Take the Faraday Institute’s Science vs. Religion quiz!

December 29, 2022 • 9:15 am

Over at the Faraday Institute and the Theos think tank, there’s a 40-question quiz that I recommend readers take. It’s FUN and will provide data for their project, which apparently is to show that science and religion are compatible (notice the two names in the first sentence below, both of whom tout compatibility for a living).

While the survey is supposed to determine people’s attitudes rather than push forward a compatibilist view, given that the Faraday Institute was established by a grant from the Templeton Foundation, and that the Theos think tank was, according to Wikipedia, “launched in November 2006 with the support of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the then Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, and maintains an ecumenical position,” I don’t expect them to be totally objective about this.

Think of it as if Elaine Ecklund were giving a quiz and already knew how she was going to spin the data. Thus it becomes important for everybody to weigh in, especially because Theos announced it on Twitter (it’s interesting to read the followup comments to the tweet below):

Here’s the explanation of this three-year project:

. . . .Researchers in the UK (such as Fern Elsdon–Baker) and in the US (such as Elaine Howard Ecklund and John Evans) are bringing more nuance to a picture that has, heretofore, all too often been first simplified, then exaggerated, and finally militarised.

In particular, they have noticed how actual real, living human beings – in all their composite, complex, confused messiness – have been largely absent from the debate, a debate that has had much to say about evolution and cosmology and biblical literalism, but rather less about the wider personal, social, ethical, metaphysical, epistemological, and political concerns in which all such important debates take place. After all, if most of the news stories about science are not about evolution or the Big Bang, and most of the news stories about religion are not about fundamentalism or Genesis chapter 1, it seems strange that so many science and religion stories have been about evolution and Genesis.

Our project, ‘Science and religion: reframing the conversation’ takes up this challenge, building on existing work to offer a rich, new perspective on the whole science and religion issue.

Over the last three years, Theos has been working with The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, and YouGov, on an unprecedently large research project exploring science and religion in the UK. We wanted to look at science and religion afresh, and in particular as if real human beings actually existed. We wanted to explore what exactly people were disagreeing about (when they were disagreeing).

We interviewed over a hundred leading experts – scientists, philosophers, theologians, communicators, from Susan Greenfield, Sue Blackmore and Angela Saini to Brian Cox, A.C. Grayling and Adam Rutherford – and generated nearly a million words’ worth of interview transcript. We also commissioned YouGov to conduct a massive questionnaire (over 200 questions/ statements) among over 5,000 UK adult respondents, which has generated data tables that could cover a football field. The results are fascinating and rewarding.

Over the coming months we will be releasing the data. There will be blogs, reviews, podcasts, reports, on–line seminars, research papers, and (eventually) books. There will be an on–line Science and Religion Compass (a bit like the political compass), that will allow people to measure their own ‘temperature’ in this debate, as well as another brilliant animation from Theos’ Emily Downe, drawing out the key issues that underlie these

Actually, after reading that I am not sure our data will actually be used. But there’s a 40-question quiz on the relationship between science and religion that you can take in about five minutes. Click below to go to the quiz:

For each of the 40 questions (actually, statements), you have to say how strongly you agree or disagree. Here is the scale and the first five questions:

And here is where I fit on the survey results. First, the thermometer:

The science and religion ‘thermometer’ registers your temperature, i.e., how warm or how cold you think the relationship between science and religion is.

The warmer you are the more compatible you view science and religion. If you’re right at the very top – in the red zone – you see no incompatibility at all between them.

Conversely, if you’re right at the bottom – in the blue zone – you see science and religion as at war.

My temperature. No surprise here:

And where I fit in on the two-dimensional plot:

The x-axis (left to right) is about science. At the left hand extreme, lies the view that however important science is, it is certainly not sufficient. If you land at this end, you may not be a science-sceptic (indeed, you’re probably not a science sceptic) but you will be sceptical about science’s ability to explain everything. You believe the world is a complex place, and the tools of science – hypothesis, experimentation, measurement, falsification, etc. – are just one set among others – such as experience, intuition, pure reason, imagination, authority, revelation, etc. – that enable us to understand and navigate the world. In the jargon, this is sometimes known as pluralism.

. . .The y-axis (top to bottom) is about religion. At the top end lies the view that religion is, at heart, about beliefs: it’s about God, or revelation, or the supernatural, or miracles, or life after death, or doctrine, etc. It’s more about what you think than what you do. This, to use the jargon, is the substantive definition of religion, meaning that religion isn’t just a social or cultural phenomenon but has some content or substance to it.

At the bottom end lies the view that religion is, at heart, about its role in society; it is, to use the jargon, the functional definition of religion.

