science; until anomalies with that paradigm build up; a crisis occurs; and we get the next revolutionary event, the new paradigm, and a period of normal science again. 

No paradigm can solve all problems.  In fact, if it did, there would be no normal science to do.  So new paradigms have unsolved problems for which they issue promissory notes; it is only a matter of time, it insists, until the problems are solved.  These puzzles may or may not fester and come to be seen as problems.  Whether puzzles become problems and create a “crisis” has much to do with the particular psychological and sociological facts about the research community.  As Thomas Kuhn says, “every problem that normal science sees as a puzzle can be seen, from another viewpoint, as a counterinstance and thus as a source of crisis.”

In cases as diverse as the Copernican revolution in astronomy, Lavoisier’s oxygen theory of combustion in chemistry, and the emergence of Einsteinian relativity theory in physics, puzzles had to seem like problems—like a crisis—before radically new thinking could emerge.  And what feels like a crisis is highly dependent on the particular personalities involved.  For instance, some astronomers began to see Ptolemaic epicycles (circles upon circles) as clunky and aesthetically displeasing while others did not.  There were also social factors like the need for a new calendar, the growing dislike of medieval Aristotelianism, and the rise of Renaissance Platonism. 

New theories are responses to a felt crisis, a personal and social phenomenon—perhaps caused by the evidence but certainly not necessitated by it.  Aristarchus, for instance, anticipated Copernicus by almost two millennia.  But the social setting was not ready for the new theory.  Leading thinkers felt no dissatisfaction with the Ptolemaic model.  This evidences against the simple positivist view of science as a slow ratcheting up of observations leading to the formation of obviously true theories to account for the data.  The right scientific theory does not emerge automatically.

Paradigms: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Scientists prize being objective and rigorous; but they’re people, not robots. People are those that explore and all people have a particular paradigm with which they explore nature. Paradigms can distort our vision, but they also make vision possible by organizing a sea of chaotic data into a pattern. None of us are free from having one because all of us need one. Without one, we would be impersonal actors without the ability to relate and to love.

The late 20th Century saw an increasing recognition that the modern scientific view of facts and theories was too simple.  From the Scientific Revolution to the Logical Positivists it was claimed that rational scientists must be presuppositionless machines who go around collecting pure facts until theories emerge pristine from the data. In other words, scientists could be dispassionate observers of nature. We all sympathize with this view, since we want our theories to be responsive to facts rather than our hopes and wishes. 

But philosophers began to notice that we don’t just see the world but that we see under a description.  We don’t just see, but we see as.  If you’ve seen a Magic Eye drawing and then suddenly your mind recognizes a pattern and you see the unified image of a car in what had previously appeared as a bunch of colors, then you’ve noticed this yourself.  Or perhaps you’ve had this experience with one of the famous Gestalt images like the drawing that is simultaneously a young lady and an old lady, or Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit.  You tend to see the image one way at first, but then with effort you can see the image the other way.  But once you lock on to the second image, it becomes difficult to see the original one.  Your shift in perspective, it is important to notice, is not simply caused by new evidence or data.  It has to do with how the existing data is imagined, conceptualized, or interpreted.

Rather than thinking our prior beliefs and expectations “pollute” our pure experiences, we should thank God that they do.  We’d be stuck in a world of sensations rather than objects if we couldn’t bring concepts to bear in our visual processing.  We don’t infer all our theories from sensations.  Aristotle and Aquinas recognized this long ago.  They didn’t build their epistemology on animal sensations but on our ability to perceive natures and thereby populate our minds with ordinary concepts like humans, apples, and cats.

Still, paradigms do restrict our vision.  They limit our focus.  But this is not all bad, even claiming that it is “essential to the development of science.”  Paradigms give us a kind of mental stability:  they are fixed points of reference.  It is a fully rational thing not to give up your old point of view for a new one at every turn.  If everything was up for grabs at all times, we’d never make any headway.  Paradigms allow scientists to stop arguing about fundamental issues and start solving puzzles from within the paradigm.  The paradigm tells them what questions are significant enough to explore and how to go about answering them (i.e., via paradigmatic experiments).  Half of the work is already done for the scientist by the paradigm.

