Honestly, Internet atheists are like this

 I made a boo-boo.

Some atheists told me that atheism is good for society and that the world’s most atheistic societies are also the healthiest. And that they get their views from a guy by the surname of Zuckerman. I saw right out that the Zuckerman numbers simply cannot be used to support what they say, and I assumed Zuckerman was very wrong.

And I made two blog post showing that what these atheists claim simply cannot be supported from the numbers, even those Zuckerman use. My boo-boo was to believe that Zuckerman indeed say everything that atheist/humanist blog commenters claim he does.

Today a commenter on this blog, Ianam, presumably an atheist or humanist, convinced me that Zuckerman’s views are more nuanced than I give him credit for. (Ianam also implied some slanderous nonsense on another topic – what Good News Clubs teach- that I know not to be true. I have the official certificate and experience to prove my knowledge of Good News clubs, but that is another story.) This led me to make blog changes and send him this e-mail, so Ianam know that I am trying to improve on my mistakes:

Hi, Ianam

You posted on my blog today.

You will notice that I set my two Zuckerman posts from published to draft, so readers here can no longer see them. You convinced me that I misrepresented Zuckerman. You see, I always heard of him from atheists who indeed made the claims represented here.

But if those claims are not Zuckerman’s, but only that of his fans, then my posts are indeed up for major revision. The numerous misrepresentations of Internet atheists who quote Zuckerman need to be showed to be wrong, but I have no right to blame Zuckerman for what his fans say.

This happens time and again when I trust Internet atheists- they end up lying, and then I lie when I believe and quote them.

Retha

PS: I hope you were honest about your e-mail address, and this e-mail goes through.

Guess what? The e-mail did not go through…

Should this remind me about anything regarding Internet unbelievers?

Atheistic countries have the most healthy societies?

Note, added later: While Zuckerman indeed compiled the list I refer to above, some of the conclusions atheists call his may be by his atheistic fans, not his own. The purpose of this blog entry is to discuss the conclusions that his fans say is his. I never made a study of whether his fans report his views accurately.

Thank you to my readers for pointing that out.

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The atheistic propoganda brigade is claiming it all the time: 

Atheistic countries have a very high level of societal health and success. Just look at Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Sweden, for example!

Their favorite source is Phil Zuckerman and this list (Table 1 on the web page) of his.  But let’s look closer at the list. (We don’t want to unquestioningly believe everything we hear, do we?)

If you look at the entry on top, Zuckerman claims that Sweden has 46-to 85% non-believers. If so, why put it above Vietnam, with 81% non-believers? Why not take the average and say “approximately 65,5%”  unbelievers? Why use the higher number? The same goes for Denmark, with (according to Zuckerman) between 43% and 80% unbelievers. (That in itself will change the top 5 unbelieving countries, even with Zuckerman’s numbers, to 1) Vietnam 2) Sweden 3)Japan  4)Denmark  5)Czech Republic.) It seems that Zuckerman’s statistics for Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland (each with about double as many unbelievers in Zuckerman’s high estimate than his low estimate) is very unreliable.

Okay. It seems Zuckerman has a rule of thumb: “When in doubt, use the highest estimate.” But is  this his rule of thumb? Not quite:

Several sources list the non-believers in China, North Korea, etc. higher* than those in Sweden, Denmark, etc. (For example, “Operation World’s 1993 handbook lists the non-religious in China at 59,1%, in North Korea at 68%, and in Cuba at 30,9%. They list the non-religious in Sweden as 34,9%, in Finland as 9,8%, in Denmark as 7,5%, and in Norway as 4% of the population.) (Another source, “The demand for Religion: Hard core atheism and Supply side theory” lists the amount of unbelievers –including those unbelievers who feel there “might be a God” and “might be a life after death” – in Norway as 16,9%- only a half to a quarter as many as Zuckerman suggests. In another peaceful, wealthy country, Austria, the page suggest that those “unbelievers” are only 8,3% – less than half, to less than a third, of what Zuckerman say. In Russia, however, the 30,8% of this page is well within Zuckerman estimates.)

Zuckerman may have had a reason to work that way, but readers should question his methodology before jumping to conclusions on his results. With his numbers instead of someone else’s, the results would be very much biased towards associating rich countries with atheism.

Another problem with using those numbers to devalue Christianity is that Christians do not claim: Religiosity, any religion, is better than non-religiosity. The Christian claim is: Actual commitment to Christ and his teachings (as opposed to merely following some religion, or even calling yourself a Christian) makes the world a better place.  You cannot counter Christian thought by showing how the Scandinavians are better off than the average “religious” nation. You would need to compare the least religious peoples (which are probably not the Scandinavians) with the nations who are most committed to Christ.

Some other problems include: Correlation is not causality. Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway are all countries where the Lutheran Church closely associated with the state. The statement “Unbelieving countries (like Scandinavia’s) are successful” may have no more or less cause and effect to it than “countries where even the state officially support the church (like Scandinavia’s) are successful.”

And it could be questioned whether you can really call their societies all that healthy. Is their success sustainable in the long term? Many people say no. Are their children growing up in happy, stable two-parent family environments? Very few of them are. Do their numbers on suicide, heavy drinking and depression give the impression of happy countries?