My position on the plot, an advocate of “scientism” (of course a pejorative term), and largely (but not entirely) of the view that religious views are founded on beliefs about the Universe, but also has sociocultural elements on top of this foundation:

I fit in with Neils Bohr; i.e. I’m a science/ religion incompatibilist (yes, you can be a religious scientist, but you’re then espousing two “ways of knowing” at the same time). I would take issue with some of the placements. For example, they’re seeing Gould as a compatibilist who thought religion was not really about beliefs—the position he espoused in Rocks of Ages—but that was his attempt to make people like him and not what he really believed (or so I think).  And why are “new atheists” given their own dot while “Evangelical Christians” are not?  Well, I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.

And here’s my personality characterization from the quiz.

 Faith is a virus, science is the cure 

You think religion claims truth but you believe it is wrong, perhaps even dangerous. For you, the most authoritative voice and road to truth is through science. The further you are to right of the quadrant the more likely you are to believe that science is the only way to truth. And while you think that it’s possible for science and religion to live and let live, deep down you think there is an irreconcilable tension there. Ultimately, and especially if you’re at the extreme, “faith” is a virus and science is the cure. People who are in this area are likely to have a ‘cold’ temperature score.

That pretty much sums it up! Notice that I’m characterized as “cold”, another slam on incompatibilists.

Your turn: take the quiz and see how you do!

An update on House and Senate prognostications, and a question about the elections

August 9, 2022 • 9:30 am

FiveThirtyEight has posted its latest prognostications, which show that, in its simulations, Democrats take the Senate a little more often, but Republicans take the House a lot more often. Remember, these simulations have presumably factored in Biden’s latest legislative victory as well as the overturning of Roe and the widespread disapproval of that decision. Remember, we have 3 months to go before round #1, and 27 months before round #2, so we’re just having fun here. My question to readers is below:

The Senate:


The House:

Here’s the question. It looks like either both houses of Congress will be Republican after the 2024 elections, or the Senate will be Democratic and the House Republican. The chances that both will be Democratic seems to me almost zero.

Two hypothetical questions:

If the Senate and House are dominated by different parties, which house of Congress would you prefer be Democratic, and which Republican?


Does your answer change if the President is a Democrat or a Republican?

Let’s assume that the President (knock on wood) is a Democrat.  If the Senate were highly Democratic (60% or more), then Republicans voting as a group couldn’t filibuster to prohibit Democratic legislation from passing the Senate. But 60% Democrats is out of the question. But even if only half the Senate were Democratic, as it is now, ties on reconciliation bills could be broken by the VP’s vote.

The problem, of course, is that the question hypothesizes a Republican House, which wouldn’t vote for any bill approved by a Democratic Senate (I’m assuming near-unanimity of party votes here, which seems likely).  The ultimate result is that unless substantial bipartisanship arises, we’re screwed. And because of the President’s veto power, no Republican-initiated legislation could overcome that veto. (It takes a 2/3 vote of both houses to override a veto.)

Now let’s assume that the President is a Republican.  A Republican Senate would be the same as the Democratic Senate is now: it could pass reconciliation bills but unless there are more than 60 Republicans, which seems unlikely, they couldn’t prevent a Democratic filibuster and bring “normal” bills to a vote. And since this hypothetical includes a Democratic House, no Republican bills would be passed there anyway.

If the House were Republican but the Senate Democratic, legislation is again stymied. There is no chance of a Democratic VP breaking a tie, and even if reconciliation bills are passed by a simple majority in the Democratic Senate, they’d be voted down by the House.

In fact, under a Republican President, a split congress could never pass any Democrat-approved legislation because the President would simply veto it.

The way things look now, if the Congress is split,  Democrats could never get their agenda passed, and that doesn’t depend on the party of the President. But the same goes for Republicans.  This is because legislation must be approved by both houses of Congress, and neither party is in the mood for bipartisanship. Only the most innocuous bills could be passed.

A split Congress is a recipe for disaster, particularly if a Republican President begins issuing executive orders.

I’m so tired that I have a feeling I made a mistake, but I can’t find one.


America is rapidly losing its religiosity

December 15, 2021 • 10:00 am

We occasionally see some ignoramus claiming that religion is making a comeback everywhere. Well, that might be true in some places, but certainly not in the U.S., Britain, and continental Europe, whose residents are becoming nonbelievers at a very rapid pace.

I have no real explanation for that save that mythology is no longer tenable in an age of science, and, most probably, because as people become more well off, they become less religious. The last phenomenon has been well documented, and has been explained this way: “when you have society to take care of you, and have a place to live, money, health care, and food, you no longer need to believe in a divine being who will support you or to whom you can appeal for succor.” There’s a ton of evidence for that hypothesis, including negative correlations between happiness and well-being on one hand and religiosity on the other. These are just correlations, and not necessarily indications of causality, but they hold not just for the countries of the world, but for the states of the U.S. And there’s independent evidence for the latter hypothesis, which was first suggested by Marx. Most people just quote the bit in bold, but it becomes clearer what Marx was getting at when you read the real quote, which is from A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

At least in that assertion, Marx pretty much got it right.