Consensus

It is often  argued that science is, unlike religion and philosophy, characterized by consensus and wide-spread agreement.  Therefore, it uniquely promises to make progress and solve problems.  However, with the notion of paradigms, I hope we can see that modern science is characterized by consensus because scientists are taught the same paradigm in graduate school and the community enforces a rather rigid orthodoxy.  Vocal questioners of the paradigm, no matter how credentialed, have trouble publishing in mainstream journals and presses, are unlikely to receive tenure, and are effectively excommunicated by being labeled science deniers or pseudo-scientists. 

I saw this happen with a friend who holds two excellent Ph.D.s and held a joint appointment between the NIH and the Smithsonian.  When it became suspected that he harbored scientific doubts about the power of the neo-Darwinian selection-mutation mechanism and might even be open to an intelligent design explanation for features of the living world, he was harassed by his colleagues who even hid his specimens so that he could not continue his research.  This is highly ironic in light of the positivist narrative of medieval orthodoxy enforced by the Inquisition. 

Science and Metaphysics

At any rate, paradigms are larger than just a certain explanation for how this or that natural thing functions.  The paradigm sets rules about which scientific laws hold, which methods are truly scientific, and even contains the “quasi-metaphysical commitments that the historical study [of science] so regularly displays.”  Consider  the corpuscular theory of matter, which supposed all matter to be composed of minute particles.  This was not just pure “science.” This was a metaphysical commitment that thinkers like Hobbes, Descartes and Newton called “scientific” and which served to guide their research and the solutions they deemed acceptable.  They went about looking for laws specifying corpuscular motion and corpuscular interaction; those were the only explanations deemed properly scientific.  Or think of Einstein’s development of four-dimensionalism, where space and time are part of a single manifold. Surely this is both a scientific and metaphysical theory.

So when Catholic intellectuals make a hard and fast (and, frankly, positivist) distinction between what is science and what is metaphysics, I hope you can understand why people like me get uneasy.  It isn’t because we think there is no difference in general.  Metaphysicians don’t normally put things in test tubes.  But there is far more overlap than the rigid distinction recognizes.  The reason is that scientists are trying, just like philosophers, to tell us what reality is really like.  As Einstein understood, “every true theorist is a kind of tamed metaphysicist, no matter how pure a ‘positivist’ he may fancy himself.”

Dr. Logan Paul Gage

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Logan Paul Gage is the Chair of the Philosophy Department at Francsican University of Steubenville. Dr. Gage received his B.A. in history, philosophy, and American studies from Whitworth College (2004) and his M.A. (2011) and Ph.D. (2014) in philosophy from Baylor University. His dissertation, written under the supervision of Trent Dougherty, was a defense of the phenomenal conception of evidence and conservative principles in epistemology. It won Baylor University’s 2014-2015 Outstanding Dissertation Award (Humanities Division). His philosophical specialties (and the majority of his publications) are in epistemology and philosophy of religion. But he also has broad interests in ethics, metaphysics, history of philosophy, philosophy of science, and the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. When not engaged in philosophy, he can be found cooking with his wife (an attorney in a former life), wrestling with his five handsome sons, and pulling out his hair while watching the Seattle Sounders.

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American Atheists Warns States Across the Country about Religious Propaganda in Online Public School Classes

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Washington, D.C.September 22, 2020 —The church/state separation watchdog American Atheists has sent advisory letters to education chiefs in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, warning that public schools’ online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic may include unconstitutional religious materials.

Since launching an investigation in early September, American Atheists has received multiple complaints from families in Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico, and Kansas. Many parents have cited a third grade Social Studies class offered by Edgenuity, an online education provider. The course in question, among other things, teaches Bible stories, including Joseph of the Many-Colored Coat and the Tower of Babel, as social studies.

“I was stunned to see theology being taught to my child in the guise of social studies,” said Ryan Thibodeau, American Atheists’ Assistant State Director for Detroit, Michigan, whose 8-year old daughter must take this 3rd grade class. “I’ve received messages from concerned parents in my district who are seeing the obvious religious bias in other sections of the curriculum. This is a clear violation of church/state separation and must not be allowed to continue in public schools.”

