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I Think We All Know

Dawkins says

Given that 93% of the National Academy does not believe in any kind of personal god, a statistician would expect that at least some members of Congress, if not a majority, would also be atheists. Yet, as far as I can discover, the number of avowed atheists among the 535 members of Congress is not 93%, not even 10%. It seems to be zero. What is going on here? I think we all know.

Yeah, I think we all DO know, Richard. The National Academy membership is a self-elected body where your chances of becoming a member if you’re not an avowed atheist is akin to passing a camel through the eye of a needle. The National Academy is a self-elected body out-of-touch with mainstream America. Congress, on the other hand, is neither self-elected nor (arguably) out-of-touch.

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35 Responses to I Think We All Know

  1. DaveScot, am I right if I suspect you aren’t a truly devout fan of Richard dawkins?

    . pwe

  2. DaveScot — give the Dawkins-bashing thing a rest, you are starting to look ridiculous! And to the quote — Dawkins has one interpretation and you have another, that’s all there is to it.

  3. Dave,

    Yeah, what Linda said. Why don’t you be a little fair-minded and treat Dawkins like Dawkins treats Creationists?

  4. 3% of Americans are atheists. If we’re playing the accurate representation game, then there should be 3 atheist Senators and 13 atheist Representatives. So far as I know, there aren’t any — at least none who will admit it.

  5. However, it is worth noting that scientists do not normally know much about the religious beliefs of their colleagues. Offhand, I doubt if I could state the religious preferences of more than a couple of the many scientists that I know. Those such as Dawkins and Miller who write about their religious beliefs are very much in the minority. So when scientists are nominated for membership in the National Academy, their election is based upon their published scientific achievements, not their religious beliefs. So indeed, if a large majority of National Academy members do not believe in a personal god, it certainly suggests that such a belief may be an impediment to scientific achievement (or conversely, that the sort of people who believe in a personal god are less likely to make important scientific discoveries).

  6. Hillary Clinton would be an athiest, if she wasn’t the Devil’s sister…. :D

  7. Just a reminder — in the NAS survey, 72% of members self-identified as atheists, and 21% as agnostics. Dawkins is not all that far from Jonathan Wells here, making a strictly true statement that is bound to mislead.

  8. re: #2 I disagree.

    re: #3 Carl Sachs // Sep 28th 2006 at 11:35 am

    3% of Americans are atheists. If we’re playing the accurate representation game, then there should be 3 atheist Senators and 13 atheist Representatives.

    ————
    Atheists could achieve this, but they’d all have to move to Vermont and Rhode Island or two other small states where they could command voting majorities similar to the one they enjoy in the NAS.

  9. “72% of members self-identified as atheists, and 21% as agnostics”

    I’ve used the term agnostic on a few atheist debate boards… they don’t seem to like it and they scold me for not using the term soft-atheist.

    My guess would be that the culprits aren’t Dawkins or Wells here, but people who are out of step.

  10. Ben Z

    “I’ve used the term agnostic on a few atheist debate boards… they don’t seem to like it and they scold me for not using the term soft-atheist. ”

    Ugh. That’s one of the pettiest fights in the whole atheist-theist debate, and it usually comes down to definitions that allow one side or the other to ‘claim’ Big Names in history or the contemporary world. I’ve had atheists inform me that agnosticism (as in not having a strong belief one way or the other about whether God exists) is impossible, because you either believe or you don’t. Petty, petty fight.

  11. 11

    There is not a dimes worth of difference between an atheist and an agnostic bec ause if you don’t know you sure don’t believe. We owe that term agnostic to Thomas Henry Huxley who coined it one day when he had nothing else to do as near as I can determine. It is only what we know for certain that has ever mattered. I know for certain that once there were Gods beyond our powers to comprehend. That is all I need to know. That is all anybody needs to know. They just imagine the rest.

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  12. I’ve used the term agnostic on a few atheist debate boards… they don’t seem to like it and they scold me for not using the term soft-atheist.

    All extremists attempt to promulgate a simple us-vs.-them view of the world. One should give no more credence to an atheist referring to agnostics as soft-atheists than to a Darwinist referring to IDists as stealth creationists. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    There is not a dimes worth of difference between an atheist and an agnostic bec ause if you don’t know you sure don’t believe.

    I’m not sure what you believe in, John, but I’ll scratch charity off the list.

  13. John

    As I’ve explained before, an atheist is sure there is no God. An agnostic is unsure. There’s a huge difference.

  14. I don’t care about any pretty fights, the point is when Dawkins says “Given that 93% of the National Academy does not believe in any kind of personal god” he’s right, because being unsure=not believing.

  15. Also, in regards to calling IDists “stealth creationists” and agnostics “soft-atheists” — it all boils down to what the person insists on being called themselves that (normally) matters (of course, if someone insists on being called something that obviously doesn’t fit their views, that’s another matter).

