Two posts you should read

December 5, 2011 • 11:54 am

I want to point out two pieces by website comrades that appeared today; both are worth reading.

Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason continues his survey of scriptural morality in a nice post called “Is the Bible a reliable guide to morality?”  He’s discussing an essay by David Lose on PuffHo in which Lose, while acknowledging that the Bible didn’t get it right on matters of morality (Jason’s example in his great post last Thursday was homosexuality), it nevertheless can be a “profound guide to life”.  Jason responds:

But let’s grant that the Bible sometimes gets it right and sometimes gets it wrong on moral questions. My question is: What part of that suggests that the Bible’s primary function is as a guide to living? When we see a few decent moral teachings mixed in with a lot of primitive tribal BS, why not simply conclude that the Biblical texts represent the thinking of primitive people laboring without the benefit of divine guidance?

Lose goes on to show how one can “resolve” issues like the scriptural proscription of homosexuality by looking to other sections of the Bible involving “communal responsibility, mutual and loving commitment, and the intricate nature of our human relationships”—sections than support our notion of gay rights.  Jason finds this laughable, for it is, as we can clearly see, simply a way to use the Bible to buttress our secular morality. For that’s what this kind of moral exegesis clearly shows: Christians pick and choose those parts of the Bible that support their own extra-religious morality.  Morality clearly doesn’t come from God.  Jason concludes:

The Bible has some historical and literary value, but it contains almost nothing of relevance to modern moral concerns. Clear thinking about morality cannot begin until it is placed harmlessly back on the shelf where it belongs. There are countless literary works of demonstrably human origin that are far greater repositories of moral insight than is the Bible.


And over at Choice in Dying, Eric MacDonald discusses “Elaine Ecklund’s militant campaign,” which of course is to persuade us that American scientists are far less atheistic than we really are.  He nicely summarizes the many distortions that pervade the conclusions of Ecklund’s Templeton-funded study.  Eric also includes a new video in which Ecklund perpetuates these distortions—against a visual background of praying hands, Stars of David, crosses, Bibles, and Muslims at prayer.  Listen at the end when Ecklund says that “these atheist scientists actually wanted to expose their children to a variety of [religious] choices. . . it shows that religion and family life are very deeply intertwined in the U.S.”

Well, that may be true as a general statement, but it’s hogwash among the group that Ecklund studied.  Her survey of atheist scientists showed that only 17% of them—about one in six—took their children to church at least twice a year.  And most of those did so because of pressure from a religious spouse!  And that is supposed to show a deep intertwining of religion and family life???  The woman is a spin-doctor from the get-go, but it’s especially striking to see her distort her data as she appears on camera.  Is any sociologist going to criticize Ecklund’s conclusions, or is that left to people with websites like Jason, Eric, and me?  Where is peer review in that field?

23 thoughts on “Two posts you should read

  1. All the “great” religious books are just marketing/ad campaigns to get power for the people paying the writers.

    There are multiple series of good lectures on the history of each testament and set of books.

    They main theme is “Yeah us!! Kill them!!” Because there was a lot of competition for resources and a lot of bloodshed and war as Pinker reminds us.

    The only “morality” is towards your personal tribe/neighbor.

  2. But let’s grant that the Bible sometimes gets it right and sometimes gets it wrong on moral questions

    Doesn’t granting this (Lose’s) assumption prove that we get our morals from elsewhere? If not, then how can we know that the Bible gets things wrong? If this is the case, if we can know that the Bible gets things wrong when it comes to morality, then why not just rely on whatever other source you used that showed that the Bible was wrong for your morality?

  3. It is nothing but a mistake to accept your opponent’s frames, arguments and texts as a basis for your arguments.

    Mainly it:
    – Makes you look weak and accommodating
    – Forces you to accept many of their presuppositions
    – Deflects you from your strongest arguments and facts
    – Wastes time and effort

  4. Lose seems to be claiming that some parts of the bible, God’s inspired and inerrant Word*, say that other parts of the bible are wrong.

    * pulled that off of a fundie web site

  5. It looks like io9 has a post on the Ecklund study, but not in a criticizing way. I hope someone posts the criticisms here and else where in the comments. I tried but not registered and doesn’t seem to have gone through.

    One commenter on io9 made a good point, they labeled households with one atheist, one theist parent as atheist. So why label as just atheist and not theist or a mix? Doing this makes the “atheists sending kids to church” number higher. If those dual-theism households were labeled as just theistic, this number would be lower.

    1. I followed the link to io9, and for some reason I found it funny, and weirdly appropriate, that the three “related stories” were:

      Smart kids like to experiment with illegal drugs
      How do humans distinguish sarcasm from sincerity?
      What do ancient penis decorations say about us?