The data on reduction of religiosity are given in this summary of a recent Pew poll (click on the screenshot below to read; the pdf of the full report is here).  And here’s the methodology:

The 2021 National Public Opinion Reference Survey (NPORS), conducted online and by mail among a nationally representative group of respondents recruited using address-based sampling (ABS). The survey was conducted among 3,937 respondents from May 29 to Aug. 25, 2021. The response rate was 29%. Complete details about how the 2021 survey was conducted are available here.

The 2020 NPORS, conducted online and by mail among a nationally representative group of respondents recruited using ABS. The survey was conducted among 4,108 respondents from June 1 to Aug. 11, 2020. The response rate was 29%. Complete details about how the 2020 survey was conducted are available here.

Polls from earlier years are described in the pdf.

What has become clearer to me from this poll is that the “nones”, the fastest-rising group of “believers”, aren’t really people who believe in God and haven’t affiliated themselves with a church. Some of them may well be, but I believe they call themselves “nones” because it’s less damning than saying you’re an “atheist” or an “agnostic.” From this I take the lesson that the percentage of Americans who believe in a divine being is dropping rapidly, and about a quarter of us are nonbelievers, whether you call them “nones,” “atheists,” or “agnostics.”

First, let’s look at what the categories mean. All are by self-identification, and, in particular, “nones” are “people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics, or nothing in particular.”  The crucial part is what “nothing in particular” really means. Does it mean you believe in a divine being? It’s a bit ambiguous, which makes it hard to suss out the proportion of nonbelievers in America. We’ll get to that in a second. First, I’ll show data on the drop of religiosity and rise of “no religion” (atheists, agnostics, and nones) over the last 14 years. Remember, that’s not very long!

Christians, including Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and non-evangelical Protestants, have dropped 15% over the period; as we’ll see, most of this involves Protestants. People of no religion, on the other hand, have nearly doubled in proportion—from 16% to 29%. Other religions (Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.) haven’t changed much, but they are only 6% of the population—about a fifth of those with “no religion”. As the report says:

Currently, about three-in-ten U.S. adults (29%) are religious “nones” – people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” when asked about their religious identity. Self-identified Christians of all varieties (including Protestants, Catholics, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Orthodox Christians) make up 63% of the adult population. Christians now outnumber religious “nones” by a ratio of a little more than two-to-one. In 2007, when the Center began asking its current question about religious identity, Christians outnumbered “nones” by almost five-to-one (78% vs. 16%).

Nearly all the declines are among Protestants (and, as we’ll seen, among both evangelical and non-evangelical Protestants). These graphs speak for themselves. Catholics appear to cling more tenaciously to their faith, perhaps because they fear the terrors of hell. (I’m joking!)

There’s a graph showing, surprisingly, that “born again” or evangelical Christians (Protestants) outnumber non-evangelical ones. I guess the Protestants I know are a non-random sample:

Within Protestantism, evangelicals continue to outnumber those who are not evangelical. Currently, 60% of Protestants say “yes” when asked whether they think of themselves as a “born-again or evangelical Christian,” while 40% say “no” or decline to answer the question.

This pattern exists among both White and Black Protestants. Among White Protestants, 58% now say “yes” when asked whether they think of themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, compared with 42% who say “no” (or decline to answer the question). Among Black Protestants, evangelicals outnumber non-evangelicals by two-to-one (66% vs. 33%).

The decline of religiosity is also instantiated by the following two graphs, showing a decline in Americans who pray daily (an oft-used sociological index of “religiosity”), as well of those who consider religion “important in their lives”:


I won’t show the graphs, but will just state that, in the 2020-2021 data, about 32% of Americans say that go to religious services “monthly or more”, about 67% “a few times a year or less”, and of the latter, about a quarter of adults say they never go to church, which comports with the percentage of nones (29%).

And (drum roll), what percentage of those nones self identify as “atheists”, “agnostics” or “nothing in particular”? Here are the data over the last 14 years. Note that in all three subclasses, the proportion who self-identify as godless or “nones” has risen since 2007. Atheists have doubled (though they’re at a scant 4%) agnostics have risen 2.5-fold, and the “nones”—by far the largest segment of “not religious”—have nearly doubled. The total again: 29% of Americans are either nonbelievers or not particularly religious.

That’s good news, and the trend is going to continue over all religions in the U.S. (and in the UK and Europe). As for the other faiths, here’s what the survey says:

In addition to the 63% of U.S. adults who identify as Christians, the 2021 NPORS finds that 6% of adults identify with non-Christian faiths. This includes 1% who describe themselves as Jewish, 1% who are Muslim, 1% who are Buddhist, 1% who are Hindu and 2% who identify with a wide variety of other faiths. (While 1% of NPORS respondents identify with Judaism as a religion, a larger and more comprehensive Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jews conducted in 2020 estimates that 1.7% of U.S. adults identify as Jewish by religion.)

Only 1% Jews—I believe that used to be 2%.  We’re a rare breed!


What contemporary philosophers believe

November 2, 2021 • 11:15 am

In this article at the Daily Nous (click on screenshot below), a survey of a large group of philosophers revealed what they believe in a number of areas.  I put the data for the questions and answers below, but if the figures are too small, click on the chart, wait a tick, and then click it again to make it big. (Alternatively, just drag the chart onto your desktop.)

