Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The assumption that increased industrialization equal decrease in religious belief

the fruits of increased industrialization

I've seen atheists make the assumption that modern industrial society will automatically lead to the decline of religion over time. They point to the situation in Northern Eruope where Germanic societies seem to be a "post Christian" state, while their education levels are the highest in the world. Atheist expositors who proclaim this correlation include, Barber, Zuckerman and Paul. I just got through debunking Barber's work on Atheist Watch, while on Doxa I take Zuckerman and Paul to task. Nevertheless I find atheists arguing from their assumptions quite a bit. There two main assumptions they make that I want to take apart:

(1) That higher education levels precipitate the decline or religoius faith.

(2) That religous belief is predicated upon economic insecurity, thus rise in economic security will mean a decline in religious belief.

The initial assumption is just plain wrong a priori. A rise in education levels has not meant a decline in religious belief, the situation in northern Eruope is greatly exaggerated. First of all Northern Europe is not nearly as hard core atheist as atheists hope. Using their own research Greely and Jagodzenski find that Northern Europe is more agnostic ("soft atheist") than has been realized.

The Demand for Religion
Hard Core atheism and "Supply Side" theory

The "Softest Core" Atheists in the third column include those in the first two and those who can fairly be called agnostics (the second response to the God question) because they do not completely reject the possibility of the existence of God. They might be considered as hovering a little closer to the religious market place.

Note that

  1. The proportion of Hard Core atheists is relatively small in all the countries except East Germany (42.7%)
  2. The proportion is above 10% only in former socialist countries (12.4% in Russia, 13.9% in Slovenia, and 11.3% in Hungary) and in the Netherlands (11.4%) and in Israel (12.1%).
  3. In the other eleven countries, the highest rates of Hard Core atheism are in Norway (6.7%) and Britain (6.3%). Thus if latent demand for religion is excluded only from the Hard Core atheists, there is still the possibility of a large clientele for those firms which might venture into the religious market place in such supposedly "secularized" countries as Norway and Britain.
  4. There are not all that many Hard Core atheists in the countries studied, nor indeed all that many soft core atheists either.
  5. The "Softest Core" Atheists are less than a third of the population in every country except East Germany. They are more than a fifth of the population only in four former Socialist countries – East German Russia, Hungary and Slovenia. With the exception than of East Germany more than two thirds of the population of the countries studied are willing to admit the existence in some fashion of God and the likelihood of life after death. Devout many of them may not be but on the two central issues they are more religious than not. They then may be considered as part of the religious market place if not always enthusiastic consumers.

Furthermore in the sample as a whole, Hard Core atheism correlates only with gender (women less likely to be atheists) and not with education or age (those favorite measures of the more naïve of the "secularization theorists.") 83% of the Hard Core Atheists say they never believed in God, 61% say they never attended church services when they were eleven or twelve years old and 9% more say they only rarely attended. The choice of Hard Core atheism as a philosophy of life was apparently made at a very young age in life and is sustained through the life course.

Age correlates significantly with Hard Core atheism only in Britain (r=-.08), East Germany (r=-.18), the Netherlands (r=-.05) and Israel (r=+.08), Hungary (-.14). Education correlates significantly with Hard Core Atheism only in Hungary (r=.11), Slovenia (r=.18), and Norway (r=.10) West Germany (r=.08), Israel (r=.10). In these countries as in the whole sample, there is an inverted U curve in the relationship between age and atheism, the very young and the very old being somewhat less likely to be atheists. In the middle years of life, however, the line representing atheism is flat. Only in Slovenia and Hungary is education still a significant correlate of Hard Core Atheism in a regression equation which includes age and gender.

Another problem with the assumption of correlation between education and decline of belief is the realization that we are not all that educated anymore. These atheists, being materialists and reductionists, ironically are not aware of Marcuse. They just measure education by technology but in many cases people who are the product of modern educational systems are not educated in ideas, they are merely proficient in job training programs. Just one can work a bunch of technology doesn't mean one is proficient in ideas such that one can make an intelligent judgment and rationally set aside faith. I used to run a whole academic journal devoted to Marcuse and the outlook for education is pretty bleak, even in Northern Europe (go here and scroll down to issue one "Negations the Manifest" by J.L. Hinman, also by Hinman issue 2 table of contents and choose "one-dimensionality Man in the Postmodern age." choose issue 3 table of contents and then the article on Schweitzer).

These atheists who associate higher levels of technological use with education are ignoring the fact that the ideology of Marxism swept across Europe in the Twentieth century, fuelded by the disillusionment of two world wars, and of cousre with the atheist assumptions of materialism and anti-clericalism. One sees a lot written about the decline of Marxism in the late twentieth century but the fact of it's popularity among the intelligentsia for most of the century is ignored. In the first half of the twentieth century, up through the 60s, it wasn't a decline of religion due to education but do to indoctrination. In the other all scheme of things the decline is not precipitant.

To the extent that there is some correlation bewteen higher education and decline in belief, this is not necessarily the result of enlightenment. The real association is not bewteen an increase in ideas and understanding but between a rise in affluence and decline in religion, to the extent that there is a small one. That ties into the second assumption, the one about the increase in security. The first assumption is predicated upon a conventional assumption that rise in income means a rise in pieces of paper from job training, and since that is called "education" they assume that the recipients are actually deeper thinkers. Those are both perilous assumptions. The assumption back of that is that religion is the result of ignorance nd superstition. Of cousre they can't explain the fact that most great great thinkers in the west (philosophers, and scientists) have believed in God.

The second assumptions comes closer to the truth, that it's related to economic secularist. Again the atheist just does surface level analysis, seeing only a straight correlation bewteen economics and belief. Of course the assumption they are making is again a false psychological reason for the readings of bleief. These expositors such as Barber, apologists for atheism, want to see religion as purely a matter of psychological need because it does supply a source of emotional strength. They put a negative spin on it and make it seem something bad, the need fora crutch that continued growth will eradicate. The horrible nightmare is that we are not going to sustain growth. We have only economic ruin ahead so their predictions of the elimination of religion are bogus. Yet their assumptions are bogus as well because they assume the negative spin; religion is just a manifestation of a need for psychological security. Why not assume this is a valid defense mechanism? If evolution is really behind everything we think and do, and people like Barber assume it is, then there must be a reason why the majority are religious why can't that reason be a valid psychological need to be close to God?

Where both assumptions meet is in the idea that if there is an naturalistic explanation for religion then it' disproved the "supernatural." It disproves the atheist straw man version of the supernatural, where God is a big man in the sky and has to do everything in direct contradiction to the natural. People are given the innate ability to find God and to draw strength from a relationship with God. We can understanding through psychological and genetic means. This is so for two reasons: (1) their assertion that God must work in opposition to the natural is just BS. God created the natural and is working in the natural all the time. (2) they just ignore the spiritual aspects.

For example they assume increased affluence means decline in religion (which they have not established) because they assert religion is just a crutch and life is scary, as well as the dash of ignrance and superstition. What they ignore is the basic the good old fact of sin. Affluence equals pride. When one is affluent one assumes one is superior. When one is affluent one assumes one has earned it all himself/herself. Thus we tend to either forget God, or to treat God as Fuererbach said, the mask of money. Greater affluence might mean less reliance on God due to a rise in pride, arrogance and selfishness. If religion is predicated upon a need to feel secure in a scary world it is not going away anytime soon. The need to feel secure in a scary world is not indicative of no God. The feeling of self sufficiency brought on by increased affluence is the all too familiar symptom of stupidity, the kind that as brought us to the brink of destruction ethnologically, militarily, socially, economically, and now educationally.

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