    The issue arises with agnosticism because it has gained two meanings–one, the belief that we can never know whether or not there is a God given infinite time and knowledge of the world; and two, “soft-atheism”, the suspense of judgement on the fact but open to new data or possible data that would point in one direction. Atheists insist on the distinction between hard and soft atheism because they point out that “atheism” just means “without belief in God” not “the belief that evidence points to there being no God”.

  16. 16

    Sorry Dave but I won’t buy that distinction. Belief is a matter of faith and there is no middle ground. You either have it or you don’t. Knowledge is another matter as it is for real.
    I happen to KNOW that there had to be one or more Gods in the past and that is all that I know and all I need to know; but that is just me.

    Also Tom English is sure right about my lack of charity when it comes to ideologists of any persuasion, but especially Darwimps.

    My motto is -

    “Do unto others as they have already done unto you.”

    Loathe them, ridicule them and insult them wherever and whenever the opportunity arises. It pleases me don’t you know.

    I love it so!

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  17. 17

    John A. Davidson said:

    “We owe that term agnostic to Thomas Henry Huxley who coined it one day when he had nothing else to do as near as I can determine.”

    The following characterization of Thomas Huxley is worth a squint (Conway Morris from “Life’s Solution,” p. 317):

    “Huxley had to become something of which he had also to coin a name, that is, an agnostic. This was not the decorous skepticism with which the term is usually associated: for Huxley his position reflected genuine and unresolved intellectual doubt. Even so, there is little evidence that he was willing to entertain, yet alone discuss, serious theological statements, and he had an ill-disguised contempt – no doubt well earned in some cases – for the clerics. Yet, Huxley was a man of transparent goodness and deeply felt morality, and was happy to recruit such Old Testament prophets as Micah to his cause, provided of course that they were shorn of any religious dimensions. Even so, it is not clear that living in a metaphysical vacuum brought him much peace, and towards the end of his life it seems that he dimly discerned that the new science that he had helped so ably and energetically to popularize was opening a Pandora’s box.”

  18. “Given that 93% of the National Academy does not believe in any kind of personal god, a statistician would expect that at least some members of Congress, if not a majority, would also be atheists.”

    No Mr. Dawkins, you have your statistics exactly backwords. Given that 90% of Congressional members and the public they represent do believe in a personal God, I think a statistician would expect most of the National Academy to also believe in a personal God.

    Stu Harris
    http://www.theidbookstore.com

  19. John

    You can have faith there is a God (theism). You can have faith there ain’t a God (atheism). Or you can eschew faith in either (agnostic). Take your personal definition of atheist and agnostic up with Britannica. Until then they agree with me, not you. I find it difficult to converse with people who make up their own meanings for words, don’t you know.

    Brittanica Enclyclopedia: Atheism

    Critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or divine beings.

    Unlike agnosticism, which leaves open the question of whether there is a God, atheism is a positive denial. It is rooted in an array of philosophical systems. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Democritus and Epicurus argued for it in the context of materialism. In the 18th century David Hume and Immanuel Kant, though not atheists, argued against traditional proofs for God’s existence, making belief a matter of faith alone. Atheists such as Ludwig Feuerbach held that God was a projection of human ideals and that recognizing this fiction made self-realization possible. Marxism exemplified modern materialism. Beginning with Friedrich Nietzsche, existentialist atheism proclaimed the death of God and the human freedom to determine value and meaning. Logical positivism holds that propositions concerning the existence or nonexistence of God are nonsensical or meaningless.

    Britannica Encyclopedia: Agnosticism

    Doctrine that one cannot know the existence of anything beyond the phenomena of experience.

    It is popularly equated with religious skepticism, and especially with the rejection of traditional Christian beliefs under the impact of modern scientific thought. T.H. Huxley popularized philosophical agnosticism after coining the term agnostic (as opposed to gnostic) in 1869, to designate one who repudiated traditional Judeo-Christian theism but was not a doctrinaire atheist (see atheism). Agnosticism may mean no more than the suspension of judgment on ultimate questions because of insufficient evidence, or it may constitute a rejection of traditional Christian tenets.

  20. An agnostic is a functional atheist.

  21. Gil – Hah! I like it!

  22. I sometimes wonder if we aren’t all agnostics.

  23. I wonder, shouldn’t agnostic be pronounced “a-gnostic”? I’ve always pronounced it “ag-nostic”, however it now occurs to me agnostic is to gnosticism as atheist is to theism… or is it not?

  24. An agnostic is a functional atheist.

    Just as glibly, an IDist is a functional creationist.

  25. Dawkins may be an athiest, but he sure has a tremendous amount of faith.

    The origin of life on this planet – which means the origin of the first self-replicating molecule – is hard to study, because it (probably) only happened once, 4 billion years ago and under very different conditions. We may never know how it happened. Unlike the ordinary evolutionary events that followed, it must have been a genuinely very improbable – in the sense of unpredictable – event: too improbable, perhaps, for chemists to reproduce it in the laboratory or even devise a plausible theory for what happened. This weirdly paradoxical conclusion – that a chemical account of the origin of life, in order to be plausible, has to be implausible – would follow from the premise that life is extremely rare in the universe. And to be sure, we have never encountered any hint of extraterrestrial life, not even by radio – the circumstance that prompted Enrico Fermi’s cry: “Where is everybody?”