From the Daily Nous page:

Results from the 2020 PhilPapers survey, with responses from nearly 1,800 philosophers (mainly from North America, Europe, and Australasia), to questions on a variety of philosophical subjects and problems, have now been published.

In their commentary on the survey, David Bourget (Western University) and David Chalmers (NYU) explain the its value:

Surveys like this can play at least three roles within philosophy. First, today’s sociology is tomorrow’s history, and these results
may be of some use to future historians of philosophy. Second, philosophers often appeal to sociological claims about the distributions of views among philosophers, for example in justifying which views should be taken seriously, and it makes sense for these claims to be well-grounded. Third, if philosophy has any tendency to converge to the truth, then philosophers’ views might provide some guidance about the truth of philosophical views. It is not clear whether philosophy tends to converge to the truth, so we don’t make the third claim about guidance, but surveys can clearly play the first two roles in philosophical practice.

The survey asked 40 “main” questions and 60 “additional” questions.

Here are the results of the main questions:

JAC: “Inclusive” means those philosophers that checked multiple options of what they believed in, while “exclusive” includes data only from those who checked only one box. I’ll use the “inclusive data”, though the figures for that can add up to more than 100%.

Because I’m not a philosopher, I can’t comment on everything, or even know what everything means, so below the chart I’ll comment on just a few items I know about.


Eating meat:

48% of philosophers think it’s okay to eat meat, while about 45% think it’s wrong and prefer to be vegans or vegetarians. I don’t know what “other” is. Many predict that in the future, “omnivorism” will be seen as immoral.

The trolley problem.  Five people on one track, one on the side track. The train is headed towards the five. Do you throw the switch, putting the train on the track that will kill only one person?

Almost two-thirds say “switch”, killing one person instead of five. That seems to be the sensible (as well as utilitarian) solution. But 13.3% favor killing all five. And what is “other”?

The Fat Man trolley problem. Here there’s no switch to throw, but you’re asked whether you’ll throw a fat man off a bridge over the trolley, stopping the train but killing the fat guy. The net result is the same if you heave Mr. Big versus throwing the switch, but this requires that you do something more intimate, in effect killing someone with your own hands (of course throwing the switch does that more indirectly).


Free will.

Most philosophers are compatibilists, ergo defining “free will” differently from how most people (and nearly all religionists) see it. This figure has increased since the last survey. Poor misguided philosophers. . .

Why didn’t they ask about determinism? Well, they sort of did (see below).

Gender: They didn’t ask about sex (e.g. biological sex) but gender.

The typical use of “gender” is “how somebody identifies”, which to me means it’s either psychological or social, and “social” is what most philosophers think. I’m not sure about those 29% who think gender is biological when I think it’s defined as a sexual role.

Belief in God:

Uh oh: 18.09% of philosophers believe in a theistic (interactive) god, so nearly one out of five is either deluded or doesn’t follow the evidence. But 2/3 of “thinkers” are atheists, so that should give you some consolation.

Meaning of life:

Well, it’s both subjective (you make your own meaning) or “nonexistent” (meaning that you don’t believe in a “meaning of life”). Either answer seems sensible to me, but 32.1% of philosophers think that there is indeed an objective meaning of life. These far outnumber the theists, who usually say that the meaning involves God, so why don’t they tell us what the objective meaning of life is? After all, how do they know there is one without discerning it?


Oops, only slightly more than half of philosophers are physicalists (i.e., believe that there’s nothing other than the physical), while the rest are, apparently, not very scientific!

We have some philosophy mavens/experts here, so feel free to comment on the answers to other questions.

h/t: Robert

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

September 21, 2021 • 6:30 am

Greetings from Massachusetts on Tuesday: September 21, 2021: National Pecan Cookie Day.

It’s also the beginning of Sukkot, a weeklong commemoration of the fictional story of Jews wandering in the desert for 40 years*, National Chai Day, World Alzheimer’s Day, and International Day of Peace. 

*It was Alan King who said that all Jewish holidays can be summarized thus:

They tried to kill us,
We won;
Let’s eat!

News of the Day:

*I am again way behind in the news, and haven’t looked at a site or newspaper in days. I see from the NYT this morning, however, that two non-Texans have sued a doctor in Texas who said he performed an abortion that violates Texas’s new restrictive and clearly unconstitutional abortion law. I am quite worried that Roe v. Wade will be overturned by this conservative court. Let’s have a poll:

Will Roe v. Wade be overturned by the Supreme Court by the end of Biden's term

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Feel free to highlight other important news in the comments.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 676,191, an increase of 2,087 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,714,987, an increase of about 8,100 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on September 21 includes:

  • 1780 – American Revolutionary War: Benedict Arnold gives the British the plans to West Point.

