Theism in Canada

2008-06-01

in Canada, Science

Sketching a robot

A study mentioned in The Globe and Mail suggests that a quarter of Canadians, and a third of men, say that they do not believe in a god. At least some of those who do believe in a ‘god’ probably believe in the sort that does not intervene in human affairs.

I see the steady process of declining religious faith as relatively good news. It’s a sign that people are increasingly willing to question the religious beliefs they (normally) inherited from their parents. The more you know about the world, the less necessary a god becomes for explaining the world. At the same time, greater knowledge about the world invariably shows the contradictions inherent to religious belief, whether it is the problem of evil, or the difficulty of reconciling the diversity of faiths with the idea that one conception of the supernatural is ‘correct.’

While there is no guarantee the world will improve as more and more is drawn from the ‘supernatural’ into the simply ‘natural,’ the decline of faith in modern societies does seem like reason to hope for a future in which ideas are more rigorously and fairly examined.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. June 1, 2008 at 1:33 pm

The survey results probably partly reflect the de-stigmatization of atheism. While an atheist is very unlikely to hold public office in some countries, they are increasingly unlikely to face discrimination in most (backwards theocracies aside).

Emily June 1, 2008 at 2:11 pm

I agree with R.K. in that it’s likely the de-stigmatization of atheism that plumps the numbers of atheists today in free societies. However, I would argue a loss of faith does not necessarily indicate a tendency towards making more ‘rational’ decisions.

People are creatures desiring comfort and distraction, and where they lose faith in one belief system they often replace it with another. It could be argued that the dissolution of faith in God after WW1 spurred the popularity of fascism and Nazism as a replacement faith-system. It seems that large portions of humanity always need a cult to cling to.

. June 1, 2008 at 2:34 pm

Op-Ed Contributor
Put a Little Science in Your Life

By BRIAN GREENE
Published: June 1, 2008

A COUPLE of years ago I received a letter from an American soldier in Iraq. The letter began by saying that, as we’ve all become painfully aware, serving on the front lines is physically exhausting and emotionally debilitating. But the reason for his writing was to tell me that in that hostile and lonely environment, a book I’d written had become a kind of lifeline. As the book is about science — one that traces physicists’ search for nature’s deepest laws — the soldier’s letter might strike you as, well, odd.

. June 1, 2008 at 2:35 pm

“Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.”

Chris June 1, 2008 at 7:28 pm

Oh, there is a god alright and He (or She) has a wicked sense of humour. Hang around me for a day or so and you’ll see what I mean.

BuddyRich June 1, 2008 at 8:31 pm

I don’t think religion is the issue, I think its the lack of skepticism. I think its the absence of this key trait which does us more harm than good. It definitely should be extended to all facets of life, not just religion. I mean for every junk religion out there, there is junk science. We are a society that relies on an appeal to authority, particularly scientific authority at this point in time, yet so often we don’t question it. While its true nature doesn’t lie, as long as humans are interpreting it, we will have differences on what we observe, so in that way it is no different than differences between Islam and Christianity… Just look at the GW debate, the deniers use “science” to debunk GW and vice versa… At the end of the day you pick a side and believe one or the other based on what? Gut feel? logic? I’m no climate scientist myself so my believing in GW is just as much an act of faith as believing in a deity IMO…

With that said life would be awfully boring if everyone were perfectly rational… We might as well be robots programmed to do things perfectly logically… a bit of irrationality makes life fun… thankfully we have emotions are don’t always make the rational choice…

Milan June 1, 2008 at 9:28 pm

With that said life would be awfully boring if everyone were perfectly rational… We might as well be robots programmed to do things perfectly logically… a bit of irrationality makes life fun… thankfully we have emotions are don’t always make the rational choice…

Rationality never tells you what to do. It doesn’t say “listen to jazz rather than swing.” It doesn’t say “be attracted to thin women rather than muscled men.” Rationality helps us get from A “I want to listen to jazz” to B, actually doing so.

Rationality can flag when we have conflicting preferences. For instance, when we want to attend both a party and a concert, or when we both want to be able to fly all over the world and when we want a stable climate.

Milan June 1, 2008 at 9:35 pm

R.K.,

I think you are right to identify that social factors affecting reporting are important here. It’s like how census after census shows more same-sex couples; most of that probably arises from more people being willing to report themselves as such.

Emily,

You are right to say that rejection of faith does not equate with rationality. Indeed, there may be more people who reject a particular religious faith for irrational reasons than for rational ones.

That being said, I don’t think it is possible to have a religion that does not require some suspension of rationality. That is precisely because all religions demand that you accept something without evidence. If they did not, they wouldn’t fall under the category.

BuddyRich,

You are quite right to say that validating expert information from scientists is incredibly challenging – especially given how many groups seek to actively manipulate it.

There are several strategies we can use in defence. We can establish competent trusted authorities to oversee and scrutinize science. These include respected journals and ad hoc groups like the IPCC. Basic scientific knowledge in the general population is also extremely important.

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