In an email to American Atheists, Edgenuity recognized that this material is not appropriate and indicated it is looking into how to correct the problem with a subcontractor. In the meantime, these class materials are still being provided to public school children. American Atheists views this as a warning flag that similar content may have made its way into materials provided by other virtual learning service providers.

With the rise in virtual learning due to COVID-19, American Atheists warns that millions of students could be subjected to religious propaganda. For example, in 2019, even before the coronavirus pandemic, Edgenuity claimed more than 4 million students and boasted about “its products and services [being] used in each of the top 10 largest school districts–as well as 21 of the 25 largest school districts–within the U.S.”

“This religious propaganda aimed at 3rd graders is likely just the tip of the iceberg,” said Geoffrey Blackwell, Litigation Counsel at American Atheists. “That’s why we need officials to remain vigilant and prevent religious indoctrination creeping into public school classes. This type of religious coercion may result in liability for school districts.”

American Atheists advises school districts to carefully review virtual learning curricula and materials for compliance with constitutional requirements, as well as state learning standards. In addition, the church/state watchdog signaled the importance of educators knowing that modules, units, and individual lessons provided by outside companies should not be taken out of their intended context. American Atheists has received complaints where materials that could be permissible in advanced high school English classes were instead stripped of their necessary context and taught to significantly younger students in a devotional manner. Finally, American Atheists has asked the state-level superintendents to communicate to school districts that students should not be penalized or in any way disadvantaged for refusing to participate in any assignments that promote religion generally or any particular religious beliefs.

“No student should be pressured into accepting religious indoctrination from the government. That’s something all parents—be they Christian, nonreligious, or a religious minority—can agree on,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists. “Public schools should be focused on educating young people, period. Just because students are learning remotely doesn’t diminish public schools’ obligation to protect the constitutional rights of all students.”

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Is Gnosticism a Thing? | Jonathan MS Pearce

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Here’s another nice quick Dana Horton guest post. Enjoy:

Is Gnosticism a Thing?

(4 minute read)

What is it? Gnosticism is a collection of belief systems that arose in the 1st and 2nd century among Christian sects. In this context, it is separate from the idea of being agnostic.

What’s the main point? For the Gnostics, salvation was not about obeying specific rules and repenting for your sins. Rather, it was about finding a personal and mystical relationship with the Divine. They had a lot of other interesting and (very) detailed ideas about the creation of the universe, relationships among divinities, etc. We will not go down any of those rabbit trails, at least not this week.

Did you say these were Christian sects? Yes. But it was much less structured than the ‘mainstream’ Christian movement at the time. We can even see the influences of Judaism, Zoroastrianism (Persia), and Platonism in the Gnostic thinking.

Why haven’t we heard more about the Gnostics? The Gnostics could never get themselves organized. Which makes sense, because one of the main premises of Gnosticism is that you don’t need an organization to be one with God.

Plus the early Christian leaders were not exactly tolerant of competing belief systems. Ultimately, over dinner one night they came up with the idea to eliminate this alternative Christian movement. They did not like the idea of a direct mystical experience with the Divine. If too many people preferred that belief system, it would put the founding fathers out of business. So they used up a lot of energy, and a lot of papyrus, to criticize and ultimately destroy most of the written works of the Gnostics. Fortunately, some forward-thinking Gnostics saw this coming and buried a bunch of their texts in jars in a place called Nag Hammadi in Egypt, to be discovered in 1945.

Where was Jesus in all these discussions? Ummmmm.

But this Gnostic idea sounds a lot like the New Thought ideas of one-ness. You bet. Modern writers such as Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer could have been Gnostics back in the day. But the term Gnosticism does not roll off the tongue like New Thought, New Age, or Science of Mind.

We’re out of time. We’ll explore more of these gnostic ideas in future weeks. We’re not quite sure about some of the hierarchical structures within the spirit world that is in some of these Gnostic texts; that might be a bit much to handle. But we’ll see.

