Sunday, 1 June 2014

Decline in UK Religion over 30 years: 1983-2012

The British Social Attitudes survey is in its 30th year. Affiliation to the Catholic Church has held up but I predict that this will fall as more Catholics become aware of the clergy sexual abuse scandals and other abuses of Catholic power.


Less religious attachment

Key _Findings _PQ_5We start by examining whether people's attachments to these three identities are indeed in decline, beginning with religion. Here there is little doubt that a substantial change has taken place, with a marked decline in the proportion who describe themselves as belonging to a particular religion. In 1983, around two in three people (68 per cent) considered themselves to belong to one religion or another; in 2012, only around half (52 per cent) do so. As our Personal relationships chapter sets out, this decline is in practice a decline in attachment to Anglicanism; in 1983 two in five people (40 per cent) said they were Anglican, and the Church of England could still reasonably lay claim to being England's national church (and thus, arguably, to some extent its fount of moral authority). But now only 20 per cent do so. In contrast, the proportion saying they belong to a religion other than Christianity has tripled from two to six per cent. Britain's religious landscape has not only become smaller but also more diverse.[2]  
Key _Findings _Figure _0.1

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Americans question basic concepts of science

Americans have little doubt about the scientific evidence that smoking can cause cancer. However, many Americans still question some of the basic concepts of modern science. AP-GfK poll*

As faith in a supreme being rises, confidence in the Big Bang, climate change and the age of the Earth decline, according to the poll.

"Views on science may be tied to what people see with their own eyes. The closer an issue is to their own bodies, and the less complicated, the easier it is for people to believe." John Staudenmaier

"Science, in its really pure form, is just telling you what the state of the world is. The more in-tune with reality your beliefs are, the more you are in a position to make a wise decision. Ignorance of science could also prove to be dangerous - parents' reluctance towards vaccines can harm others by spreading disease. Science is not meant to dictate policy. Rather, it is used to tell others what the state of the world is, and how officials respond to that is a statement of values." Daniel T. Willingham

"It is enormously distressing that science, which is our most powerful means for gaining insight into the world, insight into truth, is so mistrusted by so many people. Understanding scientific ideas is not just academic, it's essential to a vital democracy. Issues like climate change or nanoscience or genetically modified foods, are scientific at their core." Brian Greene

"Some people may not believe in science because it draws on evidence that they don't experience in their everyday lives.  Everyone draws conclusions about the world around them - scientists and non-scientists alike - but non-scientists base those conclusions on much weaker evidence: a single observation, a gut feeling, hearsay from others. When those 'homespun' conclusions contradict the conclusions of science, it's difficult to recognize that they rest on much flimsier grounds." Andrew Shtulman

"Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts." Randy Schekman

via Briane Greene on facebook. Source: CBS News.

* margin of error for the total sample: +/- 3.4% at the 95% confidence level.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Jim Al-Khalili - new President of British Humanist Association

3m40s – 4m42s: ‘First and foremost, as you may have gathered, I am a scientist. So I view the world as a scientist views the world. I'm curious about the universe and our place in it, sometimes to the point of obsession. That’s what defines me as a scientist. I have a rational unshakeable conviction that our universe is understandable, that mysteries are only mysteries because we have yet to figure out, the almost always logical answers. For me there is simply no room, no need, for a supernatural divine being to fill in the gaps in our understanding.  We’ll get there, we’ll fill in those gaps with objective scientific truths: [with] answers that aren't subjective, because of cultural or historical whims or personal biases, but because of empirically testable and reproducible truths. We may not get the full picture, we may never get the full picture, but science allows us to get ever closer.’ Jim Al-Khalili, AGM 2013

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Kicking away the Godly ladder

If there's one topic that gets humanists excited it's religion. Odd, really, as we're supposed to have left it behind. But religion is more than a collection of superstitions, rules and peculiar habits. Religions have been integral parts of most past and current societies. Religion matters both for its influence on individuals and the way it shapes societies.

So here is a book that deals with the social dimension:
     Big Gods: How religion transformed co-operation and conflict.
     Ara Norenzayan
     Princeton University Press, 2013.

Norenzayan's thesis is that the great monotheisms became dominant because they enabled societies to become bigger and thus able to dominate their competitors. The imperial and expansionist histories of Christianity and Islam, though not of Judaism, certainly support this view though earlier large empires didn't seem to need it.

But, for me, Norenzayan's most interesting points relate to the step after monotheism. He says that strong state institutions, such as police, can substitute for the all-seeing Jehovah God. A few societies, mostly in Scandinavia, have outgrown God and their people behave well without his presence. They have, he says, "climbed the ladder of religion and then kicked it away".

In the UK religious belief is in free-fall but we have not achieved the Scandinavian Utopia. Perhaps the truth is a bit more complex than Norenzayan thinks.