Here’s one of his spying letters with the Wikipedia caption, “One of Arnold’s coded letters. Cipher lines by Arnold are interspersed with lines by his wife, Peggy.”  Arnold escaped capture for his espionage and moved to New Brunswick, Canada, where he traded with the West Indies until he died at 60. 

Here’s a 3-minute documentary of an activity that is best considered entertainment rather than sport:

  • 1942 – The Holocaust in Ukraine: On the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, Nazis send over 1,000 Jews of Pidhaitsi to Bełżec extermination camp.
  • 1942 – The Holocaust in Ukraine: In Dunaivtsi, Ukraine, Nazis murder 2,588 Jews.

Here is a famous but horrifying photo of the mass murder of Jews in the Ukraine. Wikipedia labels it

The Last Jew in Vinnitsa”, the 1942 photograph showing a Jewish man near the town of Vinnytsia about to be shot dead by a member of Einsatzgruppe D. Also present are members of the German Army and the German Labor Service.

  • 1972 – Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos begins authoritarian rule by declaring martial law.
  • 1981 – Sandra Day O’Connor is unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate as the first female Supreme Court justice.
  • 1996 – The Defense of Marriage Act is passed by the United States Congress.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1866 – H. G. Wells, English novelist, historian, and critic (d. 1946)

Wells in 1918:

A first edition of his The War of the Worlds (1898) will run you about $6000:

  • 1874 – Gustav Holst, English composer and educator (d. 1934)
  • 1912 – Chuck Jones, American animator, producer, and screenwriter (d. 2002)
  • 1934 – Leonard Cohen, Canadian singer-songwriter and poet (d. 2016)
  • 1947 – Stephen King, American author and screenwriter

I was surprised to learn that King is religious:

King chose to have faith after weighing the alternatives.
“I made a decision to believe in God because it’s better to believe than not to believe,” he said, noting that his belief became possible while in the throes of addiction. “So it was easy to say, ‘If I’ve got a power greater than myself okay, that’s fine, I can use that to make life livable and good.'”

  • 1950 – Bill Murray, American actor, comedian, producer, and screenwriter
  • 1957 – Ethan Coen, American director, producer, and screenwriter
  • 1967 – Faith Hill, American singer-songwriter, producer, and actress

Those whose existence was obliterated on September 21 include:

Here’s the old philosopher looking scary:

  • 1904 – Chief Joseph, American tribal leader (b. 1840).

Chief Joseph was a leader of the Nez Perce during the years it was pursued by the Army after a series of his warriors’ violent encounters with settler. He and his group fled to Canada, but were trapped and ultimately forced onto a reservation. Here he is in 1877, the year his band was captured.

A fantastic runner, Flo-Jo won three golds in the 1988 Olympics. You’ll see the performances in the video; that woman could RUN! Tragically, she died at only 38 after an epileptic fit.

Wikipedia also has a section on Flo-Jo’s “style”, which includes her signature nails:

Her nails also garnered attention for their length and designs. Her nails were four inches long with tiger stripes at the 1988 Olympic trials before switching to fuchsia. For the Olympic games themselves, she had six inch nails painted red, white, blue, and gold.  Although many sprinters avoided accessories which might slow them down, Griffith-Joyner kept her hair long and wore jewelry while competing. She designed many of her outfits herself and preferred looks which were not conventional.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is still wary of Kulka, though she doesn’t chase her or hiss at her.

Hili: Kulka is over there!
A: I didn’t notice that she had followed us.
In Polish:
Hili: Tam jest Kulka!
Ja: Nie zauważyłem, że przyszła za nami.

Here’s a lovely picture from the past of Hili when she was a kitten, cuddled up with her great late friend Darwin the Dog:

Two from Lenora:

From Jesus of the Day:

From Masih:

From Barry, a needy magpie seeks cuddles:

From Ginger K. Kitty loves its bath (sound on).

Tweets from Matthew. Look at the spread of the word “wolf”!

This is the new volcanic eruption on the Canary Islands:

The artist, centuries ago, had seen a leopard in Europe:

Enlarge the video to see the many marmalade hoverflies (Episyrphus balteatus):

And enlarge this video to see the spooky election fraud. Matthew explains:

The two tellers are standing shiftily in front of the ballot box, so the camera can’t see what is happening. A hand reaches over from behind the curtain on the right and repeatedly shoves ballots into the box…

Take this quiz: Which of six new political parties do you belong to?

September 9, 2021 • 9:15 am

The New York Times’s opinion section has started a new series whose purpose is outlined in the article below by

But America is not young anymore. Whereas it was once spry and excitable, it is now creaky and soft. The country that passed Prohibition and created Social Security now spends decades dithering over how large a role the government should play in health care. The country that went to the moon shrinks at the challenges presented by climate change. Its bold and expansive political imagination has atrophied.

There are, of course, reasons for this settling. As the historian Daniel Immerwahr argues in a guest essay, hard partisanship makes it difficult to create coalitions for sweeping changes. Wars, which once smashed through gridlock, no longer lead to collective action.

