Tag Archives: polls

Is Christianity evolving, becoming more progressive?

anticrepuscular rays; Frasier Photos, May 2012 in NashvilleUpdate: Monday, March 21, 2011
With regard to the evolution of religious belief, we are not singling out Christian fundamentalism as being any more or less subject to change over time than other religions. The evolution of religion is bound to affect certain sects within a variety of religions, not just Christianity; however, given the purpose of this blog and the history, experience, and beliefs of its authors, Christianity is the most relevant religion to discuss here.

The obvious answer is yes; although relatively resistant, Christian fundamentalist belief systems are certainly not immune to slow, gradual change (evolution).

Subject: Evolving religious beliefs — not organisms

We are discussing the evolution of fundamentalist Christianity — not the theory of evolution, evolutionary science, or the debate between special creationists and macroevolutionists. Thankfully, Christian acceptance of evolution seems to be on the rise – which might mean the ultra-conservative views of “special creation” (the belief that God created everything in six 24-hour days) and young earth creationism (the belief that our universe is 10,000 years old at most) are on the decline. I do believe creationism and evolution are worthwhile subjects to study, particularly for those of us who place a high value upon reason and rationality within the framework of religious belief… probably not for any fideists who may be reading.

Evolution of Christianity is evident from opinion polls

incredible sunset from Green Hills Mall in NashvillePerhaps the most interesting implication from the 2009 Harris Poll results is that so many Americans consider themselves to be Christians even though some Christians are starting to reject various parts of what used to be central, “must-believe” tenets of the Christian religion.

I am not suggesting that Christian fundamentalists have suddenly “gone progressive”; of course, the majority of Christians still hold to the traditional tenets of their religion. However, if we can back up a few steps and consider the religion as a whole, Christianity appears to be evolving – ever so slowly – away from literal fundamentalism and toward logic, reason, science, compassion, acceptance, perhaps with a dash of syncretism.

movie stills - Blow, 2001 drug smuggling filmThe evolution of Christianity toward love and reason is a profoundly encouraging trend (in our opinion) because it seems to indicate a more reasonable, objective, and positive interpretation of “revealed” religious text (in this case, the Bible) and may be closer to what was intended in the first place (although I don’t suppose anyone can know for certain). If this theory is correct, then religious fundamentalism outside of Christianity is also on a slow decline; and as such, even the most ultra-conservative Christians could view the trend as having some positive aspects.

Evolution of religious belief vs. conservatism, fundamentalism

peace hand signalThe ongoing, gradual change in religious belief systems isn’t likely to occur at exactly the same rate for all denominations and flavors of Christianity. The most obvious “divination” (was that a pun!?) might be this: the more conservative the belief system, the slower the rate of change. That is, perhaps a negative correlation exists between the two variables of conservatism and rate of progressive change.

With regard to conservatism, the first variable: How can “degrees of fundamentalism” – the relative amount of literal Biblical interpretation, fideism (belief that reason and faith are hostile to each other), piety, religiosity (devotion to religion), devoutness, zealotry, etc. displayed by a particular denomination — be measured and conveyed? Well, I think most fundamentalist religious groups are quite aware of how conservative or “fundamentalist” their own sects are in relation to others; some groups might even covet the rightmost spot on the religious scale.

Perhaps one day folks will create annual award shows for fundamentalist religious groups. They could be hosted in conservative cities like Nashville, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City. A wide-ranging system of awards could be devised, such as Most Fundamentalist Christian Sect, Most Certified Conversions, Best New Conflict with Science, Most Politically Active Denomination, Most Convincing Argument for Literal Bible Interpretation, Best Celebrity Conversion, etc. (unknown)

space, astronomy: spiral galaxy photoOf the hundreds (some would say thousands) of Christian denominations, divisions, and subgroups, which ones have the most fideistic, conservative, right-leaning, fundamentalist worldviews? “Born-again” Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists, Pentecostals, Evangelicals — and possibly Southern Baptists and Restoration Movement Protestants — are known to be on the conservative side (obviously not a complete list of far-right Christian denominations). Progressive, evolutionary change in these Christian fundamentalist groups might be slower than in the less conservative denominations and sects.

Rick Santorum, hard-right Christian fundamentalist, being prayed overOn the other hand, I might have it backwards. The more progressive Christian sects might not embrace as many change-prone beliefs in the first place: those that part with reason or otherwise “require adjustment” in order for their churches to retain a plausible balance between their accepted creed and scientific discovery, for example.

