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Grrrr…ECKLUND!

Elaine Howard Ecklund is the sociologist who studies atheists and always twists the interpretation of her results to laud religion. She’s done it again.

She has a new study about “Atheists embracing religious traditions”, which notes that some unbelievers will still send their children off to church, out of familial obligation or a vague sense that that is an appropriate way to socialize the kids. I think that’s entirely true, and I’ve seen it myself — but it doesn’t say much about atheists as much as it does the pervasive cultural attitudes that falsely make “church” a synonym for morality.

But here’s what makes me disrespect her pretense of objectivity.

Ecklund said one of the most interesting findings was discovering that not only do some atheist scientists wish to expose their children to religious institutions, but they also cite their scientific identity as reason for doing so.

“We thought that these individuals might be less inclined to introduce their children to religious traditions, but we found the exact opposite to be true,” Ecklund said. “They want their children to have choices, and it is more consistent with their science identity to expose their children to all sources of knowledge.”

Religion is not a goddamned source of knowledge. Quit pretending that it is.

But also, that’s her twist. When our kids were living with us, we freely encouraged them to go to church with their friends when invited, but it wasn’t because we thought it was a “source of knowledge”. Religion is an unfortunate reality in our society, and we wanted them to be able to see for themselves what was going on. Ecklund simply doesn’t understand what science is about: it’s part of the ethos that we don’t hide data, but confront it and address it.

Another consistent angle to Ecklund’s work is spotlighting the statistics that fit her bias and trivializing the rest. Here’s the evidence that atheists are “embracing religious traditions”:

The researchers found that 17 percent of atheists with children attended a religious service more than once in the past year.

I am underwhelmed. The only surprise there is that the number is that low — given that American society is soaking in religion, and that atheists are a minority surrounded by friends and family who are religious, I’m impressed that 83% have succeeded in escaping the church trap so thoroughly. That ought to be the news.

But that’s Ecklund. Show her a population with an overwhelming majority rejecting faith, and she’ll ignore them to turn to the minority and pretend they are representative, just to find some tiny reassurance that scientists and atheists really are god-lovin’, deep down.

Comments

  1. jamessweet says

    This right here is classic Ecklund:

    “We thought that these individuals might be less inclined to introduce their children to religious traditions, but we found the exact opposite to be true,”

    No, you did not find the exact opposite to be true, you only found that the premise didn’t hold universally. That’s a completely different thing!

    “I thought that the trees on my street might be inclined to have lost their leaves by now, but I found the exact opposite to be true! One of them still has a couple of leaves left…” Um, no.

  2. 01jack says

    Wow, seventeen percent had a wedding or a funeral to go to in the last year. These atheists have friends and acquaintances and stuff, just like real people!

  3. dianne says

    The researchers found that 17 percent of atheists with children attended a religious service more than once in the past year.

    I’m actually surprised it’s that low: Atheists with children often have relatives who are Christians. Visiting those relatives, especially during Christmas or Easter, is a sure way to get pressured to go to church with them. And it generally seems a rather harmless thing to do to please a relative-why not sit in a church for an hour or so? There might be educational aspects to it: you can admire the architecture, catch up on what the churches are teaching these days, people watch…I see no reason to think that any of this indicates a deep underlying belief, though, so I’m not sure what Ecklund’s point is.

  4. says

    Heck, I was in church just last month, not even two weeks ago. My Catholic nephew and his wife were having their infant son baptized. It would have been mildly impolite to show up for the celebratory post-baptism dinner without sitting through the mystic ritual. Besides, I got to make fun of the church’s mural.

  5. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    The researchers found that 17 percent of atheists with children attended a religious service more than once in the past year.

    Probably mostly weddings and funerals.

  6. says

    Those ceremonial events coupled to the church are so wonderfully useful for inflating church participation, to the benefit of sloppy, biased researchers like Ecklund.

    This is actually one good reason for encouraging secular celebrants, to take birth, marriage, and death out of the hands of the lying god-botherers and their dishonest apologists.

  7. says

    Goodness me, atheists go to weddings, funerals and baptisms! Scientists don’t have a problem with their children exploring their culture, which includes religions! Alert the media!

    Oy. Ecklund highlights just how idiotic one can be when they are desperate.

  8. says

    Well I think we have a bit of a semantic quibble here. Attending religious services is most certainly a source of knowledge, specifically knowledge about religion and religious services. That’s obviously essential for any human being to have, because we’re surrounded by it and it behooves us to understand it. Religion is influential in politics, it’s a pervasive feature of just about all cultures (some less so nowadays but still important everywhere), one cannot function in the culture and be an effective public citizen without knowing about it. (That’s why atheists generally know more about what’s in the Bible than practicing Christians, BTW.) This person is a sociologist so that’s exactly the kind of knowledge she’s interested in.

    It may be that the context makes this quotation more offensive than it seems, but I can’t really take exception to the quote as presented.

  9. marksheffield says

    I’m one of those scientists that attends services (sometimes) with kids. I personally do it to immunize them against the more virulent forms of religion found locally here in Texas. We attend the most milque-toast Methodist church I could find, so that the kids can say “We’re Methodists” when the proselytizers come a’knocking.

    Like the wily Texas horned toad, we try to blend in to avoid predation.

    No, honestly, I think it’s important for the kids to learn a little about the beliefs that the people around them hold. I want to expose them in a controlled way so we can discuss what the difference is between “what we know” and “what some people believe”. Insulating them against that is a recipe for disaster, in my area.

  10. says

    From the article:

    One study participant raised in a strongly Catholic home said he came to believe later that science and religion were not compatible. He said what he wants to pass on to his daughter – more than the belief that science and religion are not compatible – is the ability to make her own decisions in a thoughtful, intellectual way.

    “I … don’t indoctrinate her that she should believe in God,” the study participant said. “I don’t indoctrinate her into not believing in God.” He said he sees himself as accomplishing this by exposing her to a variety of religious choices, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and others.

    This is exactly what PZ describes, and has nothing to do with seeing religion as a form of knowledge.