Not all of the big changes were completely — or even ambiguously — good. The economic boom of the industrial age was fueled by the blood and sweat of exploited workers; the country’s westward expansion came at the expense of Native Americans. But America in its youth was a country confident and unafraid to confront the future. What if it could recover that spirit of invention and restlessness, the risk-taking that formed this country? What would it change? What could it be?

This is the idea behind Snap Out of It, America!, a new series from Times Opinion. It will present not a single, cohesive vision but an array of ambitious ideas from across the ideological spectrum to revitalize and renew the American experiment.

The series will come out every Wednesday, but I’m not going to be paying a lot of attention. Click on the screenshot to read Kewku’s whole article

Now the fun part: a quiz! Yesterday, as part of this series, the Times decided to revitalize America by imagining not two but six political parties falling on a two-dimensional plot of social conservatism and economic conservatism. There’s a brief intro of the seemingly thin rationale at the screenshot below:

America’s two-party system is broken. Democrats and Republicans are locked in an increasingly destructive partisan struggle that has produced gridlock and stagnation on too many critical issues — most urgently, the pandemic and climate change.

There is no reasonable or timely way to fix this broken system. But there is an alternative: more parties.

It is not so hard to imagine a six-party system — and it would not even require a constitutional amendment.

The description of how to get to such a system is below. But first, whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent (or other), in the 20-question quiz below, you can discover which new party would be the best fit for you.

Now that’s gonna work. We’ll have the Christian Conservative Party, the Patriot Party, the American Labor Party, the Growth and Opportunity Party, the New Liberal Party, and the Progressive Party.

Which one would you belong to given your social and political views. Click on the screenshot below to take the 20-question quiz. At the end it will slot you into one of the six parties and tell you a bit about it. If you want to skip the quiz and read about these imagined parties, just go here.


Here’s the first of 20 questions; many of them are about race:

I took the quiz twice independently several hours apart, and both times fell into the same party. (I didn’t remember my answers to the first round.)

This is a description of that party:

The New Liberal Party is the professional-class establishment wing of the Democratic Party. Members are cosmopolitan in their social and racial views but more pro-business and more likely to see the wealthy as innovators.

Its potential leaders include Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Eric Garcetti and Beto O’Rourke. Based on data from the Democracy Fund’s VOTER survey, this party would be the best fit for about 26 percent of the electorate.

I guess I can’t be unhappy with that, as I’m on the liberal side of both economics and social attitudes. Still, I don’t know what this means, what I’m supposed to do about it, or how I can use my slot to revitalize America.

Of course you’ll want to know where you fall, too, so comment below and we’ll put a quiz here showing where readers fall.

Which party were you closest to?

View Results

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h/t: Paul

Who will win the Georgia Senate seats?

January 4, 2021 • 12:00 pm

The rational among us will be hoping that, in tomorrow’s Georgia senatorial runoff elections, both Democrats will win. For if they do, the Dems will have the Presidency, the House, and the Senate, and stuff can actually get done. But both elections are tossups, though I think the Democrats’ lead is widening. According to FiveThirtyEight (see below, click screenshot for more), each Democrat is leading by about 2%, but that’s well within the margin of error.

If you go to the article, you’ll see that, despite the data, you can make a case for either party (Nathaniel does so for the Democrats; Geoffrey for the Republicans). Just for fun, since we’ll know what happens by the end of the week, we’ll do a poll. And VOTE, damn you!

How many Senate seats will the Democrats win in Georgia?

View Results

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A Marquette University poll on early Senate voting on Supreme Court nominees, and our poll on “packing the court”

September 20, 2020 • 12:15 pm

UPDATE: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has become the second Republican Senator to oppose Supreme Court hearings before election day (and presumably after if Biden wins). We need two more GOP Senators to defect to derail Trump’s urgent attempt to replace RBG with a conservative.


As I recall, I favored the appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in March, 2016, when Obama’s pick was derailed by Mitch McConnell. With the wisdom of hindsight, I’m not sure that that was a wise opinion on my part. Although I didn’t want the court to go with eight judges for ten months, the court is usually in recess in July, August, and September, which would have been seven months.  Also, I was an Obama supporter, and I can’t be sure that my view back then wasn’t politically motivated, and that’s not right.

Now, however, I’m vehemently opposed to Trump’s trying to get an RBG replacement pushed through the Senate before election day (or, barring that, before Biden is sworn in). And I’m not sure how much a role politics plays in this new view, either. Let me just say that from now on I’ll try to oppose filling court vacancies when a Presidential party is likely to change within the year, though leaving a court with eight justices is not a good thing at any time. Obama was in his last term in 2016, and Trump may very well be in his last term now (fingers crossed). In both cases, we’re facing a short-term President versus a Supreme Court justice who will likely sit on the bench for decades. Those appointments shouldn’t be rushed, and should belong to a President who has some years left in office.