Not only is the “evolution of religion” idea interesting and encouraging to many people; the evolving nature of Christianity might also help explain why there are so many varying beliefs or creeds within Christianity, and differences of opinion — ranging from minor to major — about what it really means to be a Christian. ReligiousTolerance.org compiled a list of at least 40 variants or definitions of the word “Christian.” According to Adherents.com, the new edition of World Christian Encyclopedia tabulated 10,000 distinct religious groups, including 33,830 Christian denominations.

church steepleHowever, it’s important to remember that differences of opinion within the ranks of Christianity are not in any way a poor reflection on Christianity as a religion, just as wide-ranging viewpoints within a democratic republic such as ours do not reduce the appeal of democracy. After all, there are over 3.1 billion Christians in the world – so it’s reasonable to expect a large number of subgroups.

There have certainly been widely varying Christian views in the brief history of our United States. Many people during Revolutionary times and even today have been proud to count men such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen, John Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, James Monroe, and George Washington (can I include Thomas Paine in this list?) — the Founding Fathers, the framers of our Constitution – as being a part of the Christian community, even though the aforementioned men were not Christian fundamentalists in the modern sense. And since these men are called Christians, I have no trouble at all considering myself to be a Christian, as an adherent of the Unity Church (in the New Thought Movement vein of Christianity).

religionThe ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy MealSlacktivist: ‘Test everything; hold fast to what is good. Excerpt from this interesting article:

In 1979, McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal.

Sometime after that, it was decided that the Bible teaches that human life begins at conception.

Ask any American evangelical, today, what the Bible says about abortion and they will insist that this is what it says. (Many don’t actually believe this, but they know it is the only answer that won’t get them in trouble.) They’ll be a little fuzzy on where, exactly, the Bible says this, but they’ll insist that it does.

That’s new. If you had asked American evangelicals that same question the year I was born you would not have gotten the same answer. [ Read more ]

All of this is at least food for thought. These subjects will probably always interest this serious spiritual seeker.

NOTE: I hope my attempts to write from a reasonably objective and detached viewpoint are evident. I refuse to write and publish a series of mere ideological rants based purely on opinion and ego; there are already too many of those.

Resources: Evolution of Christianity

Objective exploration of Christianity, religiosity, etc.

Founding Fathers and Christianity, religion

Off-topic: Christian acceptance of evolution

Science, religion, and conspiracy theory:

Interesting American beliefs, per the polls

Executive summary: (provided in this case due to length) This post touches on more subjects than it should: opinion polls, a hopeful view of science and religion, the two main logical fallacies used or implied in opinion poll results, 9/11 conspiracy theory, poll results about American beliefs, relationship of IQ and education level to supernatural belief systems, beliefs about creationism and evolution, interpreting ambiguous poll questions, weighing the human soul, and quite a few resources on the web for all these subjects. I may soon break this post up into several smaller, more succinct and cohesive posts.

We Americans seem to be utterly hooked on polls. Poll results can be boring, encouraging, discouraging, enthralling, or even shocking in some cases – particularly with regard to those subjects we regard with passion and zeal. Sure, polls get old and wear us out on occasion (most notably in politics, during an election cycle), but our interest always returns. Many of us find opinion polls about religion, science, belief, and spirituality to be among the most interesting of them all.

Relationship of science and religion

The relationship between science and religion is often considered to be tenuous and uneasy at best; however, I agree with those who view science and religion as a false dichotomy.

The way I see it, truth is truth; and even though mankind has only just begun to discover truth, I believe this lively pair will eventually enjoy reconciliation. However, science and religion probably won’t enjoy real harmony until serious challenges to long-held beliefs are fully worked through and ultimately resolved. (Idealistic? Very.) Given that the age of science is still in its infancy, I have the feeling the marriage of science and religion is still a long ways off – but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make every effort to help them get along nicely.

Polls and logical fallacies

Poll results are, in a sense, a wide open door to the employment of logical fallacies (mistakes made in the process of human reasoning) – the argumentum ad populem fallacy in particular, and to a lesser extent, the appeal to authority. Spin masters are often paid incredible salaries for their ability to apply creativity to statistical reporting for the purpose of swaying the largely gullible populous in a certain direction by making a particular person, place, thing, event, etc. seem superior to the alternative choices.

One should be wary of poll results and their interpretation; if the findings of a particular poll are truly important to you for any reason, be sure to ask the right questions and then frame the results in the appropriate context.