In summary, the few countries and societal indicators Zuckerman selects cannot, seriously, lead to any conclusion about societal unbelief compared to societal health in general, in all countries everywhere. To try and use it as a statement against a particular religion, for example Christianity, would be even worse. Using other statistics than Zuckerman’s, we should rather regard Vietnam, North Korea, and China as the world’s most atheistic nations. These will be better indicators of the level of societal health in non-believing countries.

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* Some of you may observe that, for example, the Chinese or North Korean governments would not be realistic sources for the amount of believers in those countries. True, but we do have at least some other information on the religious beliefs in those nations. Operation World specializes in collecting these statistics. Voice of the Martyrs makes it their job to speak to underground believers in countries where there is no religious freedom. Their conclusions about numbers of believers will be less than 100% accurate, but it is still a mathematical estimate, and not a totally uninformed “guesstimate.” Zuckerman may have unreliable statistics for these areas, but his statistics for places like Sweden and Norway is also obviously unreliable. Yet, he apparently treats his unreliable data in two opposite ways, seemingly using the highest possible number of unbelievers for successful Scandinavian countries, and the lowest ones for unsuccessful communist countries.

Meeting the Hitchens challenge? Easy!

Christopher Hitchens set out a challenge in his efforts against religion:

“Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.”

The point, presumably, is to say that atheists are ethically the same as believers, at least. But his challenge can be debunked as unable to make this point (of unbelievers and believers being similar). Or his challenge can simply be met instead.

Debunking the value of the challenge:
To prove an ethical difference, you need not show an ethical action that one group has absolutely never performed. It is enough to show that one group more often performs the ethical action.
Are there statistics that show an ethical difference between believers and unbelievers? A well-documented fact, for example, is that religious believers give more money to charity, and volunteer more time (even to secular charities) than the non-religious. Other examples could also be mentioned, but this one is sufficient for now.
We can easily conclude that there is, on average, ethical differences between believers and unbelievers. And the Hitchens challenge cannot argue away that fact.
Another thing commonly pointed out on this topic is that atheists, even when doing the ethical thing, cannot logically ground why they do it. They may say “this helps rather than harm humans” but why, logically, should humans not be harmed, unless some higher power exist who say they should not?
 
 

 Meeting the challenge:

Before meeting the challenge, let’s first examine what counts as an ethical statement. An ethical statement is a statement like:
“It is ethically wrong to do [x]” or “[y] is a good moral deed.”
Therefore, any ethical statement which only believers can make will have unbelievers protesting something like:
“It is not ethically wrong to do [x]” or “[y] is not a good moral deed.”
It will, for the purpose of the Hitchens challenge, be an invalid protest. In fact, it will prove that there are indeed moral statements only believers can make.

And now, for an answer: The first ethical law, according to the Christian world view, is “love the Lord your God with all your heart and your soul and all your mind.” It is an ethical statement that unbelievers cannot make. It is an ethical action which unbelievers cannot perform. Christianity thus meets the Hitchens challenge head-on: Not with an obscure side issue, but by their biggest commandment.
(Do you want to protest that unbelievers do not find loving God an issue of ethics? You can’t. As I explained in the previous paragraph, that protest is a clear sign that the challenge was indeed met.)

 The Hitchens challenge is misleading, since the only valid type of answer sounds inadmissible at first glance. (Did Hitchens set his challenge up in a misleading way on purpose, perhaps?)

About prejudice, Philip Pullman , Dawkins and Hitchens and the like

 

 

Here Peter T. Chattaway, film critic, interview Philip Pullman on “His Dark materials” books and the new “The Golden Compass“ movie, based on it. The interview statements seems to be a bit more toned down than Pullman’s earlier admission: “My books are about killing God” – Philip Pullman

I know that reviewers find the ‘Golden Compass’ movie not even entertaining. And readers say the first book of the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy is well-written, the second less well-written, and the third book (the most anti-religious of the three, in which “God” is killed) is very disconnected, failing to satisfactorily conclude the lofty themes promised in the first book.. Jeffrey Overstreet suggest some questions that you can ask in a discussion with children who read the book. (They are in the “Okay, so we shouldn’t start boycotts and complain.But what should Christians do?” section under “equip yourself and your kids ….. section of this link.)

 

 

Some of Pullman’s anti-religious remarks in the interview have led me to comment on the interview’s site.

 

Pullman: “If there is an exclusively religious sin (not exclusively Christian, but certainly clearly visible among some Christians) it is the claim that all virtue belongs to their sect, all vice to others.”

 

Me: If that is true, why does the “His Dark Materials” series put all virtue in the actions of unbelieving characters, and almost all vice in the believing characters? It would seem that this sin is not so exclusive to religious people, but appears in Pullman’s mind as well.

 

Pullman: “It [the claim that all virtue belongs to their sect, all vice to others] is so clearly wrong, so clearly stupid, so clearly counter-productive, that it leads the unbiased observer to assume that you’re not allowed in the religious club unless you leave your intelligence at the door. “

 

Me: Yeah, that’s the same thing that puts me off about Dawkins, Hitchens and the like – this “so clearly wrong, so clearly stupid, so clearly counter-productive,” view that all belief in God, and believers in God, are evil and/or stupid, and atheism the clever, moral thing. It “leads the unbiased observer to assume that you’re not allowed in the anti-religious club unless you leave your intelligence at the door. “

 

 

Why is it that some people are very critical of flaws they themselves share, but they only notice those flaws in others? There is no reason to think that prejudice is exclusive to believers- not if you have read anything by today’s most prominent atheistic writers, that is.