I’m puzzled, then, at the results of this Marquette University Law School poll.  It’s a survey of 1523 voters taken between September 8 and 15, before Ginsburg had died. A lot of it is about the importance of Court nominations (they are very important, despite only a bit more than half of the voters thinking they’re “very important” as opposed to “somewhat important” or “not that important.” (56% of Dems versus 48% of Republicans think Court appointments are “very important”.)

Read the other poll results, bearing on today’s issues, by clicking on the screenshot below:

There’s clear politics at work in the party breakdown of how people regarded the absence of hearings on Merrick Garland, with many more Democrats (but still more than half of Republicans) thinking that not holding the hearings was wrong:

But this is what baffles me. Here’s the result when respondents were asked whether, if a vacancy occurred during this election year, the Senate should hold hearings on a nominee:

In this case, Republicans and Democrats aren’t that different: 68% of the former and 63% of the latter want hearings held, so the political difference in opinions vis-à-vis Garland hearings has disappeared. It’s curious, though, that rushing through a nomination in this situation would seem to be inadvisable, especially as Trump’s not doing that well—yet most Democrats favor holding hearings despite the likelihood that with a Republican Senate we’re likely to get a conservative Justice sworn to overturn previous decisions like Roe v. Wade.

One more question was asked: should we increase the number of justices? Several Democrats, including the often irritating Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have suggested “packing the Supreme Court,” that is, increasing the number of justices as a way of making up for the conservative majority of Justices appointed by Republican Presidents. The increase would have to be by at least two to keep an odd number of Justices. Well, 61% of Democrats favor packing the court as opposed to 34% of Republicans, which makes political sense, though perhaps not democratic (small “d”) sense. I don’t think we should play politics with the Court to this extent).

What do you think? Here’s a poll:

Lagniappe for voting (h/t Blue): RBG’s good friend Nina Totenberg, National Public Radio’s head legal correspondent, gives a lovely remembrance of the late Justice.

The worries about “fake votes”

August 23, 2020 • 10:45 am

I’m still baffled not only by Trump’s repeated insistence, in the face of all the facts, that mail-in voting leads to fraud, but by the public’s worries that Trump will, if he loses—and I fervently hope he does—make a claim of election fraud that couldn’t be quickly resolved. Yes, maybe we’ll have to wait a while until all the mailed-in ballots are counted, but I’ll bet anyone $50 that Trump will lose both the popular and the electoral-college vote, and if he makes trouble I’d hope that the Supreme Court, conservative as it is, could settle the issue.

(Trump’s repeated and dark comments about vote fraud and about the Post Office are another issue, and I think he could be impeached for making these threats.)

But I can’t agree with Frank Bruni in his New York Times op-ed today—a rather scattered piece that doesn’t get to the point (in the title) very quickly. Click on the screenshot to read.

Of course it’s ridiculous that you can win the popular vote, as Hillary Clinton did by three million votes, and still lose the Presidency. Such is the  Electoral College, and it should be changed. But it won’t this time. Regardless, Trump appears to be behind in key “battleground” states essential to a Republican victory.  Still, Bruni claims that Biden will need a “landslide” to win the Electoral College:

Well beyond the convention, I hear people worrying about their votes being thrown away; about what happens if Trump is ahead on Election Day and falls behind only when the mail-in ballots are counted; about how large a margin of victory in the popular vote will be needed to guarantee triumph in the Electoral College; about how resounding an Electoral College triumph will be necessary to make Trump shut up.

These questions aren’t the products of Trump Derangement Syndrome. They’re the fruits of exposure to Trump. They’re also the legacy of Clinton’s defeat in 2016, when there was such a strong sense that the will of a majority of people fell prey to freaky, funky twists. A lesson was learned, and Democrats are now heeding it: To eke out a victory, you need a landslide.

Well, I’d count a landslide as 60% of the popular vote, not the 48.2% that Clinton got (Trump got 46.1%).  And what I don’t understand—maybe I’m being obtuse here—is if Trump’s repeated messages about “fake votes” discourages people from voting, which is what Bruni really seems to be worried about, why would Democrats be even more discouraged than Republicans? It seems to me that Trump’s behavior around this election would energize Democrats eager to heave the narcissist out of office. Bruni’s editorial seems to me to be saying, “All the brouhaha will just make the Democratic voters say, “Ah, hell, I’m just gong to stay home.” (I’ve already registered to vote by mail.) And that doesn’t make sense—at least not in the sense of discouraging Democrats more than Republicans.

But read for yourself and weigh in below. I also have a poll, just for fun.

First, Sarah Cooper at the Democratic National Convention: first her lip-synching and then her own message. I know all of you will be voting, so I don’t think I have to tell you to get your tuchas to the polls, or do a write-in ballot.

Please vote, as I’m curious about what people think:

POLITICO poll: A plurality of Americans think “cancel culture” has gone too far

July 22, 2020 • 1:00 pm

Well, my title comes from the headline of this article in POLITICO describing a poll that it took along with the firm Morning Consult to suss out what Americans think about cancel culture (henceforth “CC”). Everything jibes—until you get to the end.  Click on the screenshot to read.

