The New Republic publishes my God-and-sports post

January 30, 2014 • 3:07 pm

My post from yesterday on the large number of Americans who believe that sports contests are influenced by supernatural forces has been published (in slightly revised form) by the New Republic, and retitled as “Does God decide the Super Bowl winner? That’s what most Americans believe.” I’ve added a new final sentence, which I quite like.

48 thoughts on “The New Republic publishes my God-and-sports post

    1. After a break I just noticed your answer to my last post here where you were misrepresenting what I said.

      I was a little concerned that you were still down that rabbit hole of yours.

      By definition, a prediction comes *before* the thing it predicts thus if something is an actual prediction then it involves data analysed before he predicted event as well as after.

      My point was that media reports implied that an actual prediction had occurred, ie that the choices had been predicted in real time.

      I was rather clearly pointing out that impression that media reports gave was incorrect and that the analysis had occurred after the data for both the predictions and the predicted event had been gathered, as was clear from the context.

      The experiments predict the choices in the way that Dean Radin’s precognition experiments predict the choices.

      And before you ask, yes, I do have a compulsive disorder. Thank you.

        1. In the “Incompatibilism blues”, you said that data is always analysed after an experiment has concluded.

          Here are your words: “Over here, pointing out that data is analyzed after experiments are concluded is rather like saying travel was accomplished after distance has been traversed.”

          Just pointing out that over here data is often analysed during the conduct of an experiment.

          Over here saying that data is only analysed after the experiment has concluded is like saying that travel has only been accomplished after the traversing of distance has ceased.

          1. May I respectfully suggest that if you want to resurrect that three-month-old argument, you do so on the thread where it started instead of hijacking some random unrelated thread.


  1. Seems reasonable that the Ground of all being should be marked off in 10 yard increments, though only in America. In the rest of God’s domains it must be 9.144 metres. I can see why footie teams would be reluctant to use such an awkward measure for their grounds of being.

  2. God as ground of being, and then as gridiron of being for millions of Americans does make one think… How solid is anything we’re standing on. But Jerry, I didn’t really want to make a comment, but ask a question. Do you take questions? Probably not because you’d be quickly overwhelmed by their number.
    But anyway here’s a question I’ve wanted to ask since I’ve been reading your Blog. It seems to me that WhyEvolutionIsTrue is always right there on the cutting edge, between those of us who mostly share your views, certainly about the place of evolution, and those who, in one way or another are trying to go on living in an imagined earlier society or community where a God’s permanent presence in one’s daily life was unquestioned. Now just a little familiarity with Darwin’s dangerous idea is more than enough to bring that belief into question, if not be abandoned entirely. So my question, — is that what you are trying to do with your Blog? Make people question their earlier beliefs in God? And if so do you see that happening, that is, Americans one day (in your lifetime?) celebrating Darwin’s great idea, as much say as they celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, not to mention the SuperBowl? What is it that changes people’s beliefs? Is it realistic to think you can do so? Or if the change you’d like to see does come about, do you really believe that it will come about by efforts such as yours? In any case I find your Blog interesting, fascinating, but I’m a member of the chorus, and I enjoy the music that I hear thanks to your multiple, daily postings. Although I was already an unbeliever, you have helped me to better understand just what it was that Darwin wrought, and just how, with Darwin’s help, much further we can see into the natural world about us.

    1. I certainly find Jerry’s website to be a great way to refine, sharpen, expand, and develop my thinking on a range of topics. I am never going to read any theology, and I hate to say it, but the same is probably true for theology. So, while he did not convert me to atheism, he certainly makes me much better at expressing a variety of ideas clearly and with confidence.

      1. Indeed, I have refined my thoughts about many things from interacting on this site and I’m glad Jerry as well as others, have taken one for the team by reading theology. I can’t say I’ll never read it, but life is short & I’d rather read things I like (many of the books I’ve read or have put on my to-reads list have come from recommendations on this site).

        I suspect, Jerry likes writing for this site as much as we all like interacting on it and to me, he doesn’t need any other reason.

        1. Actually, I do read with some frequency the Bible, mostly to educate my three girls or to look up something ghastly for general amusement. This I suppose counts as theology, but I can’t imagine reading the stuff that Jerry reads. The quotes he cites are filled with such utter lack of meaning that the thought of me struggling to understand what the author means fills me with a hopeless dread. Especially when I consider that there are more interesting and entertaining books out there than I can hope to read!

        2. I suspect, Jerry likes writing for this site as much as we all like interacting on it and to me, he doesn’t need any other reason.

          Srsly. It seems to me like just an outlet for all-things-Jerry; didn’t someone once characterize it as “idiosyncratic charm?” 😉

          That it then serves as a salon for the rest of us is just a happy exaptation.