Argumentum ad populem is the ultimate implied poll-related logical fallacy because it wants us to believe that X is true simply because Y (%), a certain number (or percentage) of people, believe it to be true. It never ceases to amaze, amuse, and sometimes frustrate me that some folks actually consider majority opinion (such as a given percentage of Americans who believe in that particular thing [X]) as being evidence that X is factual and true. Of course, as to the reality or truth of the point in question, it doesn’t matter how many people believe or disbelieve in X. It’s quite possible for 98% percent of Americans to wholeheartedly believe in a falsehood while 2% actually know the truth; in this sense, numbers and percentages are irrelevant. This commonplace error in reasoning goes by many names, including “appeal to the masses,” “appeal to belief,” “appeal to the people,” “appeal to the majority,” “authority of the many,” “argument by consensus,” “bandwagon fallacy,” “argumentum ad numerum,” etc.

Another popular logical fallacy, often called the “argument from authority” or “appeal to authority” (I’m suddenly reminded of Eric Cartman) is also frequently used in attempts to spin poll results. It concludes X to be true because Y (e.g., a group of educated scientists, the Pope, Mom and Dad) believe X to be true. If the argument from authority sounds a lot like the aforementioned bandwagon fallacy, you’re right: both are fallacies of relevance (one of the many categories of reasoning errors). “Relevance” makes perfect sense; after all, who believes something and how many people believe something are completely irrelevant to how true that particular something might be.

9/11 conspiracy theories

Many Americans still believe that the U.S. played a role in 9/11.

A 2006 poll taken by Scripps Howard along with Ohio University showed that over one third of the American public suspects that federal officials assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or otherwise took no action to stop the attacks in order to allow the U.S. to go to war. The most prominent theory is that the WTC collapses were the result of controlled demolitions (rather than structural weakening due to high heat from fire). Another prominent belief is that the Pentagon was hit by a missile launched by elements from inside the U.S. government, or that a commercial airliner was allowed to crash into the Pentagon due to a purposeful stand-down of the U.S. military. Various motives are often cited by conspiracy theorists which often include justifying the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions and strategic interests in the Middle East such as oil pipelines.

Even well into into 2011, those old 9/11-related conspiracy theories seem to have remained the number one theorized conspiracy in the world, according to this Feb. 2011 list.

According to the 2009 Harris Poll
40% of American adults believe in creationism as per the Old Testament.
45% believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution.
60% of American adults believe that the devil actually exists.
42% of Americans believe in ghosts.
32% believe in UFOs.
26% of American adults believe in astrology.
23% believe in witches.
20% believe in reincarnation, that they were once someone else.

Education, IQ, and religious belief systems

The degree of literal religious belief one holds – in small part, at least – depends upon one’s education level; there was found to be a very strong negative correlation between the level of education and paranormal beliefs. The more education one had received, the less likely the respondent was to hold a literal paranormal belief — such as in ghosts, or a real, existing evil force such as the devil, for instance. The lower the level of education of the respondent, the greater was the likelihood of paranormal and/or literal religious beliefs.

Likewise, a strong negative correlation has likewise been shown in numerous comparisons of IQ and religious belief. This is not meant to be surprising, as this has been a standard trend in the kinds of polls that track this information as early as the 1920s. Likewise, religious readers should not feel slighted in the least: there are certainly quite a few intelligent religious folks – and plenty of slow atheists and freethinkers, to boot! Another reminder: using intelligence or education as evidence of a particular belief, while very interesting, is yet another fallacy of relevance when it comes down to proof.

Evolution, creationism, and intelligent design

It is interesting to note that most polls no longer seem to imply a strict choice between evolution and God; most questions concerning creationism and evolution now include a third option of intelligent design or God-guided evolution (in addition to the usual “don’t know” or “no opinion” answer). It is very interesting how quickly evolution has come to be accepted in some form by most people. Thankfully — as of 2005, at least — a respectable percentage of Americans would not be upset about whether creationism or evolution was taught at their children’s school; however, 30% of Americans at that time would be upset if only evolution were taught and creationism not. (One might wonder how this number is trending today; hopefully, an attitude of tolerance is gaining.)

As previously stated, four out of ten American adults currently believe in strict creationism; that is, they believe that God created humans in their present form around 10,000 years ago. (Does that mean this group in general also rejects scientific dating methods and dinosaurs? Is this a fair assumption – anyone?)

This number is slightly down from past years. Interestingly, among Republicans, the belief in strict creationism jumps from 40% all the way up to 60%! Such a large percentage of Republicans apparently subscribes to something akin to Young Earth Creationism: interesting. If this is accurate, then it serves as the primary explanation for the Bush administration’s lackluster (at best) attitude toward science.

