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Religion in America
Is Secularization Oversold?
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  • Andrew Allison

    Don’t confuse agnosticism with atheism.

    • solstice

      Atheism can be described as strong agnosticism. Atheists make a probability argument that the existence of a deity is highly unlikely given the lack of evidence, but the atheist position is not one of absolute certainty that there is no god. The atheist position is that god’s existence is as likely as the existence of the tooth fairy, unicorns, and leprechauns–that is to say, extremely unlikely. Agnosticism is a spectrum and atheists are those at the high end of that spectrum.

      • Andrew Allison

        Atheism is disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. Agnosticism is the view that, the truth values of certain claims – especially metaphysical and religious claims such as whether God, the divine or the supernatural exist – are unknown and perhaps unknowable.

        • solstice

          You are right that atheism is the disbelief in the existence of deities, but atheism does not claim to know with ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY that deities do not exist . Atheists reject the existence of god for the same reason why pretty much everyone rejects the existence of unicorns: lack of evidence. Do we know with absolute certainty that unicorns don’t exist? No, we do not, but based on the lack of evidence, we can can confidently assert that their existence is extremely unlikely. The atheist position is that the lack of evidence for gods makes their existence extremely unlikely, which therefore places it on the strong end of the agnostic spectrum.

      • Fred

        You are, of course, right about what atheists, at least of the gnu variety, believe. But the notion that belief in God bears any resemblance to, much less is the same as, belief in the tooth fairy, unicorns, and leprechauns is an absurd one and itself has no more justification than believing in the tooth fairy, unicorns, and leprechauns. It is usually based on a naive empiricism/shallow scientism that a) elevates a method for investigating the physical world to a metaphysics and b) is self-undermining since the assertion that we should only believe in what can be scientifically verified cannot itself be scientifically verified. It also does not reckon with 2500 years of applying reason to the question of God’s existence (from Plato and Aristotle to Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas through Descartes, Leibniz, and Pascal to Feser, Oderberg, and Plantinga just to hit a few of the highlights). And it fails to make crucial distinctions, e.g., Creator/creatures, Being/being, God/god(s), physics/metaphysics. All that is true, btw, whether or not God exists. Gnu atheists would do well to learn a little about what they think they are dismissing. Philosophically naive and ignorant pronouncements, however loudly and confidently made, and tendentious, when not outright false, readings of history don’t prove much.

        • solstice

          Belief in the existence of god/s is akin to belief in the tooth fairy, unicorns, and leprechauns because the amount of evidence supporting the existence of any of these entities is the same: zero. As the late philosopher Ayn Rand pointed out: “Every argument for the existence of god is incomplete and improper and has been refuted.”

        • Andrew Allison

          Actually, he’s complete wrong about what atheists believe and, with the very greatest of respect, you are expressing belief as fact. Superstition, whether a belief in a particular god or the tooth fairy, is superstition,

  • FriendlyGoat

    I agree that any polls about denominational affiliation or preference do not mean much except perhaps to head-counters for denominations seeking to keep track of denomination sizes in relation to each other. It’s not a stretch to believe there are people who consider themselves “Christian” and who either are not affiliated with any church at the moment, or who are affiliated with more than one at once and prefer not to choose doctrines. At times in my life I have been both of those.

    More revealing polls might go more like this. Do you ever pray? When you pray, do you believe you are praying to 1) the God of Judaism in the Bible’s Old Testament, 2) the God of Christianity which includes Jesus as Son of God in the Bible’s New Testament, 3) the God of Islam, 4) ( or more) any list of other Gods or religions the pollster want to measure. I think we would be more informed by measuring “the whole” than by measuring “the parts” and then trying to add those up to estimate the size of the whole.

    • Anthony


      “The institution seemed to represent the American consensus at its best: inclusive, morally directed, and defining of the deep roots of national shared feeling.”

      • FriendlyGoat

        From your link:

        “Peering into the fog, Piereson guesses the new era could be a dynamic one, focusing on growth as “an alternative to the emphasis on redistribution, public spending, and regulation” that has reached a kind of late brilliance, the phosphorescence of the dying, in the era of Obama. As the federal government proves unable to finance its grand schemes, federalism will gain strength. State and federal government workers will become depoliticized through the outlawing of public sector unions.”

        I think this guy is shilling for more tax cuts on the usual conservative claim that they would cause the “growth” part of his vision here. I think it’s baloney in America’s economy that reportedly relies 70% on our own consumers.for the demand side. The more you cut taxes and the more you kill their unions, the more you cut demand for most everything except “trading” in the top wealth echelon (the only place that wealth is rising.)

        But then I’m biased. That this guy writes in the Weekly Standard is enough of a hint for me.

        • Anthony

          Remember heads up (a more refined argument than regular TAI fare). Being conversant in all position sharpens anticipation for the counter – though I linked for brief acknowledgement of Protestantism.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I guess I missed the point of your linking. As for “Protestantism”, that’s a big word to basically try to lump all non-Catholic Christian churches into a monolith which may have never actually existed in reality as much as some now wish to recall it with nostalgia.

          • Anthony

            Oh, I agree; just thought it was refreshing someone would actually acknowledge the contribution.

  • lord acton

    The Sea of Faith
    Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
    Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
    But now I only hear
    Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
    Retreating, to the breath
    Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
    And naked shingles of the world. -Matthew Arnold 1867

    Faith is always waning it seems. Sometimes, in fact nearly always, these discussions ignore the role of the Holy Spirit………. Funny that.

    • Jim__L

      There’s something about ineffability that does not lend itself to punditry. Too much humility is necessary to truly understand what is going on.

  • DiaKrieg

    This post reminds me of a discussion I recently heard between Michael Medved and Dr. Russell Moore on his new book, Onward. Moore thinks the cultural re-branding of Christians-in-name-only (CHINOs?) as “nones” is a good thing: it leaves the church smaller but more united and firm in its doctrines. In the article you summarize, Stark worries that nones will be harder to draw back into the fold than CHINOs. “The jump from nominal to serious is a different kind of jump than from unaffiliated to serious,” you write. Moore argues the exact opposite: it’s easier to engage “honest atheists and agnostics” than those who are only nominally religious. The relevant section begins around the 4 minute point:

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