  6. The Elaine “Spin-Doc” Ecklund situation is a bit tedious.

    After the seeming failure of peer review, is sociology really too soft to be interested in science blogs and pick up on other science (and secular) concern? You want science at large to handle and represent statistics fairly.

    The Bible has some historical and literary value,

    Some literary value maybe, but I thought it was fairly accepted that there isn’t much of any of it that correspond to historical findings.

    Some of the descriptions of daily life perhaps, and the roman setting of the zombie fable correspond to one historical figure. (Pilate was an actual historical person.)

    But the rest seems unsubstantiated or even outright wrong, say the egyptian fable exodus that seems never have happened.

    1. The Bible’s historical value lies in the history of the Bible, not as a source but as a topic. The Bible has done things. Things have been done with the Bible.

      Its literary value is mostly as a component for later, surpassing literature. It’s an old wreck to chop up for interesting parts.

  7. The Bible is fascinating – the study of the history of the text, how it got the way it is. And the King James Version is deeply entwined in the start of Modern English.

    But it’s as if you were trying to study works like the Odyssey and the Iliad … and finding that most of the people studying it are people who (a) really sincerely believe in the Greek gods (b) really want you to as well.

    1. Old books were more impressive literature when there were just fewer books for comparison, though. Even as source material, the modern uses are often more subtle, more exciting or simply more elaborate.

      The historical value is superior to the literary value.

  8. Back in 2006 Ecklund concluded that “Natural Scientists Are Less Likely to Believe in God than Are Social Scientists” :- THIS RICE UNIVERSITY PAGE

    The study, funded by a $283,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation, was based on a brief survey conducted online or over the phone. Involving 2,148 people being asked 36 questions.

    That’s a lot of filthy lucre to do a survey with ‘phone & computer. I suppose this is a different grant from the one mentioned here?

    1. Hey, granted that calling up a couple thousand people is cheap. But afterwards, applying the massive amount of spin which Ecklund specialises in is what really consumes a lot of resources.

  9. Is any sociologist going to criticize Ecklund’s conclusions, or is that left to people with websites like Jason, Eric, and me? Where is peer review in that field?

    I don’t encounter sociologists often, but those I’ve crossed paths with seem to be guided by this: If someone thinks something is this way, then it is. It seems they’d rather die than be accused of being ethnocentric. Of course, they’d really be indignant if they had to defend themselves against someone who truly believed, without evidence, that they had committed a murder, and the accuser was being taken seriously.

    Any sociologists feel free to object – this is based on the handful I’ve encountered.

  10. Where is peer review in that field?

    I imagine it’s the same as for Creationists: “Hey gang, let’s get together and call ourselves ‘peers’! “

  11. Do these sociology journals have Letters to the Editor sections? Many natural science journals offer that platform to scientists for criticism of recent articles.

  12. I don’t know how people like Ecklund live with their misuse of the word ‘science’. To me data is just on ‘sacred’ and to be dealt with minimalist interpretation. And if the Templeton Foundation go along with this nonsense, then I have no respect for them either.

  13. Yes, I have, repeatedly. However, you have to understand that the social scientific study of religion has been purchased by religious interests. First by the more benign Pew and Lilly Foundations, but now by the more pernicious influence of Templeton and worse (yes, worse….). Peer review happens in subfields, not in disciplines except at the very highest level of publication. And, even at the top tier journals reviewers are unlikely to come from outside of a subfield. Unfortunately, the subfield of the sociology of religion is completely dominated by tenured religious radicals like Ecklund, Evans, Christian Smith, Bradley Wilcox, Mark Regnerus and on and on and on. When all of the three major social science journals on religion are edited by religious people, critical reviews of their conventional wisdom don’t amount to squat. You really can’t comprehend how pervasive this is. I am the only open atheist among all leading US sociology professors who specialize in religion. And, there is NO grant money in sociology–unless you’re a whore. So, compared to me, these people look a tad lazy, unable to publish at the top level, but highly productive and very well funded. What would your University do? Check your faculty list and their publications and funding….

  14. Younger christians I talk with are willing to say outright that they will ignore for example the homosexuality thing, because it’s bullshit. They don’t pretend that the bible says something else, they’re just more confident in screwing what the bible says.

  15. There is some profound wisdom in the Bible, though, looking for it is a bit like sifting through a chemical toilet and shouting, “Oh, look: corn!” These tasty niblets might seem morally nutritious, but considering all the other crap in there, they’re a bit difficult to digest.

  16. Ah the old variant of the canard:

    “Even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day”

    To which the rationalist replys:

    Yes but it is still damn well broken stupid!

    The prosecution rests its case.

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