That’s it.

Dana Horton is from Ohio, United States and is currently (though not for much longer) working full time as Director of Energy Markets a large utility company.  In August 2019, he earned his ministerial license through an organization called Centers for Spiritual Living based in Denver, Colorado. This is a New Thought organization following the principles of Ernest Holmes. He acted as interim minister at the Columbus Center for Spiritual Living and, after eight months, he decided to leave and has no interest in returning to a formal religious organization. But he enjoys investigating spiritual principles, how they originated, and how they might be applicable to everyday living. I also enjoy discovering the history of both the Old and New Testaments, and how it differs (greatly) from the traditional Christian interpretations.


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Quote of the Day: Republicans and the Economy

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I had a rant about the Republicans earlier and there were some interesting comments on the thread worth dwelling on. Here are a few. These are from (((J_Enigma32))):

And they don’t even represent monied interests well, because what the Republicans are doing is utterly unsustainable. Their economic policies, their social policies, and their fiscal policies are all leading to an inevitable cliff, and rather than put on the breaks, they’re shoving more madmen in the engineering cabin to drive the trains faster so they can appease the handful of super-elite who like fast moving trains.

Consider their tax breaks; the whole goal of their tax breaks is the idea that money trickles from the wealthy to the less wealthy and that generates economic power. And sometimes, it does. When these multi-billionaires purchase a new yacht, that’s a slight example of that in action because it is creating jobs. But you know what isn’t creating jobs?

When they turn around and invest those millions into real estate. That drives up the value of real estate to the point where the average person can’t afford it anymore, and housing becomes unaffordable.

And you know what destroys jobs?

When they have so much money they can’t invest it into real estate anymore, because there isn’t anymore left to invest in. So they start throwing money after questionable businesses and start-ups, driving up the price of those start-ups to the point where you can end up with something like Theranos – it’s a blood machine that’s better at making toast. Then that bubble inevitably bursts, and it sends ripples through the entire economy costing jobs and hurting people.

What’s more, the generation of all that wealth creates inflation, which drives the prices of goods up, while wages have remained relatively the same because the labor market is broken. And because the labor market is broken, don’t expect wages to go up any time soon. We have full or near full employment, after all. Or, rather, we did. We probably won’t once this shock is all over with – we’ll probably get stuck with stagflation as a result and that’ll be just peachy.

And then the real fun begins, because any way we had to stop the oncoming recession won’t work. Trump and his cronies have already undermined them all, dropping interest rates to historical lows in order to keep the good-times going, so there won’t be anything to fight the recession with. The rich will continue to get richer, the poor will fall off the face of the chart, and historians will look back on not one, but three K-shaped recoveries, all of them associated with the Republicans fittingly enough.

And Republicans want to keep shovelling money at these people – these people who have so much money that they could care less if they’re investing in something like a Theranos-trademarked toaster, because they have literally nothing else to put that money into that would be productive for them. It’s wholly and utterly unsustainable, and so even fails represent monied interests well. Unless it’s in the interests of the monied elite to rule over a smoking, smoldering ash heap that’s utterly uninhabitable.

and

For better and worse. Remember, Obama is the one who kept interest rates low, too, which brings me back to a central issue with Keynesianism, and that’s the fact that Keynesianism is an equation.

Bad times, the government eases the supply of money, lowing taxes, interest rates, and giving government stimulus checks to help bolster the economy. Modern governments have this part down pat. It’s the other part of the equation they overlook.

See, during good times, the government is supposed to contract the money; this means higher taxes, higher interest rates, and less government spending overall. Stock during the good times, spend during the bad. And neither the GOP handily ignores this; they’re all tax cuts, all the time, and it’s no wonder why they wreck the economy as efficiently as they do. You can’t run an economy on that. So naturally, when the Democrats have to get in office, they’re confronted with a problem: lower taxes and a disastrous economy. So they have to enact the other element of the equation, and the whole time, the Republicans who created this mess are criticizing them for “tax and spend,” which is precisely what they should be doing.