I’ve put below the poll’s main conclusions about cancel culture, defined by the pollsters (and posed to the respondents) as “the practice of withdrawing support for (or canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” That’s a bit milder than Ross Douthat’s definition of CC as ‘. . . an attack on someone’s employment and reputation by a determined collective of critics, based on an opinion or an action that is alleged to be disgraceful and disqualifying.” In the POLITICO definition, you suffer by having “support” withdrawn; in Douthat’s, you suffer a loss of reputation and/or your job. (POLITICO, by the way, appears to be a mildly liberal site, but pretty much centrist.)

So, taking into account this milder definition, here’s POLITICO’s polling results (their words are indented):

1.) A plurality of Americans think cancel culture has gone too far and is harmful to society. 

Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming. A plurality (46%) of Americans believe that cancel culture “has gone too far.” About a quarter of Americans — many of whom are perhaps blissfully offline — said they didn’t know or had no opinion on the matter. When they are removed from the results, a clear majority — across almost every demographic category — says that cancel culture has gone too far.

Twenty-seven percent of voters said cancel culture had a somewhat positive or very positive impact on society, but almost half (49%) said it had a somewhat negative or very negative impact.

2.) Most of the polled didn’t participate in CC, and those who did are mostly on the Left rather than the Right. 

While online shaming may seem like a major preoccupation for the public if you spend a lot of time on Twitter, only 40% of voters say they have participated in cancel culture and only one in 10 say they participate “often.” It appears to be more of a liberal pursuit: Half of Democrats have shared their dislike of a public figure on social media after they did something objectionable, while only a third of Republicans say they have.

If this result be true, it goes against the contention that the Left and Right are both equally culpable in CC activities. And the greater propensity of the Left to cancel is supported by data from FIRE’s disinvitation database over the last ten years or so, showing that most “cancellations” at colleges, i.e., disinvitations to speak or get honorary degrees, comes from the Left rather than the Right.

And the general association of CC with the Left will give a boost (hopefully not a big one) to Donald Trump’s bid for reelection.

3.) Older people are less likely to cancel. 

Note the link in the excerpt below.

Age is one of the most reliable predictors of one’s views. Members of Generation Z are the most sympathetic to punishing people or institutions over offensive views, followed closely by Millenials, while GenXers and Baby Boomers have the strongest antipathy towards it. Cancel culture is driven by younger voters. A majority (55%) of voters 18-34 say they have taken part in cancel culture, while only about a third (32%) of voters over 65 say they have joined a social media pile-on. The age gap may partially explain why Ernest Owens, a millennial journalist, responded to Obama’s criticism with a New York Times op-ed that amounted to a column-length retort of “OK, boomer.”

I have to say that this goes along with my own experience, which of course is anecdotal. Get off my lawn, Generation Zers!

There are other results as well, but I’ll give just one more:

4.) Most Americans aren’t aware of the kind of CC activities we discuss here, but those who are are anti-CC.

Not surprisingly, the POLITICO poll reveals that many Americans aren’t paying attention to many of these controversies. We asked about the Weiss resignation and the Harper’s letter. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed didn’t know about or had no opinion of the Weiss controversy and 42 percent didn’t know about or had no opinion of what, in the insular world of Acela corridor media, has become known as The Letter. [JAC: the letter in Harper’s.]

But in both of those cases for those Americans who did offer an opinion, the anti-cancel culture warriors had the majority view: 56% approved of The Letter and 70% approved of [Bari] Weiss’s decision to quit “because of perceived harassment and her perception of self-censorship within the New York Times due to Twitter.”

The article goes on to describe what they see as a cooling of CC, like the recent NYT article that wasn’t too hard on Steve Pinker (it’s striking that this is taken for evidence that cancel culture is losing steam), or the pushback by some journalists like Matt Taibbi (see yesterday’s post).

But at the end of the POLITICO piece, there’s one polling result that seems to undercut the rest, with most people saying there should be “social consequences” to expressing unpopular opinions:

In the POLITICO poll, 53% agreed with the statement that “even though free speech is protected, people should expect social consequences for expressing unpopular opinions in public, even those that are deeply offensive to other people,” while only 31% said their view was closer to the following: “There should not be social consequences for expressing unpopular opinions in public, even those that are deeply offensive to other people because free speech is protected.”

Now whether this contradicts the rest of the poll of course depends on what you mean by “social consequences.” I’m just guessing, but I interpret this as meaning more than just “verbal pushback” or “arguments against your views.” Rather, I take it to mean “social consequences” like demonization of a person or even calls for firing. Yes, of course if you express white supremacy or Nazism in public, you’re going to suffer a decline in your reputation (that’s one of the arguments for allowing free speech: to out the deplorables). But CC goes further than this in trying to attack someone’s entire character for much milder speech, and in reporting them to their bosses to get them fired.  I wish POLITICO had been more specific in this question about the definition of “social consequences.”

h/t: Greg Mayer