    2. For some, though I doubt for Jerry, writing helps keep the stupidity at bay. If you force yourself to not only recognize important issues related to our existence but to formulate thoughts about those circumstances then it can make a very important difference in one’s life and in others.

      I have often shared ideas, learned from WEIT (comments most definitely included) that have made others think more clearly about ethical, ontological and scientific issues.

      I will put it another way: there are an awful lot of things worth stealing off the internet, but ideas at WEIT/by Jerry are some of the best.

  3. After reading the magazine for many years, I gave up in The New Republic and let my subscription lapse. I may reconsider. Possibly this new guy who bought it is making some good changes.

  4. Whenever I see a poll like this one, I think of the Mencken line about the impossibility of underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

  5. Interesting read. I imagine that a similar study of professional athletes would be as or more interesting.

    I think the number of athletes who believe in an interested deity (and also in the concept of “luck” as something to be influenced/cultivated rather than the outcome of a disinterested universe) must be higher than 50%.

    Witness, for example, the silly at-bat rituals in baseball:

    I’ve often wondered if these activities are an attempt to soothe oneself in a stressful situation (sort of like a “stim” to someone on the autism spectrum), or are supernatural talismans . . . or perhaps both.

    It seems many professional athletes share a lot with pigeons (Skinner, 1947).
    Skinner, B.F. (1947). ‘Supersition’ in the pigeon. Journal of Experimental Psychology, v. 38.

    1. Well, some of what we see in that clip is obviously just for the benefit of the camera.

      But I don’t think we need to dismiss all such rituals as superstitious. There may well be pragmatic performance advantages to settling one’s muscles into a familiar groove before swinging for real (or shooting free throws, or whatever). Doesn’t much matter what the ritual is, so long as it’s familiar and evokes the muscle memory of past successful swings (or throws).

    2. I don’t watch many baseball games, but during the ones I have seen, it seems that many pitchers seem to have to adjust their (personal) balls before every pitch…

      1. I have not heard of, for example, women’s softball teams indulging in such superstitious fatuities. (Though each sex has its own unique dangling participles.)

  6. Just a clarification. From the link you provided:

    “Roughly 1-in-5 sports fans (19%) and similar numbers of all Americans (22%) believe that God plays a role in determining the outcomes of sporting events.”

    So, about 20% think god determines sports events in general,but they think god takes a greater interest in the Super Bowl? Cool!

    1. Even so I wonder what the results would have been if the interviewers’ instructions had included repeating each question with “No, seriously…” in front.

  7. I do not know much of American football, but this draws attention to the weird habit of many footballers (i.e. soccer players) and rugby players to look and point their finger up (index, not middle) after scoring a goal or try.
    Do they seriously think the Lord is ‘up there’? Don’t they realise that if they played 12 hours later that same direction points straight down? Or do they think the Earth is flat and the skies form a dome above us?
    Or is it some kind of habit like saying “bless you” (lest the evil spirits sneak in) when someone sneezes? If the latter, one would expect just as much of this Heavens pointing in older games, but in some of the older games I could see, there is little finger pointing at all. It appears a somewhat newish habit.

    1. Thinking about it, why DON’T they put up their middle finger? If God takes sides, there is a 50% chance He’s on the other side, so you might just have pulled a fast one over Him!

    2. footballers (i.e. soccer players) and rugby players to look and point their finger up (index, not middle) after scoring a goal or try.
      Do they seriously think the Lord is ‘up there’?

      I have only ever thought of the (polite) single digit gesture as being an indication to the audience that “I got one!”
      You’re the first person I’ve ever met (or heard of, not that I waste much time on team sports) who brings g*d into the gesture.

      1. If they drop to their knees and point to the sky with a rapt expression on their face, then it’s probably the God thing.

        If on the other hand they raise their finger then draw their hand down slightly as if marking a tally on a wall, it undoubtedly means “Score!”


  8. I can’t remember where I read it but someone (SJG?) pointed out that the level of superstition in a baseball player depended on the position played.
    A fielder or baseman depended mostly on practice and skill. If the ball came to him , he would catch it. It’s why errors are called that. He was less likely to have any talismans or to say any prayers or wear women’s underthings to help him win.
    The pitcher or batter is a different story. Pitchers can cover the ninety feet so quickly that it’s largely a matter of luck whether or not, usually not, that the catcher snags it.

  9. Incorrect that this doesn’t have much traction in Europe, or at least the UK. Birmingham City FC among others attribute their lack of success to a curse on their ground, and there are myriad lucky shirts, suits, ties, scarves, lucky being-first/last-onto-the pitch, kicking off in x-direction first etc, among players & spectators. Superstition, you might argue, rather than religion, but this is WEIT, y’now?

  10. Missed the post yesterday, but “Damon Linker and David Bentley Hart take notice: 50% of Americans see God not as a Ground of Being, but a Gridiron of Being.”


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