Now, I challenge the baseline assumption that the business cycle has to work like this; it seems to me like during the good times the superrich have it too good and so they have enough money to throw after bad investments which puts ups in a situation where the economy crumbles. The problem seems to me like it’s at the top – something earning caps and a 99% wealth tax on the 0.01% tax bracket could fix, because no, I don’t want you aspiring to be a trillionaire. I don’t want that; that’s bad for society, bad for the economy, and bad for humanity. But since most people just accept that the business cycle has to work like this and pretends to be helpless puppets in the face of what’s clearly a “force of nature” that can’t be changed, they could at least remember the other end of the Keynesian equation.

Of course, nobody wants to because taxes aren’t popular, even if they are necessary, and it’s easier for Republicans to just wreck the economy by running the money printing machines during the good times and let someone else clean up the mess during the bad, so they take the blame because idiots like Otto have as strong a grasp of economics as they do biology and they vote.

Which reminds me of these:

Most Debt Growth Came Under Republican Presidents, But... - Business Insider

The U.S. economy does better under Democratic presidents — is it just luck? - The Washington Post

Graph depicting Democratic Presidents Outperform Republicans by Every Economic Measure

Who Manages the Economy Better – Republicans or Democrats? – LikeTheDew.com

And so on. While we’re at it:

This article endorsing Hilary Clinton over Trump by a Catholic seeking lower abortion rates is interesting because Clinton was far more likely to endorse healthcare initiatives that would lead to lower abortion rates:

I’m a pro-life Christian. Here’s why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.

It’s the perception people have of the Democrats that helps to perpetuate these myths and the divide – that they are bad at the economy and suchlike.

 


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Democrats Ignoring Young Nonreligious Voters

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I’ve always been interested in the demographics of the nonreligious (hence my massive fanship of The Nonreligious:  by Zuckerman, Galen and Pasquale).

As a result, this FiveThirtyEight article is of particular interest. The main point has been pretty obvious for some time: the nonreligious are far more likely to be left-leaning and Democrat voters (obviously not exclusively) and so, even if the Democrats superficially embraced religion (for the optics), such voters would stick with the Democrats. On the flip, if the Democrats openly courted the nonreligious, they would lose a lot of votes. Remember that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be religious:

Democrats are once again doubling down on religion this year. Faith was on full display during the Democratic National Convention, where Joe Biden closed out the week with several pointed references to his Catholic faith. And the Biden campaign is also making an ambitious play for white evangelical Protestants and Mormons, two loyal Republican groups where Democrats hope to make some inroads.

Often lost in this, though, is the fact that Democrats are mostly ignoring a massive group of voters who are becoming an increasingly crucial part of their base: people who don’t have any religion at all.

Right now, voters with no religious affiliation look like they might back Biden in record numbers. According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in early August, 72 percent of nonreligious voters — a group that includes people who identify as atheists, agnostics and nothing in particular — are planning to support Biden. That’s 4 percentage points higher than the 68 percent who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. And that’s a big deal, because despite being frequently overlooked, nonreligious people make up a sizable part of the electorate. An analysis of validated voters by Pew found that religiously unaffiliated voters accounted for one-quarter of the electorate in 2016, and 30 percent in 2018.

The unaffiliated are a key demographic for Democratic candidates in particular. More than one-third of the people who voted for Clinton in 2016 were religiously unaffiliated, making them just as electorally important for Democrats as white evangelical Protestants are for Republicans. Yet despite constantly hearing about the importance of white evangelical voters in an election cycle, Democratic politicians have been slow to embrace the growing number of nonreligious people who vote for them. Why?

In the past, the challenges of organizing the religiously unaffiliated have made it easy to understand why Democrats haven’t made a real effort to appeal to them more. As most don’t regularly gather like a church congregation, religiously unaffiliated Americans can be difficult to reach. A lack of institutional leadership also means there aren’t many prominent people or groups showing up to nudge politicians to pay attention to their issues. And despite rising tolerance for atheists and nonreligious people in American culture, overt appeals to the nonreligious still run the risk of turning off the majority of voters who are people of faith.

