Monday, November 22, 2010

Imagine No Religion - by 2100?

Occasionally blogger abb3w -- who has done a lot of interesting work with the GSS -- has a fascinating blog post where he/she analyzes the rise of the so-called "nones" (those with no particular religious affiliation) according to birthdate. The result is a surprisingly good match with a logistic "S" curve (I'm sure I knew what that was once upon a time, but no longer -- but it sure is shaped like an S!), which if extrapolated shows the "nones" exceeding 90-95% around the year 2100.

This is a highly idealized model of course, and nobody can predict the idiosyncratic nature of future history. But even the historical data is encouraging.

Update: Since some people are obstinately not getting it, let me make some clarifications.

First, as a reasonable person might have guessed from the heavily caveated second paragraph of this post, as well as the presence of a question mark in the title, I am not claiming any sort of certainty about whether this trend is real or not. In fact, it seems just as likely to me that it's not than that it is. I just thought the data abb3w turned up, in particular the close fit with a logistic curve, was intriguing.

Second, as abb3w made clear in the original post, and as I made clear in the comments, even if this trend is real it says nothing about religious belief -- it only speaks to religious affiliation. The so-called "nones" include SBNR types and so forth, for example. I thought that this was obvious from abb3w's post, and I didn't really intend to imply anything other than, "Hey look, abb3w has a cool post," so I felt it unnecessary to state this up front. But since I'm being accused of "intellectual dishonesty" for failing to spell it out for my less astute/more paranoid readers, I have chosen to update the post to reflect this. By the way, I still find the trend encouraging, because while I think that theistic belief in general is not compatible with critical examination, I think that vague personal theistic beliefs are usually not particularly harmful. (They may even be beneficial to some people, but I think the jury is still very much out on this one, and I feel it would be elitist to claim that some people "need" their comforting delusions without possessing very solid evidence to support that position)

Third, although this seems plain as day to me, I now find it necessary to point out that this post was not intended to be polemical. If you want polemics, just browse my blog for a bit, you'll find plenty. But this post is not included there. I'm not trying to "persuade" anybody of anything. I think it ought to be clear that no atheist living in America in the year 2010 is going to find the Argument from Popularity at all persuasive! As such, I would not attempt to employ it to convince others either. It is a rather lousy argument, after all. The percentage of people who are religiously affiliated, or who believe in God, or whatever, are completely independent from the truth value of any given theistic proposition, which itself is completely independent from whether or not religion is a force for good. These are all entirely separate issues. Again, if you want to hear me make an argument in regards to the truth of religion, or in regards to the positive/negative effects of religion, one will not have to look far in this blog -- but this post is not it. This post does not even fringe on those questions.

I hope all is clear now.


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  4. Us dawkinites should crucify the motherfucking theists, dismember them, rape their wives, torture and kill the kids. It's not illegal if they're the enemies of Mankind. Their lifeblood must soak the soil for our future generations, or we haven't done enough for the children.

  5. Uh, yeeeaaaahhhh.... Okay, troll.

    Because you know, observing that there may be a very long term trend of people turning away from organized religion (remember, the "nones" include SBNR types and so forth), and being encouraged by that trend -- well, that's tantamount to advocating genocide!

  6. The troll left an earlier comment which he/she deleted:

    Indeed. Hopefully religion will be wiped out and Richard Dawkins will be the leader of the New World Order. LONG LIVE RICHARD DAWKINS!

    Yeah, um... kind of the whole point of the whole so-called New Atheism thing is that nobody has a monopoly on truth and righteousness. So the troll's implied criticism is a complete and utter FAIL.

    This actually says a lot about the violently anti-atheistic mindset: We want to erode the false respect accorded to a fraudulent "moral" authority -- and the only thing these jokers can imagine replacing it with is false respect for yet another fraudulent moral authority. It's like they assume that since they need some infallible figure to determine all of their opinions for them, we must need one too.


  7. "It's like they assume that since they need some infallible figure to determine all of their opinions for them, we must need one too."

    For at least some of them, that is precisely the case. They have authorities in their lives who they listen to exclusively, so they assume that the same is true for the rest of us.