    You have to wonder why he just didn’t wrap that sentence up with “but, we know it happened, because here we are!”

    Oh, wait. He ended the next paragraph with that. And then he drones on about the multiverse as if that were as certian as the nose on his face rather than being in the same category as Hawking’s “Imaginary Time.”

  26. The National Academy membership is a self-elected body where your chances of becoming a member if you’re not an avowed atheist is akin to passing a camel through the eye of a needle.

    And, by Dawkins’ figures, 7% are not atheists. You must have some bloody small camels over there.

    Bob

  27. Clearly the National Atheists of Science is out of touch with the American people.

  28. 28

    # 20 by Gil Dodgen

    Thank you Gil.

    “A past evoluton is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  29. You must have some bloody small camels over there.

    Or bloody large needles.

    You’ve never been one to grasp the whole picture right away, have you, Bob?

  30. 24. Tom:

    Touche!

  31. I don’t see what the point of bringing up the atheism of the NAS is. The only real conclusion you can draw from that is science attracts non-religious people. The NAS has a disproportionately low number of blacks, as does the entire professional field and I don’t think that we can really say that science and/or scientists are racist. Intelligent men of faith often pursue other lines of work and aren’t as interested in science as atheists. And that makes perfect sense; when you’re an atheist, science is a lot (if not all) of what you have.

  32. “The only real conclusion you can draw from that is science attracts non-religious people…man of faith…aren’t as interested in science as atheists”

    The NAS membership statistic is way off from the general science population. The inference would be a poor one, especially given the religious beliefs of the founder’s of modern science in almost every majpr field.

  33. “Just as glibly, an IDist is a functional creationist. ”

    How can this be so with the possibility of something like Taoism or Stoicism or Idealism or Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover?

  34. I don’t see what the point of bringing up the atheism of the NAS is.

    Clearly it’s a way to pervert science and put religion in classrooms. I wouldn’t be surprised if the poll that showed the number of atheists in NAS was done by religious fundamentalists.

    The only real conclusion you can draw from that is science attracts non-religious people.

    …or maybe it might mean that, given the modern definition of science (=naturalism), only adherents of a specific philosophical belief have any chance of improoving in the scientific world. To put it in another words, if you don’t play by the rules, you won’t go far.

    The NAS has a disproportionately low number of blacks, as does the entire professional field and I don’t think that we can really say that science and/or scientists are racist. Intelligent men of faith often pursue other lines of work and aren’t as interested in science as atheists.

    Given that most of the founding fathers of modern science were religious believers, I find this hard to believe. The more logical option is that, perhaps the modern scientific elite only allows people who adhere to the self serving rules of science. The example of this is what happened to Dr Richard Sternberg, who “dared” to let a scientific paper to be published in a scientific journal. The horror!

    And that makes perfect sense; when you’re an atheist, science is a lot (if not all) of what you have.

    Not really. Scientism is what they use to justify their atheism, taking advantage of the status scientists have these days.

  35. From the Spectator another essay attacking Dawkins’ beliefs, and eloquently. Roger Scruton wrote:

    Religion, like patriotism, gets a bad press among those for whom war is the one human reality, the one occasion when the Other in all of us is noticeable. But the real test of a human institution is in peacetime. Peace is boring, quotidian, and also rotten television. But you can learn about it from books. Those nurtured in the Christian faith know that Christianity’s ability to maintain peace in the world around us reflects its gift of peace to the world within. In a Christian society there is no need for Asbos, and in the world after religion those Asbos will do no good — they are a last desperate attempt to save us from the effects of godlessness, and the attempt is doomed.

    Muslims say similar things, and so do Jews. So who possesses the truth, and how would you know? Well, we don’t know, nor do we need to know. All faith depends on revelation, and the proof of the revelation is in the peace that it brings. Rational argument can get us just so far, in raising the monotheistic faiths above the muddled world of superstition. It can help us to understand the real difference between a faith that commands us to forgive our enemies, and one that commands us to slaughter them. But the leap of faith itself — this placing of your life at God’s service — is a leap over reason’s edge. This does not make it irrational, any more than falling in love is irrational. On the contrary, it is the heart’s submission to an ideal, and a bid for the love, peace and forgiveness that Dawkins too is seeking, since he, like the rest of us, was made in just that way.

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/

    I am also trying to find that quote from Herodotus on religious belief in that anyone who attacks another’s faith isn’t sane, but of course much more eloquently put.

    While I respect Dawkins’ right to write his books, I think his thesis is as much self-destructive as destructive. Anyway, how large of an audience will he reach? And he is not saying anything new or original.

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