But there are signs that antipathy toward President Trump has mobilized some religiously unaffiliated voters in unprecedented ways. Although Trump is not an overtly pious figure, he’s embraced a vision of American culture that privileges Christian identity and heritage. That’s a view that most nonreligious Americans reject, which is likely a part of the reason that their support for Biden is so high, despite the campaign’s minimal outreach efforts. In the coming years, though, that calculus might have to change, since the growing size of the country’s nonreligious population could make these voters more difficult for Democrats to ignore.

“I think in future elections we’re going to see more of an effort to reach a secular voting bloc and the reason is simply that they’re continuing to grow,” said David Campbell, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame who studies religion and politics. “It’s too ripe a target for politicians to ignore.”

Over the past 10 years, the share of Americans who identify as Christian has fallen by 12 percentage points, while the share of people who say they have no religious affiliation is up 9 percentage points. That breaks down to 1 in every 4 Americans who are now religiously unaffiliated, including 40 percent of millennials. Meanwhile, there’s no sign that nonreligious Americans are returning to religion as they get older.

These shifts stand to benefit Democrats more than they benefit Republicans. Nearly two-thirds of religiously unaffiliated Americans identify as Democrats, a sharp increase from just a few decades ago, when the (much smaller) nonreligious population was fairly evenly split between the parties. And in 2018, a record-high share (75 percent) of religiously unaffiliated voters supported Democratic candidates. As the table below shows, that kind of extreme partisan tilt is rivaled by only two other major religious groups: Black Protestants and white evangelical Protestants.

We already know there are more Democrats in the US than Republicans so the key to Democrats winning is voter mobilisation; the flipside being that the GOP realise this and so spend a lot of time disenfranchising voters, suppressing them and gerrymandering districts to restrict voter mobilisation. They win if fewer people get out to vote. In fact, convincing voters from one side to change their vote is not going to work very easily. This is why this article is so important going forward.

We already know that there is a demographic shift towards the Democrats throughout the country, hence the huge shift in poll numbers in ruby-red states towards the Dems, and this is predominantly from white voters.

Going forward, if the US is moving away from religion in a big way, then this demographic will shift even more in favour of the Democrats because of the overwhelming predilection of nonreligious voters to side with the Dems.

Religious voters (such as some who comment here) might not like this, but it is the truth. We have long recognised the dwindling power of WASPs (white Anglo-Saxxon Protestants) to get the GOP voted in. This further compounds that problem, especially as the growing nonreligious bloc gets older (where older people are more likely to vote).

As the article continues, the old belief that nonreligious are less likely to vote is no longer so true:

And surveys also indicate that nonreligious people are just as likely as religious Americans to donate and engage in other political activities. A recent working paper also suggests that a lack of religious engagement may not be the main driver of lower turnout among secular people. Instead, religiously unaffiliated voters were more likely to have other characteristics (in particular, being young) that also correlate with low turnout.

“It turns out that when you put in basic statistical controls, most of the secular voting gap in recent years disappears and nonreligious people appear to turn out at about the same rate as [religiously] affiliated people,” said Evan Stewart, the study’s author and a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The growing “anger and energy” that the nonreligious are showing for voting will also prove important in the changing demographics, at least in the present political climate.

The challenge for the Democrats is to be able to pull these voters into their hold with progressive policies and outlooks as many of these modern secular voters will have progressive positions.

interesting times ahead.

 


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Everything Wrong With Genesis 33 in the Bible | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist

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The video below, from my YouTube channel (please subscribe!), discusses all the problems with Genesis 33.

Jacob and Esau meet again, and Jacob is still the worst brother.

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(Original image via Shutterstock)





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Republican Lawmakers, with Their Lack of Principle, Disgust Me

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Get ready for a rant. And I’m holding back an awful lot.

I can’t help but think that this Ginsburg debacle – indeed, the last four years – has highlighted how far the GOP has sunk and how their politicians fundamentally lack principles. You could look to when Ted Cruz and his family were personally insulted by Trump and how quickly he came to lick his dictator-in-chief’s boots. You can look at the montage of GOP lawmaker’s who explicitly argued for the delay of the SCOTUS judge nomination in 2016, forthrightly claiming there would never be a SCOTUS nomination in an election year. And my, check out Lindsey Graham’s words on the matter. And he is one with no principles when you compare what he said about Trump in the early days and now being his biggest supporter.

Power corrupts.

And you see it with Trumpistas on this blog who have not a shred of credibility or principle, post hoc rationalising this terrible man and his terrible lawmakers in the name of retention of power. They would have been, nay, they were, arguing in defence of not nominating a SCOTUS judge for 11 months back in 2016 and now they are salivating at a quick 6-week nomination process.

Democrats, in the main, have been, over the last 40 years or so, more principled. This is why they have also failed more often than they should. The GOP doesn’t care how they go about things, they just crave power and the things you can do with it, so they’ll cheat and commit hypocrisy after hypocrisy until they get it.

Evangelicals will wax lyrical about sexual morality and forgive Trump and GOP politicians anything in this domain. Heck, even Lindsey Graham, long-touted to be hypocritically gay in his condemnation of homosexuality, received a scare in June when people threatened to out him, as Sean Harding here on Twitter did:

There is a homophobic republican senator who is no better than Trump who keeps passing legislation that is damaging to the lgbt and minority communities. Every sex worker I know has been hired by this man. Wondering if enough of us spoke out if that could get him out of office?…

I cannot do this alone. If you’d be willing to stand with me against LG please let me know.

if you are are going to have an egregious view, at least stick by it or act by it. By rights, their supporters shouldn’t trust them. But, then again, if they want power by any means necessary (where “any means” relates to having no principles or morality in doing so or getting to the end), then perhaps they feel their vote is in good hands.

This whole sorry mess in the US makes me sad and angry. When we need principles to solve global problems – global warming, wars, refugee crises, human rights violations – we have the most powerful nation in the world closing ranks, continuing to take money from vested interests in the energy and coroporatists markets, and being hellbent on scerewing things up.

The GOP is a moral maelstrom and most everyone who supports them is a one-tracked moral otherwise-vacuum. Yes, you may want to stand for anti-choice, but you’d happily trample on actual pro-life healthcare initiatives and put kids in cages to get there.

Take a long hard look at yourself.

This may be a comedy video, but I want you to check the two montages:

  1. 2:55 onwards – for anyone, I mean anyone, who says Biden has failing mental faculties, look at the Trump montage from one recent rally. You should be afraid.
  2. 9:55 – a selection of the complete and utter hypocrisy of the GOP over their SCOTUS desires. That selection was enough to make me feel sick.

 


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God: “The Guy is in over His Head Now.”

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You’ve gotta love some Kevin Bridges. Make America Great again. (There is swearing within both of these, so beware.) A bit more on his thoughts on God, and Joseph in particular (audio) – it’s classic: I’ll throw in a montage: Check outmy previous ones on comedy skits: Mitchell and Webb and Religion & Atheist Comedy […]



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Everything Wrong With Genesis 32 in the Bible | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist

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The video below, from my YouTube channel (please subscribe!), discusses all the problems with Genesis 32.

Get ready for a rich man’s attempt at bribery and a completely unexpected fight with a stranger.

If you like what you’re seeing, please consider supporting my work on Patreon.

(Original image via Shutterstock)





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“May the Lord Make Us Truly Grateful”

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I don’t know if the prayers in other countries are similar to the ones in the UK, but one of the standard simple prayers before a meal in the UK is:

“For what we’re about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful. Amen.”

I was thinking about this prayer today and realised how ridiculous it appears to be and also how it reflects an issue within Christianity.

What the prayer is essentially saying is:

“For this food here, please God, make me be thankful to you for it.”

Or, in other words, I don’t think I’ll be able to be grateful on my own, of my own accord, for this food, so please make me thank you for it.

What a silly idea and ideal. Making God make us be thankful to God himself because we can’t do it off our own back.

This is reflective of the whole rather odd idea that God, as a perfect being, would want or need to be thanked and worshipped, that he creates us in order for us to be thankful to him for creating him, and worship him in thanks.

Anyway, there you go, a quick one for you.

 


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