  8. Twain once said "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." abb3w is the latter. In his bias to make an argument to persuade he subjectively, intentionally and dishonestly ignores several other GSS variables such as GOD, Spirituality and Belief amongst the "None" dataset as well as all categories. If you did look at this you'd note with control GOD for respondents RELIG (4) (i.e. NONE - the one abb3w specifically emphasized) that for the last 2 decades there is no increase in the number of people who "do not believe". In fact in 2006, there was a decrease in that response.

    Meanwhile, despite abb3w's claims here any anywhere else on the internet, there have been NO trends or change change over 3 datasets for responses to spirituality. The only real trend is people are not associating themselves with a particular religion, which may be more politically related in choosing not to respond to the survey than anything else.

    What abb3w is doing what abb3w does best on his blog, and elsewhere with the support of people like you. Sadly, what abb3w does best is not objective or honest statistical analysis.

  9. So I'm a little confused... abb3w says this right at the top of the blog post:

    Of course, discussion should bear in mind that [atheism and "nones"] are two different things. The Pew Forum's Religious Landscape Survey found over 15% of the US fell in the "Nones" category, but were able to give a further breakdown into "Atheist", "Agnostic", and "Nothing in Particular" - the last being subdivided into "secular" and "religious". Only about 10% of the "Nones" self-identify as atheist; the split is about 10/15/40/35.

    In my initial response to the troll, I also emphasized that the "nones" include SBNR types and so forth.

    What abb3w claims to have identified is a trend against religious affiliation, not religiosity in general. From what I am able to glean from your response, Anonymous, it seems like your objections are primarily against a decline in religiosity rather a decline in formal affiliation?

    I would be interested to see your analysis. I've played with the GSS before and so could probably do the control you suggest, but I am way behind at work right now and need to get off teh blag right away here.

    In any case, it's difficult to engage when all you have done is name-drop a few GSS variables and assert that abb3w is not being objective. Your objections very well might have substance, but there is absolutely no way for me to tell. Why not do a post yourself rebutting abb3w?

  10. Sweet Said: In my initial response to the troll, I also emphasized that the "nones" include SBNR types and so forth.

    a) you did not state that in your blog entry, and the oversight was probably as intentional as abb3w's deceptions

    b) if you look at the data, you'll note a drastic drop in the number of people proclaiming themselves to be Catholics, but again, no change in trend for spirituality for 3 decades, and an actual decrease in 2002 and 2006 reporting by the "Nones" for "do not believe" in "God" vs. believe in "God" or "Higher Power", "believe but have doubts", etc.

    So again, is the intent of your blog entry to persuade people in statistical fallacies based on extrapolation of select variables in GSS while ignoring the trends, lack of trends and implications of correlating variables in the same datasets, or provide honest, objective analysis? I know what abb3w's intent is.

    I gave you specific variables to look at within GSS that abb3w purposefully and intentionally ignores with his observer bias.

    It's not my fault if your promoting the fallacies of a intellectually dishonest sophist anti-theist.

  11. Shit, I had a response mostly typed but accidentally erased it.

    So, brief version: This post was not intended to be polemical, and I think it's bizarre that you think it is. Even if I was asserting this data was rock solid proof that religiosity was declining (and I never claimed that, and in fact the question mark in the very title of the post should have clued you in to this...), that would still not be an attempt to "persuade people" of anything, as you suggest. You assume I'm making an Argument from Popularity here?! That's crazy talk!

    I will update the post to make the caveats more clear.

  12. Sweet,

    your entire blog is polemic based on your comments that the (selective and objective) "data" you're pointing to is "encouraging".

    Whether that encouragement you profess is based on your similar comments around abb3w's confirmation bias is key as it does not require you to make an argument from popularity to persuade anyone.

  13. "Encouraging" to me, idiot. This post does not say, "And you ought to be encouraged too!" That would be polemical.

    I won't be wasting any more time with you. If you want to argue statistics, make your case specifically instead of just name-dropping GSS variables. If you want to argue polemics, try a different post. I'm done trying to stage a polemical defense to an observational post.