Thirty-eight percent (38%) of polled American adults now believe that God has been guiding an evolutionary process by which humans have developed from less advanced life forms over millions of years. Sixteen percent (16%) of American adults — up slightly from years past — believe in “secular evolution,” or that humans developed over millions of years without God’s involvement.

In looking at the Gallup poll results over the years, it appears fewer and fewer people believe are willing to believe that God created man in man’s present form; conversely, the belief in secular evolution seems to be on a slow, gradual rise in the United States.

(NOTE: Please see the references below for links to other articles, studies, and polls used in this post and other relevant, potentially worthwhile resources.)

Interpreting poll questions

One of my first questions regarding opinion polls (especially about supernatural beliefs and other loosely defined subjects) would be with regard to the precise meaning of the questions themselves, or the assumptions that should be used in the polling process. For example, exactly what does it mean to “believe in witches”? It could represent:

  • a belief that some people honestly subscribe to Wicca-like belief systems (very true) – or, quite differently, it could indicate
  • the belief that supernatural spells are successfully cast upon others by modern witches (highly dubious).

These two interpretations of the exact same question are very different, and one must wonder whether the polling process takes this into account. If not, then it seems the poll results would be less meaningful -or perhaps devoid of meaning altogether.

UFOs represent a fascinating subject. As far as opinion polling goes, though, what are the ground rules and base definitions that apply to questions about UFOs? Does “believing in UFOs” mean:

  1. Objects have been seen in the skies throughout history that could not be positively identified.
    True. This is perfectly believable and is certainly factual, as far as this author can tell – unless every single object ever seen in the sky by humans of all time has been positively identified! As certainly as I now live and breathe and write these words, at least one object seen in the sky throughout history was never positively identified and could thus be considered to be an unidentified flying object, or a UFO.
  2. Intelligent life (something akin to little green men, or perhaps the more recently popularized type of alien known as the Grays) has visited our planet using a method of travel far more technically advanced than our own.
    Dubious, or at least questionable (the Fermi paradox). Visitation of earth by such beings is a somewhat far-fetched notion according to many scientists, given that traveling the required distance is beyond all known technology, coupled with the probable extreme rarity of technologically advanced beings in the universe. FYI, I freely grant the existence of many other life forms throughout the massive universe, but intelligent life is another matter entirely.

The two assumptions above are light years apart (pun phun). Such wildly varying understandings, viewpoints, assumptions, and interpretations in opinion polling probably makes answers to such questions virtually meaningless, at least in some cases. That said, the answers are also occasionally interesting!

Weighing the human soul

Do some people actually believe that proof of the soul lies in the weight difference of a body just before and after death? According to sillybeliefs.com, this is just an urban myth:

[Jeanette] Wilson was claiming that scientists have weighed the human soul. The interviewer tried to get her to explain how a spiritual, immaterial soul that contains no mass, and therefore no weight, can be weighed. I don’t think Wilson even grasped the problem with her argument, merely stating that she didn’t understand the details, but that the scientists knew what they were doing. She couldn’t name the scientists, or when or where their experiments were carried out. In fact her belief that the soul has been weighed is an urban myth, and can be traced to a Dr. Duncan MacDougall of Haverhill, Massachusetts. He did attempt this in 1907, but his experiments were flawed and the results are not accepted. (http://www.sillybeliefs.com/wilson.html#heading-1b)

(NOTE: Many more obscure beliefs can be found at sillybeliefs.com [“Scams and Delusions Exposed!”], based in New Zealand.)

In its section about religious urban myths, snopes.com – the “Urban Legend Reference Pages” – addresses the issue of human soul-weighing and goes into great detail about the history of related experiments (making this notion more than just an urban myth). Apparently, the 2003 film 21 Grams was based on this belief.

Much more to come

The convergence of religion, spirituality, science, reason, logic, philosophy, history, et al — is simply too fascinating and important to ignore. I’ll be posting much more on related subjects here in the future.

NOTE: This post was written on Wednesday, January 5, 2011, then updated and posted to this new blog (Search for truth at allisnow.com) on Thursday, March 10, 2011. This is the first post to this blog, which will serve as the home of my writings about religion, science, and spirituality until further notice. (I’m considering creating a separate blog at greenism.org to serve as the primary location for this subject matter.) Thanks for reading this. I have not publicized this blog yet, so I probably sent you this link. I would appreciate any comments, positive or negative. I appreciate your time and I hope you found this to be entertaining, interesting, or even enlightening to some degree.

Resources

Relationship between science and religion

Opinion polls

Logical fallacies

Conspiracy theory

Weighing the soul

Polls about beliefs

Intelligence, education, and supernatural beliefs