    Ecklund makes me angry. I expect it of her – she’s Templeton-funded, and this is the sort of dreck that’s going to lead to. But I don’t understand why journals are publishing this work. The study about scientists and spirituality, in order for its Templetonian value to be realized, required that she and colleagues discard any pretense of proper method or analysis. This is very effective for propaganda, but has no place in a journal.

  11. Crow says

    I just found out I’m going to be a father next August, and my wife and I have been discussing how much harm, if any, is done by exposing very young children to Xian doctrines.

    I personally think I’ll be able to instill enough sense and reason early on to give the kid the ability to recognize silly beliefs when they see it, but a part of me thinks it’s gotta be really confusing for a kid to hear his Gramma tell him that ‘God did that’ whenever something good or bad happens…

    Obviously, once they’re old enough they can choose religion if they really want to and I won’t stop them, but I’m more interested in the very young at the moment.

  12. says

    I’m one of those scientists that attends services (sometimes) with kids. I personally do it to immunize them against the more virulent forms of religion found locally here in Texas. We attend the most milque-toast Methodist church I could find, so that the kids can say “We’re Methodists” when the proselytizers come a’knocking.

    Be careful about children retreats and camps. There are extremists in methodism and that’s how they’ll get to kids. I remember camps form good liberal methodism that turned out to be right out of Jesus Camp

  13. says

    This person is a sociologist so that’s exactly the kind of knowledge she’s interested in.

    It may be that the context makes this quotation more offensive than it seems, but I can’t really take exception to the quote as presented.

    It’s the context of all of her previous work on the subject. She’s shown a consistent pattern of spinning the data through language in precisely this direction, which makes it overwhelmingly likely that she is, as she appears to be, suggesting that these scientists view religion itself as a source of knowledge.

  14. witlesschum says

    I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that number actually undercounts, as I think atheists responding to a survey might be more likely to not consider funerals and weddings religious services. But that’s a total guess. I was just thinking that if someone asked me the question my knee jerk answer would have been “no,” but in reality I went a wedding with an interminable sermon last summer. But I remember the reception with awesome food more and the drunken antics later in evening. And the fact that we all thought she was too good for the douchey groom.

  15. jasonmartin99 says

    I took a sociology course in college. I remember I disagreed with almost everything the professor said and I spent most classes arguing with her. I don’t have a lot of respect for sociology as a discipline and I’m pretty damn hesitant to call it a science. Their methods of collecting and interpreting data seem suspicious to me, and they may even be laughable. At any rate, avoid sociology courses in college unless you think that Stanley Fish’s interpretations of John Milton’s Pradise Lost are scientific, because it’s pretty much the same thing.

  16. Psych-Oh says

    I’ve attended a Bar Mitzvah and a wedding this year. I’m not going to skip out of friends’ celebrations because I’m an atheist. That would just be stupid. And I expect my children will do the same.

  17. KG says

    My father-in-law is a fine man, and a devout (though non-fundamentalist, C-of-E) Christian, son and grandson of vicars. He asked a few years ago if I would mind if my son accompanied him to church during a visit. On the same grounds as others here, I said that was fine by me. Son chose not to go, but I don’t think* (and would hate to think) that was because he thought I’d disapprove.

    *Since he knows how I loathe Jeremy Clarkson, and Dexter, but still watches both, I’m fairly sure I’m right on this.

  18. KG says

    I took a sociology course in college. – jasonmartin99

    Oh, right. You are obviously in a position to pass judgement on the whole of sociology.

  19. mattwatkins says

    I’m a (relatively newly minted) atheist. My wife is a professor of Catholic theology. I occasionally attend church with her. This simply means I value my familial relationships, and the community relationships we’re a part of through the church. It doesn’t mean I place any special value on religion or religious thought or morality. In fact, attending gives me the opportunity to have conversations with my kids regarding moral or religious teachings they might pick up that we don’t agree with.

  20. says

    mattwatkins:

    This simply means I value my familial relationships, and the community relationships we’re a part of through the church.

    In many communities, church is the only regular social gathering. While my wife and I aren’t regular social gatherers, I know a lot of people really like the couple of hours spent in the company of other folks who are on their best behavior.

    I’m not surprised at all that atheists attend church. My wife has considered attending a couple of UU services. The main thing keeping her away is her mild misanthropy.

  21. triskelethecat says

    We exposed the kids to religion for several years. My main reason? I wanted them to know the stories so they would understand Western art and literature. As they got older and made friends from non-western areas (India, Russia, several African nations, China, Japan) they learned about those places and religions. I made no demands, even when I WAS a church goer/believer that they believe. Now that they are adults, I don’t know what beliefs, if any, they hold. I do know they are comfortable understanding many of the world’s religions and their friends’ beliefs. And that is all I care about.

    I will attend Christmas services if home with family. Otherwise, I won’t go except for weddings and funerals.

  22. raven says

    I’ve been to my parent’s church a few times for events.

    It’s old mainline Protestant. Medium size.

    What has struck me is that everyone is old. They have a Sunday school. Some days, there are zero kids for Sunday school. This means very few of the members are young to middle aged adults.

    It’s a bit unusual in that their area has a lot of old people for economic reasons. But still, I’ve heard that the ageing of the church members is a concern for a lot of denominations.

  23. Father Ogvorbis, OM says

    I wonder if Ecklund includes, say, attending a Unitarian service with one’s elderly parents as proof that atheists look with longing to the churches? If so, along with weddings, funerals and other social occasions, even more reason to wonder about that 17%.

  24. Brownian says

    At any rate, avoid sociology courses in college

    I know it’s a tough pill to swallow for all of you aspiring mathematician-philosophers who think you’re going to derive everything from first principles, but you cannot consider yourself to have any real understanding of humans in general without at least some familiarity with the social sciences (the fact that they tend to attract hippy-dippy loonies notwithstanding).

    I mean, avoid ‘em if you want to, but then keep your mouth shut about issues with a social or cultural aspect.

  25. Epinephrine says

    I no longer attend religious events like baptisms, brises, bar mitzvahs, confirmations, etc. – because I don’t like the indoctrination of youth. I’ll attend a funeral or wedding that is religious. Of course, we do talk to the kids about religion and mythology – that’s important, you do have to know about the world, and they should be well informed to be able to evaluate the various religions and decide for themselves – of course, learning about religion is a very good way to reject religion.

  26. says

    The last time I was in a church was in July of ’09 and that was so I could photograph it. The church is in New Salem and no longer used, it was built in 1904. It is amazingly beautiful for a small, rural church. It has a pressed tin ceiling and two fantastic organs, one of them wonderfully gothic (the Thiery Milwaukee), the other organ is a Story & Clark.

  27. says

    As a person who values information and the honest use of language to communicate, I’m simply ashamed of Ecklund for her dishonest representation of her findings.

    So many points to refute!

    First of all, her choice of the word “embrace” is disingenuous at best. Attending a service in no way implies that a person embraces the beliefs and practices on display there.

    I am an atheist, yet until very recently I attended church services every week for the past six years. Why? I was a paid singer in the church choir. Yes, I attended, but I did not participate except to sing, and I certainly did not embrace any of the foolishness on display.

    My husband (also an atheist) and I raised our daughter to be an atheist. Part of her education was learning about world religions. She did a lot of reading and discussing on her own (she read the entire bible on her own initiative – came away appalled by the violence, misogyny, and hypocrisy). We once suggested that if she were interested in attending any religious services, we would accompany her. She wasn’t interested, but even if we had attended, our doing so would in no way have been “embracing” any of those religious.

    In the same way, we sometimes watched television with our daughter when she was younger, not only to talk about the “shows” but to evaluate the advertisements and help her understand how they are manipulative and trying to influence our behavior. We saw ads and religion as very similar: manipulative systems/processes whose goal is to make you want what they have to offer, and to give money to get it.

  28. Brownian says

    I see from the comments on the article that many there are also suggesting inflated numbers because of weddings and funerals, but do we have any numbers indicating how much these might actually account for the 17%?

    I know it’s a sample size of me, but looking back, I’d say no more than 20% of the weddings I’ve attended in the past decade or so have been held in churches. Of course, there may be any number of reasons why my situation isn’t generalisable, especially to those south of the 49th, but in my social circle (by no means uniformly non-theist, though I probably don’t know too many fervent believers) it seems people just aren’t doing the big church wedding thing as much these days.

  29. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    The last time I was in church was this September, I went to a wedding. Do I have to give my atheist card back now?

  30. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Of course, there may be any number of reasons why my situation isn’t generalisable, especially to those south of the 49th, …

    Heh. I hope that the sitch south of the Oklahoma border isn’t generalisable either.

    But, my fam is in OH and these shits are all still churchy. I have no interest in stepping foot inside of a church whatsoever, and have been four times in the last five years (two weddings, two funerals).

  31. Father Ogvorbis, OM says

    Do I have to give my atheist card back now?

    No. But it does show the shallowness and emptiness of an atheist’s life as we try desperately to reconnect with the God that we have come to hate and look for meaning in our otherwise empty and shallow lives through the great moral and cultural perfection that is religion and . . .

    Sorry. I couldn’t keep that up.

  32. says

    I’m not able to get through to the published study, but I would love to see the survey instrument, to see if it contains questions like these, which might offer more meaningful (i.e., truthful) insights about the degree to which atheists and their families “embrace” religious traditions.

    “If you attended a religious service, did you participate fully? That is, did you recite prayers and responses with the rest of the congrgation, rise and kneel, receive communion, recite a confession, genuflect, cross yourself, etc.?”

    “If you attended a religious service, how did it affect your opinion about religion?” [choose "positive" or "negative"]

    “If you attended a religious service, what feelings did you experienced during the service? Please choose the one response that is closest to your experience.” [Choose from Disgust, Boredom, Impatience, Sleepiness, Calm, Inspiration, Reverence]

    “If you attended a religious service other than a wedding, funeral, or memorial service, did you donate money to the church during the collection or at any other time?”

    “If you attended a religious service, did you feel that you would want to attend more services?”

    “Do you think your life is better for having attended the service?”

    Questions like these would tell us much more than simple attendance numbers can do. Attendance means nothing.

    [sorry if this is, in part, a duplicate post - PC hiccuped a short while ago]

  33. zb24601 says

    Wow, 17% of atheists with children have been to a religious service in the last year. I wonder what that number would be if weddings, funerals, christenings, and other such services were excluded. If only general religious worship services were counted, I’d expect the number to drop quite a bit. Sometimes (every couple of years) I will go to a religious worship service so I can see what is being preached about at a particular church. It ends up reenforcing my lack of belief.

  34. Kazim says

    Look, I host a freaking atheist TV show, and I’m one of the 17% who has attended church in the last year. It was a scouting mission / blog fodder, and I’ve done it several times. And I’ve openly encouraged atheist parents to let their kids attend church — not because I think church is beneficial to kids, but because being open to new experiences and not hiding other people’s activities from your kids is the way to raise a savvy, skeptical kid.

    What is it that we could do as parents to convince her that we DON’T support religious activities? Wall ourselves off and only associate with an echo chamber of fellow atheists? Then we’d be a religion.

  35. scottportman says

    The research is clearly meaningless. I’m a flat out atheist, but I have frail, elderly parents-in-law in their 80′s who are deeply religious. My wife and I take them to church pretty often. In fact, I’ll be going to mass tomorrow afternoon.

    Am I going to tell them that heaven is a myth? That they spent their lives believing in a cult with no basis in reality? No. I’ve got my flaws, but I’m not an a$$hole.

    If I had children, would I allow them to go to church? Probably, if only to innoculate them early and to prevent church from being something new and enticing when they are teenagers. A friend of mine is an atheist and he let his children go to church (and then subtly equating the bible stories with Santa Claus so they would grow with healthy skepticism). I know another couple – the dad is a non-practicing Jew and a Democrat, and the mom is a Republican Catholic. He said “if you let me raise the kids as Democrats, you can raise them as Catholics”. It was a wise bargain. Better to raise the kids with a sense of community responsibility and some secular morals than as depraved Republicans. The kids are learning to think for themselves anyway.

    It’s not possible to control the lives of children past a certain age. All you can do is model critical thinking skills, encourage their curiosity especially toward the natural world, and work hard at getting them to recognize propaganda or demagoguery. Then hope for the best.

  36. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    My friends are starting to die off. I’ve been to two funerals this year. I suspect I’ll be going to funerals more and more often during the coming years.

  37. scottportman says

    Quodlibet @36

    All good points. I attend mass pretty frequently (see my comment above) and it would be interesting to participate in the sort of survey you propose. It would be even more interesting to read the results. Many of us atheists who attend for whatever reason are quiet observers, oscillating between curiousity, boredom and annoyance. My guess is most don’t actually participate in prayers or communion.

    Regularly attending a Catholic mass has made me even more dismissive of Catholic doctrine, but it does give me, I think, a little more nuance about who attends and why, and how the church maintains itself as an institution in the community. I’m also astounded at how little everyone (including the priests) seem to know about the actual history of Christianity and the classical world, and even the bible itself. I find myself disagreeing constantly on both factual and theological grounds. “Hey, that’s not what that passage means at all!”

    Maybe I’m attending too much. I did like the hymn one day in which all the creatures of the sea come to the surface and gaze at the lord – the image of billions of squid staring at Jesus actually made me laugh and the service went by more quickly.

  38. says

    Religion is no more a “source of knowledge” than a tree.
    Trees (as religions) are sources of data; knowledge is produced through the interaction of minds with data and observations transforming it into something we can communicate. Religions do not produce knowledge as much as they emit data (about themselves) as they go along in this respect.

    This is bad sociology.

    Also, if Ecklund had to fall all the way down to “more than once” to hit 17%, I wonder what the percentage drops to at “more than twice.” Furthermore, this statistic ignores if it was the same religion each time.

    Example, what if an atheist chose to take her child to a Jewish feast, a Wiccan calling of the corners, a Christian celebration of Christmas, and a Muslim observation all in the same year in order to broaden her child’s cultural horizons. That’s way more than once; but none of it suggests that the parent sees the religions involved to be any moral source, but instead a cross-section of world cultures.

  39. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    GRR indeed.

    We thought that these individuals might be less inclined to introduce their children to religious traditions

    The above statement implies to me that atheists would behave like theists and shield their children from opposing / differing beliefs. Anyone who has spent any time at all with atheists would think the exact opposite of that, and CERTAINLY someone who studies atheists should know that. What the fuck is wrong this person?

  40. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    PZ Myers says:

    This is actually one good reason for encouraging secular celebrants, to take birth, marriage, and death out of the hands of the lying god-botherers and their dishonest apologists.

    When (if?) I get married, I am not going to do it in a church, partly for the reason you state, and partly because it would be hypocritical of me to do so. Too many non-religious folks I know, who are apathetic atheists or apathetic deists at best, have gotten married in a church, because that is the “thing to do”.

  41. Aquaria says

    The research is clearly meaningless. I’m a flat out atheist, but I have frail, elderly parents-in-law in their 80′s who are deeply religious. My wife and I take them to church pretty often. In fact, I’ll be going to mass tomorrow afternoon.

    When we lived in McAllen, we took the disabled woman across the street to Mass, and brought our son with us. Like a lot of people here, we a) didn’t mind helping someone in need and b) thought that it was a good idea for our son to see what the RC stuff was all about, since it was so prevalent in the Rio Grande Valley.

    We didn’t go in believing. We didn’t come out believing. We didn’t find anything special about the service (and once it was Christmas Mass!). My son liked all the bundt cake at the parish hall gathering afterward, immensely. Come to think of it, the bundt cake was awesome.

  42. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Listen to jasonmartin99! He took a whole sociology course! In college!

    But has he stayed at a Holiday Inn Express? ;)

    My friends are starting to die off. I’ve been to two funerals this year.

    I hear you. I saw in the Alumni magazine where one person in my research group died last year.

  43. miikaheino says

    @ Jason, Ing, et al – I have a master’s degree in sociology, and it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest if an introductory sociology course in some college somewhere has been unimpressive, since it’s quite true that a lot of what’s going on in the discipline is not of a very high scientific quality. But sociology is a pretty wide field. In fact, it’s arguably not a single field at all, but an umbrella term for several different fields. There are big differences between the theories, research questions, research designs and sources of data used in qualitative and quantitative sociology as well as in American and European sociology and in the numerous theoretical traditions. Some departments are pretty good while others are very poor. Also, if someone has a background in the sciences, there are areas of sociology that are probably easier to digest than others.

    As for whether sociology counts as a science – I don’t think many sociologists give a damn either way. Social sciences in general never fit very well into CP Snow’s dichotomy of sciences and humanities. If you want to use a narrow definition of science, sociology is not a science; if you use a more inclusive one, it is.

  44. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    …and it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest if an introductory sociology course in some college somewhere has been unimpressive, since it’s quite true that a lot of what’s going on in the discipline is not of a very high scientific quality.

    Reminds me of philosophy. Some of it is just awful, some is good. Hell even the hard sciences have their share of garbage studies / instructors / whatever. Yeah some fields are worse with this than others, but it’s pretty silly to dismiss a whole field because of some idiots within it.

  45. stonyground says

    With the sole exception of christenings, weddings and funerals, I have never voluntarily attended a church service in my life and it is pretty unlikely that I never will. I only ever went because my parents made me go. I stopped going as soon as they stopped making me go. I consider myself to be a pretty typical Enlgish unbeliever. In the UK, even wooly thinking indifferents would probably give similar answers to mine. I am assuming that this study is referring to th US, if Europe were to be factored in it would be even further off the mark, we are not surrounded by godly folk and have no pressure whatsoever to conform to their behaviour.

    @raven #26
    I would be interested if your observations are of a church in the US. Anyone observing a church congregation in the UK would make the observation that everyone is old. A couple of years ago I attended a musical event that was organised by Methodists and observed that at fifty years old I was one of the youngest people there. My thought about this was that they are doomed, within one generation they will be gone.

  46. says

    @ scottportman, I am with you on that. My wife and I are very much atheists but out of love she chooses for us to live with and care for her 87 year old mother. If she was able and asked, we would gladly take her to Sunday church services, and sit through the interminable preachiness for her sake.

    Otherwise we last went to a church about 8 years ago for our niece’s wedding, and we both ate the little crackers too and drank the nasty wine they served – so far neither of us has been struck by lightning……

  47. says

    Sociology PhD grad student and TA here: intro classes are not able, for the most part, to get into the quantitative parts of sociology. In a 100 level class, instructors cannot take for granted that the class has enough math literacy to get into modeling, and enough general literacy to expose students to the fuller body of theory, so yes, in an intro course, you get a gloss over-view.

    Is a Math 121 class a sufficient marker by which to judge discrete math? How about the Fourier transformations, can you judge them after taking college algebra?

    The other thing that happens is that brand new TAs tend to end up teaching those courses, many times at the very beginning of their academic careers, when they may or may not be able to give you a more rigorous model. TAs are cheaper (by far) and many universities have taken to allowing them to teach vast swathes of the undergraduate core courses because of it.

    On the issue of science: sure, some of the people attracted to studying people and what people do are a bit woo. There are a series of institutional reasons why this is so, a few of which are because we, as a society, stereotype being interested in people as being something in lieu of skill in math, and vice versa. I’m not going to argue that people will twist their work to fit, especially around religion (I have to bite my tongue often at work), but it doesn’t help those of us interested in statistical and methodological rigor to have to sit through endless rounds of ‘you aren’t science enough’ on one side, and ‘you’re too dry’ on the other, thanks.

  48. yoav says

    @jasonmartin99
    Introductory courses, especially for non-majors, have a tendency to be less then impressive it’s just an outcome of having to give an overview of an entire field to people who don’t have the proper background to follow exactly how studies are done. It show a serious lack in critical thinking skills to draw an over reaching conclusion on the validity of an entire field based on a single introductory class. The same go to the claim that sociologists start with a preconceived conclusion. The fact that sociologist like Ecklund exist doesn’t mean all sociologists are quacks any more then the (unfortunate) existence of Michel Behe invalidate all of biology or Dr Oz invalidate medicine.

  49. Sastra says

    Wishful Thinking Rules All #43 wrote:

    The above statement implies to me that atheists would behave like theists and shield their children from opposing / differing beliefs.

    I thought the same thing and it made me wonder what sort of straw-man character Eckland thinks an atheist who doesn’t “embrace religious traditions” would look like. For example, Richard Dawkins has frequently gone on record opposing assigning any sort of religious designation to children — “Catholic” child, “Muslim” child, even “atheist” child. Would that last one suggest that yes, here we have another atheist who isn’t acting like an atheist, but like someone who is open to the value of religion?

    In breaking news, the number of skeptics who have read books, heard podcasts, or watched shows with pro-paranormal themes is very high — unexpectedly so. The writers of articles in Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic magazines in particular are embracing woo at a phenomenal rate, according to Ecklund’s method of gathering and interpreting statistics.

  50. jasonmartin99 says

    I agree with your criticisms of my earlier comment. I had no right to draw such sweeping conclusions about an entire discipline based on my own trifling experience in a survey course. Please accept my apology.

  51. David Marjanović says

    There are big differences between the theories, research questions, research designs and sources of data used in [...] American and European sociology and in the numerous theoretical traditions.

    That’s scary.

    This side of the Iron Curtain, biology got rid of geographic differences after WWII. What kind of science is it where your opinions depend on where you work?!?

    And theoretical traditions? Like philosophical schools?

    As I said, scary.

  52. Emrysmyrddin says

    Brownian:

    my wife and I aren’t regular social gatherers

    Social hunters, then?

    Er, excuse me: is this the queue for Teh Secks? After that, I’ve decided to grab a ticket.

  53. says

    jasonmartin99: I understand the frustration. If one more person tells me that Christianity/the power of positive thinking are an ongoing, essential part of understanding US society (as this researcher is doing), I may end up exploding, infamously. I hate the treatment of Christianity like a for granted part of understanding everything else in US society, but I favor this approach.

    I also understand from the point of view of someone who enjoys math modeling and quantitative rigor, though I would in no way class myself as an expert on that subject, just an enthusiastic student.

  54. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Sastra says:

    I thought the same thing and it made me wonder what sort of straw-man character Eckland thinks an atheist who doesn’t “embrace religious traditions” would look like. For example, Richard Dawkins …

    You mentioning Dawkins is funny, because he strongly advocates for people to be knowledgeable about the Bible, not for the woo, but because not only is it wise to have some background on one of the major religions in the world, the Bible itself is an important part of English literature. I am pretty sure Dawkins likes classical religious themed music too. By Eckland’s logic, Dawkin’s “embraces” religious traditions? The guy people call a strident anti-theist? Really? If the so-called “pope” of the “atheist movement” counts, methinks what counts as “embracing” needs to be altered.

    The writers of articles in Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic magazines in particular are embracing woo at a phenomenal rate, according to Ecklund’s method of gathering and interpreting statistics.

    So true. Eckland is pathetic.

  55. Moggie says

    stonyground:

    I would be interested if your observations are of a church in the US. Anyone observing a church congregation in the UK would make the observation that everyone is old. A couple of years ago I attended a musical event that was organised by Methodists and observed that at fifty years old I was one of the youngest people there. My thought about this was that they are doomed, within one generation they will be gone.

    I believe this is true for predominantly white congregations, but churches which mostly attract people of African origin seem to have a broader age profile (here in London, at least).

  56. says

    The last religious service I went to was my grandmother’s funeral earlier this year. Frankly I found it rather uncomfortable since I’m not a believer. The last time before that was probably my other grandmother’s funeral some years ago.

    The last couple of years of my grandmother’s life really made me wonder about people believing in life after death. As the result of at least one stroke, if not more, her mental faculties slowly deteriorated, and by the time she died I’m not sure if she knew who any of her family was anymore. Imagine an afterlife where you operate with whatever mental capabilities you have when you die. The lucky ones would be those who died of things that left the mind intact. The unlucky ones, like my grandmother, or very small children, would wander the afterlife in confusion, not comprehending where they were or who they had been.

    Of course believers never consider such ideas. They believe there’s some sort of “perfect form” of our mind that exists elsewhere, separate from our day to day brain, that will be what we use in the afterlife. Or that God will recreate us as we where when we were at our physical peak.

  57. robinjohnson says

    Hey, I bet 100% of religious people have been somewhere unconnected with religion in the last year. They all want to be atheists!

  58. ButchKitties says

    My parents are in their church’s choir. On Christmas and Easter, I go to their church to hear them sing. The hymns have nice chords, even if the lyrics dodgy.

  59. anchor says

    “The researchers found that 17 percent of atheists with children attended a religious service more than once in the past year.”

    Heh. I involuntarily attend a religious service 17% of every frigging day.

  60. Dr. Audley Z. Darkheart OM, liar and scoundrel says

    Beatrice:

    The last time I was in church was this September, I went to a wedding. Do I have to give my atheist card back now?

    Fuck, I hope not. I went to a Catholic mass back in October– my best friend’s mom died, so of course I attended the funeral.

    Hell, I’ve been to Jewish, Presbyterian, and Mormon funerals, too. I might have to give my Gnu Atheist™ membership card back several times over.

  61. raven says

    @raven #26
    I would be interested if your observations are of a church in the US.

    California, SF Bay area.

    This demographic is somewhat skewed because the area is an expensive part of an expensive area to live. Young people with children mostly can’t afford to live there.

    The ageing of congregations isn’t a new or unknown problem though. There is also the phenomenon of feminization of congregations. This church has a whole lot of older ladies.

    A 50 something stands out as just a kid.

    The statistics imply that US xianity is about to march over a demographic cliff. Retention rates of young people in the fundies, Southern Baptists, are 30% and they are losing members steadily.

  62. mikee says

    @jasonmartin99 #57

    Apologising when you see you have made a mistake demonstrates integrity and an open mind, I congratulate you on both.
    Too many debates are derailed by people who try and “justify” quite absurd positions because they lack such integrity.

    I used to think that the physical sciences had a greater immunity to woo – but having come across chemists who accept homeopathy and biologists who have had conversations with extra terrestrials I now understand that any discipline can have it’s eccentrics (for want of a better word)

  63. mikee says

    Surely, it would have made more sense to look at how many atheists attend church regularly – but then I guess 0% doesn’t really produce anything worth reporting.

  64. jenaereese says

    I’m actually surprised it’s that low: Atheists with children often have relatives who are Christians. Visiting those relatives, especially during Christmas or Easter, is a sure way to get pressured to go to church with them. And it generally seems a rather harmless thing to do to please a relative-why not sit in a church for an hour or so? There might be educational aspects to it: you can admire the architecture, catch up on what the churches are teaching these days, people watch…

    Yep. Not to mention that some of us are non-custodial or share custody with an ex who’s still religious. My daughter go to church probably 10-15 times a year with her Catholic granny and I have absolutely no control over that.

  65. Azkyroth says

    I know it’s a tough pill to swallow for all of you aspiring mathematician-philosophers who think you’re going to derive everything from first principles, but you cannot consider yourself to have any real understanding of humans in general without at least some familiarity with the social sciences (the fact that they tend to attract hippy-dippy loonies notwithstanding).

    I mean, avoid ‘em if you want to, but then keep your mouth shut about issues with a social or cultural aspect.

    This is a pretty good argument against the assertion that studying society or culture is worthless but has no bearing on the assertion that such studies are often done sloppily, unscientifically, and dogmatically, to the point of often being worthless, which I think was the original point.

  66. says

    Yup, I managed to accidentally-on-purpose attend a religious ceremony last month, too: my grandfather died. He was a British World War II vet, living in America, so we asked the Canadian Legion (of which my grandfather was the Secretary) to give the service. Little did the rest of us know that my mother had asked her evangelist preacher to give the service, too. And then that preacher managed to take over 90% of what the Legion was going to do– everything save the laying of poppies on the casket.

    The only “source of knowledge” that was for me was as another point of data that religious charlatans place their woo above the wishes of everyone else. Even a mourning family.

  67. says

    @robinjohnson #64: would you like your sniny new internet giftwrapped?

    I’m off to church tomorrow. Not a service, but prep for a service – their annual carol service in the Anglican Kings College traditional style. That’s the one that Dawkins likes. My singing teacher and her husband coordinate the music for a very liberal leftie Anglican church, and I join in with the choir whenever they do something musically interesting.

  68. normalanomaly says

    My mom brought me to Jewish services and had me get confirmed two years after I became an atheist, even though she didn’t believe either. When I asked why, she said she raised me Jewish so that “when you grew up and wanted to rebel against something, you could rebel to atheism instead of getting a tattoo or joining the Hari Krishnas.”

  69. raven says

    LDS Church warns Young Men against Interracial Marriage | Mind …w ww.mindonfire.com/2008/06/28/spark-lds-church-warns/Cached – Similar
    You +1′d this publicly. Undo

    28 Jun 2008 – LDS Church warns Young Men against Interracial Marriage … and above all, the same religious background, without question” (“Marriage and …

    FYI. Just in case someone converts to Mormonism and needs to know who they can marry.

  70. says

    This side of the Iron Curtain, biology got rid of geographic differences after WWII. What kind of science is it where your opinions depend on where you work?!?

    uh… any of the “applied” kind? I’m hardly going to expect to be able to study ecology of tropical systems in Alaska, after all. Meaning, U.S. sociology is much more “applied” than European sociology, which is much more theoretical (and thus not geographically focused).

    And as long as there is no “Grand Unified Theory of why People Do Shit”, there will be different theoretical frameworks with which to approach sociological problems.

  71. says

    and also: obviously, different universities and colleges will have different foci; for example, there are only a few universities that offer Environmental Sociology as a graduate course (none in the German-speaking area; one in Spain AFAIC; two in Britain; three in Canada; you get the picture)

  72. anteprepro says

    I’m guilty of being in a church 3 or 4 times this year. Eek. Guess I’m not atheisty enough for Ecklund.

    But, 17% attending church more than once in the last year means that they wuv dem some religion? Well, 23% of Americans didn’t attend church at all in a given year according to this, and 59% of those were Christians. Which means 13% of the country (16.25% of American Christians) are Christians who didn’t attend church at all. Wonder what broad conclusions Ecklund could draw from that.

    Of course, there are two more studies that a total of 40% of our country either doesn’t ever attend church or does so less than once a year. Which is far, assuming that virtually no non-Christians attended church more than once a year, this means that a total of 20% of our country are Christians who attend church less than once a year or never (25% of Christians, total).

    Let me channel Ecklund on the issue, in “Christians censor alternative dogmas”:

    Ecklund said one of the most interesting findings was discovering that not only do some Christians wish to not expose their children to religious institutions, but they also cite their religious identity as reason for doing so.

    “We thought that these individuals might be more inclined to introduce their children to religious institutions, but we found the exact opposite to be true,” Ecklund said. “They want their children to not be tainted by the views of anyone who might slightly disagree with the views that the parents want to instill into their spawn, and it is more consistent with their religious identity to expose their children to only sources of knowledge that they explicitly approve of and control.”

    Oh, if only.

  73. says

    Ing, et al – I have a master’s degree in sociology, and it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest if an introductory sociology course in some college somewhere has been unimpressive, since it’s quite true that a lot of what’s going on in the discipline is not of a very high scientific quality. But sociology is a pretty wide field. In fact, it’s arguably not a single field at all, but an umbrella term for several different fields. There are big differences between the theories, research questions, research designs and sources of data used in qualitative and quantitative sociology as well as in American and European sociology and in the numerous theoretical traditions. Some departments are pretty good while others are very poor. Also, if someone has a background in the sciences, there are areas of sociology that are probably easier to digest than others.

    As for whether sociology counts as a science – I don’t think many sociologists give a damn either way. Social sciences in general never fit very well into CP Snow’s dichotomy of sciences and humanities. If you want to use a narrow definition of science, sociology is not a science; if you use a more inclusive one, it is.

    You misread me. I defended the throbbing hardness of their science.

  74. Marcus Hill says

    So it never occurred to a sociologist that people might be going to religious services to do some sociological observation…

  75. David Marjanović says

    What kind of science is it where your opinions depend on where you work?!?

    uh… any of the “applied” kind? I’m hardly going to expect to be able to study ecology of tropical systems in Alaska, after all.

    If that’s all, I’ve misunderstood the original. I thought there were cases where your opinions depended on where you worked, like the “Swedish School” of the homology of a lot of skull bones between tetrapods and lobe-finned “fishes” of the 1930s to… um… actually… I may have been wrong about “after WWII”. Erik Jarvik in Stockholm kept it up, against all parsimony and slowly accumulating evidence, till his death in or soon after 1996.

    And as long as there is no “Grand Unified Theory of why People Do Shit”, there will be different theoretical frameworks with which to approach sociological problems.

    Are they all equally parsimonious? Or are they all the same thing seen from different angles (e. g. using different terminologies)?

    and also: obviously, different universities and colleges will have different foci;

    Sure; but in such cases they won’t teach different things about the subjects they do have in common.

  76. says

    PZ,

    One of the gravest mistakes many freethinkers, atheists, and non-believers make is failing to imprint their kids with an evidence-based cosmology.

    Connie and I have addressed more than 500 secular, non-religous, or Unitarian Universalist groups over the last decade. I’ve had literally dozens of humanists and atheists come up to me after one of our programs and say something like, “I raised my kid a good freethinker and now s/he is an evangelical! What’s worse, s/he’s raising my grandchildren as fundamentalists! What did I do wrong?!”

    What they did wrong (in many cases) was mistake imprinting with indoctrination.

    See “Imprinting Is NOT Indoctrination”: http://thegreatstory.org/imprinting.pdf
    My intro to the above: http://www.thankgodforevolution.com/node/2056
    Podcast: http://evolutionaryevangelists.libsyn.com/webpage/32_imprinting_is_not_indoctrination

    Keep up the great blogging.

    ~ Michael

  77. says

    If that’s all, I’ve misunderstood the original. I thought there were cases where your opinions depended on where you worked, like the “Swedish School”

    I don’t know if that happens in Sociology, beyond the major split between European Sociology and US Sociology. I suppose it’s theoretically possible, if for example you end up with a university where the Sociology faculty are all working with Durkheim’s theories (i.e. they focus on figuring out what makes a society work together), but none that work with any of the conflict-based theories. It absolutely would color the education in Sociology that you would get.

    Are they all equally parsimonious? Or are they all the same thing seen from different angles (e. g. using different terminologies)?

    I can’t speak to the parsimony of them, not having delved that deeply into theory yet. But mostly, they deal with entirely different aspects of society anyway: sociology of gender (for example, feminist framework) and sociology of class (for example, Marxian or Weberian farmework) don’t necessarily try to explain the same phenomena or the same interactions, even when looking at exactly the same slice of society. Trying to use any one of those to explain all or even most of human interaction is likely to just end up in the ideological corner.

    Sure; but in such cases they won’t teach different things about the subjects they do have in common.

    of course they will, unless it’s a lazy internet course that simply asks you to read and regurgitate the text-book. A professor’s own field of study and own framework will always leak into class and make one kind of explanatory framework more common than another. And like I said, if the faculty is too unbalanced, a student might end up with the impression that one of these frameworks is more useful/explains more than the others (which is why the general suggestion for American graduate students in many (most?) fields is to study at several different universities, instead of getting all their degrees at the same one).

  78. says

    Michael Dowd,

    You may very well be right, but when I hear “X is NOT Y!” I think “I am not a crook!”

    If I were Connie, I’d rework that piece to focus on what’s good about imprinting, emphasizing how it entails remaining open to outside inquiry, rather than making a simple 1-to-1 comparison with indoctrination.

    Or at least change the title.

  79. Ichthyic says

    “I raised my kid a good freethinker and now s/he is an evangelical! What’s worse, s/he’s raising my grandchildren as fundamentalists! What did I do wrong?!”

    fail to realize that teens tend to rebel, period?

    not give them a sense that there is a secular community to turn to for support?

    who knows?

    there are literally thousands of things involved with the decisions we make, Michael.

    what you propose is only one possibility.

  80. interrobang says

    I’m considering looking into the Humanistic Jewish congregation in Toronto, for various reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with “embracing religion.” (To be more accurate, it’d be more like “embracing culture,” since Humanistic Judaism is explicitly secular. If you think that doesn’t make sense, you haven’t done enough reading on Judaism.) Actually, the existence of HJ basically says, “Suck it, Ecklund.”

    One particularly compelling reason for me to do this is that I have authoritarian religious relatives, and I’ve been to a lot of family funerals in the last several years, and I’m quite concerned that someone will hijack my funeral, whereas if I were to have the HJ congregation handle it, I could be sure they’d respect that enough to allow me the final dignity of a secular exit from the world. I realise it’s probably irrational to even care, but I don’t think people are capable of being rational 100% of the time.

  81. says

    Good feedback, ahs. I’ll pass it onto Connie.

    Iththyic, yes, of course you are correct. Still, I think Connie’s point is a good one (I can’t imagine you would not think so too if you took the time to read her piece.)

    IMHO, many humanists, atheists, skeptics, and freethinkers fail to appreciate the importance of imprinting young people on an inspiring, believable creation story – which is precisely what big history is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_History

    This is one of the reasons Connie and I are so evangelistic about RD’s new book, The Magic of Reality, as we’ve written and spoken about here: http://evolutionarychristianity.com/blog/richard-dawkins-for-christians-and-all-spiritual-people/

    On this subject, Jon Host posted the following the other day, on Evolutionary Parenting: http://evolutionarytimes.org/index.php?id=5871790587283449806

    Your point is still well taken. Innumerable factors are involved and it was lazy of me to say it as simply as I did. Thanks for your correction.

  82. David Marjanović says

    mostly, they deal with entirely different aspects of society anyway: sociology of gender (for example, feminist framework) and sociology of class (for example, Marxian or Weberian farmework) don’t necessarily try to explain the same phenomena or the same interactions, even when looking at exactly the same slice of society

    I see.

    Sure; but in such cases they won’t teach different things about the subjects they do have in common.

    of course they will, unless it’s a lazy internet course that simply asks you to read and regurgitate the text-book. A professor’s own field of study and own framework will always leak into class and make one kind of explanatory framework more common than another.

    The examples will be different, the amounts of emphasis placed on all sorts of things will be different, and the students will be taken on very different field trips. These facts alone make it worth to study in different places*. They don’t mean that professors would teach competing hypotheses in grossly unfair manners if they happen to support one of them.

    The reason is that almost all the literature is in English, which everyone reads now, and that it is very widely available. This also explains the remaining exceptions: in Russia, the universities are so poor that literature published in the West is not widely available, and some paleontologists in Moscow (not in St. Petersburg!) still don’t know any English; they are, in some respects, stuck in the 1950s, and their translated works can be painful to read. For instance, there are people who don’t do phylogenetics and instead base classifications on an American textbook from 1950, evidently without knowledge of the 1965 paper by the same author that demolished the classification in that textbook.

    *…no doubt. I haven’t tried. The 3 courses I took in Paris were ones I hadn’t taken in Vienna.

    fail to realize that teens tend to rebel, period?

    Do they? Or was that a 1960s/70s thing?

    But in any case, teens are much more strongly influenced by their peers (friends, role models, bullies) than by their parents. Failure to take that into account makes for deeply surprised parents.

  83. says

    They don’t mean that professors would teach competing hypotheses in grossly unfair manners if they happen to support one of them.

    I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced “grossly unfair” teaching of different hypotheses, but biased, definitely. And if you get a TA teaching (as mouthyb said) it can very easily end up being stupidly onesided. Blame underfunding that results in students teaching intro classes.

  84. VegeBrain says

    I actually disagree with PZ. Religion is a source of knowledge, but not the kind of knowledge that Ecklund is thinking of. It’s very useful for learning precautions. Just like you teach your children to not stick their fingers in light sockets, atheists should allow their children to experience the craziness of religion as an example of WHAT NOT TO DO.

    Religioon is also a rich source of psychological knowledge, for example about humans delude themselves.

  85. KG says

    This is a pretty good argument against the assertion that studying society or culture is worthless but has no bearing on the assertion that such studies are often done sloppily, unscientifically, and dogmatically, to the point of often being worthless, which I think was the original point. – Azkyroth

    No, the original point was to dismiss an entire discipline on the basis of a single undergraduate course.

  86. says

    “I raised my kid a good freethinker and now s/he is an evangelical! What’s worse, s/he’s raising my grandchildren as fundamentalists! What did I do wrong?!”

    My hypothesis. people don’t become religious because they are dumb or stupid, the process of religion makes them act dumb or stupid in defense of it. People become religious for emotional reasons.

  87. says

    I fully agree, Ing.

    To my mind, widespread embrace of science and reason in America (and much of the world) is likely to occur only when it becomes much more widely known that a naturalistic, evidential view of reality provides better (more dependable, more consistent) access to feeling-states that humans have always needed to thrive — individually and collectively — than myths do.

  88. David Marjanović says

    And if you get a TA teaching (as mouthyb said) it can very easily end up being stupidly onesided. Blame underfunding that results in students teaching intro classes.

    …oh… yeah. At least in biology, TAs are a very rare phenomenon in Vienna; a few doctoral students teach advanced classes or fill in when a professor (their supervisor, no doubt) is temporarily unavailable, but intro classes are all taught by professors, and even doctoral students aren’t normally expected to teach at all – they’re expected to rush through their